I have been asked to write about my experience of looking for a job as a fresh coding bootcamp graduate in the times of coronavirus and lockdown. I was told that other graduates might be lacking confidence and telling about my tips and tricks might help them.
So what are my tricks? Erm... I don't have any.
How about my tips? Not sure. If I'm honest, I don't feel qualified to claim having any high value tips as if I was someone special because I'm not. I did get a job pretty quickly after my graduation and of course I am very proud of it. Who wouldn't be? But the truth is, a big part of it was down to pure luck.
It's also undebatable however that another part was down to working hard and putting myself out there.
So here are some thoughts that I consider useful and I believe they helped me with my job search and getting hired.
"So you learnt to code in 12 weeks, did you? It must be easy then." - I beg your pardon?!
How long have you been coding for? I know it's not 12 weeks. How much time have you spent learning to code on your own just to get into your course? How many different online resources you looked through, how many hours did you spend googling the answers to the challenges you got stuck on? How many Codewars katas (and the likes of it) have you gone through to just pass the entry challenge to your bootcamp?
I reckon I spent over a year learning before applying to my bootcamp while also holding up a full-time job. I also spent the same year debating whether I was brave enough to take the risk and leave a successful career behind.
Then there was the bootcamp itself. The one I did was 12 weeks of non-stop hard work. Officially full-time: Monday-to-Friday-nine-to-five. Unofficially include the evenings and the weekends as well because I had to catch up on stuff I didn't get straight away on the course over the week. I say, if anything, doing it in such a short time deserves credit, not being looked down on and should definitely be valued. If you made it to graduation - within however many weeks - you should be really proud of yourself!
The one piece of most important advice I can give is to value yourself. Don't think even for a second that you're not good enough or not worthy your first junior role. Changing careers 1) takes guts and 2) is really hard work. Anyone who says otherwise, you don't need them in your life.
On the same line, we all struggle with impostor syndrome. (This is a good TedTalk on it by Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO of Atlassian.)
From what I hear, many coders suffer from the same, regardless(!) of the level they are at or the years of experience they have. You have to accept that you'll never know everything. Software development is such a fast moving field to be in, you have to learn new stuff day in and day out. An experienced developer might pick up the new stuff quicker and is used to having to learn all the time but they are not ashamed of googling and so you shouldn't be either. Coding is regularly about getting stuck and knowing how to get unstuck, even for experienced coders. So don't feel too disheartened when the project you're working on is taking a bit (a lot) longer than planned or you don't get something straight away. That doesn't mean you are a bad coder.
Also remember, the fact you got into coding shows that you are willing to continuously learn which is a great and valuable trait to have.
Building Your Portfolio
As part of the pre-course to my bootcamp we had to build our portfolio website before even starting the course. The first draft of mine looked like it was made in the 80s. I wasn't really friends with CSS then (even now we're just about getting on) and it took me ages to build. It was hard work and a lot of frustration...
I'm sure it caused a lot of headaches for other newbies as well and the first attempts ended up looking like crap. But we made them from scratch, did it on our own, we learnt to learn and google.
Once you build your website and keep improving it as you're improving your knowledge and skills, the website itself is your first piece on your portfolio. Make it look great. Make it all about you. Make it tell a story, show your personality. Make it so that you're proud of it.
Then keep going. Every piece of program you build, build it well enough to be worthy for your portfolio and keep extending it. You can include the stuff you build throughout whatever course you're doing and also your pet projects.
You don't know what projects to start? There are tons of ideas and resources, even tutorials. The very first link I found lists things like a Rock, Paper, Scissors game, a calculator, a mobile app just to mention a few. Build something that gets you excited, something you want to build otherwise it's less likely to be fun. It really doesn't matter what it is, what matters is that you'll be learning new tech while building it. The fact these will become new pieces on your portfolio is just a bonus.
On the same note - build things. Watching tutorials and going through online courses and solving algorithm challenges are great but you really learn when you put that new knowledge in use and make something with it.
Social Media Presence
I was already registered on LinkedIN before but very rarely used it. I started browsing around companies fairly early, got a bunch of tech recruiter connection requests and overall just started building a network. It's also a pretty useful resource to new free courses/resources.
