Entry level Java developers and career changers get caught in the vicious cycle where "you can't get a job without some hands-on experience, but the employers are not keen to hire you without some experience". Employers are looking for entry level developers who can start contributing from the day they join. This does not mean that employers are not going to provide you training and support, but rather looking for skills outside academic qualifications like -- working independently, quick learner, passion for the chosen profession, understanding of the industry, ability to communicate your thoughts/capabilities and some much needed "hands-on experience". There is no other magic formula. Most employers don't care where you got that experience from.
3 steps you should take to make a break as a Java developer:
Step 1: Invest in improving your job hunting skills encompassing interviewing, networking, and resume writing skills.
Step 2: Keep applying for jobs via both published & hidden job markets.[/list]
Step 3: Follow the tips outlined below to enhance your hands-on experience while keeping at points 1 & 2.
Getting the much needed hands-on experience
Tip #1: Java is very accessible and all the following are available for free. The steps you take may slightly vary depending on your familiarity with Java and its tools.
A computer -- desk top or lap top.
Download latest version of Java (JDK and JRE).
Download latest version of eclipse IDE.
Download Tomcat or JBoss to deploy your applications.
Download and install MySQL database. All non trivial applications need information to be persisted to a database.
Set up Maven as a build and dependency management tool so that you can download sought after frameworks like Spring and Hibernate.
Tip #2: Start with the basics first. Enterprise Java has hundreds of frameworks and libraries and it is easy for the beginners to get confused. Once you get to a certain point, you will get a better handle on them, but to get started, stick to the following basic steps. Feel free to make changes as you see fit.
Core Java fundamentals. Write simple stand alone Java programs using OO concepts. Write unit tests with JUnit.
Learn SQL and write stand alone Java programs that connect to MySQL database via JDBC.
Write simple web applications using Servelts and JSPs using enterprise Java. The application needs to persist data to the MySQL database. Deploy your application to Tomcat or JBoss server and run them as an enterprise application. Use Maven for build and dependency management.
Expand your project created with JSPs, Servlets, and JDBC to use sought after frameworks. Learn the concept of "dependency injection". Start wiring up sought after frameworks like Spring. Spring is very vast, and start with spring core and spring jdbc. Spring core is used for dependency injection and Spring jdbc is to connect to databases and to execute SQL queries.
Learn the MVC (Model View Controller) design pattern for web development. Convert your JSPs and Servelts to Spring-mvc based web application.
Write RESTFul web services using Spring MVC.
Make sure that you write unit tests for your code with JUnit and mocking frameworks like Mockito.
Tip #3: Once you have some familiarity and experience with developing enterprise applications with Java, try contributing to open source projects or if your self-taught project is non trivial, try to opensource your self-taught project. You can learn a lot by looking at others' code.
Tip #4: Look for volunteer work to enhance your hands-on experience. Don't over commit yourself. Allocate say 2 to 3 days to build a website for a charity or community organization.
Tip #5: Share your hands-on experience gained via tips 1-4 in your resume and through blogging (can be kept private initially). It is vital to capture your experience via blogging. Improve your resume writing and interviewing skills via many handy posts found in this blog or elseware on the internet. It is essential that while you are working on the tips 1-5, keep applying for the paid jobs as well.
Tip #6: Voluntary work and other networking opportunities via Java User Groups (JUGs) and graduate trade fairs can put you in touch with the professionals in the industry and open more doors for you. The tips 1-5 will also differentiate you from the other entry level developers. My books and blog has covered lots of Java interview questions and answers. Practice those questions and answers as many employers have initial phone screening and technical tests to ascertain your Java knowledge, mainly in core Java and web development (e.g. stateless HTTP protocol, sessions, cookies, etc). All it takes is to learn 10 Q&A each day while gaining hands-on experience and applying for entry level jobs.