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From an Unrelated Career To IT/Programming? 374

An anonymous reader writes "I hate my career of the past few years. For a long time I've wondered what I'd do after I broke even and could get into something new, and I keep coming back to computers. I'd like to get into software, since I always enjoyed coding. I have some background with C++ so I'm not starting entirely from scratch. My problem is my degrees and past employment have no practical application to the field. Where should I start? I have friends in both IT and software development who might be able to pull some strings and get me an interview or two for entry-level positions, but what can I do to make myself hireable in a short period of time? Is it possible to pick up enough of what I'd need within a couple months? If so, what and how?"
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From an Unrelated Career To IT/Programming?

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  • Be Proactive (Score:5, Informative)

    by alain94040 ( 785132 ) * on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:47PM (#27270005) Homepage

    Having been a hiring manager for a couple of years, I got used to scanning resumes and deciding within 10 seconds whether to read further or not. Guess what: the one thing that matters is relevant experience.

    How can you get relevant experience in a few months? Contribute to an Open Source project []. Join one of the Fair projects [] listed on my site.

    Contribute. Learn. Then put this fresh experience on your resume. Then you'll be hired (at least you would have a year ago - in this new economy, even Bill Gates would be jobless).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tritonman ( 998572 )
      I'd say the answer is no. I've never looked at a resume and saw that they had no PAID experience and then said, wait, they played around on some open source project, they must be good...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by whiplashx ( 837931 )

        But then how does a person break into the industry?

        The above question was rhetorical. You break into the industry by getting an entry level job. Then you work for 6 months, and get your promotion to the second level, or switch to a better job. 2 years later you have "experience."

        Start with what you love. The money will come later.

        • Re:Be Proactive (Score:5, Insightful)

          by SpuriousLogic ( 1183411 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:12PM (#27270435)
          I think the original poster will have a very difficult time, if not impossible time, getting into the field in anything other than the lowest, least skilled position (with commensurate pay). Just knowing C++ is not enough to break into the field in a few months. I have been doing development for years, and when I start to look for a new job it takes me a few months just to brush up on all the things I already know that are asked in interviews. He/She would be coming into the field with the same experience and less relevant skills than a new graduate, but most likely expecting a higher salary. That would be a large strike against them in the marketplace. Even if he had great business acumen, his stated desire for a tech job specifically requires a strong tech background, and we all know that learning a companies product is much easier than creating the foundation required for a good technical understanding of the field. If the original poster was willing to spend more than a few months in order to break into the industry, they may have a chance, but I don't see any way to accomplish that goal in just a few months of learning. I also don't think that Open Source contribution would be in any way valuable for the individual. Open Source projects don't just want "anyone who wants to code". The vast majority of these projects are run by very highly skilled people with years of experience. The only way to really get experience is to be hired and work in a business setting developing software. Just writing code is NOT experience. My best advice for the original poster is don't try to do this in a few months. Go take out school loans and get a degree in the area. That would be the absolute fastest way to get a mid level or higher job in programming. Otherwise they will spend way more time "climbing the ranks" out of the helpdesk or other low level job they are most likely to get. There really is no shortcut in gaining knowledge and experience. Both are a product of time and effort. Attempts to circumvent that RARELY work.
          • by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @04:50PM (#27273759) Homepage

            On the other hand, I KNOW it can be done. I made a quite insane journey from traditional wooden boatbuilding to computer programmer. It took me a long time, because I got distracted by actually working in IT support (at quite a decent paid level, 3rd line network support), but it could have been done quicker.
            I had no degree (a failed attempt at economics), not a single qualification in computing, and a work history as a guitar teacher and a boatbuilder, and yet I managed to shift into IT, and then into coding. This is how I did it:

            1) I went to evening classes and got some C and C++ exams under my belt.
            2) I coded some ganmes from scratch and started selling them, giving me something visually impressive on my CV
            3) I didn't hide my previous jobs. In fact, I think they helped my CV to stand out
            4) I acted confident about getting every job I went to. Being an ex-musician helped in this. No interview for a job is as scary as playing a gig to a bunch of drunk Hells Angels on a saturday night.

            When I was a boatbuilder, the most hi-tech equipment we had was a telephone. We didn't even have electric screwdrivers, or for that matter, plumbing. The floor was sawdust on concrete. If I can go from that environment to lead programmer, then anyone can do it. That doesn't mean it isn't extremely fucking hard to do so, but I can assure you it is doable.

        • Re:Be Proactive (Score:5, Informative)

          by endikos ( 195750 ) <> on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:15PM (#27270465)

          But then how does a person break into the industry?

          Freelance. Absolutely work on open source projects in your spare time to hone your skills, but then do some paid work for people that know and trust you. Then you have real-world open source volunteer experience as well as paid experience. Lots of small businesses need small utilities or enhancements to existing products they had custom built.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          You may also try to leverage what you do know to get your foot in the door. Using myself as an example, I spent about 5 years doing DBA work, with a smattering of generic desktop support. When I moved across the country, I found myself in a place where straight DBA work was simply unavailable. What I did find was a programming position for a company with a very small IT department who, while looking for a programmer, also needed someone who could do some DBA and general IT work as well. I had pretty much 0
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by the_womble ( 580291 )

          But then how does a person break into the industry?

          The industry has more jobs than programming, and a lot of them are interesting. What about working for a software company that sells to your current industry? I did it myself for an year and liked it.

          Depending on what you do and what your skills are you may be able to write specifications, deal with clients, explain requirements to developers, etc.

