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Rémi Mercier
Rémi Mercier

Posted on • Originally published at remimercier.com

Don't sell yourself short

Imagine yourself back to the interview table. You've just graduated from university. Or you've just done a coding bootcamp. Maybe you're in your first two years as a developer.

You are, what the market calls, a junior developer.

Now, you know there's this strong belief that junior developers are a burden to their employer. It's on everyone's lips. It's on the recruiter's who's sitting in front of you. It's on your lips too.

Nobody knows why. But everybody's droning on about it.

Well, this is bullshit. And you're in for a raw deal.

"The market is tough right now" and other fallacies

When I started looking for my first gig, many developers told me it'd be difficult.

The market is tough right now.

Companies don't hire junior developers like they used to.

Teams want fake juniors: technically skilled, battle-tested, unwilling to properly negotiate their comp package.

At first, I didn't pay attention to these. But after a few weeks of meeting people, I started to have second thoughts. After all:

  • I'd never had a job title remotely related to coding.
  • I was super picky about the team I'd joined.
  • I have polarizing opinions (albeit diplomatically expressed) and, I say "fuck" a lot.

The more interviews I did, the more I felt like a burden to everyone:

We'd be investing a lot of money hiring a junior developer. We wouldn't expect any return on that investment for the next 3 years.

(Note how they just - unsuccessfully - tried to talk me into not asking a raise for the next three freaking years?)

Then, out of all these sentences, one struck me as my escape route:

Since you're a junior developer and have limited skills, we'd give you $some_amount per annum.

This is was my 'aha' moment! 💡

What changed? I realized that companies were only assessing my value out of my technical skills. Employers were overlooking my previous 15-ish years in the workforce and perceived me as a complete tenderfoot - something I couldn't accept.

I decided to push back, own my story, bring attention to my full skill set, and move from the cost centers ("We'd be investing a lot of money hiring a junior developer.") to the profit centers ("Sure, come on work with us and take our money. Please?").

I believe that creating value is much (much) more than increasing revenues or cutting costs. But most companies don't share that point of view.

You really want to be attached to Profit Centers because it will bring you higher wages, more respect, and greater opportunities for everything of value to you. @patio11

Show it or it doesn't exist

Here's a list of my non-tech skills and how they affect my technical work daily.

  • Writing: I love writing. I love when words chime and rhythm, and take me someplace else. So I try and write code that's expressive, articulated and easy to understand.

  • Museology: After working in museums for years, I'm officially a nerd when it comes to taxonomy. This has proved handy when searching for the appropriate level of abstraction in code.

  • Design: Studying and designing stuff throughout my life has been one of my greatest joy. It's taught me how to listen to problems, deconstruct them to first principles, and to find creative yet down-to-earth solutions. I also learned to be less domain-dependent and find inspiration everywhere. 1

  • Craftmanship: I worked for four years as a stained-glass master. During that time, I restored stained-glass from the 15th to the 20th century. There I nourished my love of building things, of honing the know-how, of patience and minutiae.

  • Entrepreneurship: Running a business for years has proved useful when dealing with employers. I can put myself into their shoes and avoid a paradox Calvin (as in Calvin and Hobbes) pointed out:

Even though we're both talking English, we're not speaking the same language.

  • 15-ish career: Finally, working for 15 years has taught me a lot about working with people. And this proves an invaluable asset every day. Try and put a bunch of ego-loaded developers and business developers in the same room for 2 hours and see what happens.

Each of these skills, I talked about during interviews. I defended them and showed what they would bring to the table.

Find your skills

I can already hear you say:

But Remi, I don't have any skills.

Well, let me prove you wrong, friend.

Make time in your schedule (a couple of hours at least). Grab some pen and paper. You're ready?

Now, I want you to list every fucking job you've ever done in your lifetime. Next to each entry, list every task you've done and what you learned from it.

Worked in a pizza parlor? You've probably learned a lot about diplomacy, toxic managers, and being client-facing. So write it.

Got the garbage out for years at your parents' house? This is dedication. Write about it.

Worked on a piece of software instead of getting a CS degree? You value real-world experience over grades. Write about it.

Write everything. First, this will give you a master list of your skills that you can return to. Secondly, when someone tells you you know nothing, it'll remind you that they're wrong (if only Jon Snow had made such a list).

Mine is four pages long, and I add stuff on it once a year. It's always a treat to go back to it. So go and do yours now.

How do you feel about it? Lemme me know on Twitter. Noticed something? Create an issue on GitHub.

Many thanks to the people on dev.to for sharing their perspective on this topic.

Cheers,

Rémi


  1. Some of the design-y stuff I love: medieval stained-glass, frescoes, and architecture, the Bauhaus (hand-in-hand form and function), nature (waves building up, geological folds, forests), Fra Angelico, etc... 

Discussion (14)

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adrienpoly profile image
Adrien Poly

I fully agree that soft skills are very important

If you haven't seen it already, I highly recommend DHH keynote at rails 2018 youtube.com/watch?v=zKyv-IGvgGE
love the "conceptual compression"

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mercier_remi profile image
Rémi Mercier Author • Edited on

Will check it out! Thanks Adrien :)

Would also like to add that most skills I listed above are not soft skills. These are hard skills. Hard in the sense they're difficult to cultivate.

I think the soft/hard skills is another rhetorical trap where you impose an oppressive framework on people. But that's for another rant I guess. :D

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yaser profile image
Yaser Al-Najjar

An amazing video, thanks Adrien!

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cirphrank profile image
🎧Cirphrank👣

Thank you for this.

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pcmagas profile image
Dimitrios Desyllas • Edited on

Sometimes soft skills are more important than technical ones. I find myself struggling for not having them but being able to write testable code because I cannot show the value of my testable code. So need to be developer, use the soft skills and try hard to obtain the tech ones.

My 2 cents atop of this consult is that try to understand what the employer wants and what might be tasked for. Focus on employer's stack and try to learn it, sometimes spending some money to having someone teach you is a good thing, it saves you money and having a certification on employer's stack may actually counterbalance the lack of experience. Try to show that you try to understand what he wants and you try to give to him.

You are a business man and you try to sell. The employer is the customer try to find what he wants and sell it to him.

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mercier_remi profile image
Rémi Mercier Author

Ah yes, this is something a lot of programmers/developers struggle with I've noticed.

Highly technical, but complete noobs when it comes to show the value they create.

You are a business man and you try to sell. The employer is the customer try to find what he wants and sell it to him.

I agree with this up to a point. It's a good starting point and can lead you to make more money, gain more liberty, etc. Then, this commoditization of yourself also has its side effects. It reinforces the already despicable zeitgeist that people are spare parts that need to be squeezed out their last drop.

Another super interesting topic to write about!

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pcmagas profile image
Dimitrios Desyllas

Also, sadly, sometimes many successfully products that require software are not the best engineered ones as well! (And kinda drives me mad, I've felt the pain)

Also in startups soft values are the ones that makes it successful and the code becomes the last priority. Therefore, you have crappy code that you are unable to maintain because you rush for feature.

In my case this issue make me having second thoughts for being software engineer and seriously thinking for an academic career (so I can code till I drop for myself and have the good parts of coding).

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

you know there's this strong belief [...] It's on everyone's lips [...] everybody's droning on about it.

I never hear anyone say this, unless they're recruiting for a specifically senior role.

Yes, some juniors can be a burden, but so can opinionated, set-in-their-ways seniors, and that lot are harder to get rid of anyway.

Most places I know welcome juniors!

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mercier_remi profile image
Rémi Mercier Author

Man, you are one lucky person!

I've heard it a lot. And people around me too. May be this has to do with my being a bootcamper? Or the type of companies I was interviewing with?

Yes, some juniors can be a burden, but so can opinionated, set-in-their-ways seniors, and that lot are harder to get rid of anyway.

Hahaha, true that!

Wouldn't it be great if we had an open-sourced list of companies vetted by devs that ARE - and not marketing themselves as - truly great places to work with?

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sobolevn profile image
Nikita Sobolev

It should be renamed to "Don't sell yourself"

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mercier_remi profile image
Rémi Mercier Author

That is a great suggestion!

This should be a completely new post about the value you're creating outside of the money-making-cost-cutting scheme. Will think about it.

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sobolevn profile image
Nikita Sobolev

👍

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cirphrank profile image
🎧Cirphrank👣

Nice post, a splendid read it was.

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mercier_remi profile image
Rémi Mercier Author

Many thanks to you're reading it and for the kind words! 💓