Ever thought about becoming a software developer or looking for a change of career? This article will give you a solid plan to get you started in software development and get your first job!
If your considering becoming a developer and but aren’t sure whether it’s a good idea, here are a few things to think about:
- There is a huge demand for developers — at the time of writing, Indeed had 37,739 job adverts for ‘developer’ in the UK and 145,640 in the US. Those numbers are only going to increase as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 17% rise between 2014 and 2024.
- The work can be very varied and interesting — as a developer you can work on a huge range of projects from e-commerce websites to computer games, from mobile apps to artificial intelligence. Almost all of the skills are transferable between each of these areas and this means you aren’t locked into a single job.
- The work can be flexible — As most of your work is reading and writing code, all you need is a computer. This means it can be done from anywhere, at any time. There is an increasing number of remote developers who work from home or whilst travelling the world.
Being a developer is a skill and there are two major factors in developing a skill: effective practice and support from senior developers. You need to maximise both of these to help you become the best developer you can. There are are three good ways to make sure that you’re on a fast track to starting your developer career:
- Coding Bootcamps — These are great because they are designed to take you from little or no coding experience to job ready in 3 months. This means lots of effective practice and tones of help from the developers running the bootcamp. The issues you might have with bootcamps are that they are usually 3 months of full time study and they can cost from £3000 ($4000) to £15,000 ($20,000). That’s a lot of money to spend especially since you’re not earning for those 3 months.
- Get a Mentor — This is the perfect situation, you start coding and have a developer act as your mentor and tutor. They could be a friend, family member or just a developer that wants to help you out. You won’t get as much help as with a bootcamp but having someone to turn to when you hit a roadblock is really useful. Also having someone checking in on you and making sure that you’re putting the time in can help keep you on track. This sounds great but getting a mentor can be hard. Not everyone knows someone who works as a developer and it’s a lot of extra work for the mentor. If you know a developer, they may say no to being your mentor and you need to respect that.
- Get a Job as a Developer — This may seem like a cheat as you need to be able to code before you can get a job but I’ll explain later how to get to this point without a mentor or bootcamp. When you do get your first job you’ll suddenly have a huge advantage — you’ll be getting paid to practice coding whilst working with senior developers. What more could you want? Working as a developer will also expose you to the side of development that you’ll not see whilst you study — the business side. This is a massive part of development as there’s no point in making a product that no-one wants and dealing with customers is a skill that takes time to learn.
As not everyone can afford to go to a bootcamp or knows someone who’ll mentor them, I’ll give you a plan for how to get your first developer job. This is almost exactly how I went from an engineer to a developer in just 4 months.
To create a great plan you need to have a target that you are going to hit. Our target is to get a developer job as quickly as possible. The sooner you get your first job, the sooner you get the boost of practising code every day, having the support of senior developers and the bonus of getting paid.
There are a lot of ways to get into development, from data science to AI to game development but the sector that is the easiest to get into is web development. If you’ve got your heart set on something else remember that starting in web development doesn’t mean you’re locked into it. You’ll learn a huge amount that you’ll be able to use to transfer across into your preferred field.
When I searched for Junior Web Developer the first job listing I saw was for a Junior Front End Web Developer. The requirements are:
We can look through a few similar job adverts and find the requirements that appear often. These will likely be:
- Ability to create responsive websites
- A portfolio demonstrating your experience and skills
- Understanding of version control
Other bonus skills might be:
- Debugging knowledge
Now that we know what we need to learn to meet the requirements we can create a plan for how to learn what we need to meet the requirements. You should try to follow this plan step by step as its going to be easier to learn the later sections if you know the earlier ones.
These are the building blocks of most websites today. You need to develop a strong understanding of these if you want a chance at getting a job. Luckily there are hundreds of free and paid resources out there which can help you learn and master these skills.
We’ll be starting with the Responsive Web Design Certification and the Basic HTML and HTML5 and Basic CSS sections. These sections introduce you to HTML and CSS and by the end, you’ll be creating forms and styling HTML with cascading variables.
To improve our CSS we’ll complete the Applied Visual Design section up to Create a More Complex Shape Using CSS and HTML, and then do all of Responsive Web Design and CSS Flexbox. We’re skipping some of the challenges and sections for now as our aim is to learn what we need and those other sections are great but not needed for now.
Now that we’ve learnt to use HTML and CSS to build and style a web page, we’re going to get some effective practice by completing the Responsive Web Design Projects. These projects will use everything that you’ve learnt so far to build 5 websites.
Version control is a system where you save files and you can look back over time and see what you changed at what point. It’ll probably be used as every software company you ever work at and knowing the basics is really important.
To learn how to install Git, create a GitHub account and work with Git there is a great tutorial post An Intro to Git and GitHub. You could learn this before the HTML and CSS design projects and start using version control for these projects.
Now that you know how to use version control, try to do all of your projects in a local editor (like VS Code) and upload it to codepen when you’re finished. Working in a local editor is how you’ll be doing it at a job so it helps build your experience.
There are a lot of ways to use Git but you want to be able to create a GitHub repository, link that to a local folder, commit work that you’ve done and push that up to GitHub. Once you can do this you’ll be able to work effectively as part of a development team.
If you’ve done everything in the plan so far then you should meet the requirements of a lot of the junior web developer jobs. Now it’s time to apply for some jobs.
To apply for most jobs you need a cv so we can make a web developer cv. This should highlight your strengths without bringing added attention to how long you’ve been coding or the fact that you haven’t got any commercial experience.
Here’s the CV that I used to get my second job.
Which jobs to apply for is also important. This may seem wrong but you should apply to jobs where you can meet 80% of the requirements. You can always point out that as a self-taught developer you will likely pick up the other requirements faster than most other people.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you sound apply to every job where you meet the requirements. Only apply to jobs where you think the job is interesting and you would take if you got the offer.
Recruiters can be a powerful tool for getting your first job. They know what the company wants, often have jobs that aren’t on job boards and they want you to get the job… that’s how they get paid.
To make sure that your cv gets into the hands of as many recruiters as possible we need to apply to jobs on a range of sites. Start with the large sites like indeed and total jobs but also try to find the smaller job sites too.
A lot of developers talk about how awful recruiters are but we need to make sure to utilise them. Whenever you speak to a recruiter make sure to be respectful and polite. If they ask you about jobs that are way above or below your desired job, thank them and decline but remind them of the type of job you are looking for.
My first two jobs came from recruiters asking about a job that wasn’t suited to me, but they had another job that was perfect. Don’t give them such a hard time.
You probably won’t get an interview and job offer in the first week of applying for jobs. You might not get an interview in the first month but this gives us time to improve.
Now that we’ve met the basic requirements we can start adding more nice to haves into our toolkit. Now is the time to add a new tool to your tool chest. Adding more skills to your belt will make employers more likely to want you and increase your chances to get an interview. Here are some skills to learn:
Go back to the HTML and CSS lessons from FreeCodeCamp and complete the rest of the lessons in Applied Visual Design, Applied Accessibility and CSS Grid.
If you like the design and style side of front end development then there’s a cool Daily CSS course that gets you to make images with just CSS and HTML. These images could be a great thing to talk about in an interview.
Another way to improve your skills is to build projects. These can be anything but your aim is to get practice using the tools that you are less experienced with. Not great with arrays, create a shopping list app. A bit iffy on styling, try to make an exact copy of a real website.
These projects should be improving your skills so if it's too easy or too difficult, stop and start a project that is at a better level.
Sometimes when you build a project you might need to learn a completely new skill and learning as you go can be a great way for some people to learn.
After having applied for a bunch of jobs and continued to improve your skills you will hopefully be asked in an interview. This is your time to shine. There are loads of articles about how to approach the interview process so I won’t go into too much detail but will highlight what this article says:
- Know your CV
- Know about the company
- Practice your skills
- Be early, polite and confident
- Ask Questions
- Follow up after the interview
If you follow all of this advice then you’ll have a good chance of getting an offer. Amazing! If you don’t get an offer then make sure to ask for feedback and use that to be better in your next interview.
Prepare well for your interviews and continue to build new skill whilst you wait for that offer.
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