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It will seem like the toughest assignment in the world to get hired. Especially if you come to coding in an unconventional education or career path.
But the world is changing. Even companies like Google, Apple, and many other software companies revoked their policies about formal education. They no longer require employees to have a college degree.
Why? Because there's more to what makes an excellent programmer than just that.
This article is for you if one of these describes you:
- You don’t have a computer science degree and you are trying to secure your first programming job.
- You were in a different career and were passionate to become a computer programmer.
- A computer science student or graduate trying to pitch your dream company.
If you’ve created an excellent resume, you’re in the right direction to getting your first job. Make a resume that matches the industry and your personality. Try one from our resume builder for FREE. We have created awesome resume templates that take only 10 minutes to fill.
What Do You Need to Become a Programmer?
The demand for software engineers is overwhelming and rising in the US and worldwide. DAXX writes according to a survey by US labor statistics that the demand for programmers in 2022 was at 1.4 million and the supply of graduates was at 400,000 a year.
Companies are looking for ways to meet this massive demand. Your 4-year bachelor’s degree would not be a deciding factor in the recruitment process, however, having more academic qualifications would be advantageous.
More than your computer science degree and years of industry experience, you’ll need basic computer programming skills, a passion for programming, and a willingness to invest hours into learning and solving problems.
So, let’s discuss how you could convince any company in the world that you’re a great fit for their team of computer programmers.
Here’s what we discuss in this article:
- 10 technical skills required to excel in coding
- 10 tips to land your first programming job
- 5 mistakes you should avoid as a programmer
10 Technical Skills Required to Excell in Coding
These are the technical capabilities an individual should possess to create programs and applications successfully. To acquire these technical skills, you need basic mathematical knowledge, analytical skills, and problem-solving skills.
Following are some of the critical technical skills required to excel in a software development role:
1. Data structures and algorithms
A strong understanding of data structures and algorithms would take you to places in software development. Most companies put their top priority on candidates who have an understanding of data structures and algorithms – this is the foundation of software development.
If you’re a computer science graduate from Harvard or a self-taught programmer, you’ll be accessed based on your knowledge of data structures and algorithms rather than the number of coding languages you know.
When you develop programs without having the right understanding of the basics, you will find codes that take too long or too much space. There you’ll find the importance of arranging data in the right data structures and algorithms.
2. Programming languages
Coding languages are the type of source codes used to write software programs. Some computer languages can be used to write many types of programs while some are specifically designed for niche purposes.
As a programmer, you should be an expert in at least one coding language while also having hands-on experience in multiple languages.
When deciding what language to excel in, research the capabilities and limitations of each language. For example, one language would be best for mobile application development while another would be best for game development.
HTML (HyperText Markup Language):
Another important language in web development and this is considered one of the simplest to learn a coding language. HTML is used to describe the structures of web pages: to create text, headings, tables, lists, hyperlinks, and photos.
CSS (Cascading Styles Sheets):
CSS is used to describe the appearance of web pages including colors, layouts, and fonts. Most programmers use HTML and CSS together to build websites.
Python is a free, open-source, and highly adaptable coding language. Used to develop backends of websites and applications, task automation, data analysis & visualization, and many more.
This is a general-purpose coding language used in developing operating systems, browsers, games, data structures, software, and applications.
There’re 200+ programming languages used in the IT industry for different purposes, but you don’t have to learn or know them all to start your job search. Master one or two from the above list of languages and you’re good to go.
3. Knowledge in databases
Working with databases would be an essential part of your programming career.
SQL is the most popular database among developers. Be comfortable writing basic SQL queries to create, store, update, and delete records on databases. You should also learn to manage complex databases of organization records with backups and security measures.
4. IDEs (Integrated Development Environments)
IDEs are software that helps programmers develop their software codes efficiently. It allows you to write, modify, compile, run, and debug your codes.
There’re many IDE software programs available for developers and they could choose them based on their preference and the language they use.
5. Software testing
Before a software or application is released, several testing procedures take place. A software engineer or a programmer’s responsibility does not end at the code – of course, your program should run and deliver to the requirements of the client. Testing is what makes sure it does.
There’re 3 testing methods for software and applications:
- Unit testing is where every module of the code is tested.
- Integration testing is where interactions between different blocks are tested.
- System testing is a complete testing of the integrated system.
6. Text editors
Text editors are an essential part of programmers’ daily work routines. Therefore, spending some time to familiarize yourself with text editors and keyboard shortcuts will make you a productive coder.
Consider checking out Notepad++, Sublime text, Atom, Brackets, and Visual code, and choose what works for you.