      • Re:Be Proactive (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fwice ( 841569 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:03PM (#27270287)

        I'd say the answer is no. I've never looked at a resume and saw that they had no PAID experience and then said, wait, they played around on some open source project, they must be good...

        as a part of my department's hiring team, more weight is given to paid positions, definitely.

        but the programming skill / quality of some of these paid positions is the same as the programming skill / quality of the fuzzies in my sock -- non-existent.

        if you work on an open source project, we can at least look back at the commit tree and see some of the actual codewrites and adds/changes in the tree. in some cases, it gives us more of a knowledge of the applicants skill then someone who is just providing a resume, and using the buzzwords-of-the-{day,month,year}, since we actually have something TANGIBLE to look at. Plus, working on an open source project, the OP may likely start on a low end, handling documentation or tickets, until progressing upwards into the high technical levels -- useful skills to have.

        if you filter out all technical people right off the bat, due to past paid experience or college degree, you may lose a great hire. some of our best workers are non-ee/cs (surpisingly, civil engineers make good coders, and one of our best is a former music major, orchestra performer, & music theory professor). additionally, having someone come in without the 'dogma' from a standard ee/cs education & job background may be refreshing -- as they think and will approach problems in different ways.

        YMMV, but just my experience that cares more about the people than your standard fortune 500 chairfiller...

        • There is one other thing too: If you can show (eventually) some significant contribution (not just bug fixes, etc) to a project, that gives you an additional point to sell your experience. There is a tremendous difference between "I fixed a few bugs in TuxRacer" and "I built an MRP module for LedgerSMB which is now used by over a thousand users." Obviously you can't do that at first, but at some point.....

          One nice thing about this approach is you can pick something which leverages the skillset from your

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          if you filter out all technical people right off the bat, due to past paid experience or college degree, you may lose a great hire.

          This always bugs me - who cares what may happen? What matters is what will probably happen, and when you don't know the guys in the stack, it's a numbers game - optimize your time to make a good hire likely. This implies two courses of action for the submitter - develop your network and get hired through connections, and get experience any way you can. You don't have to choose - do both.

      • Re:Be Proactive (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <> on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:05PM (#27270319) Journal

        Agreed. I had people look at my freelance experience like it was irrelevant:

        HR: "I see here you worked for [company] for only 3 months"

        Me: "It was contract work. I was on a team that built an inventory system for them that uses RFID to track over 1,000,000 discrete pieces of inventory, do automatic ordering, etc. We completed it on time, and all got bonuses. The floor guys liked it so much they threw us a barbeque."

        HR: "So your work wasn't good enough for them to hire you full time?"

        Me: "...It was a contract job."

        HR: "I'll just put, 'No' how about that?"

        • Commiserations. All we can do is just be hopeful that someday, somehow, we'll land the job with the company that really knows how to do things, and with unity and experience, crush those who failed to hire us.

          It seems like companies won't commit to long-term relationships with the people who work for them, yet they expect applicants to show unbending loyalty for decades. Yeesh.

    • Re:Be Proactive (Score:5, Informative)

      by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:58PM (#27270191)

      Hm. I'm not a hiring manager, but was recently hired by a hiring manager (and interviewed by several people from the team I now work with). I was hired for a testing role of a product that involved UNIX (e.g., AIX) as well as Linux. I was freshly out of college with two Bachelor degrees - computer science and music. A few commented on the music thing and asked about it. One thought it was fairly related (e.g., creative thinking and programming SHOULD go together, but often don't). I had NO experience AT ALL with UNIX. I had self-taught experience with most computer stuff, including Linux and all programming (my computer science coursework was mostly review for me).

      I got hired not because of relevant experience, but because I apparently could show that I was hard working and diligent, fairly intelligent, creative [music], familiar with a lot of programming languages (but only "good" with one or two, since I primarily did scripting stuff in the past few years), and able to teach myself (that was a big resume item for me).

      Relevant experience is good, but maybe not for an entry level position? If anything, my manager was more interested in my attitude, willingness to learn, willingness to work hard, etc.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard is that if they ask you if you know a certain technology or language, to always say yes. A good programmer, hell, even a decent programmer will be able to pick up a language fast enough that it won't matter, but an incompetent interviewer or someone who can't program won't understand that.
        • Re:Be Proactive (Score:5, Insightful)

          by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:19PM (#27270521)

          I would disagree. My hiring manager has commented several times on my honesty, as well. I knew I was new and didn't know everything. My response, if asked if I knew something, was "No, but I can learn it." Maybe that sounds tongue in cheek but it's true; I was being considered for a position that I was going to have to learn a lot for, may as well be willing to do so. Furthermore, the people interviewing me actually asked for some examples (e.g., one guy asked about the advantages/disadvantages of Perl, one asked me to write a simple code snippet that would print out an array of somethings, etc).

          Depending on who you end up working for/with, honesty can make you a great person to work with. Everybody hates it when someone doesn't answer a question. I have found that answering honestly (but positively) works very well. Lying in an interview would be even worse than lying on a resume. Which, by the way, I've had several interviewing people mention to me - most people lie on their resume. I didn't, but they still wanted to talk to me if they were interested, resume isn't enough.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Aladrin ( 926209 )

          So you want to work for a company that has incompetent employees? Are you sure you should be lying in interviews and hoping to get the company that can't even hire people properly?

        • I can't remember which industrialist once said it, but your comments are very similar to his. He said:

          If someone asks if you can do a job, you say "Yes sir!" and then go about figuring out how to do it.

        • by Nursie ( 632944 )

          And a good interviewer will then proceed to ask you a few questions and expose the lie.

          As an occasional interviewer I prefer to hear "no". Or "not extensively, though I have used it in", to an outright lie that I'm most definitely going to call you on.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by jwildstr ( 1354869 )
          This is a helluva way to get knocked out of contention. I talked to a teammate who interviewed someone (I'd interviewed them as well, but my area of expertise is different). He asked if they knew pthreads programming, and they said yes. He then talked to them a little about it and it became painfully obvious he had no idea what he was talking about. Be honest. Saying you know something you don't is a good way to come across as untrustworthy. Saying that "I don't know Python, but I've got some experience in
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Relevant experience is good, but maybe not for an entry level position? If anything, my manager was more interested in my attitude, willingness to learn, willingness to work hard, etc.

