mercoledì 11 febbraio 2015

How to get that first web developer role

I just got an email from someone who wanted my advice on how to break into the web development industry, so I thought this would make a good topic for a post so it helps not only the guy who got in contact but also anyone else who may not know how to get started within the web development community. Having been on both the interviewee and interviewer side of the table I am happy to offer my 2 cents and I would love it if anyone else with advice would reply to this post in the comments.

To start with a bit of background, five years ago after having been made redundant from a software development role with little transferable skills (they used their own programming language) I found myself with a pregnant wife and without a job, a terrible situation to be in causing both myself and wife a lot of stress. Having studied Internet Computing and been developing websites in my own time since I was only 12, the web was already my second love, second only to my wife so it made sense and while I was already a perfectly capable web developer my lack of experience was a huge problem.

Companies like Microsoft rejected me automatically from their intern program because I only had 2 A-levels (not even considering that in addition I had 5 other AS-levels). I literally applied for everything and found myself losing out to other developers who were more experienced than I. In the end it wasn’t a job that I found myself that I ended up getting, it was an a recruiter at the French Bank Societie Generale which found my CV on Monster (A popular job board) and invited me down to London to have an interview. I got the role and then that was the start to my web development career.

In my time looking for that first role I realised how much my lack of experience was holding me back, so I looked at ways in which I could differentiate myself from others applying for the same roles that I was.

Build a portfolio

When applying for any web development role you need to have some kind of portfolio, however when you are applying for entry level roles you likely don’t have many examples of client work that you can show to your prospective employer. This means you should look at sites that you are particularly proud of that you have built for yourself or for friends and use this as the basis of your portfolio.

When looking at your portfolio it is likely that someone at the company you are applying to will have a look at the source code of your sites. This will not necessarily be the interviewer and could potentially be one of the developers you will be working with.

For an entry-level position, the company won’t expect perfect maintainable codebase, however they will look to see if the HTML you have written is valid and they will want to see that you have an understanding how to structure your HTML. Validating your HTML is really easy and can be done by simply pasting your code into the W3C validator at validator.w3.org.

Applying for roles

At the moment there is a huge variety of different web development roles available looking for developers with a variety of levels of experience and skillsets. Unfortunately, a lot of job boards like JobSite and Monster are not built specifically for the development industry but are more built to handle jobs in general so they rely upon key word based searching. This makes it even more difficult to find roles that you would be interested in and have the right amount of experience for.

When applying to roles however, job boards make it really simple as you can prepare a few different versions of your CV, and then use the appropriate version for different roles you have chosen to apply for. The danger of uploading your CV to a job board however is that it can lead to you becoming inundated with phone calls from recruiters.

If you are applying to a company directly rather than through a recruiter you should try and tweak your CV so that it targets the specific role, so in the section about you, you would try to explain what you offer to the company and why they would benefit from hiring you.

With the huge amount of competition for web development roles, you shouldn’t be disheartened by rejection but instead you should try to learn from it. One way in which you can do this is simply ask for feedback about why you didn’t get the role, most companies will be happy to give you this and it makes the interview feel like less of a rejection but more of a learning experience.

In the interview

When it comes to your interview it is important that you come across as confident and capable. The interviewer needs to get confidence in your ability to be able to do the job and that you can offer the company what it is looking for. With this in mind there are two key areas of preparation:

Research the company

Researching a company is really important before attending a job interview as it is really commonly asked what you know about the company. The reason the interviewer asks this is because they firstly want to know that you understand what the company does and secondly they want to know where they might need to fill in any blanks which you might have not been able to find out about externally.

Researching a large company is fairly easy, first you might have heard of them so you might already have an understanding of what they do. Aside from this, the majority of large corporates will have pages written about them on Wikipedia which will allow you to learn about the company history and other details about the business you might otherwise be unaware of.

Researching a smaller company however is much more difficult, I had this problem when I had the job interview for McCormack & Morrison and ultimately the only information I could find was on the companies website. This wasn’t a fantastic source of information as, like most small company websites was minimalistic and didn’t really have the companies latest work. I ended up looking up the company at Companies House to at least give me some insight into the business.

Research the job spec

Having got an understanding of what the business does, it is also important that you properly understand the job specification. It is likely that there are some nice to have skills listed which you haven’t come across yet but it would be useful to you to do some light research into each of these. This means that you at least are aware of them and while you shouldn’t then go into the interview claiming to know these skills from simply reading about them, you can show to the interviewer that you are aware of them and know the benefits they can bring. It also demonstrates that you are willing to learn new skills you currently do not have.

Other things you can do

If possible bring your laptop to the interview and on it have some sites from your portfolio, this allows you to offer to show the interviewer any work you are particularly proud of in the interview and gives you the opportunity to talk the interviewer through your previous work, including what technologies you chose to use.

In the meantime

While looking for a new entry level position there is a lot you can do outside of applying for new roles. The three key ones being:

  • Networking
  • Blogging
  • Setting yourself small projects
Network, Network, Network

The web development community is simply that, a community of people who all share an interest in web technologies and the ways in which we can use them. As such it is good to make contacts and there are many ways in which you can do this.

The easiest way to start meeting people is to start to attend meetups. It is very easy to find meetups for areas that you are interested in and quite often they will be closer to your location than you think. There are two sites which will help you find meetups near you, these are Lanyrd (www.lanyrd.com) and Meetup (www.meetup.com) and of course if they fail you remember that Google is your friend (Please see this video for confirmation of this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftQ6A3DKKeg).

Aside from meetups you can also make contacts through sites like Reddit, Twitter and LinkedIn, which can both be good places to meet other developers. On Reddit for example there are a huge number of subreddit’s dedicated to different areas of development including /r/webdev /r/javascript and /r/css. On LinkedIn there are a lot of groups for developers where they can discuss different technologies they are using. With Twitter there are a large number of developers using the mico-blogging platform to engage with others in the industry. There is a mix of discussions, helping one another and posting of useful links and if there is something you want to follow up on later you can simply favourite it and then go back to it later.

Blogging

As a developer it can be really useful to start a blog, talking about different technologies you have used, writing tutorials on things you know about and to post about sites you have been working on.

One use of writing a blog is that you can use it to document what you are learning, this is how I primarily use my blog, as I learn a new technology or technique I will write a blog post about it. What this means is that I am able to document what I have learnt and then later I can refer to it first if I have a problem. This has been useful on a few occasions where I have forgotten quite how I have done something and my blog has served as a useful reminder.

There is also the opportunity to share what I have learnt with other developers. The aim being that through my own learning I can also teach others.

Through working on and developing my blog I have also found myself being contacted by prospective employers and even my first book publisher actually reached out to me through the contact form on my blog.

If you don’t want to build or host your own site for your blog you can easily use a platform like Medium (https://medium.com/) which will enable you to quickly put together a blog.

Set yourself small projects

Spend your time writing yourself some little projects as this will give yourself the opportunity to learn a new technology and potentially provide an extra piece you could add to your portfolio.

One of the little projects I did while trying to find my first web development role was to write a CMS in PHP which used AJAX to fetch new content. The purpose of this was to enable me to learn AJAX but it enabled me to show off my ability and I do feel that this project helped me with getting both my first and second roles.

Other Posts

So I am not the first to post on this subject and its definitely worth getting a few peoples point of views. As recently as the 8th July, Anna Debenham posted a piece written for aspiring web designers and developers on the blog which can be found at http://maban.co.uk/92/.

 

by Jonathan Fielding

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