Starting out, or trying to (advice?)

  • Hi there, long time reader first time poster here...

    I just thought I'd ask how some of you got your start?

    Perhaps a bit about me... I graduated in May with a BS in CS from a decent state school (our state's are, I think, perhaps a little above average, but I know it still doesn't look nearly as good as a private school). I'm afraid my GPA is not very impressive as I had a lot of trouble with Discrete Math and a few others. Our school had very few internship opportunities; I tried out but couldn't get into anything, so I essentially have no experience.

    I guess I'm what you'd call a nerd, though I've never had much affection for the term. I've been interested in programming since I learned BASIC in 4th grade and I've written things for my personal use as a hobby ever since. I have a .com set up with a few examples (mostly PHP and some shell scripts), but it's really minor stuff and it's a personal site with a blog so I haven't really felt comfortable putting it on my resume or anything like that.

    I really do enjoy programming and learning about all sorts of technology. I set up a Linux box a few years back and tinker with it on and off. I just recently added a Mac to my collection and use it primarily, though I try not to mention this in interviews as I think people don't like Mac users. I try to play up the fact that I've used Windows exclusively for most of my life.

    I went to several career counselors, who alternately told me to try out for Software Testing or Tech Support positions, just to get my start. I've managed to get interviews for several of each, but obviously nothing yet. The Software Testing people don't like me because I have no experience, and the Tech Support people don't like me because they're almost all sales positions in disguise (slimeballs) and I'm not likely to make a good salesman (I'm somewhat an introvert).

    It seems like all the postings I see require not only a huge laundry list of languages (my specialty is self-taught PHP; my education focused almost entirely on Java, with some C). In particular, everyone seems to want C# which I've had no exposure to. I suppose I could boot into Windows and teach myself, but I'd still have no proof of knowing it.

    I've been looking for more than six months without success and I'm desperate. At this point I'm applying at retail stores because rent is starting to drain my savings, but even those interviews don't seem to go anywhere, I suspect because people can tell I'm sort of introverted, or maybe they're suspicious of the recent college degree. I'd be beyond thrilled to get a full-time position that has anything at all to do with computers, basically, even at minimum wage.

    I'm within commuting distance of a moderately-sized city (sorry for the vagueness, but I'm a little paranoid about revealing anything regarding my identity), which isn't doing very well economically I think. People tell me I should move to someplace like Virginia or Utah, but I don't see how I can pick up everything and go someplace without a paystub to show a landlord or any more guarantee of a job, especially with my dwindling savings.

    I guess I kind of rambled there, sorry about that. I just wondered if maybe someone had some ideas I hadn't thought of, or wanted to share their story of how they started in the industry.

  • If you haven't already, you should check out this thread, it covers a lot of this.

    What happened in the testing interviews?  Do you have a sense for why you didn't get called back? 

    If you've exhausted the Monster/Dice adds in your area, you should try looking for lists of technology, engineering, utility companies & gov't agencies in your area and go through their web sites & call the HR departments and ask.  Finally -- and this is going back a few years for me, but I expect it'll still work -- turn to the yellow pages, go to 'Computer Software' or 'Computer Consulting' and start calling numbers and ask who to talk to about employment.  The first time I tried it, it took me until D to get a job, the second time it took me till P.  

    If you're open to moving, you should look at places like Google or Microsoft; both hire a lot of new grads and they'll generally pay your moving expenses and you often don't need to worry about proving anything to landlords because they're used to an influx of new folks to those companies.  I don't know about Virginia or Utah -- personally I'd go west, young man.  I've said it before, but there are -- literally -- more jobs than there are devs to fill them out here.   Having no experience is a challenge, but it won't kill you.

    Should you get an interview for a dev position, you should make sure you can answer interview questions of the sort you've probably seen here.  Be prepared to reverse a string in-place, iterate through a linked list, etc.  

    (I just did a search on Dice for 'entry level java' in the bay area and got several listings, as did 'junior php' in seattle...but then I get results in Denver and Atlanta as well if you don't like the west coast).


  • Switching from Java to C# should not be too difficult - just get (the free express edition should do for a start), or Sharpdevelop and start hacking C#.