        But you are young and had some computer education. Changing career paths always happen, but there's some paths that are rather uncommon to switch to, like either you wanted to work with this or you just didn't have the skills or will to. That's exactly what will be questioned here. "Why are you figuring this out first now? Is this something he's really motivated for or is it just because he's fed up with his old career? Has he still got that willingness of a college kid to learn or does he just think he can

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      This advice is good.

      I have been a programmer and manager. I can tell you that without a formal training in the field I wouldn't even bring you in for an interview.

      Programming is more than just knowing a language. The other things you learn when obtaining a CS degree help you be a better programmer that doesn't require a lot of hand holding.

      The only times I've seen this happen have been within a company. If the company you work for has an entry level programming opportunity and you've proven that you have so

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        "I have been a programmer and manager. I can tell you that without a formal training in the field I wouldn't even bring you in for an interview."

        Then I'd say you're missing out on good talent. I have yet to interview ANYONE just out of school who knew a damn thing aside from how to spell "Java" or point click drag, which tells me formal training is crap.*

        *Crap for Web 2.0 Tech, not crap for hardcore stuff like pcb, assembly, medical, science, etc.

        They certainly don't teach troubleshooting skills in school.

        • They certainly don't teach troubleshooting skills in school.

          Nor, typically, how to teach yourself. I was actually homeschooled and more or less "taught myself" for most of my schooling, so I had a bit of an advantage there, hehe.

      • I can tell you that without a formal training in the field I wouldn't even bring you in for an interview.

        Programming is more than just knowing a language. The other things you learn when obtaining a CS degree help you be a better programmer that doesn't require a lot of hand holding.

        AMEN! I agree 100%. The boom times of the late 90s are very long gone. Employers are VERY discriminating today. They don't just want a person who knows a language syntax, they want someone who knows software, and that involves skills FAR beyond language syntax.

    • Re:Be Proactive (Score:4, Interesting)

      by inviolet ( 797804 ) <> on Friday March 20, 2009 @03:09PM (#27272273) Journal

      Having been a hiring manager for a couple of years, I got used to scanning resumes and deciding within 10 seconds whether to read further or not. Guess what: the one thing that matters is relevant experience.

      The reason that everyone gives conflicting advice about "how to get hired" or "what to put on a resume" is that there is no universal formula. There is none, because if there was, everybody would game it, and then it would stop working.

      The stock market works the same way. If someone is publicly advocating or selling a formula, then you already know that the formula doesn't work any more.

      Women work this way too. They must give conflicting signals in order to avoid getting gamed. Only by watching you flop around trying to understand what they say they want, can they gather enough data to infer your true character.

      There will never be a general success formula for any of these realms, because the payoffs (salary / money / womb-space) are too big.

  • and some reserves in the bank (or mattress) should see you through til you can catch up.

    Life is too short to work in a job you hate, so go for it dude(tte).

    • by nizo ( 81281 ) *

      Luckily it is never too late to switch to a new career you end up despising as it sucks the life out of you and makes you age at twice the normal speed.

      And the bitterness, don't underestimate that.

    • Agreed. Don't listen to the nay-sayers, you can do anything you put your mind to. Difficult != Impossible.

      Read books, join communities, and get working on open source projects. In a couple years you'll be marketable. Start-ups are always looking for people who work cheap and hard.

      I have hired many people off the street who had no paid experience. Some of them have gone on to surpass me by a mile.

  • by mtrachtenberg ( 67780 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:50PM (#27270045) Homepage

    "no practical application to the field"

    Try management.

  • Make it all up.... the worst that could happen is that you would get fired after a few months. But, believe me, there's a lot of shoddy programmers out there, so, you'd be hard pressed to do worse than some of the "pros" that are out there.

    • Well, though obviously I can't advocate that approach, it's frankly not a bad idea. Your first hurdle is HR, and HR wants 5 years of this and 6 years of that, and they are going to toss everything that doesn't conform to those standards.

      I've seen plenty of incompetent people lie their way through HR, so it definitely works. Now, if you do that, and get hired and it turns out you don't know what you're doing, you can expect your coworkers to turn on you big time. Nothing worse than an incompetent coworker: it's better to have no one at all.

      • by tech10171968 ( 955149 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:33PM (#27270767)

        "I've seen plenty of incompetent people lie their way through HR, so it definitely works."

        I blame a lot of this on companies who rely too much on HR to screen the resumes. When you submit a resume in hopes of scoring an interview, the first person to see it is the "Gatekeeper" in HR. Oftentimes that HR drone doesn't know the first damned thing about the industry for which the company is hiring, so they'll often read a resume a little differently from the hiring manager (who would at least have a clue). HR just scans the resumes and relies on bullet points and keywords; as a result a lot of talent can be completely overlooked because someone who otherwise might just have the chops didn't use the right words or format. Many people have found that careers can be affected by some nitpicking secretary so some will "pad" their resumes just to get by the clueless gatekeeper. In fact, I've even heard the argument that a lot of folks aren't necessarily getting their certs for the job itself; instead, they're getting them just to get past HR.

        • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @02:13PM (#27271343) Homepage Journal

          When you submit a resume in hopes of scoring an interview, the first person to see it is the "Gatekeeper" in HR. Oftentimes that HR drone doesn't know the first damned thing about the industry for which the company is hiring, so they'll often read a resume a little differently from the hiring manager (who would at least have a clue).

