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How to start your coding career without work experience

Learn how to start your coding career from real-life software developer and Learning People COO, Darren Forster.

I got my biggest career break from finding a job in software development without having any formal work experience. Working at Learning People we hear a lot of concerns from students about how to combat this issue so this drove me to share my own experience.Learning People | Darren Forster COO headshot

In this article I’d like to share some practical advice on how to start a career in code without prior experience.

In the beginning, I was very keen to get into software development but struggled to convert my aspirations into a real role. I credit gaining my first position to 2 key points:

  1. Having some practical skills.
  2. Demonstrating that I was interested in technology

Since getting into that development role my career has gone forward 20 years. In that time I’ve done most jobs in software development including recruiting large development teams. With this in mind, I’m able to talk about both sides of the equation, both from the position of enthusiastic aspiring developer and from the HR software recruiter point of view.

It is true that you will see job specifications for entry positions which require experience. Ask yourself, why is this a requirement for a junior position? It could be that they are just looking to pay minimum wages for a role that really needs a seasoned developer or perhaps they struggle to on-board new staff? Both could be a warning sign and in your first developer role you ideally need an employer who’s looking to invest in you. With coding skills, you’re in demand so don’t settle, look for a company that will support you to build a long-term career.

As a seasoned recruiter, I tried to look beyond experience for junior posts. I instead looked within CVs for wider life experience. I looked for evidence that the candidate had taken time to invest in themselves, both formally through study and externally by getting involved in the wider technology community.

I got lucky in getting my career break, but there are things you can do to create your own luck and help bolster your CV. Here’s a few things you can do to demonstrate you’ve got what it takes!

Contribute to Open Source

The Open Source community is a great place to gain experience. There are hundreds of projects that are in need of people with coding skills to help with. There are projects on all types of subjects and you are going to learn a great deal about software engineering and what it’s like to work as part of a team.

I recommend taking a look at Up For Grabs and find something you think is interesting. Not every team is looking for software development. Some are looking for you to assist with testing or documentation, which may prove an easier way to start contributing.

When working on the projects make sure you work as professionally as possible, all communications can be reviewed at later date and you want to demonstrate what you could do in a full time role

All work on these projects can be included in your CV or on LinkedIn. Make sure you feel comfortable talking about them to any potential employers.

Create your own portfolio

Once you’ve created a number of significant pieces of development, create a public GitHub profile and repository. As with Open Source projects, make sure all interactions are as professional as possible.
Your portfolio should be well structured and include basic documentation. Your profile should be detailed, include a photo and include a good overview of your skills and aspirations.
In recent years, I’ve tried to search for prospective developer employees in GitHub to get a more rounded picture of the candidate. It is also worth looking at other’s profiles too so you can get hints on how to make yours stand out.

Get involved with Community Groups

Build your professional network using free community groups. There are many examples of this but my personal favourite is the Agile Alliance Community. This runs free events both online and in person (when restrictions allow). They discuss a range of topics loosely linked to agile software development.
I’ve been using these events for several years in my role as a technical leader, to keep myself up to date with current development trends and as a way to maintain personal connections in the community.

Let us know if we can help

I hope this has given you some ideas and demonstrated how the “must have experience” message is far from true. By getting involved in the activities above you can create skills which can be added to your CV and demonstrate you are worth an interview.

If you’re a Learning People student and you have further questions please reach out to our Career Services team. They are experts in employability and can offer you tailored support for your job search. This service is free alongside your studies.

If you’re not a Learning People student and are looking to start your career in software development, get in touch. One of our career consultants would be happy to discuss your career plan and get you on the right track.

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