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How I Got Five Tech Jobs in a Year

In the past 12 months I have technically gotten five jobs in tech:

  • My first job out of bootcamp which I resigned from almost immediately because I was told some gravely concerning things about the mangement.
  • My second, and longest-held (in tech) job. It was in horse tech (lol) and ended in redundancy for myself and a third of the staff.
  • A job I got in Berlin that I didn't sign the contract for because I had to return to London due to COVID.
  • A job at an international newspaper that I technically got but they couldn't make me an offer due to COVID.
  • My current gig at an agency here in London.

I have had roughly 120 inital screenings from recruiters, completed 20 technical tests and had approximately ten final-stage interviews which resulted in five offers, cumulatively. Some of these interviews were an absolute disaster. I nearly had a panic attack during a remote pairing interview with a leading ecommerce platform and forgot how to write a for loop, I went blank and forgot every JavaScript array method I knew during an in-person interview in which two people were watching me code (my kryptonite, it turns out), and I once had an hour-long junior-level front-end interview with a dude who banned me from Googling anything (I later learned that this is a magnificent red flag). Performance anxiety issues are very common, but that fact doesn't help in the moment when you know you're crashing, burning and misrepresenting your skills.

Unfortunately I can't help you with performance anxiety (people have told me that beta blockers help if taken just before the interview), but I can talk a little about the things that helped me to get the job(s), and some patterns I noticed when it comes to assessing whether a company has the potential to be toxic or not, from my own experience.

These tips are geared towards people at the beginning of their career working in a JavaScript-dominated world (it me).

Things I'm glad I did

  • Spotting that companies who took my past career(s) seriously were more likely to respect my non-technical skills alongside my technical skills. Lots of companies that I had first-stage talks with treated my work in architecture and journalism like baffling detours before I started learning to code -- The One True Career. In doing so they missed out on my project management and design skills, my ability to work in complex teams, and lots of other things.
  • I asked for help on Twitter, and that was both materially helpful and enormously comforting. I had a job-searching tweet go viral the day I was made redundant from my company (I think lots of developers know what it's like to be let go and were therefore happy to help out with an RT) and it put me in touch with two separate employers, both of whom offered me jobs. Neither of them had posted ads for those jobs yet. Additionally, programmers from all over the world got in touch to offer solidarity and send me opportunities. It was absolutely lovely and helped me to feel less terrified at a really challenging time in my life.
  • I made some silly side-projects, such as a Command Line Interface (CLI) that outputs some of Wiley's funniest tweets in the terminal, and a theremin with Phil from EastEnders' face on it. I was mostly just embarrassed that I didn't have serious side projects, but they really helped to break the ice in interviews (admittedly they went down a lot less well when I was job-searching in Germany, where those people are less culturally relevant). They either went kind of over peoples' heads (but they appreciated my curiosity for new tech) or they found them funny or interesting and it made the interview a little bit nicer. I wouldn't say this is a mandatory step, but good humour will get you reasonably far and help you to stand out.

Things I wish I did differently

  • I ignored my insticts on a couple of occasions (mostly out of desperation -- it's difficult to take proper note of red flags when you absolutely have to get hold of some money immediately) If a company is sloppy getting back to you and disengaged when speaking to you, it's a reasonably good sign that this will continue once you're on the inside. I once had a (man) interviewer ask me whether I'd be able to tolerate the 'boisterous boys' on the team. The answer was no.
  • I stretched myself incredibly hard to complete some technicals that depended on three interlocking frameworks that I didn't know, and that the recruiter knew I didn't know. Some of them took hours, and if I hadn't already been made redundant, I have no idea how I would have found the time to complete them around a full-time job. I can't imagine how those with caring responsibilities swing this. It's unfair to lump candidates with incredible amounts of work, and I wish companies were more mindful of the time and effort it takes people who are most likely already in parallel interview pipelines to complete time-intensive tasks. So, I know this is easy for me to say, but interviewees: try not to sweat too hard in the technicals, if you can afford to.

Things I used to study

  • I used Jad Joubran's excellent course to get a solid basis in JavaScript. There's an active forum connected to it where you can ask for help, and I don't think I've ever been left waiting longer than a day for a response.
  • I practised for my technicals using Code Wars and was surprised by just how much overlap there was between the problems on there and the problems that employers sent me to complete for second-stage interviews. Get into the habit of doing a couple every few days.
  • I remember reading some of the mailouts from Dan Abramov and Maggie Appleton's Just JavaScript course on the way to in-person technicals so I'd be better able to explain high-level JS concepts. It's beautifully illustrated, unique, and free. Now that I have a job I prefer to read them in less feverish circumstances.
  • Udemy! Please don't ever buy a course full price - their sales are frequent and very good. I especially liked the following courses:
    • JavaScript Algorithms and Data Structures Masterclass by Colt Steele. This one is great for doing the slightly scarier (to me) algorithm work that some companies like to throw at interviewees. He teaches code for a living at General Assembly and I can't recommend his courses enough. He's thorough, encouraging and really personable (which matters if you're committing to listening to someone for 20 hours!).
    • The Advanced Web Developer Bootcamp. Another one from Colt Steele, this time a much broader sweep of JavaScript and the fancy and popular frameworks of the day, as well as CSS and SVGs. Don't be too scared off by 'advanced'. While I wouldn't recommend it to someone starting out afresh, the concepts are explained with real clarity and I think, as long as you've spent some time playing with JavaScript and CSS, you could really have fun with this one.
    • JavaScript: Understanding the Weird Parts by Anthony Alicea. I'll admit I haven't finished this yet, but it looks great and I look forward to coming back to it when I've settled in with my new job and therefore have some spare time. I'm not afraid to say that I'm flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to JavaScript some days so being able to identify and predict its strange ways is a goal of mine for the next year, and this will help.
    • The Complete React Native and Hooks Course [2020 Edition] by Stephen Grider. I just started a job focused on React Native and Rails and I have LOVED working through this course. It's very well-paced and focused on functional components with Hooks. I really like Stephen's approach to teaching, which is to complete tons of smaller projects rather than one big one.
  • The Ruby on Rails course on Learn Enough by Michael Hartl. I'll be using Rails at work and I used this to really dig into it after learning it during my bootcamp a year ago. It's definitely worth the money and, as far as I can see, it's the best Rails course out there. And I have been through many of them.

I hope you found some of this helpful! Feel free to get in touch @torahwilcox on Twitter if you have further questions and I'll do what I can.

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