Are you a self-taught programmer looking to get your first job? You may feel overwhelmed and intimidated by how much knowledge and experience is required, but don’t worry – it’s not as impossible as it seems.
With the right skills, resources, and attitude, getting your first programming job as a self-taught programmer can be achievable in just four steps. In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of how to get started on the path towards becoming a successful self-taught developer with tips on how to find a job as a self-taught programmer. So if you’re ready to learn how to become a valuable addition in any software development team, read on!
What Percentage of Coders Are Self-Taught?
Before diving into how you can get a job as a self-taught programmer, it’s important to understand how common it is for developers to be self-taught.
According to HackerRank’s survey, 27.4% of current developers are self-taught. Moreover, 37.7% claim to be at least partially self-taught.
This is clearly a large proportion of the overall population of developers, which points to how viable an option it is to learn how to code on your own as a way to get a job as a programmer.
So let’s talk about the 4 steps that will maximize your chances of getting your first job as a self-taught programmer.
First Things First…
It is important for you to understand that as a self-taught developer you do have to work a little harder than degree holders to prove your aptitude as a programmer. It may be a smart decision on your part for not wanting to spend 4 years in school collecting debt and instead learning to code by yourself in just a year or so.
Nevertheless, that comes with a cost of having to showcase that you are just as knowledgeable and skillful as graduates of computer science schools.
The most important point you have to understand though, is that you are only at a relative disadvantage in comparison to university graduates until you get an interview invite.
As soon as you are invited to an interview, you and all other applicants are equals and everyone has the exact same opportunity to show off their programming skills.
Thus, you should work hard on making sure your resume has something to cover the absent “Education” section that will ignite the interest of the recruiters to want to talk to you and invite you for a formal assessment.
But then again, don’t think that you need to have an extraordinary resume or technical skills akin to those of an experienced developer. You just need to show that you are knowledgeable and ready to take on tasks and grow as a new programmer.
Now that you understand what you should be focusing on, let’s dig into the step-by-step process of how to get a job as a self-taught programmer.
Step 1: Build a Stellar Portfolio
This is the first and critical step for any self-taught developer looking for their first job. As we have mentioned, recruiters eyes will be looking for something worthy when they see a missing education section on your resume.
Well, this is it! Since you also don’t have extensive work experience of a seasoned developer, you will need to show a strong portfolio of projects you have worked on to attract the interest of the recruiter.
But how do you build an interview-worthy portfolio? Let’s talk about that.
1. Decide on the format of your portfolio
Your portfolio can take many forms. As an example, you could have a GitHub repo, a YouTube demo series, or a personal portfolio website. All of these are good and valid formats of a personal portfolio.
In fact, a combination of these may be even superior to any one of them individually. You could make a personal website, where you would store each project, its description, screenshots, embedded YouTube demonstration video, and link to the source code.
2. Make it very well-sorted
Your portfolio shouldn’t be unordered, cluttered, or worst of all, missing different parts. Only included finished projects in your portfolio instead of having a GitHub repository of shallow, unfinished projects.
Make sure all of your projects are well-described, in the same format, and well-documented. Your projects should be formatted well, include extensive comments, and contain relevant unit tests.
3. Make your projects visual
Don’t cut corners when it comes to the aesthetic of your projects; most people are visual learners, so presenting a project that is aesthetically pleasing and simple to follow through will make an outstanding impression during any resume review.
This comes down to screenshots and video demonstrations again. I have heard of countless stories of recruiters preferring candidates with well-pictured portfolios.
4. Contribute to open-source projects
Open source projects are a remarkable way to hone your abilities beyond the realm of programming languages. With this, you will have the opportunity to work with experienced software developers on tasks such as design patterns, writing clean code in accordance with SOLID principles and many more!
Having committed to open-source projects shows recruiters you are able to work in a team, provide useful and meaningful code, and work on real-world projects. This is the next best thing to work experience or internships, which you may not be able to have as a novice programmer.
Step 2: Write a Winning Resume
As a self-taught junior programmer, you likely lack the experience to show you are ready for the challenges of the real-world work environment.
Solution? Either make sure you have a stellar resume or try to do an internship/volunteering. Let’s focus on the former.
Resume is a collection of all of the great things you have done in order to be considered for a job as a developer. It should include your personal information, brief introduction (in some cases), professional work experience, projects you have worked on, and relevant tech skills.
The purpose of the resume is to light up the interest of the reviewer enough to want them to interview you. You should thus focus on making it interesting and attractive. Here are some tips on how to do that, starting with the basics:
- Format your resume properly: having a clean, well-formatted, visually appealing one-page resume goes a long way in making a great first impression and properly directing reviewer’s focus.