7. Encryption and cryptography
Security of data and prevention of applications being attacked by hackers are major concerns in application development.
You will be working with and collecting sensitive information from clients such as passwords, emails, and credit card information. It is important to implement a secure and encrypted key to prevent such security breaches.
As a programmer, you should know how encryption algorithms, authentication, and cryptography methods work. Also, the knowledge of public key and private key encryption methods and their different use cases to improve the overall network security is expected.
8. Operating systems
When you’re working on a coding project, you’ll be dealing with many issues related to the operating systems such as memory usage, slow running, blocking issues, etc. Therefore, having a fundamental knowledge of different operating systems would pay off.
While Linux, Windows, and Mac OS are popular operating systems for desktops and laptops, iOS and Android are the main operating systems for mobile devices and tablets.
9. Cloud platforms
Many companies use cloud platforms to access systems, software, and files from anywhere. It also provides secure data storage.
Cloud platforms include both hardware and software required to run and maintain the company’s remote database.
Understanding how to build cloud-based programs and systems will be an advantage. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are major players in the market for cloud platforms.
10. Spreadsheet software
You don’t need Microsoft Excell skills to become a programmer, but having the basics in spreadsheets will make your life easy as a software engineer. You’ll be using spreadsheets to track progress, plan projects, and analyze data before importing it to larger databases.
Apart from these, your skills in debugging, software frameworks, source control, networking, cross-platform software, and SDLC (software development lifecycle) would be valuable on your resume. However, you don’t have to have all these technical skills to apply for your first developer job.
10 Tips to Land Your First Coding Job
1. Learn the basics
Even if you have a pretty good understanding and experience in coding, you can’t beat the academic background a computer science graduate comes from. Why?
Because they have learned the basics of computer engineering, architecture, and data structures even before starting to learn a single coding language. That foundation helps them build programs that run faster consuming less server space.
You could also get to the same page with them by learning the basics of computer programming.
2. Learn programming languages
Don’t just limit yourself to one programming language. Become an expert in one and keep learning. Also, utilize what you learn – you can’t learn coding without coding.
Different programming languages have their own use cases. Learn why they are important. Pick the right languages based on your requirement and the type of projects you’re interested in working on.
- SQL for databases
- Swift for iOS app development and Java for Android app development
However, there’s no hard and fast rule as to which language should be used to create which project – it all depends on the requirements of the developer. Having expertise in a couple of languages will make your life easy and present you as an expert.
3. Coding certifications
Acquire relevant coding certifications from reputed organizations. These certifications will come in handy on your resume even if you do not possess a computer science degree in the profile.
Here’s a list of certifications you could consider doing:
Certified Associate in Python Programming (PCAP)
C & C++ Certifications:
- C Programming Language Certified Associate (CLA)
- C Certified Professional Programmer (CLP
- C++ Certified Associate Programmer (CPA)
- C++ Certified Professional Programmer (CPP)
Oracle Certified Associate Java Programmer (OCAJP)
MCSD App Builder: Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer App Builder
Certified OpenStack Administrator
Puppet Certified Professional
HDP Certified Developer (HDPCD)
Before pursuing the certification programs, check their relevance to you as a programmer. Read the job advertisements to check what your dream employer is interested in. Read reviews and get information from people who have completed the certifications – research whether the certificate leads to your desired career path.
4. Coding Bootcamp
Sign up for a coding Bootcamp program when you have the basic coding skills. Also, there are Bootcamps for absolute beginner programmers. Choose what fits you.
Bootcamps are ideal for networking with like-minded programmers who are building products of your interest. While a degree in computer science sets you up with the fundamentals, a Bootcamp will teach you the technical and soft skills required to be a successful programmer.
5. Create a portfolio of coding projects
Start with a simple portfolio website using basic HTML and CSS. From there, build your portfolio of personal projects to showcase different technical skills in relevant fields of specialization.
This would be your experience section if you are an entry-level programmer. Learn to talk about every aspect of your project including the tools, software, and technologies you used – coding challenges you faced – and the results you achieved with the project.
Get feedback for your codes on GitHub from experienced coders. Always use programming best practices and keep your codes accessible to the hiring managers and technical specialists at the interview for review.
6. Start with freelancing
Freelancing is a proven successful way to start your programming career. There’re fulltime freelance programmers who earn twice as much as software engineers working in companies. However, it’s your personal choice to work for a company and it’s less stressful to accept a paycheck rather than looking for new clients every month.
Use your portfolio to pitch your first couple of clients. When you do some quality freelancing work, you will have much more exposure, experience, and confidence to apply for the company you like to work in.
7. Keep learning
In programming, you’ll never find yourself DONE with learning. You’ll always have new software, programming languages, and industry practices to learn.
