We conducted a survey of IT employers in Alberta. Some of what we found confirmed what we thought before hand- but a lot of things surprised us. We compiled this list of little known secrets to help you get the right education to land an IT job.
1. Credentials count for very little in programming. Stop thinking ‘I want to get xyz certification and add it to my resume so someone will see that and hire me’. Employers who want programmers look for people that can program first and foremost. So if you can show good programming ability but you don’t match up exactly in terms of the kinds of platforms and languages you used, you’ve still got a good shot at getting hired. On the other hand, if you’ve got a credential from a good school but your programming skills are shaky, you won’t get the nod.
2. Don’t forget about SQL. Yeah, there’s all kinds of flavor of the month database trends out there and all kinds of database integration that masks SQL functionality for you. But don’t kid yourself. Somewhere in the guts of every web application is a SQL database and if you don’t know what’s going on in there eventually you are going to run in trouble. Employers with big databases don’t want you causing problems for them. You should have a handle on designing and querying SQL natively and be knowledgeable about how things like keys actually work.
3. The current hot framework and language isn’t going to be hot for very long. It will continue to exist, but something is going to replace it sooner than you think. Employers know that too and they also view hiring as a long term commitment. The ability to dive into something unfamiliar and get results is more valuable in the long run than trying to be a guru on one platform. Practice this.
4. You need to know how to work with version control and also how to maintain code. Real businesses need to deal with this every day. Start by keeping your own code in a version control database and by bundling to keep your third party code up to date. How about showing how you maintain code and keep up with new releases right in your portfolio?
5. Businesses need team players (only). If you’re a programming hot shot but you can only work on your own, be prepared for rejection. Businesses need teams of people that work together happily and productively. If you’re trying to figure out what to do on your portfolio, think how you can participate on a team rather than trying to lone wolf it.
6. Don’t think you can leave UX up to someone else. Horrible UX abounds and you should have an opinion about what’s good and what’s bad. Do some research and take doubtful UI’s out of your portfolio and know what to support and what to push back on in an interview. Consider wireframes in your portfolio.
7. Most IT falls down on project management and programmers share the blame. Be known for picking incremental goals and achieving them. Don’t have half finished projects lying around all over the place for people to see. A simple use case that can be explained along with a simple story and complete implementation is much more compelling than something that would be amazing if it were only finished.
8. Learn some basic patterns, algorithms and data structures. Obtain some books on the subject and study them. You’re far better to work on this than the idiosyncrasies of a particular language or an API. You should know ‘the greatest hits’ of programming- a couple of kinds of sorts, how to set up a hash table, what a binary tree is, how to work with pointers, etc. Learn these things and practice explaining them. It’s not only about preparing you for interviews. It will seriously make you a better programmer.
9. Memorize object oriented coding in at least one language and get good at it. Be able to compose at the keyboard or whiteboard completely cold with perfect grammar. Practise this skill and stay fresh on it. Like any other craft, nothing is more impressive than smooth execution. Being able to quickly implement a challenge with simple objects and methods will always make a good impression.
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