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Ask HN: Would you hire me?
50 points by FajitaNachos on May 14, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 71 comments
I'm asking this on behalf of all those who don't come from a programming background. I often hear you don't need a CS degree to land a job as a developer. This isn't about me specifically, but anyone in a similar situation.

My background and a couple relevant links:

-28 years old with a Finance Degree from a non-Ivy league school

-Spent the last two years living overseas teaching English and learning to code

-Fairly well versed in html, css, javascript, and PHP

-Just getting started with Ruby

blog: http://fajitanachos.com

github: https://github.com/fajitanachos

stackoverflow: http://stackoverflow.com/users/1180335/fajitanachos

Would you hire me (or anyone with similar credentials) for a junior dev position?

Also, I wanted to make this a poll but my karma isn't high enough. A simple yes/no would be appreciated.

You say that you're fairly versed in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, a little bit of Ruby - so you might have other domain knowledge (a lot of us do), but you certainly seem to have a programming background as well. Maybe you didn't notice ;)

I don't see why a company looking for the skills you have would not hire you.

When I was running my startup, most people didn't have CS degrees. Most of them did have, however, an extensive programming background in that they had been hacking since early adolescence. All in all, I would still hire like that today if I had to make those choices again: choose people who like to code and still do that a lot in their spare time.

Thanks for the encouragement. I'm learning a little more every day.

You write well, you're interested in a broad range of things, and you've learned quickly. You'd be an awesome hire for the right company (i.e. one that can invest in developing your technical skills for a year or two before you start getting majorly productive).

A note of caution to take or leave: don't apply through recruiters or HR. Your résumé is too thin, and they won't bother to envision your potential. Meet people (and develop real relationships), take side gigs, and get dug into your local tech community. Good luck!

Recruiter here, and I wouldn't paint recruiters with that broad a brush. Sure the resume is thin, but candidates that have certain indicators (such as Andrew here demonstrates) generally come with substantial upside for clients. I'd absolutely talk to him if he were looking for work in areas where my clients hire.

Thanks. I'm hoping to find a company like the one you mentioned. I'll be attending Dev Bootcamp in the fall and will hopefully hook up with a great company after that.

Honestly, I don't care about your qualifications. That's just checking off the "requirements" list.

What I'd care about is: do you have a passion for what our company is doing? Do you think you could make solid contributions? Prove it. Tell me a story.

I was in a recent roundtable and we all agreed that if someone sent us an email that truly demonstrated a passion for the company, we'd _make_ a position for them, even if we weren't hiring for it. Passion is worth way more than "I need a job. Here are my qualifications."

Can I just say that this is really great feedback? I'm not in a hiring position but I just came from jobhunting. I realized I wouldn't just apply to any startup just to work at a startup--it really matters when you believe in the product. That way, you can treat it as your own and come up with ideas how to make it better, and think of your job less as a drag.

I'm in this same position: -Fairly well versed in html, css, javascript, and PHP -Just getting started with Ruby

I've been working in the industry for the last 8 years but only have an associates degree from ITT (yes I know how that sounds). I'm in more of a consultant role and don't do a ton of development daily. I've wanted to make the change away from consulting back into development. I have taken several interviews but so far not gotten an offer. I'm not an idiot but I know I'm not at a senior engineer level.

My advice from these interviews: It seems like everyone (especially smaller shops and startups) want to see what you do outside of your current job. For example they expect you to be able to show contribution to open source projects, etc. I suggest you start either contributing to OSS project or start some of your own projects so that you actually show what you can do. I know I can do these jobs, but I don't have the proof . Everything I do internal to my company is proprietary and contract states it cannot be shared. We are actually forbidden from contributing to OSS without approval for each project.

In the situation I'm in I don't have time after working for 8-10 hours and driving 4 hours to sit down and contribute to OSS projects. I'm married and have a house to take care of. I have other responsibilities. It seems like most of these places are looking for recent college grads who have a little bit more time on their hands.