- Peak your recruiter’s interest by describing the projects vividly: as we have discussed, make sure the way you describe your projects is understandable and easy to visualize.
- Consider including summary statement: it could help you convey your passion for programming as a self-taught developer and is also very useful for career changers.
- Include your LinkedIn and portfolio links: whether it is a personal website, a video series, or GitHub repository, make sure to draw attention to your external portfolio.
- Mention the languages and frameworks you used for each of your projects: essential for showcasing the extent of your familiarity with the relevant tech, each project should contain a line listing the languages and frameworks used to built it.
- Tweak each resume to include keywords from each job description: as recruiters search for keywords to assess how well-fitted you are for the job in question, be sure to include them in each of your resumes accordingly.
- Ask for feedback: no matter how experienced you think you are, it never hurts to get a second opinion from somebody more experienced. That adds credibility and could help you make better decisions about how to format and portray your resume.
Remember, your resume is your ticket to an interview. Make sure you spend enough time and effort into creating a great one in order to stand out from your competitors.
Step 3: Apply Smart
Now that you have your portfolio and resume ready, it’s time to start applying to jobs. As an entry-level applicant, you don’t have a lot of leverage, so by all means, you should be applying everywhere (well, almost).
However, that doesn’t mean blindly sending applications and expecting to randomly hear back (although this strategy also works to an extent). There are three tips you can use to make your application process more efficient:
1. DM recruiters after sending online applications
When you are searching for a job, don’t fear reaching out to recruiters via DM on LinkedIn. When you apply for the role, directly message the recruiter about your enthusiasm in applying.
Sure, this will often not result in any responses, and on top of that, most online applications often get overlooked too. It’s not ideal but it is what it is!
Put your best foot forward by doing whatever you can do talk with an actual person as soon as possible; it could be just what puts you ahead of all other applicants. This is actually how I got my last job, so I know it works!
2. If changing careers, apply to a related industry
If you are a career changer and have previously worked in another industry, use that to your advantage. Employers in all sectors are looking for software developers, so your past can help you gain your first job in tech!
Simply research companies or keywords among software developer roles in online job boards and filter the ones that are related to the industry you previously pursued a career in. They will be more likely to hire you as a developer if you have ties to the industry itself.
3. Grow and use your network
This method might be more difficult for self-taught programmers as you don’t have all the classmates, upperclassmen, TAs, and instructors that come with a college education in your network.
However, you can use LinkedIn, online forums, and in-person events to your advantage in order to grow your network and let them know you are looking for a job. It is severalfold more efficient to use networking as your job-searching strategy, so attend more meetups, relevant events, and be more present online.
Step 4: Be a LeetCode Hero
Once you establish first contact and get an interview invite, you are basically an equal to someone who has a fancy university degree. Now it all just comes down to who is a better coder.
So here comes our last point – you have to be ready for the technical interview. Coding interviews will test you abilities as a programmer. And there is one tool that can best prepare you for what’s to come in a coding interview – LeetCode.
Just randomly and occasionally working on LeetCode problems won’t help you much either. You need to have a LeetCode strategy and practice LeetCode daily.
This usually means practicing 1-2 problems per day on weekdays and more on the weekends, if you have time. For the best strategy to ace LeetCode, check out our article “How To Get Better At LeetCode: 6-Step Guide“.
And while technical interview is one of the biggest hurdles in the process, don’t forget about the behavioral interviews, being able to talk about your experiences, and human qualities. Make sure to practice behavioral questions, have your answers prepared, and establish a good dialogue with any interviewer you may encounter.
How Hard Is It to Get Your First Job as a Self-Taught Programmer?
Getting your first developer job is hard, even for college-educated programmers. You will likely need to send more than a hundred applications to secure just one offer. That is the usual count for entry-level positions nowadays.
The key here is not to get discouraged and fall into despair when you continuously hear rejections, or worse, radio silence. You should be cold and unemotional, and just keep on sending one application after the other until you start getting interviews.
That said, of course, if you aren’t having any success at all after the first 100 applications, you may want to look back and reevaluate your portfolio, resume, and other parts of your application.
When you do get your first interview, it will get easier and hope will come through. Make sure to prepare well for technical evaluations and do your best in the interviews, as you won’t get too many of those.
And when you do land that first job, it will all be worth the hard work you’ve put in while learning programming and applying for jobs.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Job as a Self-Taught Programmer?
From the accounts I have seen throughout various resources, it can take anywhere from 3 months to a year to get your first job as a self-taught programmer. It is crucial to keep applying and reevaluating your application based on the feedback you are getting.
You should thus start early and be ready to spend some time with your applications. It can be a long and tough process, but the more work and attention you put into it, the faster you are likely to get your first job.
Have your resume read by a more senior professional and ask for tips. Ask them about their honest opinion and how they think your application compares to other potential competitors.
