Two year ago I went to a job fair at this hospital that was my #1 choice of employers I wanted to work at, and it ended with me sitting in my car crying because things went so shitty. Today, two year later, I’ve received my first tech employee badge from that same hospital, and I’m sitting in my car in the same spot. I want to relate that experience in detail with the hopes that others realize after the rain the sun will shine. There is hope!
Two year ago, I jumped through some painful hoops just for the opportunity to attend the job fair.
The previous day I worked my regular non-tech job plus an extra shift so that I can take off the following day to attend the fair. I focused that night on perfecting my resume, practicing my two-minute elevator pitch, and printing copies of my resume.
The next day, tired and exhausted, I made arraignments for my child (single parent) and I drove a car with no air conditioning in the southern US delta heat to the job fair while dressed in a suit and tie.
I got lost driving because I was stressed, anxiety kicking in, tired from work, and a hundred other dumb reasons. I got lost on the hospital campus while finding the correct parking spot.
My dress clothes were now wet with sweat. I ended up putting on a sports jacket to hide the sweat stains. I felt foolish wearing a jacket in the summer heat, and now I was even hotter.
I met up with some younger fellow attendees who I recognize from a local boot camp and followed them to the job fair. They look professional, not sweaty, and ready to impress. I on the other hand felt dirty and ready to bolt, completely unworthy.
I immediately rushed to the restroom, desperately pushing down the anxiety of being around the press of people. I tried to dry off my clothes, splash water on my face, and get my game face on. I repeat my elevator pitch and give myself a pep talk. It’s time to shine and get my first tech job.
All of that pre-game drama led up to meeting the recruiter. I was first in the door and the first person to talk to this one recruiter for the software development department. I shook his hands, handed my resume, and gave my 2-minute presentation. I was proud and smiling hard. He asked me one question, “What technology do you think we use here”. I responded that I heard that this was a Java shop and a few more things. I wanted to show that I researched the company and department. What I got from the following short painful conversation was:
- You don’t have work experience and very little experience in our tech stack.
- The experience you do have and projects isn’t worth discussing.
- Why are you here and more importantly, why are you wasting my time.
He was quiet spoken, even toned, and straight to the point (no BS). The recruiter looked eager to greet the people lining up behind me. He handed me back my resume and pointed to the wall with the staffing services. I talked to them, and they politely put my resume in the pile of other resumes.
I cried in my car. It wasn’t that I was told I wasn’t good enough (okay maybe). It was that he thought so little of me that I wasn’t worth 5 minutes at a job fair. All the endless nights of learning and projects I built (no tutorials) didn’t matter. The sacrifices I made to get there didn’t matter. I felt worthless!
Later that day I got back on the grind of learning, building, networking, and saying “Yes” to every opportunity to code with others. This meant taking opportunities to teach at a tech boot-camp, freelance projects, hackathons, giving tech talks, learning in public, leading a tech non-profit to host meetups, and working for free for a tech startup. In my mind, you have to be willing to do everything to make a dream into a reality.
Today I reflected on this long road that ended with my first employee badge. If I can offer anyone advice, its:
Don’t give up!!! If it’s worth crying over, then it’s worth picking yourself up after failing and grinding harder.
Other people don’t determine your worth. I don’t think I’m any better than two years ago with the old resume. The only difference is my new resume is shiny and I have air conditioning in my car.
If they don’t let you in the front door; go around, under, over, or in the back door. Some people will deny you an opportunity because you are sweaty, the wrong color, wrong gender, don’t have the pedigree education, speak differently, or just didn’t shake their hands hard enough. You don’t know and it doesn't matter. F#$% them if they can’t see how awesome you are.
Don’t stop knocking on doors and adding value to everything you touch. You don’t know when your opportunity for a job will present itself. With that in mind, focus on being prepared and constantly adding value to your resume/projects/expertise area. Plan what you will learn, always be building, and search for others you can work with on a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule.
Plan to be uncomfortable, that's where real growth happens. I have anxiety issues and I stutter when nervous. This meant I needed practice talking and being around people. Whatever is holding you back from being the best version of yourself or keeping you from the job you crave is what you need to be working on. This means being uncomfortable and doing things that you are afraid to do. Practice makes perfect.
I converted several blog posts similar to this one into a free e-book called "Advice for Breaking into Tech". The book summarizes advice from 700 developers about learning how to code and looking for your first job in tech into an easy-to-read narrative.
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