          That definitely jibs with my experience. I don't think I've ever gotten a job through the usual send-us-a-resume process. (My resume sucks. Forgot to finish my BA, and there's some holes in my experience where I was fighting illness.) But I've had more luck when I've been able to connect with the hiring manager directly and convince them that I could do the work.

          (LinkedIn is good for that. But be selective about who you network with, or else the signal-to-noise ratio in your contact list will drop to zero. In particular, refuse all the invitations to network that you'll get from professional recruiters.)

          HR isn't the only problem here. Upper management also tends to frown on people with weak backgrounds, no matter how much the hiring manager wants them.

          Helps to start as a contractor. You do a good job, convince enough people that you're valuable, and you end up with a lot of advocates that upper management and HR can't ignore.

          And of course you want to beef up your resume any way you can. Contributing to open source project (as others have suggested) is good, as is any other kind of volunteer activity that shows you have relevant skills. You should also look at getting some of those certificates and credentials that abound in the tech industry. Yeah, I know, most of them are bogus. But many of them aren't. And even the ones that are bogus help you get past the bureaucrats.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by GMFTatsujin ( 239569 )

      And hey! After you're fired, you can *still* legitimately put that time down on your resume as professional experience! It's a win either way!

  • by drdanny_orig ( 585847 ) * on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:53PM (#27270091)
    Speaking as someone who's been involved in IT for 30+ years, allow me to shout at you...."You're going the wrong way!!!"
    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:01PM (#27270245)

      Seriously. Unless his previous job involved rendering pork fat or defusing mines, he should probably just stay where he is. Leave IT to those of us who made the mistake of getting in years ago and are now stuck because our minds have warped so much that we're unfit for normal society.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Speaking as someone who's been involved in IT for 30+ years, allow me to shout at you...."You're going the wrong way!!!"

      Kara Thrace, is that you?

    • IT is a bottomless pit of despair. I used to love computers, now I don't even own one outside of my work laptop (provided by my company). Go flip burgers, at least then you can stare at jailbait girls and get free food, and most importantly you know you'll work your hours and that's it.
    • by guidryp ( 702488 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @03:02PM (#27272175)


      It is an outsourced jungle these days. Do you really want to justify why you think you are worth 10 times the salary of a coder in China? Or work for a while then train your Chinese replacements, spend EARLY morning and evenings across the timezones on calls with them to make sure everything is finally working out their new team, so they can cut you.

      Meanwhile your company is going down the toilet while your execs reward themselves for reducing salary expenses with drastic moves to low cost centers.

      Not a career I would recommend unless you are in some high security area that can't be outsourced.

      Best of luck.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by radtea ( 464814 )

      "You're going the wrong way!!!"

      My thoughts exactly. I have two teenage kids and while I'm making sure they both know how to code (Python and pygame FTW!) I'm discouraging them from going into anything that looks like "software development" as a career.

      Software development skills are being commoditized very rapidly, both due to advances in technology and offshoring. Better frameworks, better libraries, and relatively simple and safe languages like Python and Java are allowing junior developers to do stuff

  • Small time.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The Dancing Panda ( 1321121 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:53PM (#27270097)
    You're not going to get hired by any of the big boys, because they all want degrees and experience. A small time shop writing business software is something you might be able to get into. If you didn't know, business software is by far the easiest and most boring software you can write. But, it all needs to be written, and that's where you can get your start. You could also just get an MCSE. That's easy enough if you have a bit of cash, and the letters next to your name can get you hired.
    • That's a funny way to spell MCSD.

      • Whatever, they're all the same. Useless classes and a piece of paper that can get you into an interview.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Whatever, they're all the same. Useless classes and a piece of paper that can get you into an interview.

          Which is why our economy is all fucked up. Its inherent in the culture we've built that values bullshit over substance.

  • by Smoky D. Bear ( 734215 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:55PM (#27270125)
    Understanding the business, understanding what the code needs to accomplish and being able to communicate with the users can be just as valuable as coding experience. This does depend on the company. Highlight these areas. It will tend to look you look a bit more than a manager than a programmer, but you will get your foot in the door.
  • Wow (Score:4, Informative)

    by exhilaration ( 587191 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:56PM (#27270143)
    How bad is it that you're actually considering changing jobs in this economy? IMHO, you'd be a fool to give up a paying job now for something uncertain.
  • by SpuriousLogic ( 1183411 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:57PM (#27270167)
    Programming can be very hard to transfer into, given the demand for experience and specific knowledge in the field (the US Dept of Labor sites this as one of the reasons less people enter into the field over others for second jobs). It would be almost impossible for you to get into anything other than an entry level support job (think helpdesk). Getting a job as a full developer will be a very difficult proposition. You might be able to get a job doing some "simple" development in a small shop though (think perl, php, that kind of stuff). Compare yourself to a college grad with a degree in Comp Sci (or similar degree) - graduates in this years class are seeing a very tough job market, even though software engineering is comparably untouched by the ongoing depression. These grads would have a level of experience similar to yours, but most likely be willing to work for less, and have been formally trained in the field. My suggestion would be to spend a significant amount of time learning the field, not just a language syntax. Go to a college website, see the books that are used for the classes, and start in on them. There is MUCH MUCH more to programming that just knowing a language syntax.
    • That sums up pretty much how I got into the programming career, did a few PHP/HTML related internships through college, then started out doing basic scripting with Python and Bash at my first real job after getting a degree. Now a couple years later I'm working on a utility used to configure and sell multi-million dollar orders. I think its pretty much a given that everyone who is starting out doing programming must start out really low level, and then based on the performance and conditions resulting from
    • You can read the report at [] [] from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Specifically look at the Training and Outlook sections before you make your decision. It sounds like you would have ALOT of work to do to even make the most basic entry level job.
  • It's possibly a tough route, but domain knowledge is as important, if not more, than technical skill.

