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Ben Halpern for CodeNewbie

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What Was Your First Job in the Tech Industry?

Hey, Devs! We want to know: what was your first job in the tech industry? And what advice do you have for new developers entering the workforce? Share your experience and how it helped shape your career.

Let's inspire and encourage the next generation of tech talent!

Top comments (27)

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miketalbot profile image
Mike Talbot โญ

My first job was as a games programmer - mind you this was 1985... Ugh. I built a game called Storm which sold around 400,000 units by the time it had been translated to multiple different platforms - this was big news in the mid 80s and so I quit education and pursued that as a career!

I built games for EA for a bit and took a real salaried job for a while in France working for UbiSoft - that was my first job where someone else paid me. (Since then I've moved to commercial software and been a founder in a number of businesses).

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maxart2501 profile image
Massimo Artizzu

In the cover that barbarian looks like Conan wearing a pleated skirt ๐Ÿ˜‚

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy ๐ŸŽ–๏ธ

I think I had this game!

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danbailey profile image
Dan Bailey

Oh Jesus. It was was the heady days of 1998, I was fresh out of college. I was regretting my switch from Comp Sci to an English degree, and I had spent most of the past 4-ish years building websites. I landed at a small web design/dev shop. Two owners, three underpaid college-age kids that were grossly underpaid ($15/hour) figuring everything out on the fly. The owners wouldn't pony up for real servers, so most of our sites lived on second-hand PCs that sat in what we sarcastically called the "server room" and each one of those backup-free gems hosted multiple sites using pirated software, that were built with pirated software. The owners had collected several hundred $5000 deposits on sites and then just kept us plugging away at these things. Most of the work was done in ColdFusion 4 (all inline tagging based crap), and we spit out site after site after site. Bicycle shop website, adult toys e-commerce site, flat brochureware site for a crappy Thai food place in downtown, smoke shop e-commerce site, etc., etc., etc. After about six months, my attitude had taken a giant shit, and a chat with the majority owner about the state of things resulted in me getting laid off. It was actually a blessing. I moved to Philly in February of '99, landed at a VC-backed dot-com, and built some interesting shit and made really good bank until the bottom fell out in October of '01.

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maxart2501 profile image
Massimo Artizzu

Well, I started as a web developer. Just what I'm doing right now. But not because I was expecting it.

I was actually expecting to work in a computer shop. Little I knew that the shop owner forwarded my resume to a software house, because I had some programming experience, gave a couple of uni exams and participated to a couple of coding contests in the meantime. I remember this bit of the interview:
(My soon-to-be) boss: "Do you have any questions?"
"Actually, yes. Why did you ask me so much about my programming skills?"
(Puzzled) "It's for the job."
"... As a computer shop worker?"
"I think there has been a misunderstanding..."

I was hired nonetheless. I struggled at first, but in a couple of weeks something clicked and throughly enjoyed the role.

I always dabbled in programming since I was, like, 8. I only dreamt of doing it as a professional. After the uni, I didn't expect it to become reality!

The paths life makes you follow...

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ryencode profile image
Ryan Brown

Technically first tech job was Retail Macintosh Sales at a Non-Apple-Owned franchise store which specialized in Apple products. I was an apple fanboy at the time.

Actual first programming job was a continuation of my college practicum project translating CGI C executable into PHP as part of a re-write the college's internal data-driven website.

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Russell Jones

I did "co-op" education in high school at a local computer shop as an assistant technician. The main guy always had a cigarette going and clients would joke about finding ashes in their computers when they opened them up at home.

My first real gig was over the phone support for Gateway computers. Remember the milk cow boxes? I met a life long friend there.

Fun times.

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tempusthales profile image
Gilbert Palau

I started a company while running a commercial BBS called Netropolis. This was 1992, I was 22. It was running BBS Software Major BBS / World Group. I wrote bbs doors for my Board. From there I went into Web Development (Hot Dog Editor anyone?) and from there I jumped to Computer Animation, mostly handling Manta Ray and Renderman, I eventually ended up as a client platform engineer, which is what I have been doing for the last 20+ years. Some people say I should be managing a team by now, but nah, I'll be forever an Engineer.

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jansche profile image
Jan Schenk (he/him)

I started my career in 1999 as an intern and then became a full-time employee January 2000 at the same company. They hired me as a Web Developer and I created classic HTML pages with tables. Macromedia Dreamweaver and Fireworks, Adobe Photoshop, that was my beginnings. The websites were the company's websites, not for customers.

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szabgab profile image
Gabor Szabo • Edited

The first unpaid gig was writing Assembly code for ZX Spectrum (or was it a ZX 81 ?) controlling 24 projectors at the Laser theater in the planetarium of Budapest, Hungary around 1984-85 when I was still in high-school.

The first paid job was test automation at DEC for the fast Ethernet processor in Jerusalem, Israel in 1993. That's the only time I had the luck of working on VMS.

I don't know what advice to give. I enjoyed it back then and I keep enjoying tinkering with software.

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094459 profile image
Ricardo Sueiras

I was a van drive in a small tech company. I couldnt get a job the typical route as I did not have the needed qualifications, but I was just as good as the technical folk in the company. One day I got a break, was able to show my tech skills and they looked after me from that moment.

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syeo66 profile image
Red Ochsenbein (he/him)

Well, it depends. Either it was my job at a call center as first level supporter for the large data networks of a major telecommunication company. Learned a lot about routers, network nodes, network and routing protocols, and more.

