How To Get Your First Web Developer Job – For Graduates & Non-Graduates

( Post 15 of 25 )

Cheralyn Nadal photoToday’s post for CR 25 is a guest blog contribution – a South Wales-based web developer who is doing well in her career despite no university qualifications and people telling her that she wouldn’t be able to do it. Advice on how to do well career-wise is always so much more substantial and impactful when it’s from someone with first-hand experience, who’s been-there-and-done-that – and we really appreciate that Cheralyn has recounted her experiences in order to help others who might be in a situation similar to where she was years ago. Over to you, Cher…

With web development being such a broad sector with fast growing technology and competitive job requirements, it’s safe to say that new starters are having a bit of a tough time getting their foot in the door. In order to get into the field and create a career, it’s really important for aspiring developers to know what’s needed to get into the field, regardless of their background.

The Technical Basics

I can’t vouch for what you did and didn’t learn in university (if it applies), but from working with other developers and from personal experience, it seems that a lot of applicants aren’t aware of some of the basic skills companies look for when hiring junior developers. This isn’t to say that you’ve not worked hard enough; this is just down to not knowing because you probably just haven’t yet experienced it.

As I didn’t go to university, I mainly discovered what basics I needed by finding out in interviews (ouch) and articles online. Some of these discoveries included:

  • Setting up localhost / test environments – If you don’t know what this is, take a look at XAMPP (OS X, Windows and Linux) or WebMatrix (Windows).
  • How to install and set up open-source CMS platforms (such as WordP­­ress, Drupal, Umbraco, etc.) – All of which come with instructions and thousands of tutorials online. Some companies have their own Content Management Systems, but a lot of agencies use these open-source frameworks when building websites for clients.
  • Using version control (SVN, GIT, etc.) – See GitHub.
  • How to change DNS records to point to a server (and vice versa) – If you haven’t yet set up your online portfolio, you can use this as your practice.

Getting The Experience

  • Persistence and patience: Granted, this is probably one of the last things you want to hear if you are passionate and eager. It’s not something you want to hear if you’ve been knocked back a million times already either; but it is an absolute necessity. It took me years to get my foot in the door – it quite literally took dole, sweat and tears; but I got there and so will you.
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    An example of a Tumblr theme
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    Freelance – but quite literally: I’m not saying to sell yourself short but if you want to learn and you have a friend of a friend who wants a Tumblr layout made for their band then offer it. Suck it up and do it for free. Chances are, if you haven’t quite got there yet then you could maybe do with that extra bit of experience that would benefit your portfolio anyway. By doing all these little free gigs, you could build up a clientele and gain experience in various frameworks and practices without even realising how much you’re learning along the way. Don’t be frightened to take on more advanced projects either – when first starting out, learning may be the main reason for your freelancing. Plus, the joy about giving something away for free is that the person you’re doing it for can’t really complain about timescale. Haven’t got time? Make time. If you’re passionate, you’ll probably already be staying up half the night getting excited over width percentages and Dreamweaver anyway.

  • Collaborate: Preferably with an established developer. If you don’t know where to find these mystical creatures or how to get their attention then look online for local development meet-ups (if you’re local to Cardiff, check out Unified Diff and CR 25’s events post). Look on social media; ask people. Chances are, even if they aren’t available to collaborate, you could build up some strong connections. I was lucky enough in my early stages to work with a senior front-end developer based in London. He discovered me on Facebook and I learnt more in two months working on a big project with him than I did in a year by myself and as a result gained the vital skills that I needed to progress. Granted, some people won’t want to know but you’ll be surprised how many friendly devs there are out there willing to give you some free and decent advice on how they became Jedi Masters.

  • Keep up-to-date (if you aren’t already): Use social media and follow the companies behind the tools and frameworks you use. Read web dev/design blogs (such as Smashing Mag), tutorial websites you may have come across (CSS-Tricks) and even follow the people who wrote them (like Chris Coyier). Read the useful articles and links and blogs they post relative to what you’re doing / what you want to be doing. Not only is it useful for you in regards to learning and seeing what’s out there, but it could also benefit you in regards to interviews. What’s that, the interviewer mentioned Parallax sites? Oh, may as well mention the article that you read the other day on Twitter while EastEnders was on (although it’s probably best not to mention the soap opera)…!
  • Put it in your portfolio: I can’t stress enough how important this is. A lot of employers (particularly within development companies) won’t even consider a CV if your work is not showcased. Some won’t consider you if you don’t have your own email address either. Fair enough, you could have worked on massive projects, but where do they see the proof? There’s plenty of free software in which you can use to do it quickly, however I’d advise to build a website yourself if you are a new starter.
  • Don’t be scared of applying: Don’t let the job specifications frighten you. Even if you got an interview and you weren’t suited, it isn’t the end of the world and it is much better to have gone for it than to have missed a chance.

How I Became a Web Developer

A lot of employers (particularly within development companies) won’t even consider a CV if your work is not showcased.

I discovered my love for web development as a young un’ playing virtual games and making layouts for virtual money. I left school with no qualifications and got a job in a call centre, and began freelancing and building small websites for friends, family and colleagues. I attempted an iMedia course in college later on but ended up leaving after a few months partly because I was naïve and partly because I didn’t enjoy it, at which point I applied for an access course in university but was turned down. I was on the dole when I was between jobs and I got told a few times that what I wanted wasn’t possible without a degree.

From then on I continued building up my network, learning, freelancing, contracting and collaborating (with amazing developers) and working in rubbish jobs until I eventually – it took four years – landed a job as an in-house Junior Web Developer for an online training company. My role there involved server management, migration of old PHP websites (that I had help with) and the build of a new eCommerce website in a framework that I was unfamiliar with – but I did succeed, I did enjoy it and I did learn a massive amount! I saw the job advertised two days before the expiration date and I remember staying up for almost 48 hours creating a new web portfolio just to apply. (It must have done the trick! Really though, they are important.)

Uprise Marketing logoAfter a year there I then moved to Uprise Marketing where I was hired as a junior and may soon be progressing to middleweight. I always wanted to work in an agency and I absolutely adore it.

The Overview

Obviously this is not a complete guide and I’m not an employment specialist – however I hope it’s found somewhat useful to new starters.

By gaining knowledge and experience (even if its via free work), you’re already improving the chances of being considered, so keep on truckin’!

Cheralyn Nadal is a Web Developer for Uprise Marketing. Follow Cher and Uprise on Twitter: @cheznie and @MarketingUprise. Cher also has her own portfolio site: [link coming soon]

[Tumblr theme example image credit – Andrew Wilkinson]