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On getting that job: The experience
How to get that precious experience so I can get the job I want?
Today I want to start with the first “On getting that job“. It won’t be another series here in Under the Hype. I will write them occasionally to highlight the details I think go unnoticed while applying for a job. These details are the ones that make a difference between a “Yes” and a “Sorry but we’ll proceed with another candidate”.
I want to start with the most problematic one: the experience. This is a particular pain point for Junior developers. In this article, I’ll try to cover the following:
The two properties of experience
How to get that precious experience
I’m writing this post thinking about developers but most of the ideas I discuss here can apply to other sectors.
Let’s get started!
The Quantity of the Experience
Job offers always look for some amount of experience:
No experience needed
2-3 years of experience
10+ years of experience, etc
Quantity seems to be the only important property of experience. As the job offers always require a specific amount of experience, developers (mostly Juniors) are constantly looking for ways to maximize this quantity.
We look for any job that gives us an opportunity in the hope we get some amount of experience to apply for a better position later. We became years collectors.
This is a long process. A year can’t be shortened! But it is also a dangerous approach. It takes the control of our careers away from us. Most of the time we want to specialize in some stack or role. But a company only tries to increase its income. Most of the time, our goal and the company’s goal will be misaligned!
Then, how to escape from this hamster wheel? How to optimize the process of becoming an experienced developer? The key is on the second, but most important property of the experience.
The Quality of the Experience
Let’s be clear: the more years of experience you get the better. The quantity of experience is very important. No matter what you are doing, time and practice will make you better at it. But I think the quantity is sometimes overrated. I think the quality is even more important.
The problem with quality is that it is difficult to measure. For the quantity we have time: we can express the quantity in years. But how do we measure the quality?
Well, we don’t. It is a very subjective property. We won’t assign any number to it, at least not directly. The quality of the experience depends on many factors like the technologies you used, the methodologies you followed, and (a very important one) the impact of what you’ve done. While the first two will make us excel in a technical interview, the last one is key to getting to that technical interview. It will make our CV grab the attention of recruiters and managers.
Another important aspect of the quality of an experience is that it is relative to the specific position we are applying. For example, if we implemented an API with the best security practices, this would be highly appreciated by companies that work with sensitive information. Maybe other companies won’t pay too much attention to this experience about security.
This could seem like a drawback. It seems that our possibilities are limited. But this is a good thing! I imagine you want to follow an ideal path. For example, maybe you love frontend development and you want to specialize in that. You don’t want to care about databases, for example. Focusing on the quality of the experience allows us to narrow down our search, and consider only the positions that will make us advance in our careers.
Also, getting a high-quality experience doesn’t necessarily take a long time, and we don’t depend on a specific company to get it. Let’s see how to get that precious experience.
Getting the Experience
Now we can focus on getting a high-quality experience. This doesn’t mean that we give up on getting quantifiable experience. The good news is that we can get both at the same time.
The easier path is when you are already working for a company and when the job you do is aligned with your career goals. This is unlike to happen to Junior Devs for two simple reasons: as we said, companies are just looking for different goals and Juniors are often unclear about what path they want to follow. But, although this alignment between the daily job and the career goals rarely happens, it is not impossible.
If your company’s goals and your career goals are aligned, congratulations! Your path will be easier. You’ll accumulate valuable years of experience and, more importantly, that experience will be of high quality for your career. I’m sure your CV will look amazing afterward. Probably, you won’t even consider switching for a while.
Now let’s move to other less fortunate but more likely scenarios. You can have a job but maybe this job is not exactly aligned with your career goals. It can be a higher-degree misalignment: for example when you are interested in backend development but your job is to add CSS to a landing page. It also can be a lower-degree misalignment like when you are doing what you want but not with the tech stack you want.
The way to proceed here is the same for both types of misalignment. First of all, I recommend you don’t quit your job. In the future, I’ll write an article on how to fall in love with your job no matter what you are doing. But the bottom line is that this current job is probably offering you economic stability and some experience. Keep in mind that just knowing how to collaborate on a team is a wonderful skill. If you don’t have any offer yet, it is likely that staying in your current job is the best for now.
Actually, one way to get the experience you want could be by asking for a role or position switch. Consider telling your boss about your career goals and, if they consider you a valuable asset, they’ll do their best to align their goals with yours.
If that doesn’t work or if you are unemployed right now, you’ll need to make some extra effort. You need to create some side projects with the technologies and methodologies you want to get experience with. I know, it will consume more time and probably your free time will be dramatically reduced. Don’t worry, it will be for a limited time only.
In a future post, I’ll be sharing my take on how to build a portfolio of side projects that showcase your high-quality experience. But the point here is to focus on the value and the skills you want to prove you have.
For example, if you want to specialize in cybersecurity, try to focus on that. Reduce the time and effort dedicated to extra things to the minimum. Use CSS frameworks and templates for the frontend and don’t care too much about design patterns or good practices that don’t have an impact on security. I recommend you don’t spend more than a month per project. The ideal time would be one or two weeks.
You don’t need a lot of side projects to showcase your skills. Sometimes you’ll be good with just one! Remember, the main goal is not to build a portfolio but to get a job.
Last but not least, remember that impact is an important factor when measuring the quality of the experience. I know nobody will use our side project, but it is very important to build a product and not just a project. You need to build something ready to use, something that has a potential impact and value. There is a huge difference between showing just a codebase and showing a product. This is probably the most important idea you can take from this post.
Oh, the experience! The most controversial aspect when applying for jobs. In this post, I tried to give a different perspective on it.
We always focus on the quantity of the experience. This is the easier way of measuring experience because we can use time. But there are no shortcuts, getting a year of experience at doing something will always take a year.
However, there is another property that I consider more important: quality. We learned how subjective and relative this property is. But focusing on getting a high-quality experience has an advantage. We don’t have to spend a lot of time to get it.
I mentioned the approaches to becoming experienced in no time (maybe in just a few weeks). More importantly, this doesn’t require you to quit your current job. Actually, I strongly recommend you don’t do so.
This claim about the quality of experience comes from my own experience recruiting and interviewing tens of candidates during the last two years as a Senior Software Developer and Team Lead. If you want more personalized advice on how to proceed in your job search, consider upgrading your subscription.
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And that’s it! I hope you have enjoyed this article and remember I’ll be back next Tuesday to talk about Computer Science and Technology.
Thanks for another week!