Use their feedback to make your application better and make sure to keep applying. If you do that, you should be able to land a job as a self-taught programmer in a reasonable timeframe.
Do Tech Companies Even Hire Self-Taught Programmers?
Absolutely! Many tech companies are specifically known to not require a university degree for software developer roles.
In many cases, tech companies will value skills and experience more than the piece of paper you got from university. And since self-taught programmers have often acquired more experience than university students in order to stand out with their programming skills, this works perfectly in their favor.
At the end of the day, tech companies want to hire the best people for their roles, regardless of how they acquired their skills. So don’t be afraid to apply even if you haven’t gone to college.
Can a Self-Taught Programmer Get a Job at Google?
Believe it or not, the tech giant Google will let you in without a CS degree if you can show them you have what it takes to be a Googler.
In fact, their official hiring page has an FAQ section with a question on whether a university degree is required for application to Google, to which the company states there is no such requirement for most software engineer and product manager positions.
You will still need to pass their technical evaluations and interviews, of course. But if you can show them you know how to code and have skills in the relevant areas for a job at Google, you can get hired even as a self-taught programmer.
So, don’t let the lack of a CS degree stop you from applying to top tech companies. Just make sure you can demonstrate how well you can code and show them how much you can contribute to their team.
Does It Get Easier to Find Your Next Job as a Self-Taught Programmer?
While getting you first job can be a daunting process, it does become much easier to find the next one.
In most cases, you will be able to refer back to your previous experience and you won’t need to go through the entire process from scratch. Having a few years of experience in software development will make you much more attractive to employers and the whole process of getting hired will be much easier.
Moreover, your “Education” section on your resume becomes irrelevant after you get any amount of experience in the industry, so you status as a “self-taught programmer” no longer puts you at any disadvantage as compared to university graduates.
Self-Taught Developer Salary
It is difficult to make an assessment of how much self-taught developers make in the beginning of their career and later on, as this data is not properly collected.
However, some sources such as ZipRecruiter estimate an annual salary of around $80,000 for self-taught web developers. This, of course, does not necessarily translate to other developer positions, and could vary significantly from one programming field to another.
However, it is important to point out that self-taught developers may indeed have to agree to a smaller salary compared to computer science degree-holding peers at the beginning of their careers.
Nevertheless, as self-taught programmers gain experience, the salary gap between them and university graduates is likely to lessen and even disappear. It is thus quite possible to make a significant amount of money as a developer after a few years of industry experience even without attending college.
Tips for Finding Your First Job as a Self-Taught Developer
Lastly, we would like to go over some extra tips for finding your first job as a self-taught developer. If you have read this article carefully, you should already know what to do, so these are just a few finishing touches.
1. Establish an online presence
Many self-taught developers have found success through being active online. This has taken form of blogging, opening a YouTube video with programming-related content, or even just having an active presence on social media with posts related to coding and tech.
Some developers have even shared that they would get recruiter interest and job offers without applying by having a strong online presence in the field.
2. Have an updated LinkedIn profile
Having an up-to-date profile on LinkedIn is pretty much a must nowadays. Make sure your page accurately reflects all of your coding skills, experience and specialties, as well as any certifications or awards you may have.
This will help attract interest of both peers (which would grow your network) and recruiters, which could help you secure your first job. Many recruiters in tech will routinely check LinkedIn profiles after reviewing candidate’s resume to collect more information on the applicant, so be sure to not ignore this one!
3. Attend meetups, make new connections
Meeting and networking with people in tech is another great way to get your foot in the door. The best place to do this are tech-related meetups, conferences, and professional events. There are plenty of these all over the world, and attending them is a great way to start expanding your network, exchange ideas and even find job opportunities.
Finally, don’t forget that the journey from self-taught programmer to a software engineer is long, but with dedication, hard work and the tips above, you can achieve your goals.
Getting your first job as a self-taught programmer is not an easy feat. It requires dedication, perseverance and the right mindset. You need to create a portfolio of projects that reflects your skillset and showcase how you can contribute to a company. You have to polish your resume and apply to entry-level jobs strategically. You’ll also need to sharpen your interview skills and make sure you’re prepared for any questions that come your way.
With a little hard work and dedication, though, you can get the job of your dreams as a self-taught programmer. Good luck; we believe in you!
Elmar Mammadov is a software developer, tech startup founder, and computer science career specialist. He is the founder of CS Careerline and a true career changer who has previously pursued careers in medicine and neuroscience.
Due to his interest in programming and years of past personal experience in coding, he decided to break into the tech industry by attending a Master’s in Computer Science for career changers at University of Pennsylvania. Elmar passionately writes and coaches about breaking into the tech industry and computer science in general.