Furward Momentum – Getting Your First Tech Job

Furward Momentum (Introduction)

  1. Building Your Support Network and/or Team
  2. Mapping the Technology Landscape
  3. Learning the Fundamental Skills
  4. Choosing Your Path
  5. Starting and Growing an Open Source Project
  6. Building Your C.V.
  7. Getting Your First Tech Job
  8. Starting a Technology Company
  9. Career Growth and Paying It Forward

If you’ve been following along with all of the entries in this series that precede the on you’re reading right now, you should have all of the following in your arsenal:

  1. Real-world experience with the technology you’re interested in working with professionally, as evidenced by your open source project experience and your other C.V.-building work.
  2. A think-tank of people you’ve worked with on said projects whom can provide professional references and/or letters of recommendation (especially if they get a job in the industry first).
  3. Fundamental skills (regardless of whether or not they’re demonstrated by your open source experience).

Or, as an employer looking over a pool of applicants will read it, you have:

  1. Real Experience
  2. Soft skills
  3. Hard skills

If you felt, at the beginning of this journey, that you’d never get a job in technology without a four-year degree or somehow meeting the minimum “X years of experience” list items common in job postings, you can safely lay these fears to rest.

By the time you’re ready for this page, you’re more than ready for a job in the technology industry. All you need to do is find your first technology job.

An Open Secret About Careers in Technology

Technology companies suck at hiring. Software companies are some of the worst offenders.

Something to remember: Most software companies are always hiring, regardless of what the Careers section of their HR website says.

Soatok has a eureka moment
It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure that out. Be better than me. Art by Swizz.

You may be contacted by Recruiters from staffing agencies. Avoid them. (If you’re really desperate and have to rely on them for your first job, fine, but don’t make it a habit. Your wallet will thank you for heeding my advice.)

Additionally, you’re better off forgetting traditional job boards (Monster, Indeed, etc.); they’re pretty awful.

A much better way to find a good technology job is to hop on a Discord/Skype call (or, when this pandemic ends, an informal coffee date) with a hiring manager for a company in the industry you want to work in.

Where do you find the hiring managers for such companies? Ask the connections you’ve gained from your open source contributions. (Some of them may even skip this step and ask you if you’re available for an interview.)

But if that well runs dry, there’s always the monthly Who is Hiring? posts on Hacker News.

The Typical Tech Hiring Process

The typical tech job hiring process is as follows:

  1. You submit your application, with a résumé.
  2. The company contacts you with an initial phone screen, and sets up a formal job interview.
  3. Before COVID-19, you typically would fly out to the company headquarters and be subjected to a gauntlet of 5-8 smaller sessions with different interviewers, each interested in a different question or whiteboard problem. These days, everything seems to be done remotely. (I don’t know what the future holds, but I do hope you’re given an option so you can choose which ever you’re most comfortable with.)
  4. If your interview went well, you’re given a formal job offer with a compensation package. Assuming you pass your background check, you’re hired. (In many states, this is the first point they’re legally allowed to inquire about your criminal history.)

A lot of companies have started to realize that the gauntlet in step 3 is sub-optimal for finding talented technologists, and instead opt for a work-sample test.

Work-sample tests mostly look like this:

Here’s a mostly-complete software program (.zip file). Add a feature/widget that does X, Y, and/or Z. We will test it in A, B, and C ways. We’re looking for comments/correctness/test coverage/etc.

You have [e.g. one week] to complete this, at your own pace, but please do not spend more than [e.g. four hours] on it.

A typical work-sample test prompt.

Successfully completing a work-sample test is usually followed by another interview, but if you get that, you’re probably going to be handed an offer.

How Should I Prepare?

There are a lot of guides on the Internet that cover this in detail.

My advice? Revisit your fundamental skills, and trust in the experience you’ve gained.

If you do not get the job you interview for, keep in mind:

If you do get the job you applied for, you’ll want to read Patrick McKenzie’s guide to salary negotiation.

Avoid Unpaid Internships

If you’re not being paid a fair market rate for your work, you shouldn’t be doing any useful work for a company. Rather, the internship should only be benefiting you, not the employer.

Next: Career Growth and Paying It Forward