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What to do?? Advice on career strategy

David Powers
Greenhorn

Joined: Aug 30, 2004
Posts: 6
Hello all,

I feel very uncertain of my career path and I would very appreciate any advice since I have no I can look to.

First, a little about me. I hold a BS in TV and Radio, but I was unsatisfied with the job and pay, so I recently went back to college. I am now finishing an AS in Computer Programming at a state college. Among the courses I've taken, I've had 2 semesters in both Java and C++, 1 in both Visual BASIC and HTML, plus MS Office applications courses. College is the only place I have learned, since I have no experience in the industry and at the time I was in high school (13 years ago), Windows, Mac, etc. were not mainstream platforms.

I've tried to find an internship to no avail. I don't know why companies are not interested in in free work.

I'd like to get back into working full-time at this point. My question is.......
With my skills, would employers seriously consider me as a candidate for a position in programming?

If you need more info, let me know, as I really could use some insight.
Mike Gershman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 13, 2004
Posts: 1272
I have seen no posts for entry level programming jobs in the US. The problem is that people like you in Asia are delighted with 10K/year to start and 12K after a few years.

I could be wrong. Check monster.com and dice.com yourself.

Also, consider government agencies (local, federal, military) since they are not supposed to go off-shore.

The accepted wisdom is that your 80% shot is through networking. Don't be shy - meet with friends and friends of friends, etc. Don't put them on the spot - ask for advice, not a job. Also, accept any reasonable job in IT. Once you're in a company, it's a lot easier to make contacts and get into programming.

I suppose entry-level volunteer work is not avalable because a beginning programmer actually costs the company time and money. That doesn't explain why a retired senior programmer (friend of mine) who just wanted to code and was willing to work for minimum wage was eagerly accepted by the supervisor but turned down flat by the department head. Go figure.


Mike Gershman
SCJP 1.4, SCWCD in process
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by David Powers:

I've tried to find an internship to no avail. I don't know why companies are not interested in in free work.


Because the work isn't really free. Every year I give a talk to a few hundred MIT sophomores before they begin their (paid) summer internships. My message: "don't do negative work."

Many interns do do negative work. Naively, you show up and work, net positive. Realistically it's more like the following.

1) They need to partition off some work
2) They interview candidates
3) They accept a candidate and take on a security risk
4) Someone has to explain the projct to you and give you an introduction to the company
5) Someone has to supervise you, and answer you questions, and help when you get stuck, and fix any problems you might cause
6) You may also take up other people's time, like the sys admin when problems occur with your computer.

The reality is #1, #2 and #5 can take quite a lot of work. Some interns do negative work by taking up more productive time than they give; i.e. produce 1 unit of work each hour, but need 5 hours of supervision, those 5 hours are taken from someone who produced 10 units of work an hour.

I've overseen a number of interns at my companies and this is all too common, so don't take it personally. The world is more complex than you think.

--Mark
Mike Gershman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 13, 2004
Posts: 1272
Mark:

Everything you say is true, but when there was a strong demand for programmers, it was a price that was cheerfully paid.

When experienced programmers are in over-supply, programming internships are of little value to a company.

And if you think things are bad now, wait until the off-shore programmers have 5+ years of good experience and a better mastery of English. We just have to adjust to the new reality - a lot of US programmers chasing a diminishing number of US programming jobs - think textile worker.

I stand by my advice - get any sort of IT job through personal contacts and later transfer within the company.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Mike Gershman:
[QB]
Everything you say is true, but when there was a strong demand for programmers, it was a price that was cheerfully paid.
[QB]


Yes, but, with all due respect, so what? When there was strong demand for internet stocks, the over-inflated price was cheerfully paid. Reality set in and people got burned. During the same time people overpaid for software developers, and many companies went chapter 11. That people overpaid in a bull market is not justification. The cost is the cost is the cost. Interns are usually a lot of overhead and little or no value in the short term. In the long term large companies know the value of the on-campus connections, as well as the value of being a good corporate citizen by providing such "training" to students.

--Mark
Mike Gershman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 13, 2004
Posts: 1272
When there was strong demand for internet stocks, the over-inflated price was cheerfully paid.


A good point, but I was referring to the entire period from 1962 to 2001. I took on many bright interns and trainees, and not from altruism. The US programmer glut is a new phenomenon, but I fear it will last a while.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Mike Gershman:
[QB]

A good point, but I was referring to the entire period from 1962 to 2001. QB]


I was also referring to that period, my take is that most interns are barely cost effective over the length of the summer.

