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Suggestions for getting back into programming

Matt Kidd
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 17, 2002
Posts: 259
Let me first preface this with the statement that if you have nothing positive to add...please don't. This is not a joke and while you may find it humorous on your end of the keyboard this is my life and there is nothing comical about it. I put this here because I've asked a similar question here and recieved comments like "don't, its not worth it" to "you're better off as a truck driver".

Now that we've past that bitter moment I have a dilemma. I graduated during the peak of the dot com bull rush. While job offers were starting to taper I lucked out and got one. nine months later though I was laid off. That company now no longer exists.

I tried to look for a new job with the limited experience I had but with the bubble bursting and companys essentially having a hiring freeze it was to no avail. While a summer on unemployment is nice to a 23 yr old fall brought the crushing reality that I needed to pay rent...so I took the first job i could find and that was at the university library that i worked at while I was in school. it was full time with benefits and in my situation I had to take it. At the time my promise to stay a year didn't seem that bad. Its now been 3 yrs. I happened upon a promotion because my boss quit but the upward climb ends there as did any new challenges.

While I have experience (my boss and life mentor of sorts really thinks this is marketable experience, I disagree) its not programming or project experience. I'm essentially the same college graduate from 2000 who on his first project got laughed at for asking what a DTD was (yes I'm a bitter person that holds grudges).

If you haven't guessed by now I hate my job (and my life but if you're interested we can discuss that privately). I need out yesterday. Nevermind the urgency now that this library is being closed because supposedly I "will be taken care of and this is nothing to worry about". Well the last time I heard that was at an all hands meeting a quarter before i got laid off while home sick.

Now I'm sure you're ready to suggest graduate school. Well that was the only reason I stayed in this job after that required year. Since I don't get paid enough I can't go even with the discount. Factor in the debt left over from my consulting job that I got laid off from its not even an option to consider as far I feel because loans aren't an option either.

I considered certifications but as soon as I say I'm doing it to get a job I get 3,4, and 5 people telling me that won't get me a job, only experience will. Well thats a chicken and egg situation that no one seems to be able to answer: how to get experience for a job when every job wants you to have experience?

What I need is advice or some skeleton of a plan to find a job? Yeah I know none of you have had much luck either but I'm out of ideas. I'm a kid who listened to his elders, stayed the path, got kicked off it, and now is in the corporate equivalent of flippin burgers at McDonald's i.e. mindless, pointless, unchallenging crappy job. Any help?

I understand I'm competeing against college graduates but I don't doubt my abilities and talents. I just need an oppurtunity and I'm not ashamed of an entry level position.
Roger Graff
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 29, 2001
Posts: 112
Certifications can only help, if only to provide a means to learn something new.

As far as strategies, you need to be networking. Get to know someone who can "get you in the back door". I would also consider getting a job at a larger company doing sys-admin or as a computer operator. Once you're "in", you could transfer into software development.
Jeff Bosch
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 30, 2003
Posts: 804
I feel for you! I spent about 15 years as an analog video systems engineer, then went into embedded systems as an engineering technician, and had been hired by Cisco Systems to work in their optical R&D department. Then came the dot-com debacle, and I couldn't find a job after my employer went under and Cisco instituted a hiring freeze, so I never got to start there.

I entered programming through another door that I've since found works for quite a few people: I took a job as a tech writer for a major data processing company. While there, I sharpened my C and Java skills, got my SCJP among others, and began volunteering for programming tasks. Before two years were out, I was the tech lead on a major state-wide systems upgrade, and I had senior programmers under me.

Now I'm with a new company, a small Java shop, again as a tech writer. The difference this time is that they know of my experience and certifications and I will have the opportunity to work on programming projects. In fact, I just submitted my first design proposal for a Java-based utility.

While this path, tech-writer to programmer, may not be for everyone, there are variations. Heck, I had become so desparate that I had offered to sweep the floors in tech shops, just to get my foot in the door and get a chance at some point to show what I can do.

Good luck, I know what it's like to be in your position, but at least you have a job you hate during this search (though maybe for not much longer, I see). I had none.
[ November 08, 2004: Message edited by: Jeff Bosch ]

Give a man a fish, he'll eat for one day. Teach a man to fish, he'll drink all your beer.
Cheers, Jeff (SCJP 1.4, SCJD in progress, if you can call that progress...)
peter wooster
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 13, 2004
Posts: 1033
Originally posted by Jeff Bosch:
I feel for you! I spent about 15 years as an analog video systems engineer, then went into embedded systems as an engineering technician, and had been hired by Cisco Systems to work in their optical R&D department. Then came the dot-com debacle, and I couldn't find a job after my employer went under and Cisco instituted a hiring freeze, so I never got to start there.

I entered programming through another door that I've since found works for quite a few people: I took a job as a tech writer for a major data processing company. While there, I sharpened my C and Java skills, got my SCJP among others, and began volunteering for programming tasks. Before two years were out, I was the tech lead on a major state-wide systems upgrade, and I had senior programmers under me.

