4 steps to becoming an employable self-taught developer


Developers are in demand. In the U.S, it’s a $1,989 billion industry and makes up 10% of the national economy. Approximately 3.9 million tech jobs were posted in 2020 with software, programmers, web, and QA being the highest in demand.

In addition to this, dev work is lucrative. A proficient developer can easily bring in a six-figure income. Yet, many of us still struggle to land a job. If you’re a self-taught developer and still haven’t found paid work after some time, questions can start to bring in the self-doubt monster.

I’ve been in the industry for nearly over a decade now and I often get asked the same questions over and over again by devs who are trying to break into the industry. They tend to look something like this:

Do I need a degree? How do I get a job? How do I get experience when everyone wants 2–3 years in a junior role? I’ve applied to over a hundred companies but no one wants me, what am I doing wrong?

If these questions look familiar, I hope this guide will help you answer them.

1. Stop looking at the woe is me stories

Every now and then my feeds get flooded with stories about companies that require 3+ years for a junior dev role. The comments section is also often filled with angry (and often new) developers who take the advert as a job application rejection before they even try.

The issue with these 3+ years adverts is that:

  1. they appear to be overshooting the role and experience

The reality of these 3+ years adverts is that:

  1. recruiters/companies are trying their best to weed out the complete newbies (we’re talking people who haven’t even heard of git kind of new and is still in awe of HTML)

Our brain is a special thing that likes to selectively see things. When you’re constantly immersing yourself in stories and conversations about how hard it is to break into the industry, you will convince yourself that this is the case.

It’s the law of attraction at work — mostly propelled by our default cognitive biases.

If you’re reading and engaging in these kinds of stories, then you’re also most likely hanging out with the wrong people. Jim Rohn coined the idea that we are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. He’s not wrong.

So rather than engaging in these unemployed junior dev stories, exit yourself from the conversations. Instead, hunt down ones that will connect you with people who are actually in the industry. Make useful comments and ask relevant questions on their posts and threads. Don’t expect a job from them. Rather, it’s more a process of realigning your brain to be in the right mindset and attract the right kind of network.

The point of this step is that to be an employed developer, you need to engage like one.

2. Define your skills as a developer

Yes. A typical job advert will have at least a dozen required skills. Ignore them for a moment. What are your actual skills?

Take JavaScript as an example.

JavaScript on the surface looks like just one language. However, depending on where it is used, there are sub-categories that you can hone into. Here’s a quick snippet of a skills mindmap I made to illustrate what I mean.

The above is only a snippet of the skills you need from just a tiny portion of implementing a JavaScript project.

Mindmapping your skills is a good brainstorming exercise to document what your actual experiences are. The more ‘experience’ you have, the bigger your mindmap will be. After a while and the more skills, you eventually gain through project experience, your mindmap will start looking like a potential dev job advert.

3. Make in public

It’s one thing to have experience. It’s another to prove that you can do the things you say you can do. This is why making in public is important, especially if you’re a self-taught developer.

What is making in public?

It’s basically documenting your learning, thoughts, revelations, project processes, and whatever else you can think of that’s tech-related and links back to the skillset you want to prove that you’re an expert in.

This is important because -

  1. you are showing that you are able to communicate clearly and succinctly (because that’s what code ultimately is — a communication tool)

The major difference between a self-taught dev and one with a CS degree is that one has a certain number of years in formal education. The thing with formal education is that it ticks the boxes based on clear metrics. The self-taught road can be a bit more ad-hoc, which can make it harder to gauge the actual skill level of a new industry entrant.

Making in public, in a way, is like completing school work — with the Internet as your teacher. When you consistently create in public, it’s like handing in assignments and doing labs — but just in a different format and self-directed.

4. Don’t fake it until you make it — actually believe in yourself

Fake it until you make it is bad advice. Rather, believe in yourself and accept that there’s a lot that you don’t know.

The thing with tech is that you will never know anything. Once you think you’ve mastered something, there is always more. What matters more is that you trust in your abilities and get good at linking up your skills and knowledge to solve problems.

Faking it on your CV is the same as lying. Don’t lie. It’s better to show that you are able to keep learning. If the employer makes it a sticking point that you don’t have a degree or the hard 2–3 years experience, then it’s not the right kind of employer because they’re probably after something specific and not someone who is able to grow into the role.

Remember, it’s a $2 billion dollar industry. When you have enough public self-documentation and projects under your name — someone, somewhere, will be able to see your potential as an employee. The best developers are the ones that are self-sufficient and self-motivated — which is why self-documentation is necessary.

There is no secret to getting a job. The more you focus on yourself, the better your chances of landing that coveted first gig. Don’t just apply to every job advert you see. Rather, be focused on the kind of job you want and the environment you want to work in. Self-document the sort of work you want to be doing and connect with the people who are already doing it. This will put you in the right headspace and help you see beyond the job boards for opportunities.

So ignore the evil employer stories, work on improving yourself as a developer, and document it so you can look back and see your own personal and professional growth.

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