--Mark
Jeffrey Hunter
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 16, 2004
Posts: 305
David,

I'll tell you the same thing I've told others who are sloshing through the muddy trenches of a somewhat hostile job market, looking for salvation in some unknown HR person who just might decide to let you play ball. Quite simply, you have to sell yourself. David Powers is very much a marketable product, yet what have you done to promote this product? When designers/photographers are running the job-search gauntlet, many of them are armed with colorful portfolios of their work. How many software developers keep a portfolio? So, here are some tips from my peanut gallery:


  • establish a professional website -- the web has become an essential marketing tool for the commercial world, use it to your advantage
  • create your software portfolio -- screenshots of programs you've written, demo programs, and what you learned from each
  • think about handing out cds to potential employers (you can mirror your website on the cd)
  • talk to some marketing people, learn how products are marketed in the real world
  • and finally, don't ever forget, even though that guy sitting next to you in the interview waiting room may be able to code circles around you...you're better than him, you have more to offer the company than he does, you will undoubtedly get along in a team atmosphere moreso than he will

  • [ August 31, 2004: Message edited by: Jeffrey Hunter ]
    frank davis
    Ranch Hand

    Joined: Feb 12, 2001
    Posts: 1479
    [ August 31, 2004: Message edited by: Jeffrey Hunter ][/qb]

    Awesome post Jeff! Another reminder why I keep coming back to the ranch.
    [ August 31, 2004: Message edited by: herb slocomb ]
    David Powers
    Greenhorn

    Joined: Aug 30, 2004
    Posts: 6
    Thank you Mark, Mike, and Jeffrey for responding. I've picked up some helpful info.

    I do have a few questions:
    1) If I were to make a website to showcase my resume, is it possible to create a website without software? (Do people make whole websites using just HTML?)

    2) Are employers going to be impressed with programs I've written in class? These are programs that demonstrate topics such as object-based programming, arrays, and polymorphism.

    I guess part of my problem is that I don't know how much experience/ education I need to land a job. I read job descriptions and think "Do they actually want me to know all this? I've never heard of it...", and where would I even begin to learn what they are looking for?

    I have two more classes to complete for an AS. They are Biology and co-op work experience (internship)- a class in which we'll be working within the school, tutoring other students (??). I feel these last two classes could be a waste of time and money. I already have a BS in another field. Am I right in this thinking?
    Jeffrey Hunter
    Ranch Hand

    Joined: Apr 16, 2004
    Posts: 305
    Originally posted by David Powers:

    I do have a few questions:
    1) If I were to make a website to showcase my resume, is it possible to create a website without software? (Do people make whole websites using just HTML?)

    2) Are employers going to be impressed with programs I've written in class? These are programs that demonstrate topics such as object-based programming, arrays, and polymorphism.

    I guess part of my problem is that I don't know how much experience/ education I need to land a job. I read job descriptions and think "Do they actually want me to know all this? I've never heard of it...", and where would I even begin to learn what they are looking for?

    I have two more classes to complete for an AS. They are Biology and co-op work experience (internship)- a class in which we'll be working within the school, tutoring other students (??). I feel these last two classes could be a waste of time and money. I already have a BS in another field. Am I right in this thinking?


    1.) Yes. When it comes down to it, all websites you visit are HTML. Some use server-side scripts/code, some have robust, blow-your-socks-off applications running behind them, others use Flash to create impressive vector-based graphic interfaces. But HTML is the end product of it all -- it's the language of the web.

    2.) First off, most of the initial HR people you'll deal with think of Sockets as holes in the ceiling that you screw light bulbs into -- in other words, they are not tech-savvy. What would impress me is, what kind of product did you produce while you were in school? Can you produce professional-quality products, under deadline? What do your professors have to say? Most often this is reflected by your grades and recommendation letters.

    Sidenote: I made it a point to get recommendation letters from my professors (ONLY THOSE THAT LIKED ME!), and, when publishing my website, I took quotes from the letters and posted them on my site -- much like those short blurbs you see on the back of DVDs saying how great the movie is, etc. etc. Oh, Jeffrey, what a pleasure he was and in no uncertain terms I'm sure he will one day take over the world. Well, that's a bit of an exagerration, but you get the idea.
    Secondly, after you get past the initial HR folks, you want to have all the technical stuff ready. This is food for the techies. Document the things you've learned, OOP paradigms used, etc. on your site so they can eat them up at their convenience.

    As far as the qualifications employers list? That virtual buffet of technologies they list as requirements for the position? Don't be intimidated. We're programmers. It's in our nature to learn and adapt to new and different technologies. If you're confident in doing so, and present yourself as such, you may have shot at playing ball.
    [ August 31, 2004: Message edited by: Jeffrey Hunter ]
    Robert Chisholm
    Ranch Hand

    Joined: Jul 18, 2004
    Posts: 69
    I'd suggest tapping into the goings-on of the Java community if you need to understand what's required to get work (in Java). You can do that by visiting places like ServerSide, Java World, or Java Ranch. And, in particular, you should keep tabs on gurus like Rod Johnson and Bruce Tate. Read, Read Read what they publish and what they have to say.

    When you see an acronymn in a job-description that eludes you, make sure it's not something that the rest of the Java community takes for granted (like JDBC, or JNDI). You need to know that stuff.

    I also highly recommend setting up your own "production environment" at home. That will at least include a web-server and servlet container (ideally an application server), a database, an IDE, and a source control tool like CVS.


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