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I've Trained Programming Interns For 6+ Years, Ask Me Anything!

codemouse92 profile image Jason C. McDonald Updated on ・1 min read

I've had the marvelous privilege of running an internship program in my area through my software company. I've worked with the computer science and career service departments of our local universities to continually improve this internship, and am proud to say that we've had a dozen graduates of the program to date, most of whom went on to full-time development and IT positions.

Interns work 6 hours a week (almost always remote) on actual projects in C++ and Python. They have opportunities to participate in team leadership, hiring, and standards authoring. Although remote, we're fully collaborative, and offer the same level of administrative structure you'd find in any full-time industry job (remote or otherwise). Ours is definitely an unusual program, but it works.

Since our company has between 3-10 active employees at any given time, I wear many hats. In running this internship, I've simultaneously served as lead developer, hiring manager, trainer, mentor, technical writer, code reviewer, IT, DevOps, you name it! I've helped interns learn to manage time, handle conflicts, solve problems, ask questions, review code, write documentation...and much, much more.

I've made a lot of mistakes over the years of running this program, but it's been an adventure I've loved every minute of. I've been taking the time to look back as I get things in place for (hopefully) the next round of interns next year.

Ask me anything!


Read the article based on this AMA...

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jmona789 profile image
Jimmy Mona

I have a ton of side projects I want to start working more on, but when I get home after 8 hours of work I'm exhausted and I feel like I don't want to do anything nevermind more coding. I'm also in a sort of long distance relationship and the only time I see my significant other is on the weekends so I don't want to spend all weekend coding. How do I manage working full time and still make progress on my side projects?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

This definitely comes up a lot, as most of our interns are full-time students as well. Truth is, everyone gets the same 24 hours a day, and many people balance full time jobs and hobbies or side projects.

Here's a few tips:

1: Scale your expectations.

Even accomplishing four hours of work in a week on your project is progress. You don't need to put it all in at once either. An hour here, 30 minutes there, and you're still making progress.

2: Schedule your time.

I tell many interns, "time left unscheduled is time that will fill itself." You should deliberately schedule times to work on your side-project, time for family, time for housework, time for gaming or catching up on DuckTales. It is important to actually SCHEDULE both productive and relaxation times, or one will take over the other!

You can (and should) still be flexible, but having a regular framework for your schedule helps you "gear up" for the next task, and makes it possible for you to guard that time proactively: "I'm sorry, I can't do X right now, I promised myself I'd spend half an hour on my side-project. I have an opening tomorrow at 6, though!"

You can also swap things around this way. If your best friend wants to meet with you for coffee at 1 pm on a Saturday, but that's when you work on your side project, find what you'd be okay giving up that day ("DuckTales can wait"), move your side-project into that slot, and go for coffee.

That reminds me, you should never answer "when can you do (...)" with "uh, iono". Have your scheduler handy. Pencil something in. It's better to reschedule or cancel (in advance) than to leave something hanging indefinitely.

3. Maximize your productivity.

Give yourself a few minutes to transition from one task to the next. Establish a dedicated workspace if you can, like a favorite nook in your living room, or the corner coffee shop. Figure out your ideal environment for working on your side-project. Use Mynoise.net or your favorite music to help you focus. Block out distractions. Shut off social media. And then just work.

4. Rethink your approach.

All that might seem pointless if you're already exhausted, but there are still things you can do:

  • Consider becoming an early bird (YES, you can do that!) and setting aside some side-project time before work! Then you can get to the office still riding the high of doing something you love.

  • Part of your lunch hour may give you time to work on your side-project. I know many developers who do this, and they find it's a great way to refresh halfway through the day.

  • Look for other ways to reduce stress at work. Do you need to set better boundaries? (Read Boundaries by Henry Cloud) Should you rethink how you structure your workday?

  • Consider whether your side-project itself is contributing stress. If it is, you may need to restructure that as well. (See The Cranky Developer Manifesto and Why Is It Taking So Long??!?).

In short, it is possible to do this, but it may require you to rethink how your life is structured...and that's okay! Side-projects can be a good opportunity to improve your time management and life boundaries.

I myself run two companies, write both fiction and non-fiction books, and am a frequent fixture here on DEV.to and Freenode IRC. I also play music, volunteer with my church, and take care of the house (yep, I'm fully domesticated). Yet my life is typically in pretty good balance. I use these tactics myself.

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jessesingleton profile image
Jesse Singleton

As someone who is in a similar situation currently, that was really solid advice! Thanks

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artisanasad profile image
Asad Shahbaz

Well I was in the same situation as you are but I have figured a way for myself.

Here is the thing, I always keep my work in a container and never let it flow outside it. Like when I am at the office, my focus is completely there not on the side projects and vice versa.
This helps me to keep my mind clear and focused.

Secondly I sleep early and gets up early to work on my side projects before going to work. By early I mean 4am ☺

Also keep in mind: never to get scared by the workload, because if you do you will loose focus in everything.

Good luck! 👍

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simov profile image
simo

It's either one of the two .. well, unless you have energy for both right?

So it's about taking risk and following your dream. If that's what you want, then save some money to the side and quit your job.

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Tyler Clark

Thanks for AMA! (hope I'm not too late) I am a sophomore studying computer science and I present two questions:

  1. How competitive is it for prospective interns?

  2. What specifically do you look for in an intern?

Thank you for your time!

