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JC Smiley
JC Smiley

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That space between learning how to code and the massive skill gap for an entry level job. What’s the next step?

An aspiring developer in my tech community expressed being in that space between self learning/boot camp and not having an opportunity to prove what they know or contribute in any way. Feeling like there is a MASSIVE skill gap between being able to get an entry level job and actually working an entry level job. They wonder, what should they do next?

This post is for anyone feeling similar because I know I did for years. Let me say first that you are not alone in your situation or that weird space. You are right, there is a massive skill gap in what is required and what we can learn on our own. My advice, is to "Close the gap".

  • Create opportunities to prove your worth. This means open source, hackathons, collaboration projects, freelance work, etc. The idea is to show that you can work with others and finish something of value/impact.

  • I can't stress enough that you have to already be doing what you want someone to pay you to do. This means constantly pushing your boundaries on what you can do. More importantly, ask others, who are working professionally, what they are doing and what you should be learning.

  • Build, build, build, and when you get sick of building, build some more. While you are developing, do it in public. While it's important to be doing something worth talking about, it needs to be seen or talked about.

  • Let your voice be heard. Whatever channel of least resistance that will get you talking about tech, do it. This can be writing blog posts, posting videos, or giving tech talks. Let others know that you are here, available, and knowledgeable.

  • Go where the jobs are at. Be a butt head about meeting recruiters, hiring managers, and people working where you want to be. Then start showing them content.

Next, you do DESERVE an interview, a chance to show your worth. Head down grinding has its place but working hard without a roadmap is useless. I've been there and it doesn't work. You have to look up periodically , interviews and professional assessments, to see if you are moving in the right direction. I wasn't able to pivot until I failed multiple interviews and got "hard to swallow" assessments from people I admired.

Again, close the gap. If building projects isn't working then collaborate with others. If that doesn't help, then contribute to open source. AKA, say YES to each chance to grow, fail, and achieve success to prove your worth.

While you are doing this, seek professional mentorship. It's a must in the current environment. An example is that multiple groups do resume review, interview prep, and how to "open doors" seminars. They are literally telling us the shortcuts. Use these resources to hone your image. AKA, being the best but poorly presented will close doors.

I want to also share advice from my local tech community that stood out to me:

  1. Work on projects you're passionate about that helps differentiate you from other candidates.
  2. Look into certifications in your chosen domain. Certifications alone won't guarantee you more interviews, but it does help demonstrate your work ethic and thirst for knowledge until your experience can speak more boldly for itself.
  3. The following statement is fact, “The unfortunate reality is that you have to be doing the things at the next level for an extended period of time in order to move up to the next level. Maybe not all of them, but a good portion of them.”
  4. The more physical tangible proof that you have been doing the things required by an entry level job, the more you will be de-risking yourself.

Lawrence Lockhart did a great video post about this question:

If you have suggestions for others or want to share your thoughts on what you did, please leave a comment.

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