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This article was originally published by Sarah Fischer on Code Fellows.

We welcomed a panel of alumni who share their first-hand experience of what it’s like to go from studying a chosen stack at Code Fellows to applying for professional programming jobs. Here are some of the tips that a recent alumni panel shared.

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1. Have an awesome project

Have one app, website, game, or other project that you were very involved it. If you’ve just switched careers and don’t have professional experience in your chosen stack, this can give you challenges, accomplishments, and experience to speak to in your interview. It is also something visual that shows off what you can do.

2. Have a solid grasp on algorithms and data structures

Some hiring managers grill applicants about algorithms and data structures, and anyone with an understanding of computer science should know about these two topics. If you don’t have a CS degree, study up and have a comprehensive grasp on these concepts before your interview.

3. Hit the ground running

You may feel like two months of intense study means that you can take a week or two off, but this is when another kind of intensity starts. The alumni panelists agreed that their classmates who dove right into the job search had an easier and shorter job hunt than the students who took two or more weeks off from studying or applying for jobs.

4. Don’t undersell…

It can be hard to get your mind around the fact that you are a professional software developer after making a career switch, but going through this sort of training puts you in a very good place to start your development career. Don’t undersell what you can do with what you’ve learned.

5. …But don’t bullshit either

On the flip side, if the CTO or hiring manager asks you a question about a specific technology, library, or language and you don’t know the answer, don’t try to make something up or talk around the question. They asked because they know the answer and want to know if you do, too. This also applies if you’re facing an in-person coding challenge that you don’t know how to answer. Explain your thought process aloud; that will give the interviewer an idea of your problem-solving technique and ability, even if you don’t get the answer right.

6. Watch how you word your title

You’re a developer who knows a specific language, not a developer limited to a specific language. Either pick a broad term (software developer, web developer, mobile developer, etc.) for your title, or say that you’re a developer who knows Python, Objective-C, Java, C#, .Net, etc. Don’t limit yourself to a specific language by calling yourself a “Ruby on Rails Developer” or a “JavaScript Developer.”

7. Have answers to common interview questions (but pause after they’re asked so that your responses don’t seem rehearsed)

During your job search, you’ll probably encounter typical interview questions (“What are your greatest weaknesses?”) or specific technical interview questions (such as the questions that have been included in countless “How to nail a tech interview” books). Since you have the resources that tell what common interview questions to expect, have genuine answers for these questions. If they come up in an interview, pause and ponder before answering so that your response doesn’t sound cookie-cutter or practiced.

8. Let your code (and your ability) speak for itself

In response to a student question, our panelists each said that they left the code they wrote before and during their development accelerator up on their GitHub profile. This allowed hiring managers (and the alumni themselves) to see how far they’d come in a short period of time. But this also means having several examples of good code on your profile (and hyperlinked from your LinkedIn, website, or online resume). This comes back to not taking time off after you finish a development accelerator. While all of that info is fresh in your mind, use it to write good code that you’re proud to show to a potential employer.

9. Ask questions and schedule coffee with people

Many students (and people in general) confess that they struggle with networking at events and meetups, but several of our alumni attribute their first job to some form of networking. If you’re not comfortable attending large tech meetups, try inviting people in your network out for coffee. Ask them questions, and if they can’t answer, they may be able to connect you with someone who can (and expand your network!).

10. Leverage Hacker News to know who is hiring

Hacker News periodically posts Who’s Hiring or Who’s Looking discussions. Keep an eye out for these posts and use them to find out what companies are hiring for different roles.

11. Start specializing

Specializing in a specific technology, language, or library gives you a great talking (and selling) point in interviews. The key is to know a little about a lot of things, and a lot about one or two things. Think of your knowledge expanse like a T—the top of the T is the surface or conversational knowledge you have about several subjects and technologies, and the stem of the T is the deep knowledge that you have about one particular topic.

12. Don’t be afraid to negotiate salary

Our alumni shared stories ranging from not asking for enough compensation, to having to counter-offer to get a comparable salary. Be confident in your skills (see point #4), do your research on fair salaries for the role, company size, cost of living, your education/experience, and the job market, and (tactfully!) present a counter offer.

TL;DR

If you’re getting ready to start your job search, leverage the momentum of the past eight weeks, write some top-notch code, and have confidence in what you have to offer a company.


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