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Short version:

I've been a solo programmer for 5 years, right out of school, and am looking to for resume tips as I aim to get a job with a larger, well structured company.

Long version:

I am a 26 year old who graduated in CS in 2007. I had an internship for a small company starting in 2006, and still work for them to this day. I'm looking to work for a larger company for reasons beyond the scope of this post. During this time I was the only programmer, and designed/coded/maintained four .NET applications for various industries. Those four projects kept me very busy. My applications have happy customers, they work well and look nice.

I realize that being a solo developer has given me some strengths and some weaknesses compared to my peers.

  • My strengths are that I can self educate well, and I've suffered the consequences of mistakes firsthand, so I can give VERY good reasons why I do things the way I do.

  • My weaknesses are that I've lacked a mentor, and the missed opportunities to learn from him/her. I also lack team work with programming. I worked closely with other technical people, and had my own SVN/TFS servers, but never worked closely with other programmers, delegated orders, or really had a specific role other than "do everything." I realize that the teamwork is a crucial component of a mature developer.

So now, some questions about a resume and/or interview:

  1. Should I be up front about being on a lonely island of programming so long?

  2. When listing my projects in a resume, since I was a solo dev should I describe the projects in great detail, and say that I did everything rather than say "I did xxx, yyy, zzz"?

  3. My current employer has web pages with videos/screenshots of my software in action, should I link to them?

  4. Do you think my strengths make up for my weaknesses and leave me > 0?

  5. Any other tips?

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9  
Here's a tip: Don't list your age/date of graduation. No employer needs that information, and if it's so important that hiring you is conditional on this information, well, I'd have to ask why does it matter that much. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 27 '11 at 20:16
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"I aim to get a job with a larger, well structured company" -> I understand what you mean, but just don't expect too much, there's no perfect company. –  Joset Apr 28 '11 at 3:26
    
Programming mentors are scarce in most companies, with the possible exception of the most highly selective. With your experience I think it's more likely you will be the mentor. –  kevin cline Feb 7 '12 at 23:14
    
@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Sometimes age or date of graduation would be beneficial if the company is looking for someone to come on board for the long run (>10 years). However, it is getting rare that someone would stay with a company beyond 5 years these days. –  tehnyit Feb 8 '12 at 8:27
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closed as not constructive by gnat, Bart van Ingen Schenau, GlenH7, MichaelT, Joris Timmermans May 6 '13 at 14:11

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5 Answers

Here are some thoughts from someone who has spent many years of my career so far either working as the only programmer in an organisation, or the only programmer on the project I was working on.

  1. No-one works in isolation. You may have been the sole software developer, but I bet you weren't the only person on the project team. Don't try to hide the fact that you programmed alone, instead emphasise the multi-disciplinary nature of the teams you were working in.

  2. I think that showing a well-rounded full life-cycle experience is valuable in itself. Someone who has always worked in an environment where specifications were provided to them and tests were run by the test department is going to be far less flexible.

  3. I don't see why you shouldn't use your current employers public resources to showcase your software to prospective employers.

  4. Being able to take a project from requirement analysis all the way through to end user support means potential employers could see you in any part of their development cycle. Make sure you capitalise on that.

Since the essence of teamwork is communication, it seems to me like you should have no problem fitting into a team of programmers, when the time comes.

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I have an answer for 5)

Spend some time designing your resume. Make sure it's clean, organized, and well formatted (like good code). Then, once it looks good, narrow the top margin by 1/2 inch, so the text starts closer to the top of the page. I know this sounds weird, but no other resume the company is looking at will be printed this way, and it's more likely to be remembered by the person sorting through resumes.

Oh, and have code samples ready.

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Thanks for the tips. Can you elaborate a bit on the code samples? Do you mean from my previous job (I'm guessing not) or something from a hobby project? –  5b833cd9-9cc4-431e-a0e2-d86cae Apr 28 '11 at 15:20
    
It doesn't matter where the code samples are from, but they should show off your programming skillz. An example would be some object-oriented javascript your wrote, or a really elegant sorting algorithm, etc. etc. –  CamelBlues Apr 28 '11 at 18:07
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1) Absolutely. I was in the same position. Personally, I worded it like this: "I've been able to cultivate my skills through research and blah. Now I am looking for a team of skilled developers who share my passion for development."

2) Tailor it per job: Highlight the parts of the project that are impressive and directly apply to the position you're applying for.

3) Yes; if it's legal.

5) The "land the tech job you love" book is really good and answers a lot of these questions in detail. IIRC, the author is on P.SE as well.

edit: when looking for a job my last time around, I applied to only 2 jobs (jobs that I really wanted). I used that book as a reference to tailor my resume. It took somewhere around 5 hrs per resume write, but I got a call from both jobs, was offered one (the one I have now) and had to turn down the interview for the other. I was 2 years out of school (ie. not extensively experienced).

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I do not like the idea of "telling a half-truth" per Developer Art's response. Instead, tell the truth (particularly in the sense that you worked on your own), but spin it the right way.

For example:

I did indeed work on my own on a number of projects. By doing so, I was able to demonstrate my focus towards my work and that I am able to manage myself to complete tasks correctly and on time. In addition, I was also able to gain more knowledge with respect to various technologies because I had to rely on myself.

You may also want to highlight possible strengths in remote development, the ability to be flexible on a project, etc. On the flip side, use it as a learning experience.

While I did enjoy working on my own, I did learn that there are areas where I can continue to grow as a developer, particularly in a team environment. I particularly look forward to communicating and sharing information with my team as well as understanding how to work within the context of a multi-developer programming environment.

You can also take this time to ask questions of how the company's development teams work together.

As for your other questions:

  • Describe your projects in enough detail that they draw out questions, but don't be so vague that your resume looks weak. Accomplishments are most important. You'll do better saying, "Redesigned the customer interface decreasing time of customer/client interactions by X% and increasing customer satisfaction by Y% (per a follow-up survey)" than "Rewrote the customer interface using C# and ASP.NET MVC."
  • If you can point to actual examples of work that you did, that's great. Just watch for IP issues and make sure it is a GOOD representation of your work.
  • Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. Whether it is a net positive is really up to you. Being self-aware and understanding what your weaknesses are is a huge first step. Understanding the company you are going to work for and how your strengths help them, and how you can work on (or avoid) your weak areas is extremely important. Again, understanding this is up to you and no advice we can give here will help in that area. In the immortal words of the Greek, "Know Thyself."

Good luck!

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1) Tell half truth. Not upfront that you were the only programmers and didn't talk to a human being for weeks, but rather that you were give responsibilities and leadership of the projects.

2) Describe the scope of responsibilities, mention technologies in use. If people ask, elaborate in greater details.

3) If these pages are public then absolutely yes, if they are internal, ask your employer for a demo account.

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Calling it a "half-truth" sounds sketchy. I'd say it's more "highlighting the positive aspects" of the position. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 27 '11 at 20:15
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