“Jamie,” a dear friend of mine started, thoughtfully stirring some pasta with his fork over lunch, “I’ve been thinking about getting back into the programming world. How should I go about it? I’m worried about being too old to pick it back up.”
My friend hadn’t touched code since college and, 10 years on, would almost be starting from scratch. “Let me have a think,” I said. “I know some people who will be able to help.”
I left lunch that day on a mission to help my friend, and I came up with this: An easy-to-follow how-to for getting started. Whether you’re coming back after an absence or beginning from scratch, these bits of info will hopefully help you on your way to your new developer career.
1. Try out a range of different languages
Don’t go in thinking “I’m gonna be a Java developer,” the fact of the matter is you might completely hate Java, but Python might float your boat. The best advice is to sample as many as you can in a short amount of time and see which one works best for you. A lot of programming languages have similar fundamentals and grammar, but finding one that speaks to you is important – especially if you want to do this as a career! Some of the developers I spoke with recommended “Seven Languages in Seven Weeks” by Bruce Tate.
Do your research and figure out what it is you want to focus on first. Remember, you can always pick up other languages as you progress in your career. In fact, the Pragmatic Programmer recommends learning a new language each year. There are lots of resources online; Codecademy and Udemy provide easy to follow courses online, you can learn from free online resources such as Django Book, or if you want the tactile feel of paper in your hands there are a of books that you can order today and have in your possession tomorrow.
3. Share what you’ve made
Share everything. Seriously. That text adventure you made, the rock, paper, scissors simulator you coded, the website you pulled together and everything in between. Github is the obvious starting point, but you can even write about your learning journey on Medium or dev.to. This is your portfolio. Not only does it provide evidence that you are actually dedicating time and energy to honing your skills, but it means a prospective employer can look at how you code, examine your process and see if you are at a level of ability to start work yet. Using some of the resources above, you can even ask for help or get feedback from other users, further building your understanding, knowledge and network. Once you feel a bit more comfortable you can always check out hackathons and meetups near you.
4. Don’t worry about not having the degree
All of the developers I spoke with told me they would place much higher value on the work and skills of a new recruit rather than if, or where, they went to college. That isn’t to say that having a degree won’t help, it opens more doors, but ultimately developers are judged on how they work, what they know and whether they will fit in a team dynamic, and these are things you don’t need a college degree to evidence.
5. Book some interviews
Scan the job boards, sign up with recruitment agencies (I’d recommend going with a niche recruiter rather than a generalist) and let them know where you are at in your career. Make sure your LinkedIn game is strong, join communities and connect with people. Try and get yourself an interview and prepare as best you can. Hiring a developer normally consists of the following stages:
- Resume and cover letter
- Phone interview
- Face to face interview
- Technical test
6. Ace your interview and technical assessment
Your resume and cover letter will be used to screen out any obviously poor candidates. Make sure everything is spelled correctly – run your resume and cover letter through MS Word’s spellchecker and use Grammarly to make sure before you send it. Most of all, be passionate about why you want to work in computing, what got you into this world, what do you work on in your spare time and why you love it! You can be taught technical skills, but you can’t fake enthusiasm.
The phone interview and face to face interview will be used to meet your line manager and possibly the team you will be working with, this is to make sure that you can all get on together well enough to work. You’ll be spending lots of time with these people so make sure it’s a good fit for you too.
Most importantly, get the experience of being on the receiving end of technical assessments.
The final word
Let me say something vital: You’re never too old to learn to code. Now is a great time to learn; it’s a jobseeker’s market with a well-documented skills shortage resulting in plenty of well-paid digital jobs.
Have you got any tips that you would like to share? Let me know.