    You don't say what your current area is but is there an opportunity to stay in the same field, but in an IT role?

  • by Stiletto ( 12066 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:58PM (#27270183)

    In the absence of professional experience or coursework, I'd look for a portfolio of non-professional software projects you've worked on. Have you worked on any open source projects? If so, in what capacity? Did you submit patches, fix bugs, assist in documentation? Can you provide an example of a routine or software module you have written and are particularly proud of?

    Also, good organizations will ask interviewees to discuss, at an abstract level,

      * Algorithms
      * Data structures
      * Pointers
      * Recursion
      * Object oriented design concepts

    And really good ones will ask interviewees to write and read/explain source code during their interview. Be prepared to do that.

    Watch out for organizations that demand a certain level of niche domain experience or knowledge of a particular API/language/library/technology, yet claim to be looking for "entry-level" people. You're probably wasting your time talking to someone like that, if you're just getting into the biz.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tgd ( 2822 )


      I asked a question about pointers in an interview once... the answer, paraphrased was:

      "Pointers? Here's a pointer. If you're not writing device drivers, use a language like C# or Java that doesn't have them."

      He got hired. I needed a Java guy who solved problems in a Java way.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        C# and Perl pay my bills right now, but I was hired based on an interview question that was something like "how do you reverse a linked list?", which is a classical pointer question. As Joel puts it: []

        I've come to realize that understanding pointers in C is not a skill, it's an aptitude. In first year computer science classes, there are always about 200 kids at the beginning of the semester, all of whom wrote complex adventure games in BASIC for their PCs when they were 4 years old. They are having a good ol' time learning C or Pascal in college, until one day they professor introduces pointers, and suddenly, they don't get it. They just don't understand anything any more. 90% of the class goes off and becomes Political Science majors, then they tell their friends that there weren't enough good looking members of the appropriate sex in their CompSci classes, that's why they switched. For some reason most people seem to be born without the part of the brain that understands pointers. Pointers require a complex form of doubly-indirected thinking that some people just can't do, and it's pretty crucial to good programming. A lot of the "script jocks" who started programming by copying JavaScript snippets into their web pages and went on to learn Perl never learned about pointers, and they can never quite produce code of the quality you need.

  • Strategy (Score:4, Informative)

    by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <> on Friday March 20, 2009 @12:59PM (#27270213) Homepage Journal

    You don't give us much to go on, but surely software is used in your field . . . whatever it is. You probably already know more about that domain than most programmers already working in it. You might want to get as far away from that field as possible, but I doubt you can afford to not use your experience as a key selling point.

    You probably don't want to hear this, but you're starting over. Without a relevant degree. So you're going back to entry level. I hope your finances are in order.

    So, for example, you might apply to the support department for a software package that you use in your current field. I do QA, and I often say, "QA is a ghetto", but that's another possible entry point.

    Once you get your foot in the door on the technical side you might be able to move toward programming if you bust your hump. For years. Largely without recognition. Be prepared, not just to prove yourself, but to prove your self over and over until someone actually notices. And then to that again until someone who is willing to take a chance on you notices.

    Then, some day, if you put in a hero's effort, you might be able to be an entry-level programmer.

    You've picked a tough row to hoe, sir.


    • Once you get your foot in the door on the technical side you might be able to move toward programming if you bust your hump. For years. Largely without recognition. Be prepared, not just to prove yourself, but to prove your self over and over until someone actually notices. And then to that again until someone who is willing to take a chance on you notices.

      I cannot stress this enough. The original poster would actually achieve entry-level programmer status FASTER if they went back to school for a relevant degree. Getting to the point of actually programming at anything other than the smallest shops would take such a significant amount of time, that you have to wonder if there would be any benefit at all to making the career change.

    • Re:Strategy (Score:5, Informative)

      by microTodd ( 240390 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:28PM (#27270681) Homepage Journal

      Then, some day, if you put in a hero's effort, you might be able to be an entry-level programmer.

      Peter, I understand why you are being negative (as with most of the replies here). Programming is not an easy field to succeed in. But neither is any other field. And besides, why are we discouraging someone to do what he loves?

      You probably already know more about that domain than most programmers already working in it

      This advice you give in the beginning is very good, and something that I tell all wanna-be programmers, whether they are CS grads or something else. There are very few "pure" programming jobs, maybe just Google, Microsoft, and Apple. But in the world today, every field requires software somewhere in it.

      You ask the right question...what is it you are doing now? Because its is 99% likely that his current career has some niche need for software.

      Car mechanic - Parts inventory and job tracking
      Musician - MIDI interfaces
      Lawn mower - Job scheduling and business backend (bookkeeping)
      Restaurant manager - Server scheduling, inventory, POS, (wireless handheld order entry?)
      Truck driver - Log management

      and so forth.

      I've always thought, its easier to get an expert in some knowledge domain and teach them to program, than it is to take a programmer and try to teach them some knowledge domain.

  • try it old school (Score:5, Interesting)

    by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:01PM (#27270233) Journal
    Learn fortran, cobol, mumps, pick, ada, k, and other legacy or non-mainstream languages. Companies that use them generally have a hard time finding people that know them, so you can get in without the experience.
  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:01PM (#27270247)

    The market for IT is horrible right now and will probably get worse before it gets better. All the jobs are contract, temporary, and there's a high ratio of applicants to available positions. And the disconnect between those doing the hiring and those who have the ability do evaluate your technical skills? Let's just say HR can put on their job requirements "Five years Windows Vista" and will not look at your resume (for being honest), while some joker will get the job because he's willing to taylor his resume to whatever lies HR is looking for. There is no oversight. There are few left in this industry that actually do the hiring/screening and so a bunch of useless requirements now pervade many job listings. Legitimate workers can't find legitimate work because they're not being hired by anyone in the industry anymore... Everything (and I mean everything) is outsourced, contracted, subcontracted, then thrown in the basement bound and with a ball gag in its mouth. It's reinforced by the attitude that IT workers are a nearly unlimited and with 10% unemployment rates in some areas now and schools pumping out "msce certified technicians" by the boatload -- the industry itself is rotting due to an inability to actually see real talent in all the crap. It doesn't help that most of the jobs that used to be here are now overseas.

