Is Modesty Ruining Your Chances of Getting a Job?


Nobody likes a showoff, and we’re not just saying that. Studies show that people who blatantly self-promote aren’t as successful or well-liked as their peers. At the same time, showing off your talents in the right way is an essential part of the job search process, especially if you’re hoping to work as a developer.

We catch up with Matt Youell, a Portland, Oregon-based software developer and blogger to discuss some of the challenges in the job search process for developers and why showing off can actually land you a job.

What is your current job title and company name?

I’m currently working on a personal project. Technically I believe that makes me “funemployed” even though I show up at an office every day. I recently left a contract programming position at Intel where my title was Sr. Software Engineer.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? What would you change if you could?

It is wonderful to get to solve problems for a living and to see progress happen as you develop software. In general I wish I could hold an outsider’s perspective on my work though. It’s very easy to lose track of the true value of the things that you create, especially as you get better at your craft.

How did you get into programming? What was your career progression like?

I first learned BASIC on a cheap little home computer when I was about nine years old. This is a common theme among programmers who grew up in the ‘80s.

I didn’t go straight into college. I worked as an electronics assembler, then PC technician, and then tech support analyst. Sometime after I started college I bought my first PC. I decided I wanted to really understand how to program and bought some books on C and C++ and taught myself.

I took a break from college and worked in tech support full-time. By that point I knew I wanted to be a programmer. I got very good at tech support and was eventually able to bargain with a data processing company to take me on as a junior programmer in exchange for my tech support expertise. Over the course of a year I improved their support system and I moved into a programmer role.

What was your major in college? How does it relate to what you’re doing now?

I declared for EE on my first pass at college. I was an electronics geek in my teens and thought that was what I wanted to do. I think that perspective gave me a huge advantage early on in understanding programming and not being intimidated by it.

I eventually went back to study Physics, but some of the best programmers I’ve ever worked with had non-technical degrees like Rhetoric or Medieval History. With that said, a computer science background is incredibly useful. To become a better programmer I’ve had to learn a lot of CS concepts on my own that I would have otherwise learned in school had I been a CS major.

What are some of your pet peeves about the job search/hiring process for programmers?

My biggest pet peeve is how impersonal the hiring process has become. You find a lot of recruiters playing “buzzword bingo,” where they are just looking at your résumé or CV and trying to match technology keywords (jQuery, Backbone.js, etc.) against the requirements their clients have asked for. Even worse, they use search engines to find résumés that match those buzzwords. If you don’t have the right buzzwords on your résumé they will never see you—even if you’re a perfect candidate.

What advice would you give to college students who are interested in pursuing a career in front-end development?

The first piece of advice: Make things. All of the time. Especially for front-end development there is no excuse. Everything you need is available to you. When you make things, show them to people. It’s okay to show off! Build a portfolio and put your projects on GitHub. Even if you’re embarrassed.

The second piece of advice: Get technical. In recent years the front-end has moved from a marginalized ghetto of mostly graphic designers fumbling with small software chores to a full software engineering environment. It’s not enough to know jQuery and “get by” with minimal JavaScript understanding. You need to understand JavaScript very, very well. It wouldn’t hurt to learn a back-end framework like Rails or Django, either.

And finally: Get out and meet people. The number of opportunities you’ll have over your career is directly tied to the number of people you know. When times are good your personal network is how you find the best work. When times are bad, your personal network is how you eat.

Homework time! Matt says that networking is super important, no matter where you are in your career. Make a plan to do at least one networking activity in the next month. This could be attending an event sponsored by your college or an organization you belong to, arranging an informational interview with someone whose job you’re interested in, or taking some time to expand your network on LinkedIn.

Read more of Matt’s writing on his blog and follow him on Twitter @built.


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