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Hi Tyler,

It's hard for me to speak to internships overall in terms of competition for positions, but I do know that there are a limited number of spots in any given internship program.

The main thing I look for in an intern is someone I believe will make a good programmer. An internship is a major investment on the part of the employer, and we want to know that we'll get a return on that investment, both in the intern's participation in our own development efforts, and their likelihood of succeeding in the industry as a whole. (When you succeed, it looks good for us too.) Hiring for an internship is like the speculative investing of recruiting...potentially huge returns, but major risks too.

The main things I look for are:

  • Teachability,
  • Humility,
  • The ability to learn independently,
  • Honesty,
  • Communication skills,
  • Respect for others.
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tylerthedevelopr profile image
Tyler Clark

Thank you for the thoughtful reply!

As a follow-up,

Is a portfolio a must-have or will it allow one to place ahead of the pack?

Again, thank you for your time.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Portfolios are excellent! They definitely put you at the front of the pack.

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bootcode profile image
Robin Palotai

Might depend on what we mean under portfolio.

  • University projects mostly don't count.
  • Github projects with a single commit named "First", without any documentation and comments neither.
  • Projects you contributed to very shallowly are on the edge.

I suggest including a portfolio if it is truly relevant. Otherwise it is just noise, or worse, generates false expectations.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

I disagree with the first point. University projects might not count in a portfolio when applying for a regular development position, but they do most certainly count when applying to an internship.

It's all about reasonable expectations. Full time college students may not always have a bunch of personal projects. I've hired many interns whose portfolios contained only a selection of their best university assignments, and they turned out to be some of my best programmers. (And anyway, if an internship hiring manager is expecting a bunch of polished personal projects in a student's portfolio, the internship is not likely to have reasonable expectations about experience anyway.)

That said, interns, help us help you! Pin your best projects to the top of your GitHub profile. Include READMEs. Make it easy for us to find what you're proud of.

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bootcode profile image
Robin Palotai

Makes sense. I stand corrected.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Oh, sure, and I'd put part of the blame on colleges for perpetuating Shiny Object Syndrome.

C++ is still a major player in the programming world! Yet most developers with only a passing familiarity with C++ are afraid of it. This is mostly a combination of the popular misconceptions about the language, paired with classic Hating On Languages You Don't Use, all poured over a serious case of suppressed imposter syndrome. In fact, nearly all of my interns started out afraid of C++, and wound up being avid fans of the language, just through reguarly working in it.

Of course, not everyone is going to like C++, and that's fine. It's still an important language to know, as so much important code is written in it. A lot of the skills can be carried over into other ALGOL-like languages, but more importantly, the habits developed in it of thinking about data type suitability, memory allocation and ownership, reliability, and algorithmic efficiency, are some of the foundational concepts for becoming an expert in ANY language.

In the end, I think my interns walk away with an appreciation for the concept that suitability, not popularity, is all that matters in a language. That understanding alone is the best safeguard against Shiny Object Syndrome.

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Felix Tso

How did you get into the role of a mentor?

How do you build enough knowledge to be confident enough to mentor or teach?

I find that I have a good amount of knowledge to share with other developers but not enough to take on a leadership role.

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

I wound up in the role of a mentor somewhat unintentionally. I'd been planning to start an internship program through my company, but I was originally afraid I'd have nothing to offer. It was my computer science professor who assured me that I already knew plenty enough to mentor, and I'd learn the rest on the way.

I've learned that there are really only two rules about whether you're ready to be a mentor:

  1. You can only take people as far as you yourself have gone.

  2. If you keep learning more, you'll always be at least one step ahead.

Starting out, I knew how to write production-quality code and complete a project by a deadline, but that was about it. I learned a lot through mentoring...at least as much as my interns did!...and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. The trick was, I was willing to admit to my interns when I made a mistake, to listen to feedback, and to continually grow as a leader. As long as you learn from your mistakes, you can only grow in your leadership and mentoring skills.

I think Doctor Who (11th, if you're keeping track) unintentionally sums up the primary secret to leadership when he says to his companions...

Hang on tight and pretend there's a plan!

It works out surprisingly well.

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laserblue

Have you recorded what you have learned in some type of ASK system or ExTRA (Experts Telling Relevant Advice) system that junior programmers and developers could consult when they need help after office hours?
I'm looking for something better than YouTube subscriptions to numerous videos I am not interested in at the moment. socraticarts.com/solutions/technol...

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

I share most of my insights in my articles here on DEV, so I'd recommend through my profile.

In-house, we use Phabricator Ponder (which functions like a mini-StackOverflow) for asking and answering questions. I try to encourage interns to use that instead of email when they have a question, so the answers are available to other (and future) interns. There's not as much information on there as I'd like, but we're working on it.

We also maintain extensive documentation of our processes and workflows, including detailed setup and debugging instructions.

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laserblue profile image
laserblue

Would you say that your articles are well indexed on DEV? Can students easily find the specific information or advice you give that they need ASAP?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

I'm not sure what you mean. In the context of DEV alone, one could probably browse my profile and search for specific tags, and some of my articles are series with proper topic lists, but I never intended my articles to be any sort of properly-indexed reference guide.

If you're talking about, in the context of my own interns, I do maintain an internal wiki page with a number of articles, some of them mine, organized by topic.

