Ákos Kőműves
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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

Ákos Kőműves
·Aug 19, 2022·

7 min read

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Table of contents

  • First Interview Experience
  • Sticking to the plan
  • Second Interview - with an engineer
  • Doing the same, I would get a job today
  • A word of caution

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.

newsletter.pragmaticengineer.com/p/perfect-..

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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