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JC Smiley
JC Smiley

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What I know now, that would have accelerated getting my first job.

I want to share a testimony on how I was able to transition into the tech industry in hopes that this inspires and motivates others.

After 20 years of working two jobs, just to be poor, I started to attend tech events. Incredibly, the people I met showed me another life. I didn’t know that people, similar to my background, could work just 40 hours, take sick leave (total shocker), and do something that they enjoyed doing on the weekends for free. AKA, I wanted an opportunity for a better life worth living.

My first job in tech came from a referral. That referral came from being an active part of my local tech community. This included:

  • Learn in public. I strived for 3 years to build 12 projects a year in public. People watch my ideas grow from design to deployment.
  • Say “Yes” to every opportunity to volunteer. Someone mentioned being a TA at a tech boot camp, I said Yes. Someone mentioned volunteer leadership to set up meetups, arrive first, shake hands, find speakers, and a dozen other tasks. I said Yes.
  • Find opportunities to work with and engage others. I attended (and lost) dozens of hackathons. I’ve attended hundreds of tech meetups. I've given several tech talks. I’ve been to tech conferences. I’ve paired-programmed with others for thousands of hours.

AKA, I sincerely believe that the referral came from me showing the world my worth, moving away from the computer to meet others, and giving a lot of myself to the community. All of this before the referral was even considered. Give God (or the universe) something to bless.

A few things I know now that I wished I had known earlier:

  • A tech role isn’t about being the best coder. 75% of the job is communication and working with others. I wish I’d spent more time practicing my communication skills and working on group projects.
  • There are different types of work experiences. I wished that I hadn’t spent several years just coding. Instead, I should have been seeking opportunities to work on remote teams, open source contributions, freelance with others (share the load, not about the money), and anything that creates value.
  • Your network is equal to your net worth. I’m quiet, scared of people, and like being alone. Nothing in that sentence has helped me in any shape or form. I wished I had spent more time meeting people and making connections than coding. Coding is safe, but not the only requirement for a tech career. The number of people who know you, who can vouch for you, who will listen to you, and who are willing to talk about your achievements when you aren’t in the room is the single biggest career factor.

So friends, please share your thoughts on the following questions in the chat:

  1. What can tech professionals do to get referrals?
  2. What do you know now that you wished you knew earlier?

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