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About your first job

Maxim Katcharov
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Joined: Sep 07, 2004
Posts: 113
I'm graduating very shortly, and I'm currently looking for a job. I have very little idea of what I should expect, which is good in at least one way, since it prompts me to start what I hope will be an interesting topic on the subject of everyone's first programming-related jobs. So...

What was looking for and getting your first job like? What kind of company was it with? What advice would you like to have given yourself? What advice would you give someone like me, if things have changed since then?
Roger Chung-Wee
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Joined: Sep 29, 2002
Posts: 1683
My first job in IT was working for a huge corporation which had as close to a 100 per cent monopoly in the UK gas market as you could imagine. This was back in 1978. I had got myself enrolled in a government-funded, 18-week computer programming course and applied for a job as a COBOL programmer.

One thing that I learnt was that you are a tiny cog in a huge wheel, so you can forget about having any real influence on how your organisation works. But there was good pay, a good pension scheme and job security, not things that many small employers offer.

I have to say that in a long career, I have yet to find anyone else who cared about my skills. You should certainly ask about employers' attitude to skills, but regardless of what they say you will probably have to be determined to improve your skills. This is really important these days as one of the biggest changes in the industry is the amount of outsourcing that has taken place in the past 15 years or so. You will not be able to compete cost-wise with offshore Indian programmers, but having good skills (both technical and business) and being onsite will help you to compete.

Good luck with your career!


SCJP 1.4, SCWCD 1.3, SCBCD 1.3
Henry Wong
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Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 18990
    
  40

Originally posted by Maxim Katcharov:
I'm graduating very shortly, and I'm currently looking for a job. I have very little idea of what I should expect, which is good in at least one way, since it prompts me to start what I hope will be an interesting topic on the subject of everyone's first programming-related jobs. So...

What was looking for and getting your first job like? What kind of company was it with? What advice would you like to have given yourself? What advice would you give someone like me, if things have changed since then?


Well... I got a summer job after my sophmore year doing graphical work, programming in 8086 assembler. Wish I can say that I looked for the Job, but basically, a friend knew of my skills, and ask me if I was willing to give up my summer for some cash... ... Didn't look much after graduating either, as I was offered a full time job, with the same company, after my junior year.

It was a startup company. I got to do different stuff every day. And basically, it was like "drinking from a firehose". The company folded a few years later.

My advice is to just have fun, and keep learning. Make friends. Help others. Find some really good mentors. And in a decade or so, find someone good to mentor.

Roger is right, in that nobody will care about your skills. Why should they? People will care for you as a person. And will know that you are "skilled" based on your previous successes. Some of my previous managers don't know the difference between Java, Latte, or just plain Coffee, but they know I am good at it. And would call me with tempting offers every now and then. (Most are for drinks, but there are job offers in the mix ... )

Henry


Books: Java Threads, 3rd Edition, Jini in a Nutshell, and Java Gems (contributor)
Maxim Katcharov
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Joined: Sep 07, 2004
Posts: 113
Thanks Roger, and thanks to both for your responses and advice.

From your experiences it looks like going for a big company will mean better benefits and job security, while a smaller company will give you more variety and let you have a greater impact on the company - seems pretty even. What about things like advancement? The ceiling in a big company certainly seems like it would be higher, but what about the rate at which the company will allow you to progress?
Roger Chung-Wee
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 29, 2002
Posts: 1683
In big companies, you will find that advancement is done according to procedures. There will be a grading system and everyone has a grade (kind of like the armed services where everyone has a rank). At various times, which depends on factors such as budget and staff shortages, vacancies will arise. Typically, all vacancies will be open for anyone to apply, although it is often true that the most senior vacancies are sometimes filled by appointment.

Your success in getting promotion will usually depend, at least in part, on getting good annual appraisals. If you get an interview, then you will need to do well in this. For some positions, it will be necessary to give a presentation, so remember that your communications and presentation skills are important.

Smaller companies tend to be rather less formal, and you may advance more quickly if you are good at what you do. But bear in mind that any lack of competence is less easy to hide in a smaller company.

I've worked for the sixth biggest company in the UK and I've been self-employed, and I can tell you that the mindset required to succeed in either is very different. If you are uncertain what type of company to work for, one thing to bear in mind is that it is probably easier to work for a smaller company when you are young. When you are older, maybe with a family and mortgage, the big company with a pension and perhaps better job security may appeal more.
Don Stadler
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Joined: Feb 10, 2004
Posts: 451
I've worked for the sixth biggest company in the UK and I've been self-employed, and I can tell you that the mindset required to succeed in either is very different.


Very true. Self-employed have to be to watch the market and be willing and able to change almost constantly. Large companies can provide apparent stability for a very long time but when things go legless for big companies things can go amazingly bad for the employees. That is because in many situations the company enjoys a 'monopsony' on the local labor market. In normal times this means you may need to move house to change jobs (or at least commute a long way). When a company goes bankrupt the value of the employee's houses often plunges as well because many of the ex-employees have to move to get work. Losing your job AND $150,000 in equity on your house can really ruin your day!

When you are older, maybe with a family and mortgage, the big company with a pension and perhaps better job security may appeal more.


Perhaps so, perhaps no. Apparent security can be spurious. Ask the (ex) employees of Enron, Worldcom, Marconi, Nortel Networks, etc about it. Upcoming stars are General Motors and Ford.

You have to watch the financials, the market, and your local labor market. Closely.
 
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