  • Forgive, but your problem is not lack of experience - a phase everyone goes through when entering the job market.

    The message you convey is a lack of self-confidence. Even in a a job market where introversion is common and EQ is generally low, the subliminal message gets through.

    • "I tried [internship] but couldn't get into anything"
    • "[my code] is really minor stuff"
    • "People don't like me because I don't use Windows"
    • "I'm afraid my GPA is not very impressive"
    • "I guess I'm what you call a nerd"
    • "I have no experience"


    When you slip phrases like that in a job interview, you'll have a hard time getting anywhere no matter your experience. Try formulating like this.

    • "My college didn't provide internships (period)"
    • "My code is not commercial but I've made some very good freeware/OS programs that I can show you"
    • "I have experience on Windows, Mac and Linux"
    • "I have excellent grades in the practical subjects that matter"
    • "I'm a geek and I'm proud of it"
    • "I have over fifteen years experience in programming"

     Of course, you must be able to back that up.

  • And as starter, don't be afraid that you do not know something. It's sometimes better to say "I never heard of it, could you breefly explain what it is?" And then give your opinion/uses for it, instead of trying to make something up. There is more tech, and even more tech terms, out there then you can ever learn. But showing that you can pickup something fast, and are eager to learn, then you have a good chance as starter.


    Atleast, it worked for me, only started less then a year ago, fresh out of school. On a second interview (with the head developer) at the company I work for now I had a large conversation about microcontroller development on PSOCs. Never heard of PSOC before that day, but after a few minutes we where talking about the advantages and disadvantiges. Basicly the houre we had passed in notime.

  • @JvdL said:

    The message you convey is a lack of self-confidence. Even in a a job market where introversion is common and EQ is generally low, the subliminal message gets through.

    • "I tried [internship] but couldn't get into anything"
    • "[my code] is really minor stuff"
    • "People don't like me because I don't use Windows"
    • "I'm afraid my GPA is not very impressive"
    • "I guess I'm what you call a nerd"
    • "I have no experience"

    When you slip phrases like that in a job interview, you'll have a hard time getting anywhere no matter your experience.


    And as a side point,
    Let's not confuse being introverted with being shy. I'm introverted, and will always be introverted. I enjoy being by myself. Get the fuck out & Leave me alone. My self-confidence, however, has been steadily increasing over the past years, as I assume it will do for anyone naturally growing older. You don't have to be a talker to come across confident.

    It's possible to not constantly yap yap yap and still be a powerful force among people, and vice versa, it's possible to be a Person of Yak and not be much of an authority.

  • @dhromed said:

     I'm introverted, and will always be introverted.

    Honestly, I don't believe you. If you were introverted, your post count would be smaller by, say, factor 100. 

  • @ammoQ said:

    @dhromed said:

     I'm introverted, and will always be introverted.

    Honestly, I don't believe you. If you were introverted, your post count would be smaller by, say, factor 100. 

    It's the other way around, really. 

    If I were speak-before-I-think I'd have 100 times the post count.

    You post more by a factor of 1.6

  • @dhromed said:

    You post more by a factor of 1.6

    True, but I don't claim to be introverted 😉 

  • Hi there Coriolls,

    You seemed a bit lost so i thought I would throw in my 2c.

    1) Hacking PHP is not CS - theory is there for a reason, if you study up, it will all make sense as you go on. 

    2) You say yourself you lack work experience.  IMHO it might be worth finding a non computer related day job to pay the bills and do your software work for free (it's what I did and it paid off for me).

    Maybe pick a small open source project and offer to help out; even better try to find a mentor in the industry that will take you under their wing for the free labour.

    3) In any position , more than 50% of your time will be spent interacting with people.  If you find yourself a bit introverted, do your best to rise above it. People (whatever their personality) have oceans of knowledge to give you if you just ask.

    It's tough when you are starting out, we have all been there so best of luck.    


  • Here is my story (same one I have on my blog incidentally 🙂


    I began my career at an early age. My good old uncle Greg had two magazine subscriptions (Antic Magazine and Analog Magazine) which published source code for Atari Basic applications, games, and such. I began to teach myself about development by typing these programs in, debugging them (Thank God for Typo II), and then saving them off to audio-cassette.

