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Career advice requested

 
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Hi,

I have been teaching myself Java (using Kathy & Bert's books) and am hoping to pass SCJP 6 in the next few months. At the moment I am at home with the children but am looking to secure work as a programmer in the very near future. What advice would you give to me for finding my first job.

Many thanks

Clare
 
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Start writing code right now.

When I interview programmers, I always ask to see code samples to get a feel for the kind of work that the candidate can do. I wouldn't hire a chef without tasting his cooking, and I wouldn't hire a programmer without seeing his code. Certifications mean you have a base level of knowledge, or at the very least can pass a test. However, that doesn't mean you can actually produce work products.

As a new programmer without any professional experience, you have no past body of work to fall back on. You'll need to create some yourself.

Create an application that uses your skills. It can be anything that does something useful, but it needs to be quality work. Maybe you'll write a small bulletin board system for a local charity group you work with. Maybe you'll write a calendar app that you use to help keep track of the kids' schedules at home. It doesn't have to be sexy or groundbreaking.

Consider the situation where I'm a hiring manager looking at two entry-level programmers. Both have just been certified, but Clare brought some sample source code to a working application, plus the demonstrated enthusiasm and commitment of having doing so. Which of you is going to be less of a risk for me to hire? All other things being equal, I'll hire for enthusiasm and demonstrable work.

As far as actually finding positions, do not rely on the job boards. Work your personal connections to find out where the jobs are that don't get posted.
 
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Andy Lester wrote:
Consider the situation where I'm a hiring manager looking at two entry-level programmers. Both have just been certified, but Clare brought some sample source code to a working application, plus the demonstrated enthusiasm and commitment of having doing so. Which of you is going to be less of a risk for me to hire? All other things being equal, I'll hire for enthusiasm and demonstrable work.



This is some great advice. I've interviewed and hired a lot of programmers over the years, and I have yet to interview someone who walked in with some of their code in hand. Yet, it should be self-apparent!

When I was looking for my first Java position, I had pretty much just taught myself Java -- but I had used those skills on an open source project. Sure, I had a hard time getting in the door... I was an experienced C/C++ guy looking for a Java job without professional Java experience. But when I DID get in for an interview, I was able to point to my code and say "Look, it's all right there on SourceForge" and show it to them. I was at that job for 5+ years (and some very major enterprise projects) when my next job fell into my lap.

As noted, I've never had anyone walk in with code in hand... but it certainly would have left an impression on me if they did!
 
Andy Lester
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David Hibbs wrote:As noted, I've never had anyone walk in with code in hand... but it certainly would have left an impression on me if they did!



Half the battle is giving yourself an edge over everyone else.

Bring in code samples. 90% of everyone else won't.

Send a thank you note. 90% of everyone else won't.

Research the company. 90% of everyone else won't.

SHOW that you researched the company by discussing what you found. 99% of everyone else won't.

These things count a lot.
 
Clare Kew
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Thank you both for the really useful advice.
Clare
 
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@andy
Thanks for the advice.
I have a doubt; can bringing in code samples be misconstructed as having some external help?
I am stating this as few people who have the flair for this have actually done this(without actually creating such artifacts).
Instead, can't we simply state about a particular project involving technology X and be prepared to face questions on that topic.
 
Andy Lester
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Sumit Bisht wrote:can bringing in code samples be misconstructed as having some external help?



I don't see how it could, especially when you're able to discuss the code that you bring in.

I always for printed code samples, so that I can discuss the code with the candidates, programmer to programmer. "Why did you make this design decision?" "I see you're not using JavaDoc. What advantages does your approach give over JavaDoc?"

Hiring anyone is a risk. Anything you can do to minimize the risk that the manager feels about hiring you is a win.

can't we simply state about a particular project involving technology X



You can, but anyone can claim anything.

Don't just "be prepared to answer questions." That's passive. Get proactive and show the interviewer your stuff.
 
David Hibbs
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Sumit Bisht wrote:@andy
Thanks for the advice.
I have a doubt; can bringing in code samples be misconstructed as having some external help?



This isn't an exam, it's an interview. It's your one and only chance to show off what you know and can do.

I have one person working for me who brought copies of his award notices from his previous employer. He didn't just put it on his resume, he was prepared to show the evidence!

If you can show me some of your code and explain why you chose a certain approach, how it works, etc, it will be much more impressive.

Andy points out hard-copy, but I can see the limitations. What may be even more impressive would be if you can bring your laptop with an IDE and readily and quickly browse your work, class to class! Some highly secure environments may not allow you to bring your own laptop onsite... but really, there aren't all that many of those and we're talking about an entry level interview. Besides, you can always ask beforehand "Is it OK if I bring a laptop along to show you some code and maybe take some notes?"

(Wow, wouldn't that be impressive, Andy?!)

 
Andy Lester
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David Hibbs wrote:Besides, you can always ask beforehand "Is it OK if I bring a laptop along to show you some code and maybe take some notes?"

(Wow, wouldn't that be impressive, Andy?!)



Yes, because it tells the manager "I am really interested in this job."

If you would like to bring your laptop with GUI, go ahead. However, I suggest bringing paper so that the hiring manager can pass the code around and say "Hey, whaddya think of this guy's code?" Unless you're planning to leave your laptop behind, paper is the way to go. You could also bring a CD-ROM, labeled on the surface of the CD with your name, email address and the date.

Don't think about "Do I have to do this? Nobody else does it." That's the way to stay average, in the middle, with everyone else. Everybody's got to elevate from the norm.

Here's a blog post from last year on the topic called "Don't fight to stay average."
 
David Hibbs
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Andy Lester wrote:Here's a blog post from last year on the topic called "Don't fight to stay average."



Nice entry. I'll take a moment to add to your comment on the "BlackBerry Thank-You" and why this is a No-Go.

I may not be a "Millenial" but I'm not all that far off. I do understand quick responses are the norm. Thank you notes are NOT the right place for a quick response. To start, I'll directly second Andy's comment that :

Andy Lester wrote:I think it tells the recipient that you're just cranking through job prospects hoping to find something that happens to fit.



I'll continue by explaining what a delayed note in this case does.

First, it tells the employer that you're still thinking about the interview and what was discussed. If you send a note right away, it's no surprise that you're still thinking about it... for all I know, you were still in the office when you wrote it! You could even have drafted it while waiting, and then simply hit send the moment you walked out the door. (See, I told you I know how these things work.) If I get an email the next day saying "Thanks " and what you really liked about your visit, it leaves a nice warm fuzzy.

Second, it keeps your name in front of that potential employer. If you're running through resumes and you see each name once--even if it's only half a dozen resumes--then each one has very little chance to stick with them. If you put your name in front of that person again, along with a reminder of what you discussed, it keeps you in memory. If I sit down to make a decision and I can't remember who you were or what we discussed, you didn't impress me enough and I won't hire you.

To sum up... Here's the key: Every person I've hired (or recommended to hire) has had something in particular that made them memorable.
 
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Getting certified was how I got into the field. I have a bacehlor's degree in Anthropology, but couldn't find work and found that developing software was fun and very rewarding. After I got certified, I put my resume on Dice and Monster and that was that. I got a few calls and took the first job that I was fully offered. I find that some employers really like the SCJP, because we're usually self-taught people and can therefore learn on our own new technology without having to go to a class. On the other hand, other employers view this as cheating and not a well-rounded approach to learning programming. It worked for me, so I say that your chances are really good at getting a good position. If you have a good score, I recommend bringing that to the interviews. Also, I really recommend learning HTML, CSS, and Javascript, and especially JSP and servlets. The more you know about Java's web frameworks, the more you'll impress.
 
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