    My advice? Start filling out applications for customer service, or find some really rare niche tech job and learn it. But the entry level is saturated to the point of disbelief, as far as I can tell.

    - in the Midwest, YMMV.

  • by Twillerror ( 536681 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:01PM (#27270251) Homepage Journal

    I'm sure there will be a lot of posts about how much expeirence counts. Sometimes it counts in the opposite way.

    Almost everytime I hired an experienced developer I was not happy and paid to much. When I got a kid out of school
    and was smart it almost always worked out better.

    The thing to ask yourself is do you really like coding and are you good at it. If you do and your hungry you'll find a way in.
    Chances are you will lap other expeirenced developers that you come across. The kind that have never heard of slashdot for sure.

    You can always demo in an interview. Create some silly little app and demo it with excitement. How well you communicate the idea
    will let the employer know if you are write for their team.

  • by C10H14N2 ( 640033 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:01PM (#27270261)

    ...and just start programming in it.

    Hopefully, you have a relatively coherent background that is focused in some way. "IT/Programming" is a HUGE field. You can't really just get an "IT job" of any sort of quality. I mean, programming WHAT? Recipe apps for iPhones or reactor controls for ballastic missile submarines?

    Think of this as changing your _role_ in your existing field rather than changing fields entirely. Hiring managers will be far more likely to listen to you if you present yourself as a seasoned professional in a specific field who is willing to expand their responsibilities, rather than a Johnny-come-lately with little to no skills and zero relevance.

  • Academia. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by saintlupus ( 227599 )

    One place that you might want to consider looking is academia -- in my experience, colleges and universities tend to be more relaxed about your official background and certifications and more concerned with whether or not you can do the job. Plus, most schools will allow you to take classes for free, which would help you get some "official" education on your resume.

    Even smaller schools generally have a dedicated coding team working in the IT department. Send some resumes to the "Director of Information Tech

  • by geminidomino ( 614729 ) * on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:02PM (#27270279) Journal

    1. You didn't mention what career you were leaving, but if you can have strings pulled, remember that an entry-level position will carry entry-level pay. Have a nice cushion to take up the slack, especially in this economy.

    2. Do SOMETHING. Paid experience is best. OSS isn't as good. "Hobby projects" are only marginally better than nothing. For the latter two, something demonstrable is almost nonnegotiable.

    3. Get your head examined. :) If you enjoy coding, nothing will kill that love faster than doing it day-in, day-out under the "guidance" of PHBs and Marketing-directed design... (What? Me? Bitter?)

  • There are too many qualified applicants for every job these days. I seriously doubt you'll have any luck. Try again when the economy heats up again.

  • I worked as a security officer for 7 years and had no relevant IT experience. I spent the majority of my time pulling pc's from the garbage and building/fixing them. I took a cut in pay from being a security supervisor to work a small tech support job. I spent one year doing this, 1 year at a slightly higher paying job, and ended up making over two times what I used to make in 2 years. The secret was just getting some experience and now I have a very awesome career in IT. Anyone can do this if they love wha
  • I don't know what your past career was. But taking what you know, about your past career, and merging it with computers might be a viable solution. Ie find out how tech is holding back what you do in your existing job. Or find a way tech can improve it. And then create that solution. It is tough to do, but would let you marry what you've done with the past to program development and open up many oportunities for you. I did this at my first job, where i replaced a terrible order entry system. It has w
  • Want a low risk (especially with our current economy) way to gain experience? Join the Air Force. They'll take anyone that can pass a test, train you and send you on your way with 4 years of experience. A very large portion of the useful people come back working their same job as a contractor for twice the money.

    I hate the Air Force, but it got me where I am today.
  • by ThatDamnMurphyGuy ( 109869 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:07PM (#27270357) Homepage

    I was a double music major in college: a BA in Music Ed K-12, and a BA in Music Perf. Percussion. I got my teaching certificate, then promptly went into programming. For me, the key seems to be just programming. All you can. All the time.

    My last 2 years of school, I started doing HyperCard scripting, then UserLand scripting, then VB and whatever I could get my hands on, doing whatever departmental projects I could do, like test taking apps, etc. Then I worked my way into web pages, html, and doing the department web site.

    I've been at it for 14 years now doing .NET, Perl, SQL, Rails, Catalyst, Django...all without a programming degree or background. So, my advice would be:

    1. Don't expect someone to hand you a job by pulling strings
    2. Program. If you love it, do it all the time. The best job is one where you get paid to do what you would do as a hobby.
    3. Keep at it. Be a sponge, and show you can the job by doing as much as you can outside of that job. Contribute to open source. Work on other projects. Start your own projects. Get yourself noticed.

    For the "hiring manager" who say they never hire anyone with o experience on their resume, I'd say we all had none when we started. Conversly, I've seen awesome people who can't even tell me how to anything more than MS point and click.

    • I was a double music major in college: a BA in Music Ed K-12, and a BA in Music Perf. Percussion.

      Yay for double majors and music majors! (BS in CS and BM in Composition, for me)

  • You've hit the nail on the head with the question about relevant experience -- it's the first thing people look for when hiring; it's way more important than qualifications.

    I see two ways to get in:

    (a) Contribute to some OSS projects that are relevant to the sort of coding you want to get into. Bear in mind that it will take you some time to build up enough experience doing this for it to really count for anything.