Or, it might be my first web development job I got around 1998. I pokered high and just said I know PHP during the interview. When I started 2 months later I actually knew how to code in PHP. :-D

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hlnvoyer profile image
Helene Voyer • Edited

While studying computer science in a local CEGEP I had a few summer jobs in IT as a student :

  • one summer it was with a federal department (Health Canada) updating BBS
  • one summer it was working on a learning system about accounting for a local teacher
  • one summer I was building an application with my dad to manage electrical equipment (got the copyright on it here in Canada)
  • one summer I was working for a development agency with IT support and coding in VBA for Access After that I went to the university, while in my last year I started working full time in a local hospital while studying part time. I was coding using SMS and Meditech. I did some 24h support a few times a month. After almost 3 years, I was let go with 2 other employees. That was a non-unionized job. A few months later, I started working in a federal department where I'm still working right now. I've worked on several different web applications all in Java with Struts. Since November 2023, I'm now helping creating our first few web applications in PHP one with Joomla and another with Laravel. None of them are yet in production. That`s a first for me as I always was involved with working on existing web applications. I've been in this department for 20 years now. We are working from home since March 2020. I will be getting a full pension after 35 years of service.
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geraldew profile image
geraldew • Edited

There are two different answers for that depending on what we want to call "tech".

In one sense, my first tech job saw me assembling circuit boards to make multiple high gain amplifiers at a university. It happened that while there I also got to play on a number of computers, giving me my first practical hands on programming experiences. But that wasn't part of the job, and the posting was only short term work that didn't really go anywhere.

So my first real "tech industry" job was when the computer store where I'd bought my first computer had a sudden need for a salesman, especially someone like me who was handy with a soldering iron to assist in the repairs section.

My start then, was selling and repairing computers, although I did later do some programming for them too (dBase II and BASIC). Strangely, all these years later I'm still a hybrid, half a data scripter and half a programmer.

To be honest, these days, I'm so entrenched that I assume I have no pertinent advice for new developers entering the workforce. I still don't use the label "developer" myself.

Postscipt: because while I think it's not relevant, I'll write it anyway.
The skill that I most value from all my experience is to write code thinking that I myself will read/inspect it again in 10, 20, 30 years time - because I have by now, done exactly that and appreciated when I did that well versus when I didn't. Of course there are equivalents when reading/reworking other people's code but the purely personal version of this has a useful simplicity.

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ryanr profile image
Ryan Robinson • Edited

My first broadly tech job was in the local (small town) library when I was near the end of high school. I was basically the caretaker of a few computers and tech support for the occasional person who came in needing help, which at that time mostly meant things like setting up an email address.

I also did a few basic HTML site designs for people I knew around the same time, which also meant learning about web hosting services.

First full-time website job was for my university in the summer, helping build sites and LMS (Moodle) courses for departments and instructors. In hindsight that was the important first step in the direction I'm in now.

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy ๐ŸŽ–๏ธ • Edited

My first paid gig was a project with a friend - converting some commercial kids maths software from STOS on the Atari ST to AMOS on the Commodore Amiga. I was maybe around 14 years old - late 80s / early 90s.

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manchicken profile image
Michael D. Stemle, Jr.

My first job in tech was when I was 16, in 1998. The job was a contract for a company was called "Executive Partners, Inc."

They wanted me to write a web message board, and they wanted it in Perl, and they wanted it to store data in flat files, and they wanted it to have authentication. Everything for the web message board was plaintext, which was horrifying, but it's what the customer wanted.

The product is dead now, obviously and for good cause, but here's the Wayback machine link to it: web.archive.org/web/20000416184554...

This contract was won because I literally opened a phone book and looked under the category of "software," and I got really lucky.

My second job in tech was in April of 2000, when I was 18, I started working full-time for a company called "MortgageSelector.com" (that was the company name). They did commercial real estate brokerage, and they had a neat Perl-based framework called Perl Chameleon. I worked with some really smart people, but a few months in I was laid off. I found my third tech job only a few weeks later.

The advice I have for folks trying to break into the field is:

  • Do open source. Open source gives you exposure, reputation, but also experience.
  • Find small contracts, check out small niche job boards, work with open source projects that have a large corporate sponsor and a bunch of users if you can.
  • Don't underestimate the value of doing small things well. If you maintain a small but useful NPM module, folks will notice.
  • Write articles. Writing articles is a great way to get feedback on your own thinking, and it's a great way of getting noticed for your ideas.
  • Don't worry so much about certifications. They're not as helpful as many believe, and many of them are more about marketing than skill-building.
  • If you're in school, stay in school. There're a lot of tempting opportunities to take a job for good money, but I do sometimes wish I had gotten to enjoy the college experience. It's not necessary, but it's a wonderful nice-to-have.
  • Organize. Software has always been seen as more of a "factory floor" in business, and lately we've been dealing with a lot of hostility from business units engaged in layoffs and speedups. If you have the opportunity to collectively bargain with your colleagues for better pay and benefits, I would encourage you to take that opportunity. We still get paid pretty well, but as things like Copilot and ChatGPT become bigger, regular software engineering roles will be optimized and automated. Together we bargain, alone we beg.

Finally, don't forget that technology serves people. Building people skills is essential to a successful career in tech. I know that we have a reputation for being a socially awkward bunch who never talk to people, but that stereotype could not be more wrong.