Andrew Chalkley, our jQuery course teacher, talks candidly about how his lack of college education made him feel unworthy until he realised that his ‘real world’ experience was worth more than he thought.
I’m a self-taught programmer with no degree. I dropped out of university after one term. I dabbled in self-employment for a bit but found juggling the acquisition of new clients and working on client projects at the same time was really difficult. I felt like a failure. Feelings of inadequacy accompanied me whilst finding my first full-time development job.
Don’t Undervalue Yourself
I wasted some time trying to get my foot on the ladder by applying for the wrong position. I was super naive. I didn’t think I was worthy for an entry level job as a web developer as I didn’t have a degree. I undervalued what I could actually do because I didn’t have a piece of paper saying I had a degree. I applied for a data entry job for a fashion catalogue’s website. I told the interviewer about what little experience I had and that I was self-taught. The interviewer seemed impressed by my limited accomplishments and said that I was overqualified. I was gobsmacked…I couldn’t get a job because I was overqualified!
Having been in several positions over the years, the lack of a degree has not been a hindrance at all in getting a development role.
Build a Portfolio
Starting out, I had a a very small portfolio. My portfolio at the time consisted of my personal website with links to some digital art, some Flash, my “professional” website that I used to market my services for freelance work and two client websites. I didn’t know much CSS. All my sites had tables. But it was the mid-2000s – we were all learning still! And I learnt how to do CSS on-the-job in my first position.
Times have changed now and a portfolio looks different. Web developer roles have become more specialised. I used to do the design and development of my client’s projects.
A modern day portfolio may now consist of:
- Your own personal site.
- Github profile with your own projects or Open Source contributions.
- Any websites you’ve already built.
Haven’t built a website for a client? Offer to spruce up a local charity’s website. Take your favourite social network and reimplement it. Anything to show your potential employer what you’re capable of – it doesn’t have to be a client-driven project, just an illustration of what you can do.
Create a ‘Stand Out’ Project
You don’t know how many people you’ll be competing against for the job. You’ve got to be remembered. Doing your research is probably the most important thing you can do for a potential employer. Applying for a position at a small development shop or digital agency? Check out their clients.
I think this sealed the deal for me getting my first full-time position as a developer. I saw that the agency I was interviewing for, built websites for local sports teams. So I built a website that hooked up an SMS gateway that you could text in to and it would send a message to a PHP website I built. It was called TXTChange. You could change the style of fonts on the page, font sizes and the theme. I said that this could be used for people texting in “man of the match” votes or other interactive polls with the spectators. You don’t need to show much initiative to stand out in people’s minds.
So when going to that first interview be prepared with a relevant project and be remembered!
Stress Your Ability to Learn
As I said before the lack of a degree has not been a hindrance at all! In fact if you’re self-taught, your employer will love the fact that you’re driven enough to do something like learning to code on your own. They don’t want someone who can’t adapt and grow!