If you’re hoping to start, restart, or otherwise improve your programming career, it isn’t easy. I’m finding myself in the middle of this right now — I only have a few years left in college, and I need to make the most of it in order to have better chances at a great job once I graduate. After doing a lot of research, I’ve found a treasure trove of useful tips that I believe can help others too.
It’s very hard to be able to actually do all of these things (although accomplishing these will give you the advantage). But even managing to do just one or two of these tips can take you much farther than you would without them.
Join Online Communities
Finding online communities which can provide you useful resources as well as targeted feedback is a crucial way to learn more about general programming and programming languages. I’m a big fan of Reddit as there’s a Reddit community for virtually anything, so my recommendations would include
The last one is useful if you have any questions about a computer science career at any stage, whether you’re still in school, you’re interviewing, you are in your first job, or when you’re looking for a higher salary. /r/cscareerquestions is a very influential subreddit, helping me with some great tips. Definitely check it out.
In the tech industry, getting a quality education is important. However, the industry also adds an extreme amount of stress on experience as well. Even with a Master’s degree or higher, it’s still pretty hard to land a job if you don’t have any experience. If you’ve graduated and need a full-time position, this tip won’t be very helpful.
But if you’re still in college and preparing for your career, get as many internships as you can. In a typical 4-year program for a Bachelor’s degree, you have three summers before you graduate with your degree. Theoretically, that’s three different internships you could have when you’re not busy with school. If, after your freshman year, you feel like you haven’t learned enough to be ready for an internship, skipping the first summer is still fine, but afterwards you should really put effort into obtaining an internship.
To have a good amount of experience by the time you graduate, you should try to aim for 2 internships, although more is always better. Don’t forget that you can also do internships during the school year, but be aware that working those internship positions will be taking time away from your homework — and high grades are still crucially important to have!
Tap into college job boards and job listings of tech majors and startups. Some other excellent resources for searching internships:
Work on Projects
Besides doing internships, you should also try to find the time to work on some personal projects. There’s a lot of flexibility here in terms of what you can do, because it can literally be anything. A desktop app, a mobile app, a website…whatever you’re interested in. It doesn’t even have to be your own project. While having your own project shows that you have some creativity and bright ideas for solving problems that you’ve identified, you can also just work on other people’s projects.
If you can’t think of an idea that you’d like to work on, look at the many open source projects and pick one to contribute code to. No matter what you end up doing, it’s important that you try to put your work online. If you’re contributing to an open source project, it’d be nice if they use GitHub or something similar which will keep track of your commits.
If you’re working on your own project, create a GitHub repository (or use a GitHub-like service) and push your code to it so that anyone (including potential employers) can look at it and see how you code. Plus it also adds to your experience. College students should be doing this plus internships. People who can’t have internships anymore can still do this to increase their experience.
Prepare for Interviews
Lastly, if you’re planning on working for a big tech company (think Google, Facebook, Amazon, but not limited to just those), then you have to show that you know your stuff! These companies want the brightest minds out there, so an interview with them essentially means that they’ll be giving you one of the biggest exams of your life. These interviews will be highly technical, and you’ll need to be prepared to answer them.
It’s difficult to pick topics on your own and hope that they are subjects that the potential employer will ask you about. Instead, try investing in a book such as Cracking the Coding Interview, which can give you a deep insight into such high-profile, technical interviews. It will also give you a study guide of various topics that you should know about, and discuss potential solutions and why other solutions are bad.
You can have all the education and experience in the world, but if you have to go through an interview like that, you need to be able to impress or else be rejected. It’s hard work, but you’ll be rewarded with a career breakthrough in the end.
Like I mentioned, it’s very hard to do all of these things. If you really put in the time to do all of this, in addition to school or other obligations you wouldn’t have any time to relax or have a social life. I myself can’t say that I’ve done all of these things (yet). But taking the steps to secure yourself a good career in programming is very important for the long-term, so it’s worth doing as much as possible. Every little bit will get you closer to a better job — and a better salary.
What other tips could you offer those looking to go into programming? Let us know in the comments!