How I got my first job as a software developer

How I got my first job as a software developer

right after failing the first interview of my life

My first job interview was an absolute failure, and I'm so grateful for it.

You didn't see this coming, did you? 😄

This post is not about how I installed Python for the first time, how I dealt with burnout, and how I prepared for the interview.

I'll tell you how it felt to get rejected after years of work.

What gave me motivation to keep doing the things that I did before?

And how this led to landing my first job.

All this happened right after I got my BSc in Informatics - I believe my degree was part of why I failed the interview but more on that later.

2011, December, festive vibes, BSs. in my pocket, time to enter the job market, right?

By 2011, I programmed for almost ten years - read How I became a Web Developer!

First Interview Experience

I applied to a prestigious company as a Java Developer in our town. The first round of the interview consisted of two parts:

The first was purely coding and some Java theory.

Yes, it was a whiteboard interview!

I had to implement a few algorithms and talk about how the JVM works, garbage collection, and all that fun stuff.

I answered all their questions correctly.

The second part of the first round was a Skype call. I had to demonstrate my English verbal skills.

It went OK, and I was confident I secured the position until the following email arrived:

"Hi, Akos! We're sorry to inform you that you didn't pass the first round of interviews."

I was like, with a decade of coding experience, with a blog - ok, I wasn't actively publishing, but it had a few relevant posts - OSS contributions:

I felt what some of you might have already felt:

If this isn't good enough, then Idk 🤷🏻‍♂️

When I will be ready?

I had tons of questions suddenly. In my confused state, I even wrote them a reply and asked why they decided not to continue the process with me.

The guy who I had the Skype call with answered:

"Akos, we had a great chat, but unfortunately, your coding skills weren't satisfactory"

You can imagine what I felt, having a BSc. in Informatics and having experience in shipping a SaaS and making money on the side with programming.

I couldn't understand. How it is possible that with such experience, I still don't worth any money to this company?

Sticking to the plan

Because I wasn't a student anymore and had no job, I had a ton of free time. I kept working on the projects I did enjoy working on:

A few weeks later, I got a call from one of my former colleagues from the University. He just landed a job at the same company where I failed the interview. We talked about the interview process.

He pointed out that I gave them a suboptimal solution for a problem that I was given.

Then it clicked.

Being heavily involved in coding and putting together apps people can use put me into a completely different mindset.

However, my BSc and the university I finished made these guys think I should be a genius, but I turned out more like a dropout.

I still felt bad because my parents were supporting me for the time of my studies financially, and I couldn't deliver and still needed money to pay my rent.

Second Interview - with an engineer

About a month passed since my first failed interview.

My motivation was low.

The job boards didn't update too frequently, given the holidays.

My mother learned that a friend of her colleague is returning from the States to start a software development company. He didn't use the job boards, so I just asked for his number and decided to talk to him.

We met in a local bar.

This was already weird, and I wasn't confident that this is going anywhere.

We had a casual discussion. A discussion between two developers and not between a recruiter and a future employee. He asked me how I liked my studies and what I'm doing in my free time.

I also got these questions in that other company, but it felt more like they wanted to hear what sports I like. On the other hand, this guy was indeed interested in what I'm hacking on in my free time.

Engineers being engineers

Both of us being Java engineers, I thought I'm going to start with a relevant topic:

You know how bad it is to write desktop apps in Swing? I'm working on a project called Qt Jambi. It brings the power of Qt (a multi-platform, UI development framework) to Java through native C++ bindings.

Then I told him that for my BSc work, I made a distributed network app:

Each computer on the local network was represented as a pawn on a map. The map is totally custom. You can make it with XML. A designated computer would tell the other computers through low-level network requests, where to move on this map.

I knew this was working! He proposed the next meeting and told me that he will have an offer by that time. 🙀

Doing the same, I would get a job today

So How did I get my first job?

BSc.? No - even though I had it and some companies listed it as a requirement a decade ago, I'd say it almost means nothing these days.

By being smart? Definitely not 😅

I used my free time to hack on something meaningful to me, and I didn't quit doing it even when my motivation was low.

I didn't quit because I was genuinely interested in building these things.

By building and working on OSS, I didn't prove that I've become a data structure and algorithm master like some of my colleagues from the university.

But I did prove I knew my craft.

I had the skills to envision and create software on my own.

At that time, except for a few people, the vast majority wasn't doing anything like this. When people wanted to hack on something, then they turned to sites like Project Euler. Such platforms hosted a series of computational problems intended to be solved with computer programs. It was popular among students interested in mathematics.

I didn't see much practicality in these sites, just as my colleagues didn't see the need for an alternative to Java Swing. 😄

Ultimately, what saved me after my first rejection and then helped me land that first job was sticking to my plan:

To become a software developer.

So when they told me my programming skills aren’t good enough - I kept hacking. When I realized I’m not smart enough with algorithms - I kept hacking.

This is how I hire as well

I hired my first employee last year in October. When the portfolios came in, I went straight to the GitHub links and looked at the apps they made. I wasn't interested in anything else. I discarded CVs without links to at least a portfolio page, but a GitHub or a link to some code was a must.

I already hired the guy when my accountant told me that we were born 10 years and 1 day apart. 😂

(No open positions ATM)

A word of caution

But I also don't want to fool you! 2011's were very different times!

More and more people are realizing tech offers an attractive and high-paying career. Bootcamps are signing up students, promising that with little time and money investment, anyone can become a highly paid engineer. At the same time, a large portion of new grads – both from universities and bootcamps – are struggling to get their first job.

We're in an economical downturn. Landing a job now might not be as easy as five years ago.

Also, a lot has changed in education and also in the quality and quantity of the learning material.

But never forget:

Stick to the plan.

If you want to become a developer, keep hacking as I did.

When this all passes - because it will - you'll beat everyone who gave up and didn't stick to their plan.

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