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I've been studying computer science on my own for a few years, but I don't personally know anyone who programs.

I was wondering how you know when you're ready to start looking for a job? Does lack of formal education get in the way?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Mar 5 '11 at 2:34

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marked as duplicate by gnat, MichaelT, GlenH7, Corbin March, Yusubov Aug 22 '13 at 10:59

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Yes, you will be able to get a job. Just have confidence, persistence, and stamina. It doesn't hurt to learn some web stuff, easy to learn, even easier to pick up a job, although it gets boring quick. Might be a bit trickier finding a job where you can Scheme all day. –  Orbit Mar 5 '11 at 2:34
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If you can write a Scheme interpreter in C, I think you are already way ahead of many other candidates. –  birryree Mar 5 '11 at 2:44
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@Orbit: A job where I can Scheme all day?!? Does that actually exist? –  Nick Zarr Mar 5 '11 at 22:53
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Let me know if you find it :) –  Orbit Mar 5 '11 at 22:53
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7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There isn't a specific checklist programmers check before saying, "Yep! I think I can work now." Most of us gauge our knowledge by helping out on forums/boards/in person meetings. If you can help people with programming problems, you consolidate what you know and you demonstrate your knowledge.

Look around job boards online and see what the common requirements are for your given language. Python, for instance.

What is generally asked for a python job listing?

Google App Engine knowledge? Pygame? TKinter?

Find that out and you will see how 'marketable' you are for a job.

Having said that you are a programmer - many programmers don't even know what an interpreter is, let alone create one.

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I thought I was slow because I'm having troubles understanding how to write a compiler. Thanks for the advice, I had an exploratory look around and it seems that I'm not all that marketable. I've been focusing mainly on theory and AI and I don't have experience with many of the frameworks I'm seeing. Is writing a small app in a framework enough to put it on my resume? –  Nick Zarr Mar 5 '11 at 23:08
    
@JackTrades: Yes, it's enough to put it on your resume! Just don't write it as though you're an expert in that subject. I always divide by skills into two sets: 1) technologies with which I ahve extensive experience ; and 2) other stuff I have limited experience with. It lets the recruiter know which skills I'm confident about to answer technical questions, and which I can quickly get up to speed with if I need them on the job. Note that many recruiters do the same on job ads: they have a "required skills" and "other assets/preferences". –  André Caron Nov 27 '11 at 22:15

You're ready. Get out there and meet people. Join a local user group. Talk to people. Listen for opportunities. Don't focus too much on big companies. Instead, start with a small company that is willing to take a chance without the paper credentials. Consider an internship. Make yourself indispensable.

In the meantime, build something useful for a stranger while you hone your skills on your own projects. Solve someone's problem and then showcase it when you apply for jobs, "See, I can solve your problems. I've done it before."

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You might be interested in 'The Programmer Competency Matrix' found here: http://www.indiangeek.net/wp-content/uploads/Programmer%20competency%20matrix.htm

There you can find some really useful information to check your skills systematically. The matrix lists 32 competency aspects in five categories, giving examples in four levels.

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Go and do something for someone or yourself, perhaps start on guru.com until you're sick of it or craigslist.org looking for web gigs or stuff, you'll be fine if you can code, just go make things, that's the best resume, things, things are the best.

But really, my best suggestion is to get involved in something open source, contribute a bunch, learn a bunch more, and be off to the races :)

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You won't know until you start looking. But I do think that no education and experience will tend to get your resume filtered (I know it would at the handful of places I've worked at least).

One idea is to take some interesting CS courses at a junior college. A lot of times the professors work in industry (especially if you take a night or saturday class). And if you're a stand-out, and you directly express interest to the professor, you might just find an opportunity.

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You sound like you're ready. You will have a difficult time getting through the HR filter at large companies, but it is not impossible. In the current economy it will be tougher though. The biggest problem for you will be no proven history of developing and delivering projects. I have done many technical interviews. Once a resume got to me I didn't really care about where they went to school. I only cared about what they could do and if they could do the work.

I would just throw your resume out there and go for it. Worst they can say is no... at least I think that's the worst...

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You are ready when you can start teaching others.

I started coding BASIC in my spare time at 13 in 1981 and got my first job a year later, teaching.

However, it might have been easier back in the days.

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