    Coming from a sub-poverty-line family, I didn't have the resources to get a good machine, so I made do with the hand-me-downs from uncle Greg, and whatever I could afford from the discount rack at the local Wal-Mart.

    Fast-Forward about six years...

    My first computer-related job was at a company named Management Systems International. The good-old german President/CFO/CEO/CIO/Developer (one man show) needed some help converting his Lotus 123 (v2.2) application into the new Windows version (4.0). He wanted to add some of the new GUI features that windows enabled (charts), and didn't have the time to put into it. With liberal use of the macro recorder and macro reference books I eventually got it up and running. I came to work one morning and was informed of a new spreadsheet program called "Excel" (v4.0) that Microsoft had developed, and was given the mission to convert the whole shebang to Excel. It had to work on Windows and Macintosh, in English, and in German...

    Thus began my resume.

    My second computer-related job was at a company named Envoy. I worked on the help desk, supporting doctors and nurses who were having difficulies submitting insurance claims. The company found out I had some experience with modems, and I quickly became Mr. Modem around there. They used to tell clients that if they couldn't get their modem to work, I could call it and screech/scratch it into working. From the general helpdesk queue, I rose up in the ranks to become level 2 support; at which time I began working on a call-center application to handle calls, issue numbers, and call-backs. Working with the tools at hand, I delivered an MS Access (VBA) application that beat the previous system (pencil and paper) hands down. I was promoted again to a position no longer dealing directly with the customers, and took on the responsibility of computing all the reports needed for the management meetings each afternoon. The previous guy took three hours each morning to manually type in the numbers, collate the results, format the reports, gather notes from the managers, etc.

    That got old quick.

    I automated the process using a combination of VB3, VBA, fishing line and duct tape (j/k); and ended up with a single-click process that would finish by the time my subsequent smoke break was over. It became a cushy job, but my standard of living eventually outgrew my paycheck, and I had to find greener pastures.

    Thus began my career.

    The remaining 7 years of my career have been more of the same: Teaching myself the new technologies required to get the current job done, finding out new ways to do the jobs I did before, and lining up whatever new technology I'm going to need in the future.

    My current skillset includes (but is not limited to):
    (X)HTML, Javascript, VBScript
    .Net Framework versions 1.0 through 3.0, in C# or VB.Net (Mostly web development and internal-tools development)
    SQL Server 2000 and 2005

  • I'm 23 and also just graudated in May with a BS in Computer Science (what else?).  I got a job proramming in ColdFusion almost immediately after I graduated because I had a friend who was already working for this company.  I did not know any ColdFusion coming into this job and I made that perfectly clear during all stages of the interview process.  Fortunatley, this was not much of a problem because ColdFusion developers are pretty rare up here any way. They were more or less looking for somebody with a lot of web development skills who could pick up ColdFusion fairly easily.  I did have a lot of personal and academic experience with Perl and PHP, and that was enough to convince them that picking up CF would not be very difficult for me.  They made me an offer I couldn't refuse and I have been here ever since.  (yea, I know it's only been about 2 and a half months) .  Prior to this job, I had worked as a part-time helpdesk pc technician for an Insurance company and later as a full-time System Administrator during my last 2 years of college.  I wish I had done a development/programming internship in college rather than slaving away at the helpdesk or administering a system I despised, but it turned out OK.  Just having some computer-related experience on my resume (even if it had nothing to do with software/web development) makes a huge difference for a person just starting out. 

    The only advice I can give is that you shouldn't take any computer job that pays minimum wage, in spite of what your original post says.  Unless it's specifically designated as an internship or some kind (which can frequently lead to full-time salaried employment if it's a big enough company), then stay away from jobs that pay you at a price lower than the poverty line!  Otherwise, you devalue everyone else and send the wrong message to employers: (i.e. there are people out there who will write code for next to nothing).  Such a rate should also be an insult to your abilities, and I wouldn't take too kindly to that if I were you.  Never undervalue your skills by working for such a low price!  If you have no other way of collecting rent money, then go work retail or something temporarily.

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