So, you’ve just finished an intensive and exhausting programming course and you’re embarking on a search to kick off your career. Exciting? Yes. Difficult? Definitely. I have a few handy tips for you to help you steer your career in the right direction. Just read on!
I’ve graduated from a 5-week bootcamp course about 18 months ago, and right now I’m a happy Frontend developer at Netguru – I work in my favourite technology, I have tons of ambitious goals ahead of me and I engage with the community by giving talks at meetups and conferences and working on open-source libraries.
It doesn’t really matter which path you choose to teach yourself programming. Coding bootcamps became very popular lately, so remember that it’s a market. Choose wisely, and be prepared for ton of work during the course and after it. You will learn a lot in a short time, but the important thing is to stick to it. You’ll still have a lot to learn after graduation, so don’t plan long holidays just after the course – it’s important to exercise your new skills every day after learning so much.
I started my first job 3 days after the course, but finding one can take up to 3 months, so be patient! It’s important to keep yourself motivated, but setting realistic targets is also a big thing.
This is not a popular opinion, but I truly think you should start working as fast as you can. The first job does not have to be perfect. You don’t have to know the direction you want to evolve in yet. The most important thing is to gain experience - any experience at all. Coding bootcamps are mostly great, but there are things they won’t teach you – basics as simple as working in a team, solving real-world issues, communicating clearly about problems and blockers or using the tools popular in the IT world. Your first job should allow you to learn as much as you can, try new things, have time to see what you’re really into. And as soon as you’re bored or frustrated – start looking for a new one. There’s nothing wrong with researching and exploring the market before fully committing to one employer.
If you’ve ever heard that retraining / making a complete career change takes just 2-3 months, you’ve been lied to. To fully grow into your new programming profession you need at least 6 months of work experience (working within a team) and at least one new technology or tool learned on your own. Find your specialization and put time into it – it can be prioritising UX or accessibility, or gaining expert knowledge of a specific framework or library. If you don’t know something – be honest about it, but also always read up on the topic. Remember, documentation is your friend!
At the very start of your path you’ll be neither experienced nor skilled, therefore you will never be able to speak will 100% certainty about technical details. However, I’m sure that you know at least one person who is on your level of experience, but always talks with pride and confidence. That’s probably because he or she forgot how to be honest about not knowing things. Some experienced programmers joke around that the more you learn, the less you actually know (especially in the JS world!). It takes courage to say that you are not familiar with a tool or a pattern the team is talking about, but remember – everybody is happy to share their knowledge with you. It’s never a bad thing to ask around and be honest about your knowledge. The best education you can get is your colleagues explanations based on real code examples. If you won’t be honest with them, you’ll never get the chance to experience that.
Sharing new knowledge is as important as gaining it. Even with only a few months of experience you can find people who don’t know something that you already do. Don’t be afraid to take a part in pair-programming, look at your buddy's code and give reviews or share your thoughts. Talk with your team or colleagues about interesting cases or problems you’ve had. Whenever you learn something new – share the insight! There is no better way to consolidate knowledge than by explaining the topic to somebody else than yourself and gaining another point of view. The most interesting talks at every conference are the ones that come from a place of experience and have a real use-case as their basis. Be sure of one thing – you have something interesting to tell!
The frontend world gives you plenty of occasions to feel like a part of a group (or even family) – meetups, workshops, being involved in social media and tech communities. Get to know new people and don’t be afraid to be nerdy during these meetings – it’s ok to spend three hours arguing about which IDE is the best one.
If an opportunity presents itself to take part in big event like a hackathon or a conference – don’t think you’re not ready! You can also have fun doing small projects on the side – a simple open source library or an eye-catching basic web game. Whatever’s fun and makes your activity bar on GitHub greener!
With a few months of experience behind your belt and a few small projects in your portfolio,it’s time to start thinking about your dream job. At that point you may still feel uncertain about your skills, but remember – you’re not the only one dealing with these emotions. Experiencing impostor syndrome after retraining is very common. If you’re feeling like you don’t deserve to be admired, it probably means you’re ambitious and you’ve worked hard to be where you are. It’s the time to look beyond the next three months and peacefully think about what you want your career to be like. What’s important to you in a work culture? What kind of projects do you want to work on? How can you make impact on the community or technology? Your answers to these questions should help you set your goals.