    (b) Look for coding jobs in the industry you were previously in -- ie a cross-over job. For ex

  • At my last company I was part of a team of 16 software developers. Only two of us had CS degrees. The rest had degrees in finance, economics, electrical engineering, and math. We worked in a financial company, so economics degrees were a natural fit to solving the problems we were given.

    So hopefully you could use your current knowledge to program within a certain domain.

    As for experience, I suggest contributing to some open source projects and taking on small contract work if you feel you can handle it.

  • by Faizdog ( 243703 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:10PM (#27270399)

    One thing you may find is that generic coding jobs may be boring/unexciting for you and also hard to get into. I would advise you leverage your current experience, and see where new software may help in your current field, or what is it about the existing software that you feel is lacking and/or needs improvement.

    It will also make it easier for you to get a job that way. "I don't have software experience, but due to x years of experience in this field, I understand the ins and outs and that will be invaluable while I build up software design and implementation experience."

    If you were a biologist, look at bioinformatics, if you were in real estate look at companies building better MLS tracking software, if you were a teacher, look at jobs with a company like Blackboard, you get the idea.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:10PM (#27270403)
    ... to your degree and experience that you could utilize newly gained computer experience. Computers are a tool used to get stuff done.

    You didn't say what your current career field is, but in many cases, unless you're looking for pure IT, the subject matter experience is more important and computer experience is a tool you use, or help others use, in that field.

    For example, someone with lots of physics experience and some CS experience is probably a better candidate to do physics programming than someone with just a CS degree - though, obviously, not always...

  • I'm probably going to get modded as a troll, particularly amongst the linux elite, but depending on what you are interested in, what about iPhone development? Right now it seems the application waiting list is a bit long and delayed, but if, at some point you get in, would you consider creating a project on your own for the general consumer populace? Taking the initiative and creating applications on your own which can be readily identified in the market space might be a good thing to add to your resume,

    • by Trillan ( 597339 )

      Actually, the wait time for an individual is still about two days. As a company, you'd likely face a longer wait.

      I think this is a great idea. The iPhone SDK is simple to develop for compared to desktop environments, and the Objective-C language is close enough to C++ to have a bit of a head start, but far enough away to be something new.

      If you [submitter] own an iPhone and a Mac, the cost to get in is $100. Even if you don't, a new 2nd generation iPod touch will cost about $230, and a low-end Mac mini is a

  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:22PM (#27270571) Journal

    I can't recommend becoming a "coder" given the current business conditions.

    What is in desperate need is process-oriented software project managers. The good news is that you can come at this with a bit of coding background if you combine it with rigorous project management training on the PMP [] track. I'll admit that half of employers won't look at you as a project manager if you don't have "10 years coding experience," but the other half will be willing to overlook a depth of coding experience if you have a solid process-oriented project management training and attitude. And once you've landed a job as a software project manager and get a project or two under your belt, you will have the cred to work anywhere.

    Even if you do move forward with a "coder" career, I suggest you bone up on your software project management processes, and point out in resumes and interviews that you are serious about project process.

    There are 100 million potential coders on the planet, but if you are the kind of coder who can also gather requirements (in English, on site in the US ;), create work breakdown structures, generate project plans and test plans, track the project, and demonstrate successful testing, you will shine a bit above folks who can't, even if you have not ever written a compiler in class.

  • Check in with your local hospital or community college. Those institutions are notorious for having lots of small fiefdoms of IT rather than the monolithic, highly structured corporate IT world. In some of these fiefdoms you'll find that anyone who can hack an Excel macro will be considered a programming god. Hospitals are also much more willing to hire people with unproven or short time experience because they can't afford much more. If you are in any way competent, you may make yourself a nice niche
  • One of my friends here in Boston/Cambridge did this. He went to Harvard and hold a PhD in Political Science. I'd say that's pretty far from a programming-related field.

    Then one day he thought that he wanted to be a developer instead. He taught himself Ruby and Rails and started hanging out with the right people (this is a really key part of things). He makes continuous learning a priority. In a relatively short period of time he turned himself into a wonderful developer. I've had some people do code revie
  • Why not just take some classes (possibly online courses) to show some background experience? Maybe even get a degree? Not sure how cost effective it may be, but whatever helps can't hurt if you're willing to pay for it.
  • Christ, I've been working in IT for just shy of a year, and I already feel burnt out. Of course, that is working in more of a user-focused area, namely the helpdesk, so I can't speak for the coding or development-oriented jobs although I imagine they are far cushier. If want to retain your sanity, do not go into anything resembling support if you can help it, although without any prior experience it might be tricky.

  • Sorry, I wish I could say "Sounds great, here is how you do it". Good developers are educated and experienced. With niche industries (aerospace, medical, etc.) where there is oversight one needs to understand engineering practices (design principles) and process practices (XP, Configuraion Management, ISO, DO-178B, MISRA, etc.). Programming skill requires understanding other aspects like cost, information hiding and best practices for architecting code. The good developers that have spent years educatin
  • Assuming it's your intent to get paid to do something you enjoy rather than getting rich in the next two months, you can establish credibility by getting code included in a non-trivial open-source project.

    Combine that with networking to meet programmers who have jobs and could recommend you to their firms.

    Also, sign up with a few local IT consulting firms who can get you contract work while you are waiting for something substantial (who knows--you may enjoy contracting).

  • Every single computer nerd has at least the skill level you've stated. If you want an entry-level programming position, you are competing with hundreds of thousands of kids right out of high school, every year. The only thing that's going to set you apart is your experience, and if that experience isn't programming-related, you need to get some.

