What you DON’T need to get a software job

Recruitment

During my time working in the software industry over the last 18 months, I have noticed that there seem to be a large number of people sharing a similar view. That is that in order to get a job in the industry, you need to be a standout computer science graduate, having achieved top marks in every exam from your introduction to the education system.

Okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but you get what I mean?

I’m writing this for anyone who has been told something like that and now feel that the software industry isn’t for them. I’m going to review the industry today at a high level

If you’re passionate about it and you’re driven enough to make yourself succeed, this industry is for you. I’m going to tell you why you don’t need a top computer science degree to get a job in software.

What employers looked for ten years ago isn’t what employers are looking for now.

There is currently a war for talent within the technology industry in the UK. A lot of companies are looking to hire but there are more jobs available than there are people who can fill them. As a result of this, the industry needs to become more accessible and work is under way to make that a reality.

Each year, Stack Overflow conduct their Annual Developer Survey. They collect data from their users on topics such as favourite programming languages and education history to identify trends from tens of thousands of responses.

Of all professional developers to respond, 79% have a degree, 63% of which studied computer science, computer engineering or software engineering. However, with this number not satisfying demand, it seems to be that in order to meet the requirement for talented technology professionals, value needs to be sought aside from the traditional degree route.

More employers nowadays are growing more interested in candidates who aren’t just demonstrating good marks in tests but are capable staff members in a number of other ways too.

Academic achievement is one thing but a strong work ethic, empathy and problem solving, is another thing entirely. Those qualities in an individual need to come from within. That’s why employers like to see graduates that show these capabilities already as it’s likely to have a positive influence on their retention numbers.

One particular trait that is highly desirable for employers is the ability to self-learn. If you can teach yourself something, especially if it’s something relevant like a programming language, then that will look great in any job application you make.

A question for the future will be whether these skills and traits will become more valuable than the traditional undergraduate degree.

Software employers have generally become increasingly open to applicants with backgrounds in other subjects as well. People from degrees in alternative subjects such as physics and maths make for great software engineers. I’ve known of successful coders that studied philosophy at University.

The way you get the job if you’ve not studied computer science, is to show a passion for software, to show where you’ve been coding in your degree, and make your intelligence come across in your application. To really sure your application up however, you’ll want to be coding in your spare time. Share your GitHub, even if it’s not perfect. You need to show them that you’re one of them. It just might take that bit extra work.

It makes sense that employers would look outside of the traditional computer science degree. After all, people who have studied different degrees think in different ways and a result, will approach problems differently. Diversity of thought is something a workplace should aspire towards.

Degree apprenticeships are a more recent development and are offered by some universities. They combine part time study in University with work at an employer, the idea being that you study and work at the same time which would end up with a job with the employer after the course, all being well. As degree apprenticeships are relatively new, they haven’t been taken up in every university. As such, available places are limited but they are expected to increase in number.

But what if you don’t have a degree?

In the past few years there has been a growing interest in alternatives to going to University. Traditionally, gaining a degree has been the route to a career but with a university level tuition becoming more and more expensive, it has become less of a practical option for a growing number of people.

When there’s a lack of skills, this creates a need for other routes to employment to emerge. After all, a degree isn’t the only signifier of intelligence.

Coding schools are another option increasingly in popularity in recent years. Northcoders is an example of one of these schools. The benefits of working with organisations like this are that they have direct links to employers, meaning that getting a job can be easier. However, convenience comes at a cost – education is expensive nowadays. They attract the employers by putting the costs onto the attendees. From everything I heard it’s worthwhile if you can do it but it might not be an option for a lot of people.

There is a way for you to gain experience working with other developers, develop your understanding of software practices and further practise your programming skills:

Open Source.

Getting involved with open source and contributing to projects is a great way to develop your programming understanding. Working with developers more experienced than you and having the opportunity for their insight on your code will allow you to progress well.

For more advice on getting started, see the resources below:

Getting into open source

How to Git Going in FOSS

5 reasons you should re-do your first software CV

Recruitment

As of writing, I’ve spent the last 18 months of my life mainly looking over CVs.

I’ve found that a lot of CV’s don’t earn an interview for a very simple reason:

There isn’t enough time spent on them.

Okay, this isn’t very helpful so I’ll break down my thoughts…

  1. You haven’t elaborated on your skillset

If your skills section looks like this, you need to elaborate:

Programming languages: C, C++, Java, SQL, FORTRAN, Haskell, Python, Matlab.

Instead, create a section for projects that you’ve done, tell me what the project was, what you did, and the technology that you used to do it. This will look a lot more structured and is therefore easier to digest.
(Brownie points if you include a link to your work)
(If you were working in a team at a hackathon, you should be specific about the role you played)

Also, despite common advice from educational institutions, there’s no general rule on CV length.

You shouldn’t sacrifice important information to fit the traditionally accepted one/two page criteria

2. I can’t tell what you want

The recruitment process is two way thing.

I state what I want to see in an applicant on a job advert.

When replying to the job advert, I need to know that it’s what you want.

In essence, I need to be able to see the match there.

If I can see that you’ve demonstrated your interest in the job and your passion for the field you want to go in to, I’m more likely to think you’re going to stay in the job longer. If that’s the case, you’re doing well.

By articulating your passion, interest and drive to succeed in your field, you’re creating positive signs for the company you’re applying to.

3. It doesn’t stand out from the crowd

This is important for graduates.

You need to think about what each CV will look like that goes forward for a job.

As most graduates receive similar briefings on producing a CV, from my experience, a lot of the resulting applications tend to look the same.

If you’ve done the same course, with the same modules as someone else and both are formatted it in LaTeX over one page, they’re going to look very similar.

If your CV looks the same as all of the others, it’s more difficult for it to stand out.

In the case of the example, where the majority produce a one page CV, make yours two and include a cover letter. If you decide not to format your CV using LaTeX, use it for your cover letter instead and you’re not losing out.

4. You’ve not tailored your CV to the job you’re applying for

A commonly distributed tip for writing a CV is to include in your professional profile section that you’d specifically like to apply for a job at the company you’re applying to.

If you don’t change that between applications though, it doesn’t look great.

If you send the same CV out to every company that you apply for, it’s likely that you’ll get fewer responses.

Be sure to analyse the detail of what each company is looking for, and emphasise your strengths accordingly.

E.g. If there’s a good chance you’ll be customer facing, emphasise any team activities, or other things where you can point out a need for good communication skills.

Focus on sending fewer CVs, but investing more time into each application.

5. You haven’t come across in the right way

Your CV is you on paper. It’s a representation of you going through the education system, into the world of work and it will be the basis on which you are judged in the application process.

It’s important to make sure that you have a professional email. It should scream the word “Adult”.

You need to spell and grammar check everything. If you’re going to be working in software you will need attention to detail in your work and avoidable spelling mistakes can look lazy.

Getting your CV right is crucial in landing your first role. Once you’ve overcome your interviews and you start on day one, the journey really begins.

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