Peter Pilgrim is an Oracle Java Champion, Software developer, designer and architect for the Java Platform, Agile SCRUM practitioner. Peter is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 39 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Some Advice for New University Graduates w/ Dreams of Developing Software

12.28.2012
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I have taken a step back in an attempt to put the year 2012 in focus. As always, it started with great hopes and there were highs and it seemed for a moment, that working life was back on track, but lurking in the background was an impending disaster. The problems were not fixed, I can see them now, but that is for another blog post.

In this post, I went with another angle of working life, I pondered for a moment, what on earth would I tell myself as the twenty something university graduate? What advice would I give to another university graduate now?

Tools

The tools for writing applications are definitely here. At the end of 2012 there are an abundance compared to slow pre-Internet age of 1992. You have lots of opportunities in programming languages such as Java. It runs on a virtual machine and you can forget about dreams of C++ being a guru engineer and purely object oriented development. The landscape is changing. I would say learn something about functional programming languages. You have to learn version control systems such Subversion, Mercurial and Github. Take advantage of the new technologies for learning, videos and on line courses, broadband Internet, and ways to amplify your knowledge. Remember: technology is not the answer to every human problem. There is such a breadth of knowledge waiting and so little time to learn it all. Choose wisely.

I would warn myself about the dangers of social networking, and suggest you would do the very same. Privacy is dear. Code and ideas are dear. Keep some part of life in the off-line mode for your own security, if nothing else. Other people have been known to take ideas with out credit and attributions. Only put on the Internet, the stuff you are happy to let be public knowledge; find the balance between share-nothing and share-almost-anything for yourself. Be wary of code that you do put out there in the Internet.  In my opinion in the future it could be held or used against. If you are showcasing ‘wares make sure it is the best work that you can do, don’t be shoddy or lazy about programming. Being part of open source framework as a committer is a good thing, it will open doors, and you get to meet electronically people on the other side of the planet. You might even be lucky enough to meet the other committers at conference or visit on holiday; maybe they may come to you. Life is better with the people you know; who know you and therefore have a bond with.

Because they are too many tools, frameworks and programming languages out there, I would advise myself to choose the special interest wisely with a view of what is going to benefit my career in the long term. Nobody can be master of all trades in IT. Our profession is too long in the tooth for that now. If you want to developer, be that, a database girl be that, a security dude, then be that. Choose something you enjoy not the thing that your mother and father tells you that you must do. Listen to your beating first, before listening to the opinion of other people. Develop that gut. The gut-feeling, the little voice in your head, the spirt that comes sometimes you feel exciting or there is an ill-wind, whatever, because it is true, it is the one statement of a fact not a YAGNI, you are going to need it. You must live and work with other people. If the code is an experiment and is just for fun, then advertise as that with a definite label. Code is also nothing with people. Unfortunately code is the easy part, it is the dealing with the people, the communication, the handling of information between groups of folk, the social aspects, which are the hard parts.

Elitism

Surprise, surprise: be warned that Elitism is still in effect. Nothing has changed since the early 1990’s in what is legalised prejudice of university graduates. Employers are allowed to specify on job advertisements that they are only interested in certain set of candidates from so-called red brick universities [2] even though this smacks in the face of diversity and fair entrance. There are employers wanting the so-called best software developers out of university or higher education college, if you have less than second-class first level degree (2-1) your application might tossed directly straight in the bin [1]. In my day applications were sent by post, now it is quite easy to discard a very crafted Word or PDF document in to the digital waste receptacle in the sky. Yet, it is common knowledge, or it should be, in the IT profession that a certain Mr Bill Gates, of Microsoft, did not even graduate with a degree.

My advice is to the same now as it was then, Keeping On Moving [10], there are always alternatives to elitist organizations, which may well go out of business sooner rather than later. I learned very quickly there is always one choice, colloquially, known as The Law of Two Feet[9]. All you have to do build on the network that you started whilst in university. The teacher or lecturer you did the best project for, the mate that you had the best times with at the pub, even the gym is a place to find and discuss opportunity. If you have impressed a friend or colleague and if they are really your friend, know you personally, then you are more likely to get opportunities of work that are more suited to your skills.

Job Shock

During the early 1990’s the world was recovering from previous financial crisis, albeit it was a smaller compared to the massive crunching meltdown that we have had running now for five years, since 2007. For the record, I am also grating my teeth too, in frustration with you too.  I feel. I am a human being too. The shocking stories of the job search of recent university graduate have left me cold.

There was a time before the monetary union of Europe and the Euro, when each country in the European union had it’s own currency like the Deutschemark, the Franc, the Peseta and Lira; and therefore their own national bank of control, of monetary policy, then there was the possibility and the economic reality of at least Germany still being the powerhouse of Europe and the World when Britain was in the doldrums. Indeed, Germany was able to survive the recession of the early 1990’s, I know because I was living there for a time.

Since the turn of the century, the sudden explosion of the Internet, the reliance on better communication links, the rise of common markets, radical improvements of technology, better efficiencies in trading have meant we have a global economy.  The door has closed forever on hoping over the English Channel to find lucrative work, even if the language barriers were not there at all. A recession in Germany most certainly means a downturn in Britain and Ireland.

For university graduates, this means that getting a job search is much harder than 15 and 20 years ago. The competition is fierce; the depression is deep. Some graduates wondered why they have invested their formative years in to getting a university paper only to find themselves flipping hamburgers at McDonald or desperately applying to become a retail shop assistant at the local Debenhams or Next fashion store [3][4].

The Job-Shock of 2012 is clearly worse than 1992.