I cleared up and restarted my Twitter account where I haven't posted for years and started browsing around tech content that I thought could be interesting. This is how I found the amazing community of #100DaysOfCode which provides such great support. I can definitely recommend it, you soon start connecting with like-minded people with the same coding newbie struggles you have and so on, giving you a psychological boost to keep going.
Building Your Network
After starting to build your network on social media you should try to extend to building it in person - which is a struggle in this current COVID situation but I'm being hopeful that the world will open again eventually.
Attend tech events!
One thing I would definitely do differently is that I would start going to tech events right at the start. Even before starting my bootcamp and definitely throughout the bootcamp and after.
They are usually fun, you learn something new, you meet like-minded people, recruiters(!) and get free pizza.
Writing Blogs (If That's Your Thing)
Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to blog about everything I wanted to but I tried. I wrote a blog about how I got into coding then tried to write one of each block of my bootcamp etc. I know writing is not everyone's cup of tea but I found it useful for three reasons:
1) It was great to summarise each block of my bootcamp. I used it to reflect on how much I actually learnt in a few weeks each time and it was surprising to see how far I'd come. How things I struggled with just a few weeks earlier felt like second nature. It made me feel great about myself and made me feel like I could do much more than I first thought.
2) The first blog I wrote was definitely just for myself to reflect on my career change because it was scary as hell to not have a job after 12 years of non-stop work. My boyfriend however saw the opportunity in encouraging others - potentially other women in their thirties - and nudged me to post it publicly. He was right.
I received a number of supportive comments, people were interested in what I had to say. I even received private messages from women thanking me for sharing about my experience.
My bootcamp also loved that I was writing about them and they kept sharing across their social media platforms which was equally as good of a motivation to continue writing - especially that potential employers would have been reading them as well.
3) So I knew people were reading my blogs, which was really nice, especially when I found out on my job interview that the CEO and COO of the company I ended up working for also took their time to read my blogs. They found them on my website where I also published them alongside my portfolio.
I got the impression that they enjoyed knowing more about me than if we only had our interview call. They got an idea about me as a person and they didn't only get to meet that nervous mess I was on my interview and it also gave us more to talk about. It's also important that these guys were not coders. They could be reading my CV and trying to guess whether stuff listed on my skillset is tech or a cleaning product brand. (Flutter? Express? Dettol?) But blogs about my journey into tech? They found them interesting.
Applying to jobs
Apply to companies you like the sound of, even if they don't currently hire. I found an article that listed the top 100 tech companies of Manchester in alphabetical order. Following that order I checked out their website and, if I liked the sound of one, I sent them a personal email - even if they had no vacancies. In the emails I prompted them to look at my portfolio website, rather than reading through my CV, with the aim to focus them on what apps I have made so far and not that I didn't have years of experience or a fancy CS qualification.
To give you an honest feedback on my experience I will also tell you that I haven't received a lot of responses. But I also only got to 'E' in the alphabet. :)
I still believe that given different circumstances (if I didn't find a job this early) I would have kept applying and could have been in the right place at the right time and emailed the right person. You never know who will read your message and who will like your portfolio or your eagerness to have spent time to contact them.
I have to admit that, since I was lucky finding a job through my bootcamp, I didn't have to keep applying to jobs for too long (hence only 'E' in the alphabet). But in my previous life I always followed the same idea: you have nothing to lose by sending an application.
If you ever question whether it's a good idea to send an application to a specific job - the answer is always yes. Don't let silly thoughts stop you from applying. I ended up applying to companies where I did't really see much chance of getting hired. (Like a Software Engineer role at GitHub.) But the worst that could have happened was getting a rejection. Equally the recruiter/manager who's looking at your application could be also just opening a position/losing a person in a more junior role they haven't advertised yet. You just never know!
The more jobs you apply to the more chance you get to at least attend an interview. If in the end you don't get hired, you still have gained experience and will perform better on a following interview. You will have done an additional tech test, you may have built a new piece for your portfolio. Look at these experiences as a learning curve and not as rejection.
Some people considering it "brave" to send out so many job applications. I don't think there's anything brave about sending an email with an attachment. There's nothing brave about attending an interview either. The brave bit, which you have already done, was to choose a new career.