If you’re trying to find a way into this industry and you want some honest, real-world, no bullshit advice, read on.
Take a look at most recruitment websites, search for ‘web developer’ and you’ll be presented with, so-called, “junior” positions that have the most ridiculous requirements and expectations. You either need years of experience or need to know every language, every framework, every package manager, git, command line, apache, nginx, docker and, of course, you’ve got to be full-stack!
Where the hell are you meant to start if you’ve never done this before? How are you meant to get a shot at one of these jobs?
Congratulations, you memorised an article on docker and can talk for half an hour about your favorite way to set up a container. What happens when the person interviewing you asks you to quickly mock up a simple three column layout from scratch and you fall flat on your face?
Yes, there’s a lot to learn, yes, there are a lot of languages, frameworks etc, yes, there are a lot of exciting new things to do in front-end now, but you have to know the basics. You need a foundation to your knowledge that everything else can be developed from. At the end of the day, the core of your role and the majority of time spent as a front-end developer will be focused on one thing, building layouts, and if you haven’t got a solid understanding of HTML and CSS you are no good to anyone.
When you come to apply for a job you need to realise that it’s going to be competitive, you’ll be up against many other candidates and you need to stand out, you need an advantage over everyone else.
Start with your CV. You’re not going for a design job so don’t over do the presentation or make it cheesy and pretentious with some sort of fancy representation of your skill levels. You can give yourself 90/100 in CSS all you want, it means nothing without anything to demonstrate it. A well written, clean, nicely laid out, easy and fast to read CV will go a long way towards making a good first impression and will put you above those who’ve put no effort into describing who they are and what they can do.
Next, provide some examples of what you are capable of. This does not have to (and is unlikely to) be live, working client sites. Chances are you’ve never had the chance to do this for anyone else before.
Do it for yourself instead!
Invest in a domain name and some hosting, learn how to get a site up on the internet and create some working examples that clearly demonstrate your full skill set.
Put the effort in, get outside of your comfort zone and show that you know more than just theory.
More importantly, put as much effort in to the presentation of the code as you do with the presentation of the site. I can guarantee that the first thing companies will do is view source and check out how you’ve written your code. Make it clean, make it clear, make it sensical.
The next natural step after setting up your own site is to work on a live project. This is going to be tough. You need to find someone who is happy to be your guinea pig, you need to figure out what you’re going to build (and probably design) and you need to manage the responsibility of producing a website for someone’s business.
You also need to realise that the chances of getting paid to do it will be pretty slim and you need to be OK with that. Again, think of it as an investment in your career and be willing to offer your (limited) services for free in order to get that chance at something that is going to help set you apart from other candidates.
So, you’ve put together a decent CV, you’ve got a functioning portfolio of work that demonstrates your abilities and you’ve managed to get an interview.
By all means, go in with confidence, confidence is important, it builds trust and solidifies you as a legitimate option.
You are not a ‘web ninja’, don’t call yourself one.
You’ve never done this before, don’t act like you have.
You have no experience, be humble.
Instead, go in with well thought out answers for why you want the job, why you want to be a developer (mean it), how you’ve learned what you know so far and how willing you are to continue to learn and grow under their guidance.
They’re going to ask you questions you don’t know the answer to. You need to be able to handle them and this doesn’t necessarily mean answering them! The most important step in dealing with this situation is realising that it is perfectly acceptable to not have the answer, you haven’t done anything wrong, you just don’t know the answer yet.
What is important is how you handle not knowing, don’t panic, don’t fumble around for an answer, explain clearly anything that you do know on the subject (make sure it’s relevant) and, if need be, just state that you don’t know.
You should be prepared to do some kind of test and you may be asked to actually build something. This is your time to shine, to demonstrate everything that you know and everything that you can do. It is also your opportunity to implement everything that I have talked about so far:
Finally, accept that your chances of getting the job are low. If you are rejected, accept it gracefully, be thankful for the opportunity and learn from it. There’s no point kicking off or even ignoring the rejection and moving on, be sure to reply. For all you know you were their second choice and the door is still slightly open, don’t ruin your chances at a second shot.
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