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People, Technology by Heidi Lammi-Mihaljov,

11 tips on getting your first IT job

Dreaming on having a career in technology? Feeling passionate about programming? Whether you are preparing to enter the job market for the first time, or you have been working for the majority of your life, now is an excellent time to start a career as an IT professional.

As I told in my previous blog post, after having multiple career paths in the past, I’ve only recently found my very first IT job. I would like to share everything I’ve learned so far on getting a job as a developer. I hope these tips will help you in landing on your first IT job.

1. Focus on studying

It is a no-brainer but there really is no way around it, focus on studying. I surely enjoyed fair share of student life when I was studying in my twenties so this time around it was easy for me to concentrate primarily on gathering the skill set needed for a job. I think everyone who has been in the position of an adult learner trying to build a new career have felt the pressure of running out of time.

Invest as much of your time in studying as you can. I was in a position of not having to work while studying so I could truly immerse in it. Unfortunately, not everyone is in such a lucky situation.

If you can, put your current career on hold, and concentrate only on studying for a while. Having said that, I also want to remind you to take care of yourself in order not to burn out under the load of having to learn as much as possible in as little time as possible.

2. Learn thoroughly the basics and principles of one programming language

Learn thoroughly the basics and principles of one programming language, whatever that may be. That is the foundation you can build on later. If you do not understand something in the very beginning, do not skip ahead hoping that maybe later you’ll understand what the teacher was talking about, when they referred to some unfamiliar concepts or structures. It becomes increasingly difficult to build on shaky grounds as things get more advanced.

Another thing I noticed when applying for jobs was that it is good to know something about databases and data structures that are essential building blocks of information systems.

3. Build something of your own

Having a hobby project that you are interested in is a good way to learn. Furthermore, it is something concrete you can present when applying for a job as it is good to have something else to show in addition to your study records.

If you don’t have time for a hobby project, showcase your expertise with a programming task you have been assigned to do for a course. Set up a public Github page where you can post and display your code.

4. When coding, take breaks!

When coding, take breaks – that is the best debugging tip I’ve been given and, in my opinion, should be emphasised by programming teachers. It rarely helps to smash your head against the figurative wall if you’re stuck. Brain works in mysterious ways and often the solution to a problem seems obvious after a time spent away from it.

5. Get help

If you’re on the position to get mentoring from someone with more knowledge than you, go for it! That person could be someone you know that works in the field or a fellow student that is a couple of years ahead of you. Especially in the beginning it helps to have someone to provide you with answers to the questions you don’t even know how to ask yet.

Show your code to someone who can give you feedback. Listen to the feedback you are given and try to learn from it. That’s how it is done at work as well.

Moreover, review someone else’s code and try to get an understanding of how it works and what it does. When you eventually get that first job you’ll probably not be building something from the scratch on your own. Most likely you’ll have to make sense of something somebody else wrote before you so it is a good skill to acquire early on.

6. Mingle with people on the field

Attend excursions to companies that your student association organises – not just for the free beer but also to talk to the developers and recruitment personnel there. Try to get an idea of what skills are needed because university courses don’t necessarily teach you everything needed in working life.

Excursions are also a good place to learn to socialise with people. I don’t consider myself an extrovert small talker but it is a skill you can get better at with practice. It is not merely great programming skills and logical thinking that you need in a tech job but you also have to be able to communicate with both your colleagues and the clients. As an introvert person I am still learning that every day.

7. Prepare for the interviews

The internet is full of advice on how to ready yourself for the challenge ahead. Feel confident about the things you have done. Know your strengths and weaknesses and be truthful about them.

I know it’s a cliché but most of all, be who you are. It surely is easier said than done when you’re in the position of trying to convince strangers to hire you. Keep calm and don’t let nervousness ruin it for you.

8. Get to know the company you are applying for

Get to know the company you are applying for. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the interview. Interviews are not only a place for the company to get to know you but also for you to get to know them and their values.

It is natural for a beginner to feel that they have to accept any position they are offered. However, it benefits no one if you end up in a job that you are miserable in.

9. Don’t be too picky

Even though I previously said  that you shouldn’t accept any position offered, remember that your first position doesn’t need to be the best job ever. It is most likely, that it won’t be the one where you are going to spent the rest of your working career. Especially as a beginner you will be able to learn something valuable in every company you are hired to.

10. Learn to google and ask questions

Learn to google and if that fails, learn to ask questions. Especially as a trainee or a junior developer that is the main thing you are supposed to do – no one expects you to be a know-it-all expert when you are hired. In Exove, all of us trainees were assigned personal mentors whose responsibility it is to guide us on our bewildering journey to becoming an IT professional.

Furthermore, I have noticed that all my co-workers are friendly and keen on helping me whenever I am at loss. It is comforting to know that there is help and support near when needed. On the other hand, you are trusted with real customer work and tasks that are challenging enough so that you can feel that you are learning something every day.

11. Keep it positive

What I’d also like to emphasise is that positive mindset helps and negativity rarely gets you anywhere. If you’re not a happy-go-lucky person surely you shouldn’t pretend to be one. However, be open-minded, be interested in and emphatic towards the people around you. And most of all, enjoy what you do!

Landing your first IT job might be hard and sometimes even frustrating. Remember that others have done it before you, and so can you!

 

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