    Contributing to personal or open-source projects is a great way to start. If you can describe some of the work you've done (the nature of your contributions), thi

  • If you are willing to promise to never, ever, test your code on anything other than your own workstation before unleashing it on the general public, you will be perfect to work here. []

    Large egos, poor communication skills, and inability to take criticism are a bonus as well [], it appears.

    Just send your application in to /dev/null for prompt processing.
  • This is how I did it (Score:2, Informative)

    by elloGov ( 1217998 )
    Yes, relevant experience is important. Everyone wants x years of experience. Well, how do you get that experience if no one is hiring at entry-level?

    You like to program, want to get into it. You are certain that you will be able to get the job done only if someone gives you a chance. Someone taking a chance on you is exactly what you need. To get to that point, you have to start programming.

    Read object oriented programming principles, a book on JAVA would do to get an idea on things. Pick a project yo
  • I'd recommend going into testing in a medium or large company. A big product with lots of user interface needs a lot of testing, and a significant part of this testing requires someone to sit at the console and follow a script. So not much software skill is required. This is a pretty boring job, but it gets you in the door.

    Then look for ways to do software-like things. Start by writing some of the scripts, based on the requirements. Test groups tend to be small, under-funded and loosely organised, so a
  • It doesn't mention what you are doing now, but I would try staying within the same vertical.

    You might be (Equal to) a junior coder, but you still have X years experience in that industry, and that still counts for something, even if you are doing sales or whatever else, and now you are programming in that field, that gives you a lot of business experience that others don't have and that will count for something. Try to find out about your potential job role, you might just get an advisory role to begin with

  • IT != Programming (Score:3, Informative)

    by catmistake ( 814204 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @01:49PM (#27271001) Journal

    IT is Information Technology, and Programming is software development. Unless you specifically mean software development for information technology, I'd say the question is wrong headed. Its like asking how to bust into the field of auto-mechanics/taxi driving.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fm6 ( 162816 )

      You're quite correct to distinguish between "information technology" in the strictest sense and programming. (And other computer/network disciplines, for that matter.) But the looser sense is pretty common, and it's not going to go away.

      It's sort of like another bit of loose terminology I've stopped objecting to (and even started using myself): "broadband" as in "lots of bandwidth". If you know about the broadband/baseband distinction, the now-common usage sounds kind of dumb. But there's no getting rid of

  • by SpuriousLogic ( 1183411 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @02:04PM (#27271213)
    You will be able to get a job in IT much more easily than in programming. Now, I know this is going to get some wicked replies, but IT is easier than Programming to enter into as the formal education requirement is much lower. I spent 7 years doing very large scale UNIX support (10,000 workstations, 900 servers, at that time one of the largest UNIX installations on the planet), and another 7 doing large scale "enterprise" development (large volume transaction processing),and hands down, the complexity of the issues in programming is much greater than in IT support. You can get a job doing helpdesk support and move into a small scale administration job in a small number of years. Getting into a entry-level programming job without either formal education or a significant amount of other IT experience will be difficult if not impossible in anything other than the smallest shop. The jobs are also very different. IT has you up at all hours, often fighting small campfires and blazing infernos. Shit roles downhill much faster in IT than any other job on the planet, and the stress can be considerable. However, the technical knowledge barrier for entry is not as high in the field as in programming. Programming on the other hand does not have as much of the firefighting, and is indeed lower stress, but some of the problems to be solved are very difficult, and doing something wrong can have very large penalties. Contrary to popular belief, most of the time spent by developers is not actually coding, be aware of that. And you are more than likely to not develop new applications, rather you will be supporting or enhancing a existing application. The two areas are very different, so make sure you want to get into programming and not IT. Either way, it will be a rough road without formal training or significant amounts of experience and the areas involve different skill sets. Spend some time determining which area is the most interesting for you. To get a helpdesk job, you could get some MCSE certs in a fairly short time which would help get you on a Windows support desk fairly quickly. Programming is a different beast. In that case I suggest getting a formal education, as going back to school will get you a entry level programming job faster than "working your way" through the ranks. Be aware that just knowing a language syntax is not enough to program anything other than the smallest applications. Programmers who just know syntax are the worst of all breeds and are thoroughly reviled - don't become one of those.
  • by ewenix ( 702589 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @02:37PM (#27271699) Journal
    Before you potentially ruin something that you enjoy as a hobby, take a good look at the situation.
    I'd recommend investing in something like: []

    Take into consideration your age. Are you going to fit in with a bunch of 20 somethings fresh out of school?
    Corporate culture will differ with the company, but your co-workers "mini culture" will have a big effect.

    Is this really something you can do long term?
    By that I mean, the sheer amount of IT work in your geographic area.
    If you work for company A and it goes under or you decide to leave, what else is available?
    (You will have to compete with a much larger pool of candidates if you try a tele-commuting gig.)

    Do you enjoy your family, hobbies, etc? Plenty of IT jobs regularly require far more than 40 hours/week. Are you prepared for this as a long term situation?

    If after all that you still want to give it a shot and your contacts will pull a few strings then give it a shot.....and may God have mercy on your soul.

  • by 1s44c ( 552956 ) on Friday March 20, 2009 @05:42PM (#27274393)

    To get a feel for what IT is like try the following:

    Write a useful program for some open source project. Redesign and rewrite it until you are happy it's as good as can be.

    Do the above in the chimpanzee enclosure at the zoo. With the chimpanzees throwing their turds at you whilst you type. Do it in half the time it takes to do it right. Spend half of your remaining time explaining how the software works to the dumbest chimpanzee, call him the PHB. Have the second dumbest chimpanzee write every third line of code for you. Once you have finished give the chimpanzees your phone number and expect them to call you every time the software they didn't let you write correctly fails.

    Seriously, working in IT for a multinational isn't in any way fun. At least stick to small sane companies.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell