The idea of hunting for my first job after a coding bootcamp was intimidating, to say the least. I’d read blog posts from folks who said they got hired before even finishing their bootcamp and others who were looking for over a year.
I have started and stopped this post many times in the past year for a handful of reasons. First, it feels vulnerable to share my story. Second, this path isn’t a guarantee. Somebody else could do the same things I did and not get hired, someone could do less and get hired sooner. So with that being said, this isn’t advice. Take it or leave it, do it or don’t. Everyone’s path looks different. However, I will say I was very strategic in my studies and approach after finishing bootcamp and I believe that made a big difference in my job hunt.
Like all good stories, I’ll start at the beginning. These are the steps I took, more or less in chronological order. You don’t have to wait to finish bootcamp to start these, either!
Photo credit: unsplash
I wanted a way for folks to see my skills, my personality, and my learning. For me, this looked like upping my game on Twitter and LinkedIn, starting to blog, and building up a personal portfolio site. That order was specifically planned out.
I started dipping my toes into “Tech Twitter” (this just means the nerdy, dev-centered side of Twitter) when I ordered my very first Udemy coding class. I started doing #100daysofcode and sharing what I was building and learning. Twitter is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of hot topics and find meaningful conversations to read and share your thoughts on. Just remember you're in public and employers will find what you're talking about!
For vamping up your LinkedIn, there are tons of resources out there on how to leverage your profile wisely. I dug into the recommendations on Danny Thompson’s YouTube channel and found there was an immediate increase in traffic and communication within a short while!
A lot of folks like Reddit, and there are lots of active conversations on there about a myriad of programming topics. I am still terrified of Reddit (have you seen how cruel folks can be on there?! 😳). I am mostly a “read and upvote only” type of user. That said if it’s a forum you find enjoyable, by all means, engage!
My portfolio site was similar to my site today – mostly just a central landing place for a small about me with links to a handful of my projects and posts.
Wherever you’re active online, the most impact will be through meaningful interaction with others. When I was in bootcamp and on the job hunt, I made it a habit to find at least one conversation I could contribute meaningfully to every day. The imposter syndrome here was so real for me! But it got easier the more I flexed that muscle.
My online presence was looking good, I was interacting with others. Now, what do I share?
Whatever I was doing or learning! Writing articles was my favorite outlet. Some folks prefer videos or podcasts, but I have always been a writer. However you get out there, this is a great way to show folks what you know, what you care about, and that you can communicate clearly.
I started with blogging on DEV Community because I just wanted to start getting ideas out to the world without spending time building a blog site on my own. Also,_ _a big network like theirs gets a lot more traffic than my own site.
I know this because I have a degree in it: teaching is one of the best ways to cement your learning. It was easy for me to fall into feeling like I had no helpful ideas. Like everyone else had already thought of and written about everything I think about. That’s not true at all! I guarantee you there are folks with less experience and knowledge (or more!) who will find your post useful or interesting. I have written about everything from how teachers are all pretty great at Agile, to my favorite sorting algorithm, to what VSCode features I was using most. The first tech company I worked at enjoyed my writing and I ended up getting to write a handful of engineering-related posts starting just a few weeks into the job.
Photo credit: unsplash
Now, to be writing about what I was doing and learning, I had to be doing and learning things. I’m an incessantly curious person, so this wasn’t difficult for me. The most difficult part was narrowing down what to do or learn or build.
I started by seeking out freelance work. I’d been doing website work for small businesses for a while (building websites, providing SEO and accessibility feedback, etc.), but now that I had a bit more knowledge, I dove into offering more full-blown projects and charging a bit more for them.
In terms of learning, I had _no clue _what to learn next. Do I keep diving deeper into what I’ve already learned? Do I branch out wider? Looking back, I don’t think there’s any course or book that I regret diving into. All of my programming learnings have helped cement what I already know and helped me build mental connections between concepts. This was how I started building up some understanding of fundamental programming ideas and patterns without formal learning (things like, “Huh, this language deals with strings in this way… this other language does it differently… but they both have this in common. Do all programming languages have that part in common?”)
A few areas I am really glad I dove into:
- Learned SQL. I had used NoSQL in bootcamp. Presumably because it’s really easy to spin up a MongoDB Atlas instance for free. But every job I’ve had has relied heavily on SQL (I’ve been building data pipeline software since 2021) so this course has paid major dividends. To quote my mentor (who was quoting his mentor), “it’s not cute to say you just don’t know SQL”. I picked MySQL because someone said it was the friendliest. I have mostly used Postgres since then. That hasn’t mattered because they’re fundamentally similar. Just learn one.
- Learned Ubuntu Server. This was surprisingly useful. Have I even, in my professional career, spun up or maintained a server on my own? Not even close. But I do use the command line every day and dang if I didn’t get a lot better around the command line from this class! I also learned some basics about IPs, ports, services, etc. that have come in handy. Do I have an opinion on the EMACS vs. VIM debate? No. But can I navigate my way around the command line and debug problems with my tests on CI? Yeah.
Right along the same lines as always learning, just be curious! Ask questions. Ask questions to other people, ask questions about the code you’re working on, etc. When I solve a problem, it drives me insane if I don’t understand why whatever I did works. And if there are exceptions, and if I can break it. It turns out that’s a great quality for a software engineer!
This might mean clicking through source code or pouring over docs/Stack Overflow/GitHub repos. This might mean talking with someone else about it. This might mean writing a post about the solution that you’ve found.
This may or may not come naturally to you, but I can tell you hiring panels watch for the type of questions you ask so start practicing.
I went to as many hackathons as I could squeeze in, and attended a few online conferences and meetups (because it was still COVID). I met great people, I deepened technical skills, I practiced working remotely on self-organizing teams… and they were freaking fun. I mean seriously, when else would I have been able to hack up a prototype for a journal app that used sentiment analysis to build you a custom Spotify playlist?
In the end, which one of these made the most difference in my job hunt? Who’s to say? I think the whole was more than the sum of its parts here. A lot of these are just good practices, period, for programmers. If you’re out there on the job hunt, I wish you the best! It’s not easy. I got a lot of “no”s, and even more ghostings. But all it takes is one yes.
How to Use LinkedIn as a Developer to Get a Job in Tech – this is the video series I used to spruce up my LinkedIn.
Meetup.com – This is where I’ve found most of the local meetups I’ve attended. They list both virtual and in-person events!