Of course, I don't really consider my own writing to be that important. I'd rather students and interns learn how to use search tools and do their own research. DEV's tags and search bar are quite good for that.

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sahaj ranipa

Sir please give me suggestions regarding how can I think like programmer and please suggest me some Android development books for my career and also suggest me some programming related books and what should be my roadmap for good programer who can think differently and work like some good programmer.

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

I don't know anything about Android development, unfortunately, but I did post a list of recommended books in reply to @justaguy on this article, so I'd recommend checking those out.

You may especially be interested in "Think Like A Programmer" and "Dreaming In Code".

There's no cut-and-dry "roadmap" for becoming a good programmer, other than to say Just Start Writing Code! Read books, take courses, talk to other developers, and apply all that knowledge to the code you write. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you keep doing that long enough, someday you'll look back and realize with some astonishment that you're not a newbie anymore.

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sahaj ranipa

Sir please suggest some books about design patterns, data structures and algorithms.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Replied on your other comment. ;)

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Shawn McElroy

I am taking a side job with a local bootcamp that does courses for teens and adults to learn programming. Ive only taught other programmers different tools.

What tips would you have for being newer to teaching teens/adults these new skills?

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

I have a few guidelines I follow in training interns:

1: Learn to put yourself in the mind of a beginner. Put effort into recalling those feelings of confusion, fear, and bewilderment you first experienced. Go over those memories often, and draw from them to help you empathize with your students. You can also build on this by actively answering questions in an online community where beginners frequent (such as DEV.to.) Learn to spot patterns in questions beginners ask.

2: Be patient. Expect to explain things multiple times, and in multiple ways. Asking the person to explain a concept back to you is a great way to check their understanding. Never belittle anyone for not knowing something, especially something that seems "obvious."

3: Learn to say "I don't know, but let's find out together." You'd be amazed how often you'll be asked questions that you've never thought to answer! A major part of teaching is in demonstrating to your students how to learn. Help them find the resources, "grok" the material yourself, and then walk them through it if necessary. (This makes for a great opportunity to teach a student how to read the documentation or use StackOverflow.)

4: Don't be afraid to say "I was wrong." I've stuck my foot in it more than once, and it always hurts my pride to admit I misunderstood something. I always have that lurking fear that my credibility will be harmed, but in fact, admitting I made a mistake builds credibility, rather than destroying it! It tells the student "you're safe with me."

5: Don't stop your students from making mistakes! Be available to answer questions and to help if asked. Make it clear from the start (and remind often) that the student needs only ask, but resist the urge to rescue them if they don't. It is better to let your student dig themselves out of their own hole, rather than one you dug for them.

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Shawn McElroy

Great tips! That will help a lot thanks. One thing I realized I need to do is setup a notebook (I use notion.so) for tracking students (non identifiable), the course, and any other notes.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

That could work, although real notebooks are worth considering too. (I'm drooling over the TUL discbound notebook system.)

As you teach, you'll notice some topics come up a lot. When I notice these patterns, I like to write down the essentials of a difficult topic in an article and publish it here on DEV.to. Then, I can refer the intern right to the article, and I've saved myself 30-45 minutes per student. (They can always ask additional questions after reading the article.)

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autoferrit profile image
Shawn McElroy

Oh writing is great too. I do bullet a journal too.

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Michael Tharrington (he/him)

Can you talk a bit more about the internship? I'm interested in what kinds of projects interns have worked on and how experienced the students are when you take them on. Also, do you take on folks that aren't part of the universities in your local area?

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Interns have worked on various components of our open source game engine project and its supporting libraries. They've developed data structures that beat C++'s standard library on performance, and created the C++ string class that fully supports both UTF-8 while remaining compatible with std::string. They've laid the groundwork for a programming language, an educational content engine, and a vector animation engine.

Our only prerequisite knowledge for the internship program is working proficiency in at least one programming language. Most come in with a background in Java basics, although we've had a couple of Javascripters, a MATLABer, some Pythonistas, even an Air Force IT. The one thing they have in common is that they're relatively new to the field of programming.

The most amazing part of this for me is watching first- and second-year CS majors come in with minimal knowledge of, say, Java, and become skilled C++ developers as time goes on.

We typically bring on interns from the local area because, although we're remote, I believe in the value of the team being able to meet in person from time-to-time. However, we do have a few completely remote workers. We're also an open source company, so even if someone doesn't join as a formal intern, they can still get some experience by being a regular contributor.

Also, we don't require students to come from the universities. We have good working relationships with the faculty at two of the biggest, which means we can offer college credit to their students for the internship, so most of our interns come from there. However, we've been known to bring on folks from elsewhere.

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unwanted idiot

can I apply for an internship with your company, but I don't have a CS background, but i build fairly complex web apps with javascript and python.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

You're certainly welcome to! You'll find the name/link to my company on my DEV profile. There's a section dedicated to internships, with all the information and instructions you need to apply.

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Quesmin

Hi! Right now I'm looking for a starting point in cybersecurity. I've bought some online courses but I feel like there's so much theory and nothing practical, for me it seems like I don't learn anything useful from them. Can you recommend me some trusted sources like a 'hackers playground' or useful books to start with? I know cybersecurity is a very large domain and there are many paths to take but I want to experience all of them so I can eventually focus on one. TIA!

