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How can I let prospective employers know I'm a great developer?

I'm in kind of a strange predicament. There have been family ramifications that I've had to leave school for, and as it stands I'm not sure when I'll be able to go back for financial reasons. However, I did 3 years and I'm finished my core classes. I've had internships every single summer since sophomore year of high school. I taught myself how to program in the 8th grade and never stopped.

I know what I'm capable of, and I've had previous employers begging me to come back -- but only after I'm finished my degree. It's like the piece of paper is so important that my skills don't matter.

I've taken initiative on private projects, written full games and helpful little side programs for myself. I don't stop coding when I leave class or a job; I love it. When I wasn't coding I was tutoring CS classes. When I wasn't doing either of those I was recruiting friends to write code with me for business ideas (that never quite launched).

Problem is, a single page resume doesn't really speak to any of that. I don't have the degree, nor any long-term job experience. It feels weak to write, "Personal Project: Implemented X, Y, Z using A, B, C on a +- Platform -- oh, but you can't see it any where because I never wanted to put it online".

TL;DR: I love programming and I do it as much as possible. How can I prove, on a resume, that I don't suck? How do I get past HR and into the coding interview?

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marked as duplicate by gnat, ChrisF Mar 13 '12 at 9:25

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You get past HR by not talking to HR at all. Either talk to developers in companies directly or talk to startups without HR departments –  Raynos Mar 13 '12 at 4:56
    
You should try to contact your previous employers who have begged you to come back. Maybe they have an job opening for you? No need to contact HR there. ;-) –  Spoike Mar 13 '12 at 6:23
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5 Answers

I've been looking for entry-level jobs for the past few months so let me share my experience. Disclaimer: I'm about to graduate so your results may very.

Do you have a website? If not, start one and put your projects online to build up a presence. If you can't put up downloads for them, show screenshots and a list of languages/tools/etc. that you used for each one. Maybe put up the source code on github or bitbucket or whatever. You don't have to put up every single thing, but use a few you're most proud of (I'm sure you have some).

You love programming? Start a blog about problems you face each day and how you solve them. Even if they've been solved X times before, it's a nice reference to look back on and shows that you care. Maybe you'll help someone with your solutions. A lot of companies might ignore these things, but for example smaller companies seem to like this more and have given me a very positive response.

Also, make friends. Find a user group in your area for your favorite tech stack and start attending. I've been working with a friend of mine on side projects for about a year now, and recently a very experienced team member at his job left. He put it in a great recommendation for me and bypassed HR entirely -- they only contacted me to fill out the paperwork. You can't really predict this, but it's more effective than applying once the job is public.

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I've already done 1 and 2. 3 is great, and I had something lined up but it fell through (woooooo economy). Thanks for sharing though :) –  nathas Mar 13 '12 at 3:20
    
+1 on the third suggestions. If you can, attend some of the hacker style meetings in your area. Something like this hacking.meetup.com or similar to get your networking going. It seems like you have "what you know", now it is time to get "who you know" going. Get a profile on LinkedIn, G+ or HN. Good luck! –  tehnyit Mar 13 '12 at 7:49
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For you, I can see 2 things working out for you. One is referrals. With referrals you might be able to skip a step or two in the hiring process (especially if your referrer explains your situation and how driven/passionate you are). Still, like you hinted at, it'll be hard without a degree. I've found that people getting hired for FT positions without a degree are more of an exception.

The other thing that could work for you is Contracting. Build up experience with contracts, and that can be your step between where you are now and a FT job. With contracts, you might even save up some money to resume school.

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I've done small freelance jobs in the past, and I picked up a part-time webdev gig for now, but it just isn't substantial. Given that a lot of contract-based work is webdev based as well, I've found that more often than not the client is bad. It probably makes me take on less than I should, but I like getting paid for my work, y'know? –  nathas Mar 13 '12 at 5:06
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Get out and attend every software related special interest group and meetup group you can find. Offer to present something. Don't hide your light under a basket.

Consider moving to where the jobs are. You're hire-able at a start up.

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How do I convince the start up? Clearly a startup won't have an HR department, but I feel like I end up in the same predicament: how do I even get face-time? If I were a small business owner, I'd look at my resume and be like "Hmmm... it's a 50/50 he's great or terrible", just because I haven't polished off that degree yet. –  nathas Mar 13 '12 at 5:04
    
aaleywayjack, you need to get your person in front of the startup people. That's why you are going to any and all user groups related to the type of work you want to do. Startups are typically at least somewhat less concerned about square filling than large established companies, if for no other reason than the fact that most startups don't have HR people. Let them decide if they care about your degree or not. –  Jim In Texas Mar 14 '12 at 14:39
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The way I got to my first entry-level job was unconventional (back in 2008) and bypassed most HR cruft. It had to do with my small network of contacts and friends at the time and a job fair at my university.

At the job fair I found a consulting company I knew one of my friends from school had joined and spoke highly about. That became an icebreaker; where I mentioned the friend's name who the company representatives knew. So we talked briefly about the company and what I've done so far and closed with exchanging contact information.

The proof I had was a modest homepage at the time when I applied and could talk at length about a project I worked on at home (a network enabled multiple user whiteboard app). Some weeks with interviews later and I got the job.

Note that it is really trial and error, I've spoke with many companies in many job fairs. It won't always yield one job as much as a job board. But your chances are significantly higher if you have some kind of a contact. Ask around your current network of friends who have a job and see if there are openings that way. There is nothing wrong with asking your friends (be nice though)... sometimes it will actually benefit them if the company has a recruitment bonus.

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Hm, okay thanks. I have a blog right now (that hasn't been updated in a while... ahem) with projects I've worked on. I should probably just start throwing code up there and talking about stuff I've finished. –  nathas Mar 13 '12 at 6:27
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Contracting. Most people hiring contractors via agencies don't look for or care about education -- they just need a hired gun to get in, get done, and leave quietly. I never finished my degree either and it didn't keep me from surfing all over the Fortune 500 for a couple of decades, including being converted from contractor to full-time and winding up as an engineering VP at a bank. When hiring, I prefer contractors, and I don't care about degrees. These days I run my own business, so I still don't miss that piece of paper.

You mention that you've had bad experiences with clients not paying; that tells me you're trying to do 1099 work. Don't. Spray your resume all over the internet, at all the usual places like monster and dice.com, and get the attention of the agencies. They handle marketing and billing, which you aren't going to be as good at. They also take a hefty slice off the top, but which would you rather have -- all of $25 * 10 hours a week, or half of $75 * 40 hours?

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