You should probably just never mention ITT. It has negative connotations among most people so it could work against you rather than in your favor.

As a general rule I leave education off of my resume. Also it has negative connotation for good reason. However, neither of my parents went to college so we were a little bit ignorant. Plus I didn't see how I could work full time at a University.

Yep that one.

You're definitely on the right track. Honestly if I was still hiring I would contact you.... passion and 'get up and go' go a long way.

I'm a newbie and also don't have a CS degree. I just recently exited my startup and just started job hunting for a front end engineering position.

Tips from my limited experience:

  * Make a great *casual* LinkedIn profile that states how you're passionate about web development and how you value creating maintainable scalable code (assuming you do of course). Having it stick out helps get past the recruiters.

  * Study some softball questions about php/ruby that you'll bound to run into, but don't spend too much time on it.

  * Google engineer interviewing questions... as stupid as some of them are it might help to at least get a feel for them.

  * Build lots of apps... even if they are never public. One of my weaknesses was not being able to quickly build X,Y,Z in the 2nd interviews.

  * Just write a *short* email to the CEO/CTO and/or head engineers where you want to work, you'd be surprised how many get back to you and at least give you a chance to prove yourself.

I would definitely take it under consideration. What financial degree do you possess? I'd imagine with your previous education that you would be well suited in the financial industry (whether it be stock trading, banking or even healthcare).

The only bit of advice I would suggest is that you consider the technology stacks used by such (or other large) companies. I'd definitely look at acquiring experience with a VM framework (ex. .NET or Java) as you can benefit from that knowledge using multiple programming languages and many companies prefer such experience.

Alternatively you should also consider doing some certifications - especially for junior roles. The next best thing to employed experience is freelance/consultation experience. I personally prefer if candidates do have experience freelancing as it indicates a certain level of competence in multiple areas (project management, planning, delivery, communication etc.). If you are good enough as to bill for your time, then so should any company planning on hiring you :)

I have a B.S.B.A in Finance. I was actually a stockbroker for a couple years after I graduated, but eventually decided I wanted to pursue other career paths. If I had a choice, I would probably lean towards smaller companies rather than larger ones. I will look into doing some freelancing though. Thanks for the input.

As the above poster said, you should totally try picking up something like .NET, many financial companies use .NET, Java, or C++ for their trading systems.

Sure. I would hire myself ;)

I was in the same boat in 2006. Non-CS degree and was learning html/css and PHP.

Now I do mostly Ruby, JS and system admin at startups.

Be humble, work hard and try to learn as much as possible.

Without a CS degree, I know its easy to feel like an impostor sometimes but carry on, dont give up!

The absolute best devs I have ever worked with were non-CS dropouts. Learned a ton from those guys.

You will do fine!

This is a good post. I had similar credentials coming out of school last year (but I did graduate with a CIS degree). I have a strong (maybe stronger than CS) background in finance, but I love programming. I was hired in less than a month as a PHP Dev (I have ~ 3 years PHP experience), making a decent living. Most of my interviewers seemed to be looking for a strong grasp of the fundamentals (particular languages didn't really matter as much as understanding OOP concepts and SDLC stuff), as well as a desire to learn and get better. I completed a lot of programming logic tests - mainly a bunch of pseudocode - during my interviews, which I assume tell a lot more about the quality (or potential) of a programmer than writing an actual program.

I can't be sure that any of this is true... It's just what I took away from a recent, similar situation.

Awesome. Congrats on the job. It's nice to hear from someone who was in a similar situation (fairly) recently.

I'm not in position to hire someone so I won't hire you but, as already said by the others, I'm pretty sure you can be hired for a developer job. CS degree is not necessary. I don't have one, I'm a former biologist self-taught in programming, now in a software engineer position. Several of my coworkers are in similar situations. My lead architect is a self-taught too, and he's damn good. What you need is to be able to show problem-solving skills, understanding of programming concepts, ability to write some pragmatic working code in one language, ability to quickly search and find relevant solutions when required, ability to learn and understand fast. With this skillset, not only you don't need a degree, but you can even be hired more easily than somebody who owns one.

