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How to Land Your First Dev Job: Develop Yourself, Market Yourself

Karen Carter
I'm the lead software developer at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and I have 19 years of professional experience as a dev.
Originally published at shamblingblindly.blogspot.com on ・5 min read

Woman Looking Frustrated

Image by magnetme from Pixabay

In the coding and tech groups I'm in, I see the same question asked over and over by folks who are just learning to code, finishing up a bootcamp, degree, or other training program, or who have been looking for that first job for awhile and not having any luck: "what do I need to do to get my first dev job?" There's a whole ton of info out there on this topic, but it's scattered all over, so I thought I would gather together the best resources I've come across and share them, along with a bit of context, to try and help everybody struggling with or just plain wondering about this.

There are a lot of things you can do to improve your chances of finding a job and hopefully shorten your job search. They are broadly divided into 2 categories: developing yourself and your skills, and marketing yourself and your skills. Note that you don't need to do everything on this list, nor do you need to do it all at once. This is an "every little bit helps" kind of thing. Just keep working away at it until you finally land that first job. At that point you can absolutely back off: there's a huge bottleneck at the entry/junior level, so once you have a few years of experience subsequent jobs won't require nearly this much effort. At that point your actual work experience should start to speak for itself.

Before you continue, I strongly recommend reading this excellent overview of the dev job search. It covers many of the same topics as this article; I list additional resources wherever I can to give an even clearer picture of what each of these bullet points requires. And then:

Develop Yourself

  • Get an internship, if you can. Real-world experience is king.
  • Continue learning and show off your new knowledge in your portfolio. Check out the free for developers list for help with hosting, APIs (front-end devs, this is a GREAT way to build some cool projects that consume an API), and all sorts of tools to help you build projects for free.
  • Improve your git skills and get all of your portfolio projects up on GitHub/GitLab/Bitbucket. Git is mandatory if you want to be a dev.
  • Contribute to open source projects. Read up on how and where to contribute. Find smaller projects that need someone with your skills on a site like GitPals or start your own project with other devs.
  • Participate in hackathons. You'll learn a lot AND have something to brag about on your resume/LinkedIn. It's a win/win scenario.
  • Volunteer to build/improve websites for local non-profits, or look for volunteer opportunities online.
  • Practice for coding interviews. Hackerrank is often used directly in the interview process so you absolutely need to familiarize yourself with it. Codewars and similar sites are great, too, but less likely to be part of the interview process.
  • Read Cracking the Coding Interview (although if you're strictly front-end this isn't going to be as useful).
  • Google your preferred languages plus "interview questions" and study up.

Market Yourself

  • Improve your resume using this series of Tweets or the book linked from them.
  • Improve your LinkedIn to make sure you're highlighting the most important items.
  • Broaden your job search by using targeted job boards in addition to LinkedIn, Dice, Indeed, etc. For both this and LinkedIn info refer back to the article I linked at the start of this post.
  • Networking. It's absolutely crucial, but everyone is confused on how to do it. This article about how one woman networked and raised her profile so much after completing a bootcamp that she got multiple amazing job offers is one of the best concrete descriptions I've seen.
  • Attend conferences and take advantage of the networking events that are part of them. Right now most conferences are still online and free or very cheap, so take advantage while you can!
  • Write blog posts or articles about your learning process, cool projects, job search, etc. and publish/link to them on a variety of platforms. dev.to, Medium, Twitter, Instagram, and of course your LinkedIn feed. The point is to raise your profile, so do that however you can, even if it feels icky. It sucks, but it's necessary in this insanely competitive job market.
  • Get involved in local and/or online developer groups. Facebook has lots of specialized dev groups, Instagram and Twitter have whole tech subsections, then of course there's Reddit, and the list goes on. Just get involved. By giving back to the community you will raise your own profile. Fellow female devs, be sure to check out Women Who Code for online and (some day) in-person events, conferences, a job board and newsletter, a YouTube channel with incredible career development content, and more.
  • Volunteer to speak at conferences or give presentations at developer group meetings. This is one of those things that is insanely scary to a lot of us, but it means there's a lot of opportunity for those willing to put themselves out there. The article I linked about networking has great info on speaking at events, too.

Dream Job

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

TL;DR

Don't stop learning, keep improving your portfolio, resume, and LinkedIn, network network network, practice for interviews, get involved in the dev community, and get your name out there as much as you can. It is a lot of work and takes a lot of time, so the sooner you start on it, the better. Many of these activities can be started when you first start learning, far before you're at the job search stage.

Above all, don't get discouraged by a long job search (a year or more) or a lot of rejections. That is absolutely normal in the current hyper-competitive entry- and junior-level dev job market. If you can hold out until you get that first dev job, job searches will get much easier going forward. Don't lose hope.

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