I will start a little bit from afar. The part of the story is that in 2015 I had a degree of Master of Arts. I graduated from the University of Helsinki, where I studied Russian literature as a major for about four years. It is a very amusing and really broad subject, and I was truly enjoying my studies. Anyway, there was just one problem. I do not know how obvious is that, but as you probably can imagine, there is simply no way to get a job in such a field, except you are a genius or/and have some relations. I do not fill in either category, and it is totally ok, but the reality is not so supportive.
Anyway, after almost 1,5 years of looking for a job in my profession, with no result, I realized I should stop thinking about the value of my degree and postgraduate studies and just find some “normal” job. The job I did accidentally find became a part of my life for the next five years.
So, in the spring of 2017, I became a tram driver here in Helsinki in the local transport company. It was never kind of a dream job, but it was ok, a decent job for a moment, as I thought then. Nevertheless, quite soon I understood that this job is not what I wish to do for the rest of my life. After that, I started thinking about changing my profession and looking for possible ways to move on.
After all, about 2.5 years ago, in 2019, I started thinking about getting another “better” degree that could improve my employment situation. Luckily, at that time, I probably made the best decision I could have made.
In the fall of 2019, I started to study Computer Sciences at the LAB University of Applied Sciences. The main reason for choosing this University was the fact they were offering a distance learning program, which suited me the very best in my situation where I would like to combine work and study.
At this point, we can skip that part where I am crying about “how hard it is to combine work and studies”. I do not honestly think it is valuable. So, let’s just move to the essential part of my story.
I started to look for a job very early, in my first year of university studies. I suppose it sounds a bit strange and presumptuous, however that was not an accident, but rather part of my plan.
The “Plan” contained just one mission - I should try to get the first job in IT as soon as I could. The main reason - I felt that I have already spent too much time doing nothing. There were also at least three “tools” to achieve the goal: intensive self-studies, hundreds of sent CVs, and a bit of perseverance.
At this point, I must explain, that I do not really think that this plan is genius or would work for everyone. On the contrary, probably it is not - tonnes of CVs may not be necessary, since I know people who got a job/internship after the first one. However, those people are definitely an exception, and all the process is a lottery, in a sense. I know that the tech internet is full of stories where a person finds a software engineer job in six months after completing a couple of free courses and creating a calculator from YouTube tutorials.
Individually, I do not believe in such stories, neither I have seen anything like that in real life. On the contrary, people who quickly got jobs in IT were experienced and knowledgeable. It does not mean that you need a university degree at all. In my case, it just helps me to structure my knowledge. Summarizing that, I can say, that it feels, that looking for a job as early as possible is still a decent strategy since it can help you to learn what employers are looking for and to gain more confidence by going through a series of failures and disappointments. This is where the third tool on my list is needed - perseverance.
The process of looking for a job in IT was a very painful and frustrating experience. I sent my CV to an enormous amount of different places and got tonnes of rejections as a result. Sometimes I have also got an interview invitation. I can say, that I made all kinds of them - phone screenings, zoom, in-person interviews, live coding sessions, etc.
At some point, I realized that if I really want to find a job and not only enjoy the process of searching for it, I should commit to studying a bit every day. Now, I actually think that this decision was the most important in the whole process. In my opinion, university studies shouldn’t be the only source of information (and experience), especially in IT. A person is practically obliged to do something on his own to gain a comprehensive experience.
The next important part of this story is the decision to concentrate on developing my own pet projects. I think that it is critical because firstly, you will have something to show the employer to prove your skills, and secondly, you will show your commitment. Building a side project is also the best way to improve your skills and gain confidence.
I had three main projects during the last two or three years:
My personal website - https://villivald.com (React, TypeScript)
My blog - https://create-react-app.com (11ty)
I think that especially the latest project was one of the possible reasons for my “success” in finding a job. At least, that was one of the factors why I continually got a positive response from recruiters.
In December 2021, I got another invitation for a job interview from the University of Helsinki. It seemed inspiring since I was always thinking about University as an employer in a positive way. The vacancy itself (Junior Frontend Developer) was also extremely promising, as it included the duties that I was most interested in.
The interview went surprisingly well. Luckily, there was no live coding part, which was always a kind of traumatic experience for me. However, the biggest surprise was ahead, as, after about a week, I got a call to let me know that I got the job.
So, it’s hard to believe, but after two and a half years of studying and about two years of meaningful job search, I finally got my first job in IT. At the present time, I have been working there for three months, and so far, things are going relatively well, even though I still feel like the dumbest person in the world almost every day. I also realized that imposter syndrome is unfortunately an absolutely real thing and not just a hackneyed cliché.
In the next post, I will try to gather my thoughts and describe my typical working day.
There are the top three resources from which I learned most of what ultimately helped me get my first job as a software developer: