A few months ago I wrote about my experience as a coding bootcamp grad, struggling to find a place in the tech industry. The post resonated with other bootcamp grads and I learned how several had faced unfair discrimination. One person described how the rejection letter from an interviewer basically said “I don’t want to hire bootcamp grads.”
Though coding bootcamp graduates might have to work hard to get in the door, there are still tremendous opportunities — if they play their cards right. There is a real shortage of engineering talent, and if you can prove that you have the know-how and skills to succeed, many companies will take a chance. Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned through making the career switch to software engineering. I mentioned some of these in my previous post, but I want to expand on them and give personal examples.
1. Make Cool Sh**
In my opinion, this is the most important rule of accelerated learning. Going through any type of bootcamp is painful — your friends and family won’t see you much, you’ll be challenged in new ways and feel like you know nothing at every step. But if you’re driven towards building something valuable, you’ll be able to put up with the discomfort. Choose projects and shape your learning in such a way that everyday you wake up excited to learn more.
Here’s an example. One reason I was excited to join Dev Bootcamp was the opportunity to create a product from start-to-finish as a capstone. As soon as I was accepted, I sketched out what I wanted to build — an online language exchange where users are paired to practice the language they are studying. The first thing I did was ask on online forums if such a thing was possible. Then I made a list of things I would need to learn — video conferencing, live chat, etc. Though the idea was ambitious and way ahead of the curriculum, it helped propel me to learn fast. The project ended up being a success on graduation day, and it became a talking point in many of my interviews.
2. Put Yourself In Front of Others
If a tree falls but there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer is no, at least in the world of networking. Even if you’re a talented programmer, your chances of getting your first developer job are lower if you don’t try to make connections and share your knowledge. Even if it doesn’t come naturally, it’s important to attend meetups and conferences in your field and engage with people. If you are inquisitive and friendly without being needy, it can expand your views on the industry and reveal previously unknown opportunities.
For me, the MeteorNY meetup had a huge impact in shaping my career. After graduation, I was frustrated that companies weren’t responding to my applications on LinkedIn and Indeed. Fed up, I vowed to stop applying and instead asked the organizers at MeteorNY if I could give a 10-minute lightning talk at their next event. Once they agreed, I put all my energy into building an awesome app to showcase. The talk I eventually gave was called “Building a Chess App with Meteor and React in One Week.” The talk was so successful that Alim, the main organizer, still talks about it. I received many business cards from companies that were there, and it eventually landed me my first real job.
3. Extract Information, Don’t Just Receive It
Doing so might get you in trouble sometimes, as it did me — I was notorious for asking too many questions during class. But it’s better to be over-prepared than the opposite. The value you derive from face-time with teachers should go beyond whatever is easily accessible online. Do the extra work of preparing ahead of time so that you can go deeper in the subject.
4. Compromise between Passion and Hireability
As hinted at in tip #1, mastery is the slave of passion. But that doesn’t mean that you should be ruled by your interests and go wherever they dictate. In order to land your first programming job, it’s important to tame that passion and direct it to projects and technologies that will be helpful during the interview process.
5. Build Meaningful Relationships
While doing all of the above to improve as a developer, remember to cherish the time you spend in this environment. Coding bootcamps may only last a few months, but you will most likely bond with your classmates as much as any college alumni do. These people will be your advocates and sounding boards for when you are unsure of how to proceed.
Relationships take work and have to be nurtured. After you land your first job, get in touch with your former classmates and trade notes on your experiences, pre- and post- job search. Anyone will tell you that getting the first job is the toughest part, and it sometimes helps to know that other people share the same experience. I’m on my 3rd job post-bootcamp and it’s amazing where my classmates have ended up — from dev ops specialists to iOS developers to web developers —and we all learn from each other.
Now go out and own your future!
Follow @tomgoldenberg on Twitter.
Also check out www.buildreactnative.com, my new tutorial on building mobile apps with React Native.