I’ve scoured many resumes of young, hopeful software developers, and have interviewed and spoke to a fair number as they exit college and are trying to embark on a career in the software development world. As I think through what separates the interesting candidates from the non-interesting candidates, one of the main items is simply: is he or she presently writing code?
I once was speaking to a newspaper journalist friend and he said something that has resonated with me since. He basically said, “I speak with all kinds of kids who have been out of school for 6 months, or a year, or more and are having trouble getting a paid gig. They all seem to have the requisite skills from college: school newspaper, school web-page copy, etc. All of that is fine and necessary, but what separates the ones that you would hire from those that you wouldn’t is simple: are you writing? If you want to be a writer, then you’ll be writing, whether or not you are being paid for it. It costs literally nothing to be writing. Have a blog, submit free-lance stuff, create some sort of e-newsletter…something!”
This resonated with me because in this particular case, software development is very much like writing. The barrier to entry is quite small, or even zero. You should already have the tools, or can get the tools for little investment, so there is no excuse why you aren’t already doing it, regardless of whether or not you are being paid.
If you are interested in developing software, then nothing conveys that better than simply doing it on your own. It shows initiative, it shows you are in fact actually interested in developing software, it shows you can put your mind to something and make progress….all of these are the kinds of qualities for which employers will be looking.
You see, there is often little to separate you from the pack as you exit college. That’s not entirely your fault, but for sure the people that have “done something” in addition to, or along with their studies do stick out. During the interview process, your prospective employer is likely not only to be asking questions about your grades, your classes, and your knowledge (blah, blah, blah…), but about who you are, what your interests are, what makes you tick, and how that may fit into the organization and how you will contribute. In my opinion (I’m sure many others disagree), where you went to school and your GPA are almost useless. What I care about is how you will contribute, and how you will grow. Neither of these comes out of school name or grades (OK…maybe a little…but really…I don’t care). A team member is most productive when they care about what they are doing…when they are learning…when they find it interesting..when they like and work well with the other team members. Again…no grades in that list.
So what to do? Do this…
- Join an Open Source Project
- Buy a Raspberry Pi and make something
- Make an iOS or Android app
- Make some sort of web-based something to do…something…anything
- At the very least (the…very…least) go through tutorials (Python, C, Java, PHP, etc) on various languages and develop some simple programs (although this really should be in the context of the above points)
It doesn’t really matter if you have a good app or product idea or not. Your potential employer is not judging you on your idea. What matters is you have a goal and you are working toward it and teaching yourself to be a developer in the process.
As you are exiting college, you’re not really expected to be an expert software architect, or master of the python libraries. These things come with experience. So get yourself some experience…write some darn code!