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laserblue profile image
laserblue

If you want a practical Cyber Securitycourse check out Dr. Roger Schank and Schank Academy.
schankacademy.com/information-secu...

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

I'll have to defer to @laserblue on this one. Cybersecurity is outside of my domain of expertise.

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Pointers are definitely high on the list, along with references, addresses, memory management, and segmentation faults. At this point, I plan to write a "Memory Management For Mere Mortals" series here on DEV.to soon, and then point (pun intended) interns to it.

Templates are also quite high on the list of things that confuse newcomers, especially those coming from Java and its ill-conceived generics system. Yet, once they're understood, templates are one of the biggest reasons why C++ devs love this language!

Surprisingly, OOP is usually only confusing to interns coming from Java, and that's mainly because many of the bad habits that language allows, and even encourages at times, become more clearly bad as soon as they're implemented in C++ (with all warnings enabled).

And then there's my personal pet peeve I have to break almost every intern of: don't use double where a float will do! (That wastes sooooo much memory.)

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Obed

(I hope it is not to late to ask a question)
I am a sophomore college student, I would like to get an internship but at the same time, I am still worried that I don’t have a decent knowledge for an internship yet. I am about to finish my Data Structure class now. My question is, what is the minimum knowledge required to get an internship? What else should I do to be confident enough in coding.
Thank you.

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

It depends on the internship, really. Some (like the one I run) only require basic proficiency with at least one programming language, and familiarity with either object-oriented or functional programming; all of that you'd get from your typical CS-101/102. Others may want you to know a particular language, or have other knowledge; look at the posted requirements for any internship you're interested in.

As far as gaining coding confidence, you only gain that by working on real projects. In lieu of an internship, start a side-project of your own. Make it about something you personally care about, something you would actually use. Then, build it, learning as you go. This is the single best way to gain confidence in programming, and it makes an excellent addition to your coding portfolio, especially if you put it on GitHub or the like.

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dah00 profile image
Obed

Thank you for your respond, it is very helpful.

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poweruser64 profile image
Blake North

How old should I be and what kind of experience should I try to get while I'm in college to get an internship? (I'm going into my senior year of highschool.)

Thanks in advance

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

It really depends on the internship. As for us, we've had interns as young as 19, and we only require some basic working proficiency in a programming language, along with essential familiarity with either the object-oriented, functional, or generic programming paradigms.

In other words, if you're (1) 18 years of age or older and (2) have written at least some tiny project in any language, you're probably eligible for an internship.

A good programming internship should be all about learning how to develop software in the real world, and is intended as an "on-ramp" to the industry. It shouldn't require prior programming employment history.

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poweruser64 profile image
Blake North

Thanks for your response

I have a few more questions:
How do I go about getting a internship? Are there websites that I look on? Should I reach out to the company that I want to get an internship at, or will they reach out to me? Or should I talk to people I know who work at companies that I want to get an internship at? I live in Seattle, so I am friends with lots of people who work at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.

Sorry for bombarding you with all these questions 😁

Thanks again

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

From what I know, it never hurts to reach out to companies you're interested in interning at, either directly or through contacts (although you're likely to have the best chances with the latter.) Companies will virtually never reach out to you first.

You can also check job boards for internships. If you're a student or alumni of a college or university, their career services department would be able to point you in the right direction.

However, whatever you do, you should make sure the internship you take is legitimate:

  • According to US Labor Law, internships should almost always be paid at least minimum wage. (The same is true in other countries.) There are very specific regulations for unpaid internships, so you should look up your country's laws regarding this. (P.S. Ours can legally be unpaid because our company has no income yet, and even I'm not getting paid; we're just building FOSS.)

  • Whether paid or unpaid, an internship should never cost you money, either up front or "if you don't finish." There are a number of (legal) scams that claim to offer internships, but require you to pay them back if you don't fit some criteria. These are never okay.

  • Any internship should have you working on a real project alongside actual developers! There should also be training involved. An internship should be the same as a junior development position, but with more on-the-job training.

  • ...it should not involve you fetching coffee, sweeping floors, or doing any other menial jobs shuffled off on you by more senior devs. Contrary to popular belief, interns are NOT gofers. Any internship that treats you like one should be shunned.

In short, programming internships are real development jobs, and should be treated as such, both by you and your employer. You should ask questions about internship you're thinking about applying for. Find out what you'll be working on, who you'll be working with, what the training is like, who you'll report to, what the expectations are, and yes, if it's paid (and how much) or unpaid.

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justaguy profile image
^.^

Oh man, im so excited that found that article, that even wont be using google translate for that massage. Just because im so afraid to lost a time.

Look, im really a new guy in programming. Know nothing about it. But always wanted!

So i started using Khan Academy, Brilliant.org and tutor to gain some knowledge in math, in order to have much better comprehension about programming later.

But now, when time is coming, i still cant find any really good starting point. You know, just like Khan Academy for my math.

So please, if you can, share with me and maybe other guys who are also interested links on the sites where we could find complete programming courses or at least something that will help us to start.

Thank you a lot:3

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

There are hundreds of great books and courses available for learning how to program. Here's a few I recommend:

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

I've seen sooooooo much entitlement in interviewing candidates for the internship program.

One 19-yr-old, who bragged he had built half an app in C# (the whole extent of his coding career thus far), actually sat and lectured my most senior developers on everything he thought they were doing wrong in our project...much to everyone's amusement.