Now I'm with a new company, a small Java shop, again as a tech writer. The difference this time is that they know of my experience and certifications and I will have the opportunity to work on programming projects. In fact, I just submitted my first design proposal for a Java-based utility.

While this path, tech-writer to programmer, may not be for everyone, there are variations. Heck, I had become so desparate that I had offered to sweep the floors in tech shops, just to get my foot in the door and get a chance at some point to show what I can do.

Good luck, I know what it's like to be in your position, but at least you have a job you hate during this search (though maybe for not much longer, I see). I had none.



This is excellent advice, where I work, we had an Operations manager who started as shipper. We also had a Vice President who dropped out of college to be a network operator and rose through the ranks. And a Senior Architect who had a degree in Psychology and started as a tech writer.

Where you start and where your career takes you are two very different things. The old "you can't get a job without the experience you can't get without a job" catch 22 has been around forever. It disappears occasionally, as it did in the dotcom bubble, but it always comes back. In the early '70s and again the the early '80s many PHD's drove taxi cabs. None of those guys are doing that now, they either own the cab company or they are doing what they trained for if business wasn't their thing. Right now there is a serious shortage of plumbers and truck drivers, they are paid more than IT starting salaries, and I suspect there are plenty of opportunities to automate a lot of the processes they use, but there aren't that many plumbers who know Java.
Jeff Bosch
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 30, 2003
Posts: 804
When I first wanted to enter electronics, back when spears were the major weapon of mass destruction and Noah was not yet a gleam in his daddy's eye, I had to start as an assembler. I was the only person in the department with a college degree, but I was the low man on the totem pole.

Being low man didn't last, though. My foot was in the door, and I soon found my first opening as a video engineer. The skills I'd learned as an assembler helped me in the engineering interview and I was hired on the spot.

Nothing we ever do is wasted if we just stay open and flexible.
Mike Gershman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 13, 2004
Posts: 1272
You might also check into a tech support job in your school's IT department. The department heads at most schools do each other favors all the time and the library did promise to take care of you so maybe he/she can get you an interview.

As mentioned above, the transition from IT support to programming can be managed once you're in the door.


Mike Gershman
SCJP 1.4, SCWCD in process
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
My $.02...

Everyone faces tis problem. They overcame it and you can, too.

Networking is key. Try JUG's and other interest groups, college alumni networks, LinkedIn, etc.

Getting your foot in the door is useful, but just remember that there are plenty of sys admins/QA/tech support/ect also trying to move into software development. See how realistic it may be at the job before you commit to it.

--Mark
Mike Gershman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 13, 2004
Posts: 1272
One other thing ... programming is no longer the pot of gold and will never be again.

Read the other posts on this board and decide if you love programming enough to still pursue this career.
Jeff Bosch
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 30, 2003
Posts: 804
If you still want to get into programming, you could also volunteer to do projects for charitable organizations, perhaps build a database or such for them. Anything to build a portfolio of work samples to showcase your skills. (You are planning a portfolio, right?)
[ November 09, 2004: Message edited by: Jeff Bosch ]
Matt Kidd
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 17, 2002
Posts: 259
Thank you to all who replied...I've consolidated the replies since some of you replied more than once.
----------------------------------

Roger Graff: I fully understand that unless you have the experience backing up the cert it only serves to be the "test" to prove you have at best academic grasp of a particular subject. Its funny you mention backdoor. Summer of 2002 I moved to a part of chicago and lived above the guy who headed up the IT department of a non-profit. He was looking for a guy to do some basic HTML work but also "lead the team"/mentor this highschool kid as a means to possibly hire the person long term as another sys-admin (possibility to learn networking protocols, voip, cisco, etc). I said sure figuring it would be great experience. Well it was and I was offered the position so I am familiar with networking to get in someplace. But I bet you're asking why am I still in the job I'm at? Well at the time I was dead set on grad school (working at uni = discount) and had the conviction that as a man of my word I couldn't leave my current gig until October, when the year that I promised to work would be done would be finished. Yadda yadda yadda and here I am. 20/20 hindsight really.

Jeff Bosch: I just finished the resume and I will consider Tech Writer positions. I saw a few listed in my area albiet a few weeks ago. Honestly I'll take any "in" into a company if means I can program again. Money really isn't an object as I'm doing fine with what I make now, debt withstanding. I'm not opposed to starting at the bottom anywhere. What I am opposed to is stagnation without the oppurtunity for growth. Case in point, there is a software company here that is hiring for a Feb 2005 start. Its entry level and they are clear that you have no more than 18months experience. From what I can tell..THATS ME!!! But like my boss says...i'm up against every single college graduate in the past 3 years who is fresh, practiced, and green. me? I'm aged (not very well), out of practice, and at least a yearling (to stay with the analogy). As far as a portfolio, either having that or the bubble got me my first job. Considering I was using a purely design side software engineering project with no actual coding I'm wagering it was the bubble. As it stands I don't have a portfolio now but this is also something my boss suggested however she was referencing a flash based training tool that I started but couldn't finish for various reasons. While she implored me to finish it so I could show it off as someone looking for programming positions I didn't see its relevance other than "yes I did do my job while I was at my job". Are personal projects viable for portfolios? What should go in a portfolio? I personally don't see how a hiring manager would view a personal programming project, no matter what it is, as something that carries any weight or credence versus someone who actually worked on a live project with deadlines.

