I am not saying that a degree is not helpful, Jason says. What I am saying is that it is not at the top of most IT managers list of credentials for an entry-level programmer. I believe that on-the-job experience is worth a lot more than a college education. I could tear up my diploma from technical school, and probably high school, too, Jason says. As long as I can program, Ill have a job. The only negative thing a
youngerprogrammer might run into is older programmers who have been with the company for a long time. Sometimes they dont like the fact that a young person with no college education can walk in and get a very competitive salary. But just keep in mind that if you can do the programming, you deserve the job as much as anyoneelse.
There are twosometimes threemain aspects to an entry-level programming job, Jason points out.
The first is program maintenance, which is making modifications to programs that were written by somebody else. The second is writing new programs, using specs provided by a systems analyst or programmer/analyst. And, third, a young programmer might get to work directly with a
user, designing the specsfor a new program.
Chances are that a lot of your work as a young programmer will be the maintenance of programs. This is the least desirable, because writing new programs and designing new programs will give you much more experience much faster. A programmer with a years experience writing
brand-newprograms will probably be more knowledgeable than someone who spent two yearsdoing maintenance.
Still, even though a new programmer has to do a lot of maintenance, it is possible to get a job in which you can
spendsome time writing new programsor even working with end users, designing programs. The best way to do this is to go to work at a smaller company rather than a big one. You may make a little less money at first, but the experience will be excellent. The entry-level programmer who goes into a shop with two or three programmers will have more programming responsibility than someone in a company with a programming staff of 100, and therefore will learn more.
Do not take a job in which you will be maintaining programs for three years, or writing only print programs. In the interview, ask what your responsibilities will be. You want to be spending at least some of your time on new programs. Also, a job where you will get to work with users or
clientsis an excellent opportunity. It will be challenging but also rewarding.
Another thing to look for in your first job, Jason says, is a company that is using mainstream softwarea package used by other companies that are in the same type of business. Use the Internet, newspapers, or magazines to find out what kinds of software packages are in use by a lot of companies. Experience with a particular package can be more
valuablethan experience in a particular language.
Jason feels that it is important to sell yourself, even if you aren t sure what an IT manager is looking for in terms of skills.
Make sure you present yourself well, Jason recommends. Chances are that the manager will be looking at your verbal skills, since communication is a big part of programming. Jason agrees with Gene Bonett that it s important to show your boss that you ll be a zealous worker: You must have an
eagerattitude toward learning.
Send lots of rsums. Ads on the Internet or in the newspaper are an
excellentsource of jobs. Even if the ad calls for two years experience or sounds as if it pays too much money for your qualifications, send the rsum anyway. Chances are that the company might have an entry-level opening soon; this is a fast-moving business. I sent rsums out to companies looking for ten yearsexperience. Also, the company staffer who placed the ad might know someone at another firm who is looking for a programmer at your level. Make sure you call the company a week after you ve sent the rsum. This is to make sure they got it. Well, it is also forces them to remember your name, and if they have to look for your rsum, it will now be on top.
As you move from job to job, which you will if you want to increase your salary quickly, there are things you should keep in mind. This is a business where a paycheck isn t the only thing you get from a job. You also get an education. Try to learn from people there. Take advantage of books they have and people that are above you. Find someone there that you can use as a mentor and become his or her friend. They could do you a lot of good. Also, try to get in on as many big projects as you can. If you are doing all maintenance after six months, tell your boss that your skill level is now good enough to enable you to write new programs. The key to learning is writing new programs, important programs.
The programmer who is happy changing the headings on all of the
reportsin the company, or standardizing display file colors and function keys for five years, will probably be doing the same thing until he retires.
And always show a good work
ethic. Work hard and show up all the time. Make friendswith co-workers, bosses, and clients. When you leave a company, leave on the best terms you can. Make sure you give notice. Your new employerswill respect you for making them wait two or three weeks instead of just walking out on your old company.
I have friends who have worked for software vendors, and later on went to work for one of the vendor s clients because they knew the package well. I have friends who worked for a company and went on to work for that company s software
vendors. I have had bosses who left companies I was working for to go somewhere else, and when they got there, they called me with a job offer.
These opportunities will definitely happen when you treat your employer right. If you walk out without notice or don t work hard for them, down the road you will apply for a job, and guess who will be working there? Your old boss. Market yourself well and make a lot of friends; they will help you in the future.
After learning Java on his own time, Jason landed a more challenging, more creative job, at a substantial salary increase, at a small software company outside Philadelphia.
They were looking for someone with solid RPG experience who could write Java and HTML, he says. I like working for a smaller company; I get a lot more exposure here. And now I get to work with RPG, Java functions, Web stuff, WebSphere . . . It takes a more complex set of skills to know three or four different technologies. Change is good.
When he left his old firm, Jason gave three weeks notice, and his colleagues and managers gave him a farewell luncheon. He did what he advises other programmers to do: He left them smiling.
If you re a fledgling programmer who s afraid to leave a job that bores you, or who believes there are projects you can t master, Jason s exuberance and self-confidence should be a bracing tonic. His tips on how to look for work, how to impress an interviewer, and how to acquire the business knowledge you need should bolster your own