I burst his bubble when I described the rather auspicious achievements of said devs.

In our hiring annals, we refer to him only as "wonder boy".

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Jacob

As a university CS junior with no idea what direction to take for a career, what steps should I be taking to gain experience and make connections before I graduate? Also what are some ways to see what the industry in a particular field is like that will help me narrow down what I want to do for a career?

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Actually, one of the main purposes of an internship is exactly that - to get an idea of what the industry is like in a particular field! You can also consider job shadowing to get a "lighter" taste. Your university's career services department can connect you with opportunities for both.

As to networking, I've found that DEV and Freenode IRC both provide excellent opportunities. One seldom sets out with the goal of "making connections" - that happens naturally over time as you meet people, ask questions, and interact. You should also see if there are any programming meetups in your area; in-person networking events like this are one of the best ways to meet people in your chosen field!

If you know you want to work in computer science, don't stress about necessarily finding the "right direction" before you graduate. Sometimes it takes time, but you'll eventually discover what you enjoy...and it may be quite different from what you anticipate!

Graduation from college is not the end of your entry phase - in fact, it is just the beginning.

P.S. If you someday discover that something interests you more than C.S., don't be ashamed. I know programmers with music degrees, musicians with CS degrees, and many, many other people that went into a field different from the one they went to school for. There's nothing really wrong with it.

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dylanknevitt profile image
Dylan

Hi there,

I've just started running multiple internship programmes (ranging from 2 to 6 month cycles) at the beginning of this year, I have 3 - 5 permanent devs who do most of the teaching. My biggest challenge that I have no clue how to solve is this:

As the programme grows, I am struggling to find people who can effectively teach the interns. Have you had this issue and if so could you shed any light on how you found the right people?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

First of all, one can only take someone as far as they've gone themselves. Second, one must have an empathy for the beginner. Third, one has to know how to be available to answer questions without volunteering unrequested advice. Allow them to make mistakes!

It is easier for someone to dig themselves out of a hole they dug, rather than one the supervisor dug for them.

Mainly, internship supervisors should be available to answer questions, conduct code reviews, and help interns find tasks suited to them. I also recommend meeting with the intern periodically to ask them how they're doing.

The best support for my interns has come from former interns. In fact, I actually require anyone who wants to be involved in management to go through the same tasks as interns have to do.

I also formalized the internship with...

  • A checklist of goals and expectations,
  • A formal handbook outlining policies for internship supervisors,
  • Documentation for all workflows.

All that to say, usually the trick to finding internship supervisors is in making sure the expectations for the role are clear.

I hope that helps! (If not, feel free to follow up w/ additional questions.)

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daboi_sam profile image
Sam

Hi. I am currently a college sophomore pursuing computer science. I've attended computer science classes but couldn't understand anything. So i recently started doing online courses. Currently im doing Automate boring stuff with python. Its a great course so far. Do you have any recommendations on other courses that I should take after im done with this? Thanks.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Hi Sam,

That's a good one. I listed several other books and courses in response to @justaguy 's comment here on this article. I'd check those out.

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sriggsss

Hi I just found your ama. I got motivated to make an account to ask as a student trying to find a internship for my next semester. I wanted to ask what do you look for in an application like a cover letter for when you are hiring an intern?

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

There are a few things I look for from an applicant:

  • A resume, of course. This doesn't need to be long or impressive — in fact, I assume most applicants won't know how to design a good resume — but it should include your work history and existing skills.

Most important point with a resume: write like a real person would talk! Using 'magic' HR phrases like "motivated self-starter" usually get the application rejected. I want to hire a human being, not just a good actor.

  • A cover letter written specifically for our company! This should show that you know something about our company and internship program, and where you'd like to fit into it.

  • The internship application. You'd be amazed how often this gets ignored. Read the instructions for applying for any internship thoroughly, and follow them to the letter. If they want you to fill out an application, fill it out.

On that note, if there's a field that says "signature", print the form off, SIGN IT, and scan it in (or else use a tablet to sign). Typing one's name in a script font is not legally binding, and yes, we'll know. (That happened.)

  • References from former employers, supervisors, or professors (just have these on hand.) Family and personal friends don't usually count for this.

  • A portfolio of code you've written — GitHub is fine for this — just to show that you know some basics of coding. Don't worry if it isn't technically advanced or overly impressive. I'm mainly concerned with a personal dedication to quality, a consistent style, and the ability to problem solve.

  • Politeness. Just because we're moving towards a more informal society doesn't it's okay for an applicant to get chummy with me right off the bat. In emails back-and-forth with applicants, I should be addressed as "Mr. McDonald" until I give the cue to switch to first-name basis.

I usually let applicants off the hook for a "Hi Jason" in the first email, but if they don't pick up the social cue from my responses always starting with "Dear Mr./Ms. So-And-So," and ending with my full name, they're out of the running.

That last point may sound pedantic and overly fussy, but I've learned that if someone cannot use polite formality with a potential superior when applying for an internship, he or she is not likely to have respect for said superior in a work relationship.

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Pigeon Tastic

Hi there. Totally psyched to read this post and the responses. <3

I'm an older college student going back to school for my BS in IT with a software development focus.

