Marketing Yourself as a Developer

This blog post was originally a set of minutes I took for my Makers Academy cohort on a job hunting talk — I’ve since then decided to turn it into a blog post. Some of the information given may be out of context to non-Makers but I believe this will serve anyone. Good luck!

Parvine, a Talent Advocate from HIRED UK, came to give us a lunchtime talk on “What does great job hunting look like?” — more specifically, job hunting in general and getting yourself on Hired. If all of the staff at the company are as enthusiastic as she was giving the talk, it’d seem silly not to put your application in.

However, I’ll get more into that specific process in a moment. First of all, what does great job hunting look like?

Her presentation was broken up into key topics.

1) Identifying key elements to job search

There’s a few things you’ll want to identify about yourself as you wade through various job listings:

  • What are you looking for in a job (aside from money, of course)?
  • Do you have any technologies you really want to work with? Any that you don’t?
  • Do you consider yourself full-stack or prefer to be a front-end or back-end specialist?
  • What about industries? Any you love working for? Any you hate?
  • Would you rather work for an SME or a large company?

You might have all the answers to these questions already; you might have none — and that’s okay! Use the job process to figure it out.

Personally, I don’t have a heavy affinity for any industry or technology, but I’ve allowed myself to be open minded. You might not have all the answers right away, but there’ll be other reasons. Through this process, I’ve found that what I value the most is making people’s lives easier and the job culture.

Some companies have changed my mind from no consideration to top pick and vice versa on conversations with their employees alone.

If you aren’t in a position to attend meetups or introduce yourself to employees and don’t want to cold e-mail, then use the Internet to your advantage. Check their website. Any blogs? Social media accounts? LinkedIn?

Unless it’s a startup that began yesterday, chances are, there’s information on them out there — and using that to drive a conversation will give you a leg up. Not only because you’ll already have some information on what they’re about and do — another advantage is you might find they’re not to your liking.

This allows you to move on and put your energy into jobs that excite you more — thank you, self due diligence!

2) Marketing yourself as a junior developer

Parvine admitted that whilst Hired was mostly geared towards mids and senior developers, there’s still a chance to get yourself up on the site as a junior. Here’s another list with the mistakes she noticed that get applicants rejected from their platform:

  • Not listing the time you spent at Makers as experience as well as education. Yes, you may have been spent 12 weeks in a coding incubator — but you still crafted real projects that people can use. List those projects (and link them!) as experience.
  • Mention the Makers principles — TDD, OO Programming, Agile methodologies. Hopefully, you actually like and adhere to them too! Just make sure that if you do that you are ready to explain what they are.
  • List the technologies and frameworks you learned to use at Makers as well as mentioning Git/version control. These are not common skills that come out of a traditional university CS education (I’d know — my Bachelor’s is collecting dust!).
  • Market your previous experience. Sure, it might not have been related to coding, but it’s not as if you didn’t pick up and hone your soft skills. At a talk I attended that WorldPay gave a few days ago, one of their members of staff said something that stuck with me:

You can teach a person who’s great to work with how to code, but it’s much harder to teach an amazing programmer how to not be an asshole.

  • If you have specific conditions you want to work under (e.g. startups only, primarily focused on React/backend/DevOps) — don’t be afraid to state that. If you have a preference but are concerned with cutting yourself off from opportunities, you can always write something like: “I’d prefer to work with React, but I’m also okay with Vue.js”.

Outside of the Hired platform, there’s plenty of other ways to get yourself to stand out.

  • Write a blog. It doesn’t have to be written perfectly — even just a self reflection of what you’ve learned and discovered on your journey of coding. Let it serve you first before anyone else.
  • Go to meetups, attend hackathons — don’t be afraid to get stuck in. This may be troublesome if you live in a quieter area, but for all of the major cities, there’s always something going on. Every time I’ve gone to one as a relatively green coder, I’ve never had a situation where I didn’t feel welcome. Just relax, get to know people and pick up some knowledge from the talks on the way!

3) Navigating the tech recruitment process

Next, Parvine touched on the interview process. The long story short — it can vary heavily. You might only need to do an initial phone call (usually cultural fit checks, but can be technical), a take home tech test and one on-site (usually a mix of technical and behavioural phases) before getting to the decision phase. With others, you might have a process that takes as long as Makers itself!

What ever the case, keep a few things in mind:

  • Do you know who you’ll be talking to on the phone? Will it be someone in HR or the CTO/CEO? You’ll want to shape your conversations differently based on who it is.
  • Not comfortable working on a whiteboard? Start practicing working on a whiteboard. It’s less common in the UK than it is in the States, but it’s still a possibility and you should equip yourself with the best chance to handle any situation.
  • On top of that, get used to wording out your thought process. Get used to carrying an imaginary rubber duck so that when you’re pair programming or working through a whiteboard, it comes naturally.

4) How to prepare?

Thankfully, ever the gracious Talent Advocate, she also provided us with some advice on how to prepare! Do you love lists? Here’s another:

  • Research, research, research. The company, the product, their mission, their focus, their future. Going through this process is also an excellent way to figure out whether you want to work for the company or not.
  • Figure out what your story is. There are questions that come up frequently. How did you get into programming? How do you solve problems? What was the biggest problem you faced? Figure out how you’re going to answer them. Much like the above, you might figure out more about yourself in the context of a programmer.
  • Identify your own values — is what’s important to you important to them as well?

Anticipate what they’re looking for. You can probably have a reasonable guess at their ideal candidate if you:

  • Read the job spec and read it thoroughly. What are they looking for that you should value? It’ll likely be boring as hell — but there’ll be clues.
  • Use these clues to be able to demonstrate in the context of their company/product how you can solve their problems and challenges.
  • If you don’t know much about their hiring process — why not just ask? The worst answer you’ll get is no — but on the other hand, you might find out how the process is going to go, which will no doubt help to quell some fears and aid your preparation.
  • During the interview itself, it’s perfectly fine to ask if the interviewer is looking for anything specific. For example, we at Makers have all been taught to become TDD savants — but in a tech test, there might not be enough time to write any production code before your tests. In this case, ask if TDD is what they’re looking for.
  • Humility is important! If you don’t know the answer, it’s fine to say you don’t know — but follow up with a process of how you might solve that problem. This will go down way better than trying to blag it. Who wants to work with a liar?

Closing Notes

Here’s some final tidbits not under any specific subject that Parvine (and Becks, the excellent careers coach) had to offer us:

  • Think of your job search as a funnel. You probably won’t have a conversation/tech test/interview all the time — so keep on the hustle. Just don’t forget to take breaks — it can be a draining process, so do as little or as much as you feel you can handle.
  • Aim to apply for about five jobs a week. Just like coding and everything else in life, the process is all about practice. Ask for feedback, work on your weak points — you’ll get better and get the job you want.
  • Reconnect with yourself frequently and prioritise what you really like. If you have a handful of tech tests and interviews but you have a #1 or #2 pick, don’t be afraid to assign more time to it. Just make sure you schedule appropriately and give that high priority the respect it deserves from you wanting it.
  • Make sure you choose a first job that will set you up well. After about two years (perhaps a little less), the scales tip heavily in your favour in the job market if you decide it’s time for a change.

As Becks would say with endless enthusiasm and from one job hunter to another? You’ve got this.

Yeesh, thanks for sticking with me throughout bullet list hell. If it helped or served you in any way, please bestow upon me your finest claps. I would be forever in your debt.

Also, a huge thanks for Parvine from Hired to come and give this talk to us. It was wicked informative and her bubbly personality made it even more interesting than the subject matter itself. Hired also have a blog post on how to effectively prepare for interviews, so check it out!