5 myths and 5 mistakes job-hunting coders must know about

The things you need to know after you’ve made it through coding boot camp.

job hunting coders advice

What you need to know to land the job

Thanks to strong demand and high median annual wages, more and more people have pursued careers as computer programmers over the past few years. If you are looking to break into the industry (or to move into a new position by augmenting your skills), you need to be aware of these five myths and five mistakes that can keep you from getting that job offer. Read on as Coding Dojo founder Michael Choi puts you on the road to the job you want. Good luck!

lim ding wen
Thyechean, via Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0 (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Myth No. 1: I need to be a prodigy to be a developer

People often think programmers are a special breed, born with scientific calculators for brains. In reality, developers are ordinary people who simply have a passion for programming. And as in any profession, talent only gets you so far; your work ethic and discipline will truly determine success or failure.

If you’re curious to learn programming, don’t worry; it’s not as difficult as it may seem. At its core, programming is simply a form of communication between two entities — in this case, a developer and a computer. At a fundamental level, your task as a developer is to give instructions to a computer on how to build something, such as a website. But of course you don’t simply say, “Computer, build me a website.” It’s more complex than that. In a nutshell, programming is like writing meticulous instruction manuals in a special language, which only computers and other programmers can interpret. That’s it, really. If you know how to communicate with others, you can learn to program.

02 myth computer science degree

Myth No. 2: I need a computer science degree to become a developer

Have you noticed all the coding boot camps popping up across the U.S.? They wouldn’t stay in business very long if they weren’t succeeding as viable alternatives to conventional schools. Every month, graduates of these boot camps — who often begin the camps with limited experience in programming — land jobs as developers. And if you throw in the increased popularity of free online learning platforms like Codecademy, it’s evident that learning to program is not an opportunity exclusive to formal institutions. Programming is like almost any profession: If you’re good at it, people will pay you for your skills, regardless of how you got there.

math blackboard

Myth No. 3: I need serious math skills to become a developer

To become a developer, you don’t need to know how to approximate a definite integral using a parabolic variable. You don’t even need to know what this means. All you need is basic algebra, logic, strong problem-solving skills and, most of all, patience. This doesn’t mean developers never use advanced math. If the project at hand requires complex mathematical computation, thenyou will definitely need to brush up on your math. But even then, there are many plug-ins and libraries available to run calculations for you. All you have to do is implement the plug-in or library into your code.

programming language textbooks

Myth No. 4: I need to learn the ‘best’ programming language to become a developer

A common question beginners ask is, “What is the best language to learn?” It’s a good question, but also a misguided one. No computer language is “better” than another, in the same way that French is not “better” than Spanish. Just as the benefit of a spoken language depends on the country to which you are traveling, the benefit of a computer language depends on the task you are trying to carry out.

A better question to ask is, “Which programming language should I learn first?” If you want to be a great developer, you’ll need to master multiple languages, period. So the best approach is to start with the fundamentals. If you want to be a Web developer, start with HTML and CSS, which are the foundational languages of the Web. If you’re more interested in general computer programming, focus on languages that have a lot of online documentation and tutorials to supplement your learning, and don’t worry about the “best” language. As your learning progresses, the strengths and weaknesses of each language will reveal themselves.

05 myth older developer

Myth No. 5: It’s too late for me to become a developer

It’s never too late to become a computer programmer. Boot camps work with students of all ages and from a wide variety of backgrounds, from psychology to mason work. Many enroll with very little programming experience. Yet, as long as they put in the required work, they’re able to find great success, both in the classroom and upon graduation. Even though you may be starting your career in programming later than you would have wished, with the right work ethic, you’ll find that you have everything you need to succeed.

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Mistake No. 1: Thinking graduation is just the beginning

So you enrolled in a reputable coding boot camp, showed up every day, drank enough Red Bull to kill a real bull, and graduated with a solid understanding of OOP, MySQL, Heroku and 20 other terms that are not, it turns out, foreign swear words. It’s smooth sailing from here on out, right? Wrong. Too many alumni of coding boot camps assume that graduation marks the end of their journey when, in truth, it marks the beginning.

job search
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Mistake No. 2: Assuming the job will come to you

Web developers are in strong demand, and most coding boot camps have resources to help you gain employment. But that doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for the employment offers to come flooding in from the job fairy. While you’re waiting, other graduates are actively marketing themselves, snatching up jobs that you might be more qualified for — had you bothered to apply.

Instead, you need to be highly proactive with your job search. Reach out to the people in your boot camp’s career center, and follow up every two to three weeks to stay on their map. Motivated alumni of coding boot camps apply to multiple companies a day; start with companies in your extended network and then use resources like job search sites. This process will require research, outreach and a strong cover letter (which you will need to customize for each company).

Finally, create a GitHub profile before you graduate or create one ASAP and tackle some of the site’s learning repositories to show you’re up to snuff.

professional networking
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Mistake No. 3: Not networking

The students you went through coding boot camp with are one of your best professional resources. Even that weird bearded guy who left Cheetos dust on every keyboard he touched is going to be a senior developer one day. So make sure you stay in touch. Whether it’s sending a simple “How ya been?” email every few months or starting a monthly poker night for your cohort, you need to keep those relationships strong. Many alumni of coding boot camps have created successful ventures with fellow students. Just reach out, keep those relationships strong, and let the power of your network do the rest.

learning schooling
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Mistake No. 4: Not continuing to refine your skills

By the end of your coding boot camp experience, you will have learned a lot of skills. However, that doesn’t mean your learning is complete. Just as you forgot half the French you learned in high school because you stopped using it when classes were over, you’re going to forget programming languages you learned but don’t use on a daily basis. To prevent this from happening, work on personal projects that force you to use languages and software you never work with on the job

job interview
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Mistake No. 5: Not preparing for interviews

Even with proper training, it’s still up to you to keep those interview skills strong. Think of interviewing like a muscle — if you don’t use it, it atrophies. Therefore, before every interview, make sure you practice answering questions, even if it’s in the mirror or for your pet cat.

Even more important is to practice the common tests that interviewers give. Some companies use technical interviews, while others might give you a coding challenge that you’re expected to solve overnight. There are many good resources to help you prepare for these, but a particularly good one is Cracking The Coding Interview.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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