Is there any additional advice you'd like to give me as an older student just getting into the field? I do have a background with Front-End technologies and have been coding on and off my whole life. Right now, I'm mostly doing Python and Java/Android projects and reading a lot of programming books off of the lists I see recommended.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Congrats on returning to school! "Non-traditional students" are the coolest people going! (I tutored a lot of older students back in my college days.)

There aren't many significant differences between a younger intern/student and an older one. One of my interns is a retired veteran with a background in binary programming with punchcards!

I've really only noticed two issues that are somewhat unique to older students:

  1. Some have difficulty having someone younger as their teacher or supervisor. It's important to remember that you can learn from anyone, and we all have more we can learn as long as we live.

  2. You will almost certainly have experiences that your supervisors, teachers, and fellow students/interns don't. Hold onto these, and don't be afraid to share them. At the same time, remember that computer science evolves continually - what was true ten years ago might have been superseded. It's a balancing act.

In the end, age doesn't mean much. I've learned things from my own interns, even those several years younger than me.

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nilesh nayak

I am a beginner in the coding world. I have some prior experience in Java . I am currently pursuing engineering and i am in the beginning of my second year. I am not able to actually know in which direction should I follow. I had a dream about gsoc and going abroad to pursue higher courses. I live in India so it's pretty difficult for me to find some proper guidance. I would love everyone's input in this ..and lastly what should I do so that I can follow my dream and can land a job in Google.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Hi Nilesh,

Surprisingly, it isn't as important as you'd expect to find your direction right now! Many developers work in multiple branches of computer science until they find the one that best suits them. Be flexible and give it time. It may not be until years after graduation that you find where you fit best, but that's okay!

One of the best ways you can try out different branches of computer science is to become involved in open source development. Find projects you think are interesting, or which you use, and try your hand at fixing bugs or making small improvements. Help with documentation and testing. This not only builds that all-important portfolio, but it gives you an opportunity to try out many different areas of programming.

With a solid portfolio of open source contributions, you'll find it will be much easier to land an internship at a company like Google!

P.S. From what I've heard, Google is overrated, especially with the ethical controversies they're embroiled in. I am not saying you should give up on your dream of working for them, but keep your eyes open for other companies you might be interested in interning with as well. There are thousands of small and mid-size programming firms doing stuff even cooler than Google!

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KBMasiya

Hi,

I have an Assessment coming right up, it is for an "Developer internship" position. What preparations can you recommend?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Different internship programs have different expectations, so it's hard to really say what they'd be looking for.

My best recommendation is to brush up on what you already know, especially as it concerns the language(s) the internship focuses on.

It may be tempting to try cramming more knowledge before the assessment, but I wouldn't actually recommend that; assessments are meant to ensure you have the minimum prerequisite knowledge to thrive in the internship, and if you don't have that, a few days of cramming won't make up the difference. If you turn out not to be ready, take heart and try again in a few months, once you have some more knowledge. Internships aren't like normal jobs in that, if you aren't ready the first time, you're usually welcome to try again later.

Skills aside, the main thing internships look for is someone who is teachable and able to learn. As long as you present that attitude, and can write some code, I suspect you'll have a good chance.

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KBMasiya

Wow thanks 😁 this will surely calm my nerves

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Sam Norton

I've been working with some WordPress and HTML development in the past 6 years. Since I am working freelance (homebased jobs) usually the job that are being passed to me were simple jobs such as updating an existing CSS code for a WP site, building links for SEO companies according to their instruction.

Then suddenly, I lost my job. When I applied to other companies I realize that my current skillset for a developer job is not a great fit. I took several test skill for the company I applied to but failed.

Moving forward, I pity myself for not seeing any improvement as a so called developer or atleast that's what I know.

Any tips for me to really become a developer? (Sorry for the stupid question)

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

There was a stupid question? I didn't see one! :)

It's always hard when your existing skill set comes up insufficient. The best thing to do is take this opportunity to dive into some independent study. Since you've been applying for jobs, you clearly have some ideas of what you want to do, so look at which languages and concepts you keep "coming up short" on and go learn those things.

I posted a big 'ol list of books and courses in response to ^,^ (@justaguy ) on this comment thread, so take a look at those. I especially recommend learning Python, and reading "Computational Fairy Tales," "Game Programming Patterns," and "Dreaming in Code." That will help get you well on your way to where you want to go.

And of course, read lots of articles here on DEV.

And then, go write real code! Don't worry about it being good, brilliant, or polished, just write code. See my responses to James (@jliby ) and to Angel Young (@angelyoung24 ).

All the best!

P.S. If you've ever written any meaningful code, and HTML certainly counts, you're a "real developer". Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. You just need some more/different experience now, that's all.

