[Reposted from Bytes, ReferralCandy’s Team Blog]

Recently, graduates from the General Assembly Singapore Web Development Immersive Class visited ReferralCandy and had some questions for our Junior Front-end Web Developer, Jared Tong.

Many of them were worried if they were good enough to ace the technical interviews and land their first programming job. Some cast doubt on whether they could survive in the industry without a Computer Science background or University qualifications.

As luck would have it, Jared was a coding bootcamp alumnus himself, a graduate of the very first batch! He’s transcribed their questions and expanded upon the answers with resources and quotes from other alumni that he’s found useful in growing from wanna-be coder to deploying code to production.

How did you get your first developer job?

Getting your first full-time dev job is hard, but luckily I had built some connection with ReferralCandy already: having met an incredible engineer at a front-end meetup and then writing for ReferralCandy’s blog.

General Assembly Singapore helped too, providing a dedicated career coach with genuine industry connections. At the end of our course, they organised a meet and greet with employers, a career fair where employers would look over projects we’d built.

Don’t neglect your portfolio. Even if employers didn’t look into the code, a pretty decent collection of projects proved that I could ship things, that I had tried out certain technologies (which informed my answers on my strengths and weaknesses, and what I wanted to learn next) and — most importantly — allowed me to convey my passion for programming and potential for growth that ReferralCandy was looking for, which far outweighed my relatively irrelevant prior work and education.

Of course, performing well at the technical interview was the deciding factor.

Junior Devs Asking About Securing Their First Job

What was your technical interview like?

Interviewing at ReferralCandy was a long process. Both founders had separate meetings with me, followed by a technical interview at their office. The engineering team took turns to pose Javascript challenges, a mix of language specific queries and practical debugging (“What does this code do?”).

It was refreshing because they demonstrated the values of Hiring Without Whiteboards: they allowed me to choose the language I wanted to be interviewed in, and I was free to Google for solutions.

codedog

One tip would be to practice beforehand on coding challenge websites to build confidence, but that you should probably highlight to the interviewer if you’ve seen the question before. Handle every question methodically. The worst thing to do is panic and randomly throw solutions to see what sticks.

Instead, ask questions of your interviewer. Gabrielle Ong, now a software engineer at TradeGecko, shared about how she’d withdrawn one of her applications after being stuck for two weeks on her take-home assignment, only to be told that they were less concerned with whether she could build the app, and more interested in evaluating her logical abilities, which her code could already demonstrate. Communicate over getting syntax right.

How do you assess a potential Junior dev opportunity? How did you decide upon ReferralCandy?

Firstly, don’t assume you can’t get a developer job because you don’t have all the skills listed. Any experience counts and the skills you developed matter more than length of service. If you’re really not good enough, take the interview as a learning experience.

“Where are all these jobs at that the bootcamps are filling if we’re not seeing job postings for entry-level junior developers?

They’re being called frontend developer instead of junior developer.

– Ruby Rogues joking about Junior Dev Placement, Coding Bootcamps Podcast shared by Albert Salim, a fellow alumnus now at Thoughtworks

Once you’ve built the courage to just apply, the main thing you’ll want to look for is an employer that is as invested in your growth as you are. My biggest fear was remaining a code monkey, never becoming a Jedi, unable to adapt when the industry changed.

ReferralCandy demonstrated this to me by giving me the time and budget to learn Ruby on Rails (I had no prior experience!) and assigning me a great mentor and giving me pair programming opportunities across the app. I’d also found the programmers on Github and read their excellent code.

How much emphasis the organisation places on engineering also matters — the founders both have degrees in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University and contribute to the product’s code base, which is robustly tested with an optimised engineering process. Before ReferralCandy, I spent some time at a well-paying digital agency that I ultimately left, because there was no emphasis on collaboration. Designers would pass over websites and email templates that weren’t technically feasible, and engineers would hack up manual solutions (like writing HTML emails from scratch) instead of investing in improved build tools (at ReferralCandy, our talented designers can code and push small changes themselves).

Would you recommend coding bootcamps to others? Is my career disadvantaged because I lack a Computer Science degree?

I would recommend General Assembly Singapore WDI to others, having gone through it myself and seen it improve with every day. But the onus is on you to do your research (this article is a good first step!). You can learn everything they teach you on your own from great resources like Codecademy and Egghead.io, but you may not learn as fast and you won’t build a network so easily.

The nuance here is that there is a whole spectrum of good jobs out there and code schools only prepare you for some of them. As the Ruby Rogues point out, some places like large Google/Facebook-esque companies won’t even look at you without CS Fundamentals, like Big O notation and knowledge of binary trees. You might see it pop up as the difference between a web developer and a software engineer: the latter is versed in algorithms, info security and software patterns, among many other things. You will face discrimination and prejudice based solely that you graduated from a coding bootcamp (not to mention if you’re a woman… or a minority… or anything perceived as out of the norm…); people will tell you you are not a real programmer.

“Being a developer in the past used to be only a technical challenge. Today it’s a social challenge.”

– The myth of the “real Javascript developer”, Brenna O’Brien

However, there are many examples of hugely successful people in the industry without traditional CS knowledge, whether when they were starting or even late in their career. The important thing is to never stop coding and improving #juniordevforlife. Here are some programmers whose work and teachings I follow and consider shifus/ mentors, and whom I base my own development after:

I am following in their footsteps and trying to contribute to the community too, in my own way. I wish you all the best in securing your first development job.

Getting a full-time dev job is a full-time endeavour, but you’ve already taken the first step of starting something challenging. Take the next step by applying to ReferralCandy.

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