Peter Wooster: While I understand there are other means to wealth I didn't get into program for wealth. I was in school having just dropped a bio/pre-med program because my heart wasn't in it and I was only doing it for the money. I happened upon CS and liked it...because I could do it well. The pay was a perk, albiet a very nice perk. If I was programming now and getting paid what I am my only complaint would be my rate vs. the going market but I'd still be doing what I went to school for. Sure you can argue that many people don't do what they went to school for but if thats the case...why did you go to school in the first place? (another discussion entirely I know).

In my position I have A LOT of library experience. My boss is right in that it'd be a shame for it to go to waste but currently Endeavor(company that makes the software we use coincidently from my area) is not hiring. Otherwise I'd try to leverage my experience there. And yes Library school was mentioned and the fact they'd love my CS background but a) I hate the library environment b) can't stand the holierthanthou attitude of many professors

Mike Gershman: Tech support at my job is outsourced to another company. There are few openings ever. Factor in the poor working environment that I'm already in and how little it differs from department to department...this is not a place I want to continue my employment future. And I'm well aware that this field is not a gold mine. I'm not looking for a gold mine I'm looking to be happy. As it stands now I figure I'll be happier programming again. If the only thing that changed about my life was my job, not the actual pay just the job, I'd be quite content.

Mark Herschberg: My boss said the same thing. Its just as hard to believe it when you say it as when she said it. I admit, I'm an extreme pessimist but I can deal with that if I have a course of action. Like you and many others have suggested, networking is the place to start. I'll look into the places you mentioned but with the hours I work (12:30pm-9pm Su-Th) its extremely hard to network let alone do anything else without mentally and emotionally suffering.
Warren Dew
blacksmith
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 04, 2004
Posts: 1332
    
    2
Matt, I think you have a few things going for you.

First, I think it's good that you're willing to ask about things you don't know about - a lot of people would be afraid to show their ignorance, which just causes them to continue to be ignorant and unproductive. That's how you learn. Second, you do have some useful experience - looks like you've got a nine month experience advantage over fresh college grads, which is significant at that level. I also agree with your boss that experience in another job is worth at least a little in terms of having learned how to deal with other people in a work environment.

Third, the software job market is looking up. Given you're willing to take an entry level job, I think you'll be able to find one. Good luck!
Jeff Bosch
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 30, 2003
Posts: 804
Ya gott be flexible. My career overview, chronologically:

Graduated college.

Electronics Assembler in department where I was only one with degree.

Video Engineer.

Senior Video Engineer.

Vice-President, Engineering and Operations.

Video Technician.

Bench Technician.

Embedded controller customer service technician.

Embedded controller design engineer.

Technical Writer.

Apprentice Programmer.

Systems Engineer Technical Lead.

Technical Writer.


See, my career has not been linear at all. I've had to re-start at the bottom as the industry changes. But I don't stay at the bottom for long due to my flexibility and my experience. (Not just work experience, but life experience.) Stay open, stay flexible, and keep your skills current. You'll do fine.
Marc Peabody
pie sneak
Sheriff

Joined: Feb 05, 2003
Posts: 4727

Certification is not a bad idea. It shows your future employer that you are proactive and serious about your career. The time spent studying will also improve your programming knowledge (and help on the technical interviews).

Not all companies disregard non-programming job experience. Job experience is job experience. You say you work with many difficult people (profs). You should be able to take that kind of experience with you anywhere you go. Be prepared to answer interview questions like: "Describe a situation in which you had to work on something with a difficult person." You have the material; use it in a positive light.

Finally, never reveal to a potential employer that you are unhappy with your job, otherwise they will assume you are unhappy anywhere. You should be able to lay out your career plan to convince them that they are the destination of what you've wanted to do all your life.


A good workman is known by his tools.
Sharon Miller
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 13, 2004
Posts: 1
The previous posters have given valuable advice. I will just add to it.
  • Volunteer at not for profit organizations. Even if it is not IT related. It is another networking opportunity.
  • Network, Network, Network
  • Attend local user group meetings. It is another networking opportunity.
  • Prepare for certifications even if you don't take the actual tests. It's cheaper than taking a class.
  • Apply for Business Analyst contracting positions. You have the education and experience. That's another foot into the IT dept.


  • Those are some of my observations.
    Don Stadler
    Ranch Hand

    Joined: Feb 10, 2004
    Posts: 451
    Get programming experience however you can. See if you can use your contacts at the University to land a cheesy low-paid coding job for a research project, or for some university department. Work as a volunteer developer for a non-profit. After-hours and on weekends if you must. Look on college bulletin boards for openings (horrible pay). That is how I landed my first job (a massive $12K a year).

    This won't make you rich but it may well put you first in line when the entry-level openings start appearing. Which they will, fershure. Three months experience is better than zero. Six months better yet.
     
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