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Haseeb Munir

Hello Jason,

I just read your post and I thought that I should connect with you as I am seeking advice regarding the career switch I want to make. I am a Mechanical Engineer and most of my life I have lived in Middle East, hence most of my 12 years experience is on Oil & Gas Industry projects. I was more towards Projects Control department.
I moved to USA 3 years ago, and now I have my work permit here. I have been working on different contractual jobs but I always wanted to make a switch to IT industry as I don't enjoy Oil & Gas anymore.
Obviously I had to do some research about what I want exactly and it seems that I am gravitating more towards Data and AI.
After digging in deeper I found out that any coding language is something that I must know in order to move forward.
I would like to ask you what exactly is the path in your opinion that I should follow in order to learn the basics quickly and then later land a job.
I am 36 now, Someone recommended me Udacity Nanodegree but I am not sure if 6 to 8 months course can help me find a job.
I know that the first step is learning a coding language but I would like to learn by working on a project. I know about many online institutes and recruiting agencies that would offer a crash course worth hundreds of dollars or even free and would promise that they would place the candidate and land a job. But what happens actually is that after the course, they would prepare a Resume that would have 5+ years of fake experience and the candidate would be told to prepare for the interview accordingly.
To be honest, as mentioned above, I would like to find a way where I could learn the language by working on a project, polish my skills and even start on a basic level job.
What are your suggestions.
Thanks in advance,
Muhammad Haseeb Munir.

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Hi Muhammad,

Thankfully, formal education is not always a necessity! It played such a minor part in my own professional journey.

Here's what I recommend:

  1. Start learning a language. Given your interest area, start with Python. Automate the Boring Stuff with Python by Al Sweigart is an excellent place to start. After that, check out my own Dead Simple Python series to dig deeper. While learning any language, focus on strengthening the fundamentals.

  2. Plug into developer communities. The #python channel on Freenode IRC is an excellent community to join! That was the crowd that first broke me in as a greenhorn, and I continue to learn so much from them. Make yourself a part of the communities you're in. Ask questions. Answer questions, or at least try to. Write articles here on DEV, especially #devjournal posts initially, documenting what you learn. Communication in all forms is essential to success in programming, and it also builds your skills in English and whatever other language(s) you use.

  3. Find an open source project to contribute to. One possibility is Mycroft.ai, a fairly mature open source personal voice assistant project, developed in Python. You can start by writing simple skills, and working your way up to the tough stuff. Challenge yourself!

  4. When you encounter a problem that seems too tough, learn what you need to solve it. Talk to people in your programming communities. Experiment. Break things, and then fix them! You learn more from these moments of being "stuck" than you could from any book or course.

Lather, rinse, repeat. If you dedicate yourself to this process, soon enough, you'll have gained enough provable knowledge through your open source participation to earn a spot in an entry level position. Bonus, the friends you make over time in the communities you're in may even be willing to recommend you, once they've gotten to know you, of course.

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Haseeb Munir

Hello Jason,

Thanks for the swift reply. I will start following the steps and might again ask you for your help if I need some help.

Thanks once again

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prabhjotsingh157

Hello Jason, I am Prabhjot from India. I love programming very much but I am suffering from a genetic diseases named Spinal Muscular Distrophy. So I am 100% physically handicapped can't do anything, can't go anywhere. Just a room is my life. I am studying doing my graduation final year in BCA. I just want too practice more and more but couldn't decided what and where to start. If you hire me a freelancer intern or suggest me how to make my career I will be very thankful to yours. It will help me to made my skills.My parents done lot of things for me now I want to pay back off. Thank you.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Hi Prabhjot,

Glad to hear you're grabbing life by the horns! Good for you.

In terms of my own company, we don't have the framework necessary to hire internationally yet. However, we do have an "informal internship" through our open source collaboration program, which you are welcome to take part in. It is very similar to the internship program.

If you're interested, go to my DEV profile and click on the company I work for (under "Work" towards the upper right). Check out the Internships and Developers sections of the website. You can also message me if you have questions.

In a more general sense, open source projects are an EXCELLENT way to gain more experience and build your portfolio (which is your key to getting hired at a software company). Look for open source projects you find interesting or personally use, and see if you can fix bugs, contribute small features, help with documentation or testing, and the like.

All the best!

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eezzell profile image
eezzell

Hello,

I am starting a paid internship program at my organization, and will be working with interns who are going through the same grad program that I did. I was considering starting a book study as professional development for the interns, but am not sure if I will be able to ask the interns to count all of the hours they may take reading the book towards their paid hours. I was considering asking them to read an excerpt that would count towards their hours and to allow their book presentation work to count towards their hours, but to make the reading of the complete book optional. Do you have any suggestions?

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Hi @eezzell ,

There are actually two books that we require all interns to read here at my company, and they are allowed to count all the time. There are a couple of books that I may recommend or assign, depending on their task. That may sound like it would take a large chunk out of the 240 hours, but the return on that reading is actually worthwhile.

Usually, the best way to keep this balanced is to have a clear checklist of expectations for the internship. If they know up front what all they will need to do with their time, and how long they have to do it, that will help them to prioritize. At my company, we require 240 hours, 6 hours a week, and we have confirmed that all the tasks can be completed comfortably within that timeframe.

As to your particular situation, you could have them just read an excerpt, but understand that they are not likely to want to read the rest of their book on their own time. Paying interns for training time is just one of the investments a company makes. If you can't justify paying them to read the book, chances are it's not that important.

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nexthazard profile image
Jared Richards

This is more of a learning question. I study and study but I just can't grasp programming concepts, I still program but it feels like I'm a blind person who will never see is this normal ?

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

There are two possibilities I see here:

Option One is that you might not have had things explained in a way that makes sense to you. I posted big list of books and courses in response to @justaguy , and one of those is an excellent book called "Computational Fairy Tales" that explains things in a different way. It might help you get unstuck. If it does, also check out "Game Programming Patterns".

