How to Get A Dev Job For Free

How I Went From House Painter to Web Developer

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

I didn’t finish college. I was married by the time I was 21. And we had already had our first baby by then— he was my best man at the wedding. I had and have no regrets about this, it was what we both wanted to do. But it did put our family in a financial pickle. For the next couple of years I worked maintenance jobs and trades jobs, and finally settled on painting — it was super consistent with the company I found and not terribly dangerous or taxing physically. But of course I wasn’t wholly satisfied with this career choice, especially the money.

That’s probably because it wasn’t a choice so much as a necessity. I had no experience, no work history (aside from odd jobs and stuff I did late in high school), and no degree. And I didn’t even know yet that I’d have another love in my life — code (this was much to my wife’s dismay by the way, she referred to my laptop as the other woman for quite some time).

I continued down my painterly career path for about 5 years. But secretly, unbeknownst to pretty much anyone except for my family, I wanted to be a web developer. At night, I coded, and read code, and read books about code, and read blogs about code. Then I started building some of my own stuff. And it was awful! And my family was certain that this whole thing was a pipe dream, and they discouraged me quite a lot. But I persevered; gradually my skills improved, and I built some projects I didn’t want to hide from other human beings.

One day I had a really good idea. Since I was actually beginning to feel good about my programming skills, I figured I should probably write about them. That’s how I ended up on this platform, blogging about JS, Rust, and fundamental programming concepts here on Medium.

Medium was great for me right away. I immediately got picked up by The Startup from my very first article. This made it substantially easier to get viewers fast. The money was extremely secondary to displaying my knowledge, showcasing my coding skills, and expressing my ability to explain things in a way that average-Joe could understand. It certainly didn’t pay in monetary value what I put in time-wise. But I was interested mostly in gaining a following and writing material that people could actually learn something from. I wanted to do the best I could to made an educational difference in the coding journey of others. I had grown passionate about creating content, and I was compelled to keep going.

Flash forward again another few months — I have roughly 100 followers and I’m feeling really confident about my programming abilities. I decide that I’m going to start applying for jobs. Hard. But I was under-confident and detached from the application process. I was basically doing cold drops of my resume with no cover letters and just spamming a bunch of them. I wasn’t making it a personal matter — I wasn’t advertising correctly, or really at all.

Sure, all my work was high quality, and my web-persona was crafted with a great deal of care and professionalism. My social media made it look like I knew what I was doing and that I was qualified. But my resume was sub par, my work history sucked, and I had no idea whatsoever what recruiters were looking for. It went on like this for a while. But then I realized that I must be doing it wrong. I was repeating the same failing steps again and again when it came to applying for jobs. I decided to do the thing that I do whenever I have a problem I can’t solve — do research!

If you’ve got talent and a decent way to showcase your skills, listen up — this will help you. There are a few things you need to know if you’re applying for jobs online (which I assume you are if you’re looking for work in the tech sector). Sites like Indeed.com and other job-search sites pass all the resumes through an algorithm called the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). The ATS was eating my garbage resume for breakfast—of the then 50+ resumes I’d sent at that point, it’s likely that nobody had ever even seen one. But I was lucky enough to come across an offer for a free resume screening and they gave me some important tips, which I attribute for getting a 6 figure job within the next two weeks of changing my resume.

What I hadn’t realized that I’d been doing was grooming myself for a fairly specialized developer support role. I wasn’t fully aware of it but I had already found a pretty solid niche in that regard. By this time I’d received the results of my free resume screening and had made some major adjustments per their suggestions. That very first week I was already noticing results — I was getting responses!

I’ll toot my own horn a bit — I had gotten fairly good at writing technical articles by then. As luck would have it, I happened upon a posting that wanted a technical article as part of the application process. But I didn’t know that when I applied for the job. I merely saw the description and thought, this is the most unique and amazing role I’ve seen so far. Not to mention the compensation. So naturally I had to apply.

After I had sent my tailored resume and cover letter, I was quite insecure about the whole thing. I just knew that it was out of my league, that I was barking up the wrong tree — there was no way they’d even want to talk to me. I was so wrong! Thanks to my updated resume, and ATS-killing strategy they saw me right away. Within an hour I had interacted with a real person — who I didn’t know was the president of the company I’d be working for — and he asked me to prepare an article. Suddenly this application process felt a lot more like it was in my court. It was like I’d trained for this moment.

The topic turned out to be really simple in terms of code, and well within my ability to create a killer article about. What can I say, they have a great product and it was easy to write about it. Plus I had a time advantage, I caught this posting within the hour it was listed. I had to go about my day job still, of course, so I couldn’t get started on the actual article right away. But as the deadline drew nearer I was just itching to put my best effort into it. It was a job I really wanted. I kept reading the description over and over thinking, this is my dream job.

In one late-night haul, I completed and submitted my article with all the bells and whistles. Progress pics, technical explanations, solid code examples — it was some of my best work. Just one short interview the next day they made me an offer, which I wholeheartedly accepted. And I couldn’t be happier about my new trajectory. All the painting I do from here on out will be completely voluntary.

I was a house painter. I made $18/hour at best and that was where I thought the end of the line was going to be for me. That was a cap I was almost willing to accept in my life. I made no fiscal investment to change my career. All I came equipped with was a brain, a laptop, and a dream. You can do this, too.

