Path to a Software Development Career

I recently sent an email to a person who was interested in becoming a software developer. This person had yet to graduate high school and was considering getting a GED. Whether you are in a similar educational situation or not, I think the below provides some good guidance to people wanting to get started in software development. It’s provided below with minor edits including name removal.


Hey [person]!

I’m a software developer at Capital One. I hear that you might interested in some info on getting into programming as a career.

I hear that you are thinking from about getting the GED. I think that’s a solid idea, but I wouldn’t be concerned with getting a college degree or anything much else at this time if your interest is coding. Below are some generic tips, but it might be stuff you already know. Feel free to follow up and we can make sure the information is more tailored to you specifically.

I recommend developers start with web technologies (HTML, CSS, JS) then specialize in a JavaScript framework (Angular or React). Codecademy is great for free content, and Pluralsight + Code School is nice if you have some spare cash.

GitHub and StackOverflow are free sites where one can and should make an account. Contributing there will build a demonstrated portfolio which should be referenced as experience on a resume.

On GitHub, make sure you have at least one original project with talking points about why it’s a useful piece of software solving a specific problem. Learning projects and tutorial repositories are fine, but original projects which help solve a real problem, even a small problem, are much more impressive.

Here are some example projects:

  1. Build an HTML resume, or even a whole GitHub page static site.
  2. Make a web page where someone can enter investment details like upfront cost and annual return, then compare the 10 and 20 year return.
    1. You could also consider education expenditures as an investment. Like going to college vs paying for PluralSight courses for a few months (:
  3. Make a tool that gets the latest tweets from some people you follow, just like the twitter home page, but allow the user to give different weights, between 0 and 1, to the people they follow, so the people with the higher weight appear more often.
    1. Like if I follow Jim and he tweets 10 times, but I have a weight of .2 from him, just show 2 tweets from him not all 10. Then if I follow Sarah and she’s tweeted 4 times but I have a weight of .5 for her then it shows 2 of her tweets as well.
  4. Get creative: Anything you can think of!

On StackOverflow, try to get at least a hundred points, and focus on answering questions instead of just asking them. Even simple questions. This is another way you can demonstrate skill and contributing to the community during an interview. Questions are often answered quickly, so check the latest JavaScript questions often. This will also give you more insight into the real work coders are doing with JavaScript. Don’t try to post fake answers as this might get you heavily downvoted or even muted.

I also recommend using Pluralsight Skill IQ to certify your skill level before starting interviews, although there is some cost. When trying to land your first or second job I think you should reach out to recruiters and consider them your ally. If you don’t want to pay for Pluralsight then sometimes recruiters will have similar skill tests you can take for free.
Perhaps the best recruiters I know are at TEKsystems and The Goal. Recruiters can help coach you through interviewing practices and identify employers who will be more willing to take you on as a self-taught junior developer. I can also do some mock interviews with you if you want. Recruiters will also be able to probably give you better advice on how much the GED actually matters. It might be that if you really slay on coding that you don’t even want to mention the GED at all on your resume.

The unemployment rate for coders is like 2%.  You might have to do a ton of interviews but you will almost certainly be able to get a job if you grind through it. Once you get a job, keep learning! Constantly learning is the coder’s biggest skill. Then when someone tries to get a job with you later and they don’t have a college degree or 10 years of experience, remember that’s not the point and pass them a favor.

Best,
John

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