That's good to hear and really motivating. Thanks.

It heavily depends on the company.

You seem like a good candidate for front-end and web development. You should drop that "junior dev" stuff, that sounds as if you know that you are unskilled. Better show off some previous projects and simply state that you are looking for a regular job. How about start-ups? Contract work? You might want to clarify if you'd like that kind of job.

As for my company, no I wouldn't hire you, because everyone else here has 15+ years of experience with C++ and we only take the most challenging real-time projects. The only people we'd hire without extensive experience are very young developers who are willing to go through a sort of apprenticeship.

Still, "software is eating the world" they say, so your chances of finding a job should be great :)

Thanks for posting this. Where did you teach?

I have a somewhat similar background myself, so its nice to see you get a warm reception. Maybe in 6 more months of rigorous self study I will hopefully be "hirable" as well.

As it stands today,here is my background:

-28, non ivy-league Bachelors of Marketing

-Two years teaching English in Japan and learning Japanese

-Epiphany upon returning that since I have a knack for spoken languages(Chinese, Japanese), I might like programming languages.

-3 months of self-directed learning, and familiarity with HTML, CSS, Javascript, Python, HTTP, Linux

I still have a ways to go however. Once I feel competent I would like to move past tutorials and find a really cool open source project to work on, or start something of my own.

Thanks for the inspiration!

We're in the Kansai area, were you with the JET program by chance? Not that I'm in a position to give advice, but there's no need to wait to find a project to work on or to start your own. I found the best way to learn was actually building stuff. Hell, I spent the better part of last year building a web app that I later abandoned. It was still a great learning experience for me, and I learned a lot more than I would have just reading tutorials.

Thanks for the advice Nachos. I know I need to just start applying my knowledge.

No, I wasnt with JET. I applied, but I think my Chinese second major made them wonder why I was suddenly interested in Japanese.... I ended up doing ECC for one year in Nagoya, and one year with Interac as an elementary school ALT in Yokohama. Great, great experiences. Wouldnt trade them for anything!

I am very much like you except all the experience you have had in the real world.

I just completed my third year of studying Mechanical Engineering at BITS Pilani, India. In my last three years in college, I have worked with some small clients. I also got the opportunity to work with two organizations during the summer of 2011 and 2012. Currently, I am learning Ruby and working on small projects of my own. If you end up with a job in the tech sector soon, do let me know how you got it. I am sure it will be a good experience for me to learn from someone who went on a path that I am about to take.

Easy ways to get more attention:

- blog once a week and put a "hire me!" box in your sidebar

- start a youtube channel with a video for each of your blog posts

- start a podcast where you interview startup founders or kickass developers

this is all stuff i should do too

Hey Andrew, sorry I can't help. having the same problem here, seems like CSS, html, JavaScript, PHP, a nice website, and a github account, just don't make the cut to earn a decent living. Every company asks for years and years of professional experience.

If I find the solution I'll share it with you anyway. hope you do the same. best of luck, keep working and leave you a nice motivational video http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=ujMP41Rphzc

> Every company asks for years and years of professional experience.

Nope, every company wants someone who can do the job. Getting past the HR door is the tick box of years of professional experience.

Tell you what, start a company today, walk round to twenty small businesses in the business park nearest you and ask them "if you had a button on your website and the customer could press it, what would that button do?"

Listen to what they say. One of them will be something you can code, and hey presto, real customer, professional experience.

This is really good, clever idea.

It fulfills the experience requirement with "hey, I started a business and it generated revenue"

And beyond that it gives you working code examples.

