College kids across the country are heading back to school, and for the newly graduated it can be a time of reflection and recognition. But for the unemployed post-grad, back-to-school season is just another reminder that everyone is moving on except you. Greg Crane, a member of the Briteskies Magento team, has you covered, though, because he too was once an unemployed, fully qualified Computer Science graduate.
Here’s what Greg has to say about bridging the gap between your college classes and the real world of technology.
I graduated from Baldwin Wallace University a little over a year ago. I absolutely loved my time there as I broadened my horizons, learned new things, and, perhaps most importantly, fell in love with programming and computer science. My time at BWU also introduced me to an interest in Art and Philosophy, something I never knew I would be into.
I want to be clear that I am not knocking BWU in any way, or any other school for that matter, but despite my instructive education, I felt unprepared to enter the tech real world after graduating.
There is a hard disconnect between the skills taught in most tech curriculums and the job you land when you graduate. In a way, this is inevitable since there are so many IT jobs out there that use thousands of different technologies. How can a school curriculum possibly cover them all?
Most universities teach the computer science basics and keep areas of study relatively broad so that students can build a solid foundation. However, the tech industry is so specific and rapidly changing that entering the workforce can seem daunting for someone fresh out of college.
While I (obviously) eventually found a job that I truly enjoy, it took a lot of hard work to go from a diploma to a paycheck. The following are my tips for recent tech graduates based on my experience and the experiences of other post-grads working towards a job in the tech industry.
Take the Internship
I had completed an internship during school that was uninspiring to say the least: there was no one to mentor or train me in the work that needed to be done, and once I finally figured out the programming language at hand, the work ran out and I was assigned to a different task. All of this was before I had any web development experience so it was incredibly frustrating. I completed the internship and vowed to never do that again.
Once I graduated, I wanted to go straight to a full-time job. Internships weren’t even a possibility. Thank goodness I changed my mind, however, because my post-grad internship with Briteskies turned into a full-time position.
Internships can be a great opportunity if you are open to them. It’s a good way to test the waters of not only the company, but also the industry overall. Of course, it helps to work for an organization like Briteskies that has an established internship structure and mentors.
Don’t Stop Learning Once You Finish School
Learn new programming languages, investigate technologies, and read books about your area or discipline. You need to be comfortable learning on your own in order to survive this industry. While technology is never boring due to the rapid pace of change, it requires you to constantly adapt to new situations. There is not a day that goes by that I am not learning something new or how to do something more efficiently.
If you are interested in web development specifically, be sure to learn about these concepts:
- Version Control: Git, Mercurial, etc.
- Programming with interfaces (more info here and here)
- MVC (Model View Controller) Architecture: Magento, Django, ASP.net, etc.
- LAMP Stack or similar stacks: Linux, Apache Web Server, MySql, PHP
- Basic command-line traversal/commands: Many web servers are run in Linux environments with no GUI, so it pays to know your way around.
- Virtual Machines/Sandbox environments
- Requirements Gathering
Most computer science disciplines have certifications. Even if your company does not require them, earn them. It will only make you stand out more and increase your value to prospective or current employers.
Stack Overflow is Your Friend
Stack Overflow and similar sites are an invaluable resource. Many times the problem stumping you and its solution can be found here. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel!
Do Your Research
Some people are in such a hurry to get a full-time job that they will take the first position that is offered to them. No matter how eager you are, be sure to do some research on the company. A great work environment and job enjoyment will trump a larger paycheck more often than not. There are plenty of resources like Glassdoor where you can get a glimpse into the company’s actual work environment.
Stand Out From the Pack
Remember when I mentioned that I discovered an interest in Art and Philosophy while in school? That led to a Philosophy minor and a thesis paper on the Philosophy of Art. While that focus may seem incongruous to my Computer Science major, it helped differentiate me from all of the other applicants for the Briteskies position.
There are so many other computer science grads entering the job market whose resumes are seemingly identical to yours. Be sure to highlight anything unique that you can, including real-world IT experience.
The bottom line is that you have to be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. Landing a job in the real world requires a host of knowledge of information that you may have never even heard of. Educate yourself in the industry and don’t shy away from a challenge; it may be just the opportunity you are looking for.