Be humble and learn from other programmers. Keep in touch with them on platforms like GitHub, Twitter, and LinkedIn where they will share their experience.
The attitude to learn is one of the things most technical managers look at when hiring programmers. That is one way a self-taught programmer surpasses a software engineer coming from the conventional formal education path.
8. Create an awesome programming resume
Create a stunning resume. That is the first contact you’ll have with the hiring team – so make it count.
Be creative, but adhere to industry standards. Use a modern resume template that matches your profile.
As a programmer, you might have to create tailored resumes for different coding jobs you’re applying for as you won’t have space to list all your projects and experience. Make the resume content relevant to the job description.
Here’s a basic layout for a programming resume:
- Header with name and contact information
- Professional summary or objective summary
- Work experience
- Programming languages
- Awards & recognitions
Refer to these resumes for inspiration to create yours:
9. Expand your professional network
Be active in developing and expanding your network. Most programmers are introverts and like to sit in front of a computer and code, but if you are around, those who get the most opportunities are not the best coders – the average coders who talk well about what they do on LinkedIn, YouTube, and other media.
Therefore, get out of your comfort zone and start creating content about what you do, your learnings, and your failures. You’ll be surprised by the opportunities you will receive.
10. Apply for an internship or non-programming job to start
Most companies would give you an internship rather than a job. Ask for an internship if they do not have active employment opportunities. Negotiate a paid internship from a company.
At the end of six months, they will either hire you or you’ll have six months of industry experience to apply for a job.
You could also consider joining a company for a non-programming position to start with. Consider applying for technical support and data entry positions if you’re not confident enough about your skills.
After you get into the job, ask the management to assign you some programming work to get experience. In most companies, they would happily join you on a relevant project team.
Bonus tip: Apply for startups
As most well-experienced computer science graduates look for placements in fortune 500 companies, startups are struggling to recruit programmers and other IT specialists.
In fact, most startup environments welcome programmers from non-conventional career paths and with less academic qualifications. However, you need to be well-versed in terms of technical skills.
Find a startup you’re passionate about working in and pitch them with a tailored cover letter. Express your interest in joining the company and explain how you can contribute to the project.
5 Mistakes to Avoid as a Programmer
1. Omitting the fundamentals of computer science
If you put a lot of weight on programming Bootcamps and ignore the big picture about computer science basics, you’ll face difficulties in interviews.
Bootcamps are designed to teach you a specific set of skills and there won’t be enough time to teach you the fundamentals of computer architecture, algorithms, data structures, and computational methods.
When you can write Python codes and you put that on your resume, it may get you in the door for an interview – it might even get you through in the initial screening by HR. But when the real interview comes with the senior software engineers, they will ask you the basics and you’ll be baffled.
2. Lack of soft skills
Develop self-confidence in your skills. The company needs you - or someone who fits the role - as much as you want the job. The best way to develop self-confidence is by getting hands-on experience and putting your technical skills to work.
Even though how good you’re at programming, you’ll be assessed based on your communication skills at the job interview. Keep that in mind.
Employers look for programmers with excellent communication, time management, and teamwork skills.
Research the other soft skills employers list for similar positions in their job ads.
3. Mistakes in resume writing
Most programming candidates are not familiar with the basics of resume writing. It’s no wonder as most other professionals are on the same page.
Research modern resume writing practices and write a perfect programming resume to impress the hiring manager. It’s a continuous process. You should improve your resume based on the feedback and its conversion.
4. Not including a cover letter
Include a cover letter in your application.
It would take a lot of time to write a cover letter for every position. However, most hiring managers prefer an application with a cover letter. In fact, if you’re a programmer coming from an unconventional career path or in a career transition, you should write a cover letter.
Our resume builder comes with a cover letter builder where you can create your cover letter in a matter of 10 minutes in the same template as your resume. That’s an impressive feature you should try out.
5. Ignoring the ATS
Most IT companies use ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) to shortlist candidates. The system does the shortlisting based on the number of relevant keywords on your resume and the keyword density.
HR feeds the job description into the system and provides the command to shortlist a percentage of best-matching resumes. If your resume is not well-written to pass the ATS, it won’t even reach the hiring manager.
Therefore, part of your job is to do a bit of research about ATS and write your resume accordingly. Of course, you can’t miss this as a programmer.
Summary: How to Get Your First Programming Job
- Develop your technical skills including computer science fundamentals and a couple of relevant programming languages.
- Create a solid portfolio and include your personal programming projects, freelance projects, and group projects.
- Join a coding Bootcamp to develop specific coding skills.
- Create a perfect programming resume.