Finding Work Programming

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It’s hard to get to the point where you feel confident in your abilities to work as a professional programmer. Fortunately, the more you code, the better you’ll get. Here’s a couple thoughts on finding work as a programmer.

Be Really Good at What You Do

The trick to getting paid A LOT of money, and to feeling confident enough to even try is to be really good at what you do. Rather than picking up 5 languages one after the other, try to focus 100% of your efforts on learning ONE language extremely well. Spend all your time focusing on one area so you can get really good, then you’ll feel confident to go find some clients or go get that job or start a company. Once you are getting paid, THEN feel free to experiment with other languages.

Pick a Popular Language (first)

The less popular a language, the less job/client opportunities are available, so I recommend starting out with a super popular language like PHP or JavaScript because there’s a near endless supply of opportunity with them. The average pay may be lower with a popular language, but the top programmers are getting paid well because they are GOOD, not because of what language they work in. A popular language makes it easier to get paid, meaning you don’t have to work for free as long.

I’m not saying you should stick to that language FOREVER. As you get better you can and SHOULD branch out into more languages, but your goal should probably be to start earning an income sooner rather than later, and a popular language is probably a good starting point.

Freelance Websites

Websites like Guru.com, UpWork, Freelancer.com have a really bad reputation, but it’s a great way to get started in the industry; Some people even make six-figure incomes from these sites alone. Best of all, you can work from ANYWHERE!!

Yes, these sites are low-paying at first, but that’s why you start with SMALL projects. There are plenty of small projects you can do in an hour or less posted on freelance sites. If you’re a beginner, it could take all day, but at least you get experience. The better your reputation gets, the more you can charge. This goes back to the first tip. Be really good at what you do. Great programmers aren’t competing for $4/hr jobs. The best programmers probably have people lined up waiting for them to be available.

Contracting

Contracting is where you work for other companies who hire you as a temporary employee. Contracting has several downsides like a lack of benefits, being a temporary employee, and potentially lower pay due to there being a middle man, and you needing to pay your own taxes, but the upsides are you work remotely, you might get to work with other programmers, there’s a high demand, flexible/temporary schedule, and you’re low-risk; meaning there’s a higher chance you’ll get hired.

Clients You Meet in Person

I use to recommend meeting clients in person by attending mixers and chamber of commerce events, but this has a lot of downsides. Typically, they’ll prefer to meet with you in person, which means travel is harder. Second, it’s extremely time consuming to attend the business events, face-to-face meeting, etc… A lot of programmers–myself included–would rather lock themselves in a room and just code.

Finding clients face-to-face can still be a great idea, and you can still travel and do the things you want, but you just have to set the expectations and be willing to jump through a few extra hoops. Overall, it’s just one piece of a big puzzle that can help advance your career.

Getting a Normal Job

I can’t talk too much about this because I’ve never had a normal programming job. That said, being an employee is a great idea if you want to improve your coding skills. By working as an employee you will get a lot of benefits. You’ll have the opportunity to spend all day with other programmers who are better than you. You’ll work in a large codebase, work on a team, and hopefully have regular code-reviews. In general, working as an employee can rapidly improve your skill because you’re surrounded by programmers and get regular feedback on your code.

Finding the Job/Clients:

Once you have the technical skills, all you need is grit, hustle, and some personality. Get out there, make cold calls, attend business mixers, call other developers and offer to help as a contractor, etc… Be friendly & always have your ears open. I found my first client by accident when I was at the library. I heard someone talking about JavaScript and started a conversation. Next thing I know I was helping him as a contractor.

Have Your Portfolio Ready

Everyone wants to see your portfolio before they hire you. Make it pretty and have it full of all the projects you’ve done. It’s important to complete projects you start so you can have a full and impressive portfolio. I like to have a portfolio for both technical AND non-technical people. For technical people, Github or Bitbucket work great. They allow people to see your actual code.

For non-technical people, I’ll either host the application on something like Heroku so they can see the app, OR i’ll just create a YouTube video demonstrating me using the app, and show them the video. When you get real projects and work for real clients you can link to the clients website and explain which part of the site you worked on. (You might need to get permission from the client though)

Applying For Jobs

So I don’t know much about applying for jobs as an employee, but the same rules should apply. People want to know what you’ve built. Have a solid portfolio to show off. You may end up learning a new language on the job, so don’t be afraid to apply for jobs that aren’t in your expertise. The worst that could happen is you don’t get the job. I’ve had a lot of friends who get a job and are immediately assigned to learn a language they’ve never touched before.

Even if you’re looking for a regular job, don’t shy away from freelancing work. If you’ve got a couple client projects under your belt, you’ll be a more attractive prospect because you have some real work experience. I’d look at job interviews as more of a learning opportunity rather than a critique of your abilities. Go to the interviews to learn. They’ll ask you questions, and if you don’t know the answer, it’s an opportunity to find some stuff to research when you get home.

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Networking

Let everyone know what you’re doing. Send out an Email blast to all your contacts, post on Facebook, Instagram, etc… Go to “Business mixers” like chamber of commerce events, Meetups, and any other networking event you can find. There’s industry specific meetups for programming, and there’s more general “small business/entrepreneur” meetups. Both are valuable places to get to know people and find the next client or job.

Going around door to door and handing out your business card, or calling small businesses that you’d like to work with is another way to get your name out. You can even call the competitors and offer to work as a contractor. Be open to any opportunity that presents itself.

Long Term Strategies:

The best way to get business, or a job, is to develop your own online presence. Whether you have a personal blog, or a company website that demonstrates your ability, having your own online real estate is a great way to stand out. By having your own website, you’re not only able to have people coming to you and reach a global audience, but you’re able to create your very own products and add extra sources of income like monthly memberships, SAAS, or selling products. 

Conclusion

Ultimately there’s not much to say about getting a job or building your career. All you really need to do is get really good at what you do, apply for jobs, and look for clients. Becoming a successful anything is all about overcoming obstacles. The more you code, the better you’ll get. Face the direction you want to go in life, and start climbing over the hurdles that you face. Once you’re good at programming, you just have to know what you want to do.

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