So, you’ve got some skills and a portfolio of personal projects, or maybe some freelance experience. You’ve got a GitHub account, and you’re on Twitter, Medium, LinkedIn, or some other major social platforms. And of course, you love coding. But maybe you’re not sure if you are prepared to make a career change yet. If this is you, I’ll tell you how you can transform your aspirations into a reality. (And whatever you do, don’t use the word aspiring in your bio.)

First step — look good. Full disclosure, I’m a dirty guy. Since I had been working in the trades, I had zero professional clothing. I’m a complete mountain man about my facial hair. Everything I owned during my job search was covered in paint and other construction materials. My buddy commented that I was like a real life pig-pen after a short trip in my car. But, because of the internet that literally doesn’t matter. Get one good outfit. Get a nice haircut and trim. Take some photos. Once you’ve gotten a professional looking profile picture you’re good to go, sweatpants ’til you die.

Make sure you watch your behavior, too! Decrease shitposting, increase content creation and quality contributions to conversation. Try to habitually post at a certain time or just a certain number of times daily. Reply, socialize, add a lot of big tech names to your social followings. Modern tech companies are watching, and if you want a socially-oriented role it might matter. (Edit: On second thought, shitposting actually works for some people. Just be your own brand of you and own it.)

Now about the all-important ATS-killing resume strategies…

Make sure you include lots of tech-skill keywords. React, angular, express, etc. Include all the big frameworks you know and have tried. If you don’t have hits for most of the keyword skills that are listed in a job posting, the ATS may drop your resume. Even if its a stretch, or you’ve only booted up a test project using a library one time, include the skills anyway. I’m not saying straight up lie, but if its a JS library and you can do JS, include it. Remember, learning is your number one asset as a dev, you’ll have to learn something new at every turn, and this is expected. Nobody has ever come to a new job with the absolute perfect skills-set, requiring zero on the job training, so don’t sweat it if you’re not a master of the 10+ technologies that are listed in the posting.

On my resume, I had a tendency toward humility and terseness. I was often talking about doing, listing my duties in bullet fashion, and not elaborating on specifics of my work. I was not talking about what effect I had, or how I had caused positive change or made a difference. Using phrases like

‘At this job I did ____. I developed skills like ____ and ____.’

will make you look like a doer and not a leader. People want leaders, guys who can make their own decisions and can think on their feet. Give them that vision of yourself.

When I first ran my application through the ATS I came back 0/100 on management experience. Simply by changing my wording from a doer’s mindset to a leader’s greatly improved this metric. By using phrasing like

‘I managed and was responsible for ____.’,

or,

‘because of _____ we improved ____ by ____%’

will help you. Use anything that makes it seem like you’ve had a managerial role at your past jobs. Make sure to state ways that you improved whatever business you worked for, especially if you did. Are you an appreciated employee? Talk yourself up, be confident — you owe it to yourself to brag in this one scenario.

I know it seems like a lot of work. But if you really care about getting a job in tech, you need to have top notch communication skills. If you want to stand out, do some research. Send a personalized cover letter every time. Once you’ve gotten your resume to pass the ATS and actually be seen, you still need to grab your potential employer’s attention. Use your research skills to find out about the company. Google them! It’s a super easy way to get a leg up on your competition. Browse their forums if they have any, look at their website, and see if you can find out more about the people you’ll be potentially working for. It will give you insights you might not expect. The more info you have about their business the better a cover letter you’ll be able to write.

Using Indeed? I certainly did. I’ll tell you a magic trick when it comes to getting responses right away. We live in the era of remote work — prime time for a career change. We can take huge advantage of this. When you run your search do this:

  • Type in your normal query, ex. ‘JavaScript’.
  • In location, type remote. Run the search.
  • Go to the search filters. Make sure ‘remote’ is checked (sometimes jobs say remote or temporarily remote and don’t really mean it, checking this helps filter those out)
  • Still in filters, set your time frame to ONLY include postings within the last 24 hours — this is when the employer is going to be most active and most likely to respond to you, within the first day of posting the position.

This last part is your bread-and-butter. In ‘JavaScript’ I was routinely seeing 400–500+ results per search over just the last 24 hours. Thanks, remote world.

Until you find employment, check this every day. Pick a few that stand out and look like they’re a good match for you personally. Only you can do this, but probably avoid listings with absurd requirements or listings with practically no info. If it’s your first job, maybe don’t go for too many Senior level positions unless they really seem like a good fit. Look for those rare and juicy Junior Dev positions. They’re your best bet as a person with no professional experience and no degree.

If you are the type of person that wants to do better, do more, or just do something different, you’re in luck — there’s never been a better opportunity to change your whole lifestyle than right now. Despite having no actual credentials or qualifications, zero field experience, and being told to literally not do this at times, I still managed to make my dream a reality. Remember that others have walked the same path as you, and that you can change your story just the same. It’s not easy, but the hardest part is starting. It’s never too late to start. Don’t settle.

Best of luck to you, future leaders of tech — you’ve got this 😎

Programming maniac, #JavaScript zealot. I'm crazy about #FunctionalProgramming and I love Rust.

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