Coding schools rock. They give people the opportunity to learn new skills and start a new career. As a student at a coding school, you work hard to understand concepts and spend extended time building small web applications in a variety of frameworks and languages. They give you enough of a taste of programming to know if you like it, as well as the ability to experience the rhythm of testing, writing, and debugging code. You gain the experience of how to overcome the mental hurdles of life as a developer.
Getting a job and building a career as a software engineer and developer is difficult. The industry seeks “T-shaped” developers, those possessing a depth of mastery in a specific language or skill while still presenting breadth across others. As a coding student, you are a “Underscore-shaped” developer. You gain a great deal of breadth, but often little depth. When you look for job postings and speak to recruiters it can be difficult to get the first interview because you lack depth, and most places think they want to hire experienced developers who can hit the ground running and/or fill in a gap on their team.
All is not lost though. Switching careers is hard, but not impossible, nor even improbable. It’s just a time and commitment thing. LinkedIn and personal networking can help in vital ways, and here is why: we hire more for personality traits and habits than skills. Through a disciplined commitment to your network and exploration of the companies and people in the community you wish to be a part of, you can demonstrate your unique skills, method of interacting with people, and a commitment to continuous learning habits.
So let’s get into the heart of how I see LinkedIn being used.
LinkedIn is good for:
- Talking to People
- Determining Career Paths
- Building your Personal Brand
Talk to People
Know what you want. Impossible, right? Before jumping into anything, get a sense of the lay of the land and do some reconnaissance. Yes, I encourage you to spy-for research purposes only, of course. Explore the Portland Business Journal or your local library to find out who the top software firms, top web development studios, etc. By investigating the company on LinkedIn, you can find out who you know there or where you have a second-degree connection. Reach out and let people know you are interested in learning more about their company and development atmosphere. Keep these meetings short, as most people are busy and they are doing you a favor. Ask them about the various roles in their company, what they like and what they are working to change, and what advice they have for someone like you who is new to the industry. Ask them if they know any new hires that would be good to talk with about how they got their start. What you want to demonstrate is a genuine curiosity for their business. You also want to maintain a relationship with these people that agree to meet with you. They’ve demonstrated that they are open to helping you, that they’ve shared with you some of their experience, and that they’ve hopefully made introductions. Don’t bug them a lot, but let them know how the introductions have gone and how you are following through on their advice - or if you decided not to - why not.
Determine Career Paths
Ok, so you’ve done some research and you know a little more about the career landscapes of tech. You have an idea of some of the companies you’d really like to work for. You’ve caught glimpses of cultures you want to be a part of. You’ve talked to mid-career people who have jobs you think you’d enjoy and want to strive for. Time to roll up your sleeves and map out a trajectory. LinkedIn is fantastic for analyzing these people and finding others in similar roles. Look at their educational background, what their first jobs were, how long they stayed in roles, etc. Get more precise in your relationship outreach. Talk to people in these roles to determine what jobs and experiences best prepared them for the responsibilities and challenges they now face. Remember to also inquire about what jobs they wished they had, and why those roles seem so desirable.
Building Your Brand
All of this outreach and planning contributes to your brand. One of the things it communicates to those you are talking to is your commitment to doing - to working towards something - and to always follow through. These are two of the key personality traits that are sought after in every new hire.
I recommend you supplement this casual approach to brand building with something more specific. Choose two platforms you will consistently implement to share with the world a little about who you are. They could be LinkedIn and Twitter, a personal blog, Facebook, Stackoverflow, or any other powerful media tool that you can effectively utilize. Just know that the largest gains will happen from consistent habits, so find channels you can stay with over the long haul.
With these platforms, the greatest gains come over time, by demonstrating your interest in and commitment to various specialties. When hiring for anything today you don’t just look at the basic skills - you look for what “+1” factor an individual will add to the team. It could be web performance, it could be cloud computing, it could be application security. Your goal is to show the companies you are talking with that you are vested in your career, and that you have a differentiating factor over the other job applicants. Working at the companies you want to be a part of will be competitive. Own it.
This post is written for coding students. That’s the world I know and where I come from. At Daylight, we engage with local coding schools including Epicodus to bring on interns regularly. We’ve found several solid team members through this community involvement, and cheer on the success of those interns who have launched into careers at other companies following their internships.