Eric, Newcastle

I have just passed my 1 year anniversary from my master’s degree. There’s nothing to celebrate because it’s also the same time I started looking for jobs and 1 year on, I have had no success. I have been to nearly a dozen interviews to progress on my career to be an engineer and have had no success.

Laura, London

I completely understand what you guys mean. It is so hard to keep motivated when you keep getting told, “Sorry, you haven’t got enough experience” and then you say “but that’s why I want a job!!”

With the two years from finishing my degree to starting my graduate job I gained experience and continued to apply. Getting experience isn’t easy though because quite often you need some experience to get experience. My advice is to plan what skills you want to show experience in then make a plan from their, starting with smaller experience and aiming for the bigger stuff when you have something in hand.

We are losing young and gifted people across a wide-cross section of disciplines [5]. Some are giving up on their dreams of having a career. Sadly, some people who thought about a career in information technology, software development, programming or designing applications, may already be saying to themselves: too long and hard to achieve the result I dreamed of; do not think to apply because it never happens to people just like me.

Continuous Reinvention

I am here to tell you that if you want to get a programming job in information technology then it is possible. Don’t give on IT just yet. The roles are there, if you keep looking for them. It is quite similar to dating. Two people will never meet each other, if they stop searching of the other lover. If either one of them gives up then the cause of true love is lost. But then, how do I find a job? A better question is, how do I find a job that I really will enjoy? The best and ideal way to do this is, I think, is to find that company and group of employers that is enthusiastic, altruistic and cultured. In other words, the company must have a distinct lack of dysfunction, but you as a graduate candidate have already found that to be true, yours suspicions, which you most likely experienced on the job hunt are quite correct, I am afraid.  You absolutely correct to note that every company that advertises, “We hire only the best candidates”, is logically not “the best”.  Learn to read those job specifications and as some would say read between the lines. Ask some searching questions: what happened to last year’s recruitment? As an addendum to the infamous and standard question: How did this job become vacant?

Start networking when your career is in infancy. Keep your ear to the ground and listening and learn the behaviors of others. It is sad, but true, in the IT career too, you have to watch your back as well. Resist the temptation to be closed and unapproachable, instead be that person, open to change, a mind like parachute. Remember who put the faith in you and got you to this great position that you are in now. You have a university degree or better, not many people in the world get that, and those who try to put you down, are jealous, because when they had their chance in life, they bloody blew it. Just because they took a miss-step then that does not mean you are going to. If you really want to be black and proud and be bad meaning good, then for heaven’s sake, buy the CD or download the MP3 of Public Enemy: Fight The Power, Rebel without a Pause and Bring The Noise[8]. Rock on out in your bedroom when you feel the world is against you. For all other people find some inspiration and music to gets you going, motivates and inspires positivity in yourself, whatever it is, whether music, theater, classics, walking the dog, or a landscape that you remember as a child, then keep on at it and make it your central core, your sword and shield in the battle, the battle of survival.

When you leave university and get on the job market for the first time, it is a great time to learn and identify the different types of institutions. For instance, you may have thought that big company ACME was the best for you to a get a job in, perhaps you were tempted by the glossy brochure, or the suited and booted personnel at the job fair, maybe they had the best gizmos in the handout bag at a conference; and then you later find out that the much smaller FROZFIZZ is better. You will be probably be surprised at yourself suddenly turning to the FROZFIZZ, and finding this smaller enterprise attractive. Maybe it was because they have a better training scheme, perhaps they send there employees to get  proper IT certifications, and perhaps they offer a real chance to use the next interesting new technology or framework there. More often or not, the FROZFIZZ employees seem really happy ,warm and generous. It is not fake, because you can confirm from a friend who recently got a job there. That is good-cultured. You know it when you find it. Some people spent their life trying to find the good culture. Okay, FROZFIZZ has a much lower starting salary than ACME and they cannot afford to pay an contributory pension plan or some other additional benefits compared to ACME. This is the time after university to learn how to measure up and down different employers when, most likely, you have not yet got the husband or the wife or long term spouse to bloody annoy you and you can concentrate on what is best for you and your career. Twenty years down the line, you will not regret choosing happiness in organizations like FROZFIZZ rather the gravy train of ACME. In fact, it is better to have worked at series of FROZFIZZ like companies than stick to the pressure and unloved atmosphere of ACME for ten years, even if you start climbing the promotional ladder in to senior management. The one thing that I want to hit you home with, that is almost universal truth, “The People are the Company”.

In software industry, which is a global economy, being comfortable where you work and when you work is the most important reason for having a career. Yes it can be learning Java or Scala or Groovy some other programming language, but if the company is dysfunctional then the world can feel like a horrid place. In this day and age, we are rapidly seeing the decline of a job-for-life. If you cannot change the organization, then change the organization.

Some people, do leave the country just to find that the one opportunity to start an IT career. If you want my advice, and you are seriously considering it, then do it. If nothing else, you will learn a new language, if English is not the native language of country that you will work in, and you will have a different culture and outlook of life to tune it in. It will demonstrate to the world, on your curriculum vitae that you are one of the few who is remarkable, courageous and brave. Although leaving the country is tough and deliberate decision for many people, you can always come back after a few years. Even fewer souls, permanently leave Great Britain for the USA or beyond and never return, their lives changed because they made the decision. It is all about finding alternatives.

Remember you always a choice. Just ask Carol Vorderman [7]. Stay the course, and achieve your dreams of becoming a professional software developer; I guarantee you will not regret it.

Published at DZone with permission of Peter Pilgrim, author and DZone MVB. (source)

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