Landing a job in a competitive industry like web development isn’t easy.
Even with a relevant education and extensive experience, finding success in the field requires a careful combination of skills, confidence, and determination. For those who are just starting out on their journey, the task is even harder. It’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about which programming languages you need to learn, how to ace the interview process, or what it takes to build the perfect portfolio.
Luckily, there are plenty of tips, tricks, and techniques that prospective and practicing developers alike can use to set themselves on the path to professional success. Here, industry expert James Goerke shares some of the most important things to keep in mind as you take your first steps in a web developer’s shoes.
James has worked in web development for close to 20 years and currently manages a team of developers at Salesforce. As the director of Salesforce Industries’ largest development center, he also oversees the organization’s hiring process — scouting potential talent and preparing entry-level applicants for a seamless transition into life as a professional web developer.
Below, James explains what he looks for in an early-career developer and outlines what it takes to make it in the industry — even without any formal experience.
1. Learn the basics
But building a working knowledge base of back end and front end tools is only the beginning. “It’s also important to develop some of the ancillary skills,” shares James. “Database modeling and data analytics, for example, are core concepts. A lot of web development is, on a basic level, just shifting data from one user or network to another.” In other words, you need to understand not just your portion of the work, but the full breadth of a project — where the data is coming from, where it needs to go, and how to get it there.
“When I hire someone, I don’t look for expertise in one specific area,” says James. “I look for someone who has demonstrated that they can learn quickly on their own.”
2. Practice real-world, hands-on problems
Preparing yourself for work in a professional environment requires familiarizing yourself with tasks that a full-time web developer might face on a daily basis. As James puts it: “As much as the academic, technical stuff is fantastic, no one is going to hand you a pristine homework assignment in the real world.”
No classroom can prepare you for every possible business scenario. Especially in a startup environment, you’re going to find yourself needing to solve for complications or situations that exist outside the realm of your typical textbook problem set. Building tools that solve real-world problems is the best way to prepare for a career in web development.
3. Build your network and market yourself
“There’s a marketing and self-image component to getting into the industry that is missed by many candidates,” says James. Top jobs in any field will have dozens, if not hundreds, of qualified candidates competing for the same position. Developing connections with people in the field and polishing your online image (LinkedIn, GitHub portfolio, etc.) is a great way to separate yourself from the competition. “You have to put in the time and effort,” emphasizes James. “Attend industry networking events and participate in hackathons.”
“I would also recommend getting a coach for your resume,” says James. “It’s the primary — and first — document that most employers see. If yours looks and feels like everyone else’s, you’re going to be seen that way.” Fine-tuning your resume, developing your online presence, and improving your networking skills are trusted ways to give yourself the best chance of securing an interview.
4. Prepare for your interview
Many candidates think interviews are like a game of chance — that putting your best foot forward requires a bit of luck, or that the interviewers have all of the control. The hiring manager will either like you or they won’t, right?
But crossing your fingers and hoping you get asked the “right” questions or assuming you can get by on charm or charisma alone isn’t a great way to prepare for the interview process. Instead, there are some simple ways that you can improve your interviewing skills — and land the job — with just a little effort and preparation.
“Knowing how to communicate and act in a professional manner (and seem confident) during the course of an interview goes a long way,” says James. “I’ve had candidates that will show up to an interview and — because it’s a Zoom interview — they think it’s okay to have dirty laundry in the background or wear a hoodie. These are small things that everyone notices, but they add up.” You can start by getting an interview coach or researching common questions that you may face during a web development interview.
It’s also critical to brush up on your basic programming knowledge and practice talking about your portfolio projects. For instance, if you’ve worked on group projects, do you understand what your teammates’ roles were? “You’ve got to understand the whole thing,” says James. “We always have candidates present a couple [of] pieces of portfolio work.” Be prepared to discuss the entire project in depth, respond to critiques, and make adjustments to existing work on the spot.
5. Acquire new skills on a regular basis
“Regardless of how good you are, in this field, you have to be constantly learning,” says James. James has been working with Salesforce for over a decade, but he’s still studying new tools and acquiring additional certifications on a regular basis. “I want to see that a candidate is committed to that kind of growth. That’s the kind of person we want on our team.”
“Software is going to lead the world,” says James. “The tech space is tasked with solving some of the world’s toughest problems — and I think all of the solutions to those problems will eventually have a software component. That’s why development is such an exciting and fulfilling career. It’s not for everyone, but if you feel like it’s for you, you have to step up.”
Ready to get another step closer to a career in web development?
In every corner of the country, Trilogy-powered boot camps give prospective programmers an opportunity to learn critical tech tools in a hands-on, fast-paced environment. Online or in-person, full-time or part-time — it’s easy for anyone to find a learning environment that works for them. Receive professional instruction, gain access to career-building resources, and develop essential web development skills to start or advance your tech career today.
Find a boot camp near you!