No worries. I'm not actively reaching out for a job. I just wanted to ask for everyone who is in a similar situation. I wish you the best of luck as well. Thanks for the video.

For a junior position, yeah I'd get you in for an interview on the back of this.

Anyone who would make a hiring decision without talking to you is insane (And you don't want to work for crazy people).

I agree, but "Would you interview me" just didn't have as nice of a ring to it. That being said, I know the interview is what will make or break things.

I think you have a good background for a junior developer job, and I think you'd be a good hire for the right kind of company, most likely a smaller one that's interested in helping develop your skills. If you're not getting good feedback, you're probably applying for the wrong types of companies, or through the wrong venues, such as a recruiter or HR. You might get further by networking, blogging, and continuing to release projects on Github.

If you are at the skill level of a Junior Dev are you really going to be releasing useful projects on GitHub?

Yes. I would hire you to do CSS and HTML work. Not able to because of budgeting. I like your approach to pagination.

I urge you to take a look at Python and the plethora of frameworks available for it. PHP is a templating language that got handed a bigger task to do than it was designed for.

My experience is that as soon as companies have HR, hiring is more often based on education. I would much rather hire someone with a decent portfolio.

I'm in a very similar position as you. 28yo, BA Economics and spent some time abroad. I finished a Master's in IT and did an apprenticeship at a software firm but I've been looking for a month and nothing has worked out yet. I think it's just a matter of time finding the right set of people to work with. You could try some courses at Coursera to build up your programming fundamentals. Good luck!

This post and the reaction to it inspired me to write a response https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5706562 "Indicators of Talent (and Heuristics) For Software Engineers". I give a lot of thought to talent, image, and how we judge them quickly, and this post and the comments seem to validate some of my impressions.

Yes. Even though I'm in no position to hire, your works looks decent. You show interest in developing yourself when it comes to new languages. And 'judging' from your photo, you look like a kind well hearted person (some people might ask me how on earth I could say such a thing - I don't know, it's just a gut feeling).

You also seem to have the motivation which is very important.

Thanks for the kind words. I wasn't really posting to try and land a job (though it'd be nice). I just wanted to get some feedback that I'm headed down the right path.

I hired someone a lot like you recently, but with an English degree. He started coding when he was a teenager and bounced around since then, but kept up with tech during that time.

It's hard to find eager, motivated, competent devs at a decent price, so I bet you'll do well.


Your hotfix project actually seems interesting. I tried it out but it couldn't find any of my repos since they're tied to an organization I own (via my personal github account) and not directly to my personal account. Am I doing anything wrong?

That's something I've been meaning to look into, but I got sidetracked moving my blog over to Jekyll/GitHub pages. I've only dealt with repositories that are directly owned by the user. I don't belong to any organizations so it's hard for me to test it. Looking at the API though, I definitely think it should be possible.

Would be great if you solved it. I think you can just create a made up organisation to test. Think it's pretty common to not only work on individual private repos. If you would like to email me when/if you're done it would be appreciated!

I took a crack at this tonight and I think I have it working. I also realized how much I have learned recently when I saw some of the stuff I wrote a few months ago.

I've updated it in the the chrome web store. I'll also send you an email.

Sure thing. I'll get to work on it this weekend and let you know whenever it's done.

Sorry, this turned out not to be a simple yes/no. I thought I would explain, as a hiring manager, what goes through my head:

> 28 years old with a Finance Degree from a non-Ivy league school

Don't care.

> Spent the last two years living overseas teaching English

Ok, no background in programming for a living, but this is a junior role, so keep reading...

> and learning to code

Ah, so is this learning to code because the economy sucks and I heard coding is lucrative, or learning to code because I discovered programming and realized it's what I was born to do..

> Fairly well versed in html, css, javascript, and PHP

This, and the word "junior" are the part that jumps out and all I really care about. I put very little value in resumes, they are dead documents and I'm trying to hire living people. If I'm hiring a coder, I need to see them in person, and I need to