So, you’re applying to a coding school or bootcamp, which means you’ve already asked yourself the tough questions regarding your learning style, availability, and budget.
But there’s something even more important to consider: How will this endeavor lead you to a job? Yes, you are in code school to learn how to code. But once your brain is filled with methods and models, you’ll want an awesome new gig to show for it. (I’m assuming—if not, feel free to stop reading and return to Candy Crush.)
As a recent grad of the 12-week back-end training program The Iron Yard (who landed my first developer job eight weeks in), here are a few things I learned about not just gaining new skills—but landing your dream developer job.
1. Choose Your Bootcamp (and City) Wisely
As you’ve probably noticed, code schools are popping up all over the country. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should choose one in your hometown just because you can—chances are that your dream company in the Bay Area hasn’t heard of it. Plus, much of the benefits of going to code school are the connections you’ll inherit in the local tech scene.
So, before you sign up for a location, do your research. What is the climate of the tech job market? Is the area on one of those “Top 10 Tech Cities” lists? Find a few companies that excite you and reach out: What do they think about code school graduates, and do they often hire them? Many bootcamps grow too quickly, flooding the market with junior developers—and even the companies that want to be supportive can't afford to hire juniors every three to four months. A supportive and opportunity-rich local community is critical to your eventual success.
In addition to location, really dig into the bootcamp’s track record for placing students in jobs. How many recent graduates are now working as developers? Does the program have strategic partnerships or a local board of directors? Does it offer job training or career fairs? Ask people already working in the area to gauge the school’s reputation.
Equally important is your teacher. Avoid enrolling in a course with a first-time instructor; otherwise, you could become the guinea pig for an untested curriculum and lose the opportunity to hear reviews firsthand. Talk to former graduates and to the instructor directly and ask them candid questions. My personal favorite: “What are the most exciting things your former students are doing now?” A good teacher will know, and a successful code school will have plentiful examples.
2. Use Your Time in Bootcamp to Code—and Network
While you're in bootcamp, you are a badass who left your former career to make a positive change—but afterward, you are one of many junior devs in the area who doesn't have a job. Meaning: Just as important as crushing it in class is putting yourself out there in the community. Although this may come as a shock, you don't have to finish every assignment! Sometimes, your time is much better spent getting to know people in your new field.
Tech meetups are great for building your network, but for those who can't fathom the idea of walking into a room full of strangers, here are other great ways to make your presence known:
- Reach out to graduates who are active in the community, invite them for coffee, and ask for their advice on getting started in the field. One-on-one time makes it easier to shine and gives you a friendly face at events.
- Contact local meetups and offer to volunteer. It’s way easier to approach people if you organized the event—and everyone loves free help.
- Connect with potential employers via social media. For example, tweet a response to the CEO of a company you admire and invite him or her to your bootcamp’s demo day.
- Start a blog. I know, this sounds like a lot of work—and it’s even harder if your name doesn't magically rhyme with the language you're learning. But it goes a long way toward showing employers that you're action-oriented and self-reflective.
3. Be Strategic About Where You Want to Land
So many people in code school said things like, "I will take any job—I just need a change." Even if you truly feel this way, do not say it out loud. In fact, it’s crucial to take your time and do your research on employers that will be right for you.
First, while you learn a lot during bootcamp, you also have a long way to go, and formal training and guidance will help you hit the ground running. As you’re evaluating companies, consider: Does the team provide mentorship? What is the company policy on seminars, workshops and conferences? Are there other junior developers? Do they practice pair programming or review pull requests? Additionally, many code school grads accept a job only to realize a year later that they’ve been stuck doing grunt work. Do some digging to understand career paths within the team and how long juniors should expect to stay junior before a promotion.
Also, don’t forget to ask important questions about company culture as a whole. How does the engineering team interact with the rest of the company? What are the team’s regular events and traditions? Does anyone (or everyone) work remotely, and how does that impact team dynamics?
In my first job as a software developer at Smashing Boxes, my onboarding included a mentor, a “buddy” who is responsible for my social acclimation, and a month-long initial learning period. And I can ride my bike there! Take my word for it—taking the time to consider the people and the culture of a job offer, in addition to more logistical factors, will help ensure your happiness and success in the long run.
4. Know Your Worth
Leaving your former career behind and taking a risk on coding is scary. But remember: Employers understand you are in code school, and no one expects you to know what you don't know. Strategic companies understand that the best way to get senior developers is to help form them. It’s up to you to convince them that you have enormous potential, and it’s up to them to show you how invested they are in cultivating your talents. Emphasize your soft skills: Show an interest in learning; demonstrate your problem solving abilities when you (inevitably) get stuck on a hard code challenge; and ask enthusiastic and informed questions. You’ll be working at your dream job before you know it.
Oh, and when you are? Remember to pay it forward. Many people are going to help you cross the finish line, and keep that in mind when people start reaching out for your advice. Most of them just want support—and you’ll be in the perfect position to help!