Career Planning: Letter to a Young Developer
Looking to plan out your dev career but don't know where to start? Check out this post to a young developer with tips and tricks to get you started.
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So, we had a request for advice show up this week, and it struck me as a good topic for our readers:
Young Developer: Hello, Alex, I am currently a senior in high school and want to pursue a career in mobile development after high school.
An excellent choice indeed!
Young Developer: I know the common route most developers take is going to college and obtaining a CS degree, but college is very expensive and theory-based for a field that doesn’t necessarily require a degree.
Make that ridiculously expensive in the US these days! And, it is, somewhat, tenuously connected to the skills actually needed for a career in mobile development — this is true.
However, there are a great number of opportunities gated by that credentialism — most notably, it’s far easier to get a job and/or residence abroad if you do have a degree, and we’re big fans of travel, as you may have noticed on our other blog. So, before completely dismissing the college option, look into the option of taking a degree program in a country that doesn’t charge US prices, here’s a look at what we found:
Where Can You Study Abroad for Free?
You might also consider looking for universities that offer co-op programs, like my alma mater, Simon Fraser University. Attending a university that incorporates a work requirement makes the financial burden a great deal less; plus, once finished, you’ll have a strong enough resume to get hired, no problem — especially since a good co-op program will get you placed at companies far more impressive than you could land on your own. By the time we finished our degree, we had terms not only in British Columbia, where SFU is, but in Ontario, Maryland, and England.
Young Developer: I’ve heard of attending boot camps but I’m not sure of the success rate in landing a job afterwards.
From what we gather, the majority could be, not unfairly, characterized as “worthless ripoffs.” Yes. And, I've never heard of one we’d recommend for the educational value alone compared to just learning by doing your own projects, which is how we prefer to learn.
However, we also gather that there are a good number of employers that treat boot camps as a way of preselecting entry-level employees, on the theory that getting through it successfully is as good a screen as their own HR department could do. Pretty much, this is like the co-op programs we recommended above. So, we do recommend you give the boot camp thing serious consideration … but only boot camps that offer a 100 percent refund if you fail to land a job in short order. Here’s a start on finding the right boot camp for you.
Young Developer: What path would you recommend me to take?
Well, if I was a senior in high school right now, what I would personally be doing is throwing up a landing page for some wacky Bright Idea™ and applying for a Thiel Fellowship.
The Thiel Fellowship gives $100,000 to young people who want to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom.
College can be good for learning about what’s been done before, but it can also discourage you from doing something new. Each of our fellows charts a unique course; together, they have proven that young people can succeed by thinking for themselves instead of competing on old career tracks,
The hardest thing about being a young entrepreneur is that you haven’t met everyone you’ll need to know to make your venture succeed. We can help connect you — to investors, partners, prospective customers — in Silicon Valley and beyond.
You may have noted above that we prefer to learn by doing our own projects? Well, doing your own projects for a couple years with 100 large of Peter Thiel’s money, that strikes us as the best scholarship out there.
Failing that, I’d take a look at the guaranteed co-op/bootcamp options like we linked to above and see if any of them are suited for your available financial resources.
If that doesn't work, then the next thing I would do is spend all of my time teaching myself and creating a public profile — which is a good idea to get started on right away, no matter what! But, the question is how you’re going to make up for your lack of experience and credentialism by substituting with a portfolio and community stature. Here’s a rough outline:
- If you don’t have a GitHub profile, create one now!
- Start looking for open source projects that you can contribute to
- If you don’t have a Stack Overflow profile, create one now.
- Start answering questions on Stack Overflow.
- Build your own mobile projects that are open-sourced on Github — these should be trivial projects — to start, you simply want to show that you can ship something.
- Start a journal somewhere — we like WordPress, but Medium seems to be a popular choice in the mobile developer community. We recommend that you post a couple times a week or so about what you’re learning, the SO questions you’re answering, how you’re approaching your own projects, and anything else that you are working on!
After doing that full-time for a couple years, we confidently predict that this will:
- Teach you more than any formal education would
- Provide an open-source portfolio, a much better credential for sensible employers than any piece of paper is
- Do a better job of networking in the community for serendipitous opportunities than many professional programs.
If that sounds a bit overwhelming to go figure out on your own, we also noticed a book that looks like a comprehensive guide to exactly what we are trying to recommend:
So, although we haven’t read it, just going over the table of contents makes us believe that this would be an excellent $18.95 investment in planning your career — no matter which path you choose to take!
Young Developer: I appreciate you taking the time to read and answer my questions, thanks!
And, you’re very welcome! How about you, readers? Have any better or different advice for our young friend? Let us know in the comments below!
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