Software Developer Career Tips: What I wish I would have known before I graduated.

Date: 2019-10-21

Time to Read: 4 Minutes

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Photo By: Charles DeLoye

In a previous post, Cash Flow is King - Increasing Income from Your Traditional Job, I wrote briefly about increasing your value as an employee in the realm of traditional employment and thus increasing the earning potential in that specific area. In this series, I delve more specifically into the realm of career development in the area of software and technology, sharing my own collection of recommended resources as well as a continuous regimen of study that can aid in keeping you fresh and prepared for any possible opportunity that may present itself.

This is a bit of a “do as I say and not as I’ve done” guide.

Frankly, my college degree was the end rather than the means to an end with that end being the acquisition of a job position relevant to my college degree. But alas, hindsight is indeed 20/20 and I wish I would have been more prepared for what laid beyond college graduation. I graduated with a M.S. in Computer Science in May 2014 and found eventual employment in November of that same year with only $20 to my name after a prolonged period of living off the ever-depleting reserves that I had saved from my previous graduate assistant-ship. An extended amount of time unemployed after graduation isn’t unusual but it is less than ideal and a certain shift of priority throughout my academic career probably could have prevented it.

So here are a few examples of things I wish I would have known before graduation.

For example, the importance of internships can not be overstated. Valuable, practical work experience in the field of your study is one obvious benefit of an internship; the other being the network that you create from the connections that you gain from the company that you intern with. My first job was the result of my experience as an intern for that same company (after countless rejection emails from every job listing that I cold-applied to). Despite being a fiscally responsible decision, the limited internship opportunities available was a definite shortcoming to beginning my collegiate career at a community college. Does this mean that you can’t find internship opportunities as a community college student? Of course not. However, you may need to be a lot more proactive at seeking out these opportunities than you would as a university student. So with internships, start and apply as early as possible in your academic career, even if your internship may not be with a prestigious company; it’s simply better than nothing.

When I started college, I wanted to become a video game developer. Obviously, between the ages of 18 and 24, your interests tend to change dramatically. I drifted away from my interest in video games early on but held steadfast to my major in Computer Science even though my interest in computers themselves became relegated to my college workload. I should have had a plan (b) within the area of Computer Science, a specialization to fall back on. Most computer science programs have an ever-changing collection of elective courses that allow for students to explore potential areas of interest; which would then provide a path of further study to prepare them to enter that specialized field. Selling yourself as an individual that can adapt to any development paradigm is difficult to do as a experienced professional, even more-so as a new graduate.

In a similar vein, relegating your study and experience during those college years to strictly class projects and assignments will leave you woefully unprepared for the countless job positions that require the knowledge of popular frameworks and technologies that you would otherwise never engage with inside the classroom setting. Asking a Computer Science student to split their time up between their already time-intensive course load and learning some specific new technology du jour may be a bit much; but honestly it’s almost a requirement. I placed too much emphasis on the completion of my degrees with a more than adequate GPA. C”s do get degrees (as much as I scoffed at the saying) and there is a certain threshold where the disclosure of a poor GPA could raise an employer’s eyebrow, but better grades do follow the law of diminishing returns and from my experience, your degree is simply a checkbox for most employers (and in some cases, it’s not even a required checkbox given the increased popularity of coding boot camps with high placement rates). I should have spent more time learning the practical tools and technologies that many of the job positions required.

And frankly, I wish I would have had a copy of The Complete Software Developer’s Career Guide by John Sonmez Available at Amazon early on. His book does a great job of providing guidance in this space and would have been very beneficial early on. If buying the book isn’t an option, I’m fairly sure that a lot of the content within the book is freely available on his website, Simple Programmer, in the form of blog articles.

To summarize, college is simply a means to an end and that end is securing a job quickly following graduation. Apply early and often for internships. Pick a specialized area to focus your studying and class schedule. Make time outside of your collegiate studies to engage and keep up-to date with popular industry technologies. But mostly try to avoid being that guy who, when walking across the stage at graduation, the speaker proclaims “x’s future plans is to hopefully find a job”; I was that guy. Don’t feel like you deserve a break and slack off on the job hunt for an entire summer, even if you actually do need a break; I was that guy. Every action that you take within the classroom and outside during this period should be directed toward positioning yourself in the best possible way to potential employers. Simply having a degree, even if it’s one that typically has a large ROI, isn’t enough. They want to see more.

Software Developer Career Tips

12 February, 2020
A collection of posts detailing much of the information that I've learned in recent years when considering a significant career move.
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About

Blake Adams is a writer, software developer, technical consultant, and financial independence enthusiast living in Oxford, MS.

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