Option Two is that programming may not be right for you. Not everyone will be a great programmer. Some people just don't have the same natural talent for logical-analytical as others...and that's FINE! Everyone has their own genius, and I know you'll find yours.

If you really want to work in programming, but find that you just don't have the mind for it, you may look into one of these career paths instead:

  • Developer Advocate
  • Project Manager
  • Technical Writer
  • User Advocate

There are many more options besides. You don't have to be a skilled programmer to be involved in software development. There are plenty of other roles to be filled, which most programmers really don't want to have to do because it takes them away from writing code!

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Jared Richards

Thanks a lot i will defo give those books a read :), also thanks again for the advice much appriciated also a new outlook on my career :) !

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r4vaa profile image
Dheeraj

Hi I have recently started a bootcamp based on angular, as I am noob in coding and what can u advice me to be better programmer.

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Really, the only answer to that is "just code!" I'd recommend the same advice I gave to James (@jliby ) in this comment thread. :)

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r4vaa profile image
Dheeraj

Thank you

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

I received a question on Twitter from a computer science professor, asking how to help his students, who all understand theory, how to apply that to logic. I wanted to share my answer here as well:


As you probably know, all the theory goes out the window as soon as one is working on actual code. There are two things you can do to help your students with this:

1) One of the best things you can do for your students is to "drop them in the deep end of the pool," so to speak. Instead of assigning only small, well-defined projects, have them work on larger, more real-world-style projects, especially in pairs. (Grade them individually, not as a pair, to help ensure they BOTH do the work.) Allow them to hit the difficulties of writing real software. Through the struggle, they'll start to learn through trial-and-error how to apply theory to logic.

2) Study ACTUAL code in your classes. Take examples from production code. Have the students read sections of code from major open source projects, wherein the theory you've discussed is applied.

Teaching programming is not unlike teaching English or any other spoken language — you must read and write the language to learn how it really works.

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AmanGoyal99

Hi. I was looking for a 6 month internship starting from Jan 2020. I just wanted to know whether your internship work also contains AI.
Thanks
Regards
Aman Goyal

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Hi Aman,

It doesn't, I'm afraid. Thanks for asking, though!

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amangoyal99 profile image
AmanGoyal99

So what kind of projects your interns do?
Can you give few examples.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Three different interns worked on our string class, which is the first in C++ to be both fully UTF-8 compatible with all operators and functions, while being completely compatible with std::string and C-strings.

Interns have also worked on implementing the data structures we optimized for our game engine; the performance of these data structures actually beats the C++ standard library.

One team designed the foundations for a vector animation engine. We'll be building it again from scratch, not because that team did anything wrong, but because, as usual in coding, "you always throw the first one away." It needs a refactor, but all of the early work now informs future coding.

Several other interns have worked on prototyping components of the scripting language for our game engine, and designing pieces of our educational content engine. One of them wrote a content leveling algorithm we're going to reimplement in the finished engine; another created a critical content development tool.

Granted, that will probably sound like a lot of "planning," but 2015-2018 was focused primarily on figuring out how to solve a lot of hard problems. Now that those are solved, the next round of interns will be implementing these things into reality.

When you're designing a game engine, there's a wide variety of tasks to be done. :)

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laserblue

Do you agree with Semmy Purewal's statement regarding the existence of a gap between what is taught in Universities and the professional world?

Learning Web App Development (2014 ) by Semmy Purewal
pg. xi

“It turns out that there’s a pretty large gap between practical, everyday software engineering and programming as taught by computer science departments at colleges and universities.”

“In early 2008, after about six years of grad school and teaching part-time, …”
“... I had been studying computer science for about nine years at that point, and had been teaching students how to develop software for about six years. Shouldn’t I have already known how to build web applications? It turns out …”

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Absolutely. This is the gap wherein fits the internship program I run. A couple of the university CS professors I've worked with in the past have affirmed the same, and regularly warn their students of this gap; unfortunately, their students invariably remain incredulous until they actually try to work in the industry.

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Jason C. McDonald Ask Me Anything

Another question, this one via email.

I'm getting ready to finish my masters degree. On the other hand im trying to find a way to get a remote job. According to your experience in the field, what skills do I need? Where should I search?

The exact skills you need depend on the remote job you're applying for, but in general...

  • You'll need to be reasonably proficient with whatever language(s) the job uses.
  • You should be familiar with the common algorithms, data structures, and design patterns in programming.
  • You MUST be able to communicate clearly and effectively with others.

Take a look at dev.to/codemouse92/how-to-become-a... (as well as Part 3).

In terms of searching for a job, there are a number of job listing sites for tech, including:

You can also look for a Jobs or Careers page on the website for any tech company you think you might want to work for.

Besides applying to jobs, you should definitely look for opportunities to contribute code to open source projects. This will help you build your all-important portfolio, which any company will want to see as part of considering you for a job.

Third, you should build your professional network through DEV, Freenode IRC, GitHub, LinkedIn, and the like. One of the benefits to have strong working relationships with other coders is that they can recommend you to jobs at companies they work at or have contacts at, and they can vouch for your skills. It takes time to build this network; the main point of any such a relationship should be mutual support, not just "what can I get out of this". Over my years in coding, I've built an extensive network of professional friends across many countries, and touching dozens of major organizations. I never set out to make friends with people who "knew people." These friendships just happened naturally over time, and now are a major help to my career.