IT workers are in high demand, and this demand is only expected to grow. Though many companies are outsourcing to Latin America and other world regions, software development and other types of IT firms here in the U.S. still have numerous positions to fill. However, while the jobs may be plentiful, being able to apply for them can be challenging. Here are a few tips for setting yourself up for software development career success.
Keep in mind that people from a wide variety of backgrounds have gone on to become successful software developers. Experience in customer service, marketing, analytics, leadership, or even liberal arts can become a strong foundation for a software career.
If you’re passionate about software development and think you have something to offer, don’t let a prior career in a different field hold you back. You may need to get some additional training, but the skills that make a good engineer — such as creativity, problem-solving, strong teamwork, and vision — can be “imported” from many other fields.
Keep your end goals in mind when pursuing an education in software engineering. If your goal is to be hired, you’ll want to focus on software engineering and computer science fundamentals, creating a foundation you can build on later with specific languages and technologies. Project-based programs enable you to learn and try out new skills quickly.
At this point, you should start familiarizing yourself with the various levels of a software development career, so you know what you might want to shoot for.
Identify Your Perfect Job
Start to think about what you want in a position. It may be hard to know prior to your first job, but you can gather some clues based on the following experiences:
- Working with fellow students in school
- Internships or part-time positions you’ve held
- Talking to professionals already in the field
From these scenarios, you can piece together things like whether you prefer a large or small company, desired geographic locations, the types of projects you like best, and your working style. Write down as many of these details as you can develop to create a “picture” of your ideal job. Then target positions that meet these criteria.
At the same time, be open to new possibilities or one factor balancing out another. For example, say you have a salary target in mind. You’ve found a position that doesn’t pay what you want, but it’s in a geographic region with a lower cost of living. Take all factors into consideration when making a final decision on any offer.
Don’t Forget Soft Skills
Despite the popular stereotype of an engineer who has great technical knowledge but no social skills, the ability to communicate your ideas is critical. Look for an educational program that makes communication proficiency a priority. Once you have a position, seek opportunities to expand this ability, such as speaking up at meetings, hosting your own presentations, or continuing education.
Empathy is another nontechnical skill that’s important to cultivate. In addition to being a key component of communication, it’s needed to understand internal and external client requirements, work well on teams, and adjust to changes in your company and in the industry as a whole.
Make use of your school’s assistance programs to create a resume, create a portfolio, practice interviewing skills, attend job fairs and networking events, and find potential employers.
To find the perfect job you identified earlier, don’t just respond to job board openings. Try these strategies as well:
- Cultivate connections on LinkedIn or other online communities where you can find professionals in your field.
- Connect with working professionals and watch their updates for hiring notices.
- If you’ve determined a particular company would be a good match for you, find a manager within it and request an informational interview.
- Keep your LinkedIn and other professional profiles updated and polished to make it easy for potential employers to find you.
Once you’ve landed your first job, focus on getting a few successful projects under your belt. Look for opportunities to build on your knowledge, especially if your employer offers on or off-the-job training. In addition to coding skills, build your communication and teamwork abilities. Look within the company for future positions you might want to try for next.
Be sure to document your successes on your resume and your LinkedIn profile, and track them in a document you can later use to negotiate a promotion or a raise. Pay special attention to opportunities for demonstrating leadership skills.
Make time to get to know your teammates as well as the established professionals within your company. They can all help you with technical or professional questions.
Launching a successful software development career entails different steps for each individual, depending on skills, abilities, and opportunities. The most important thing to remember is to look toward the future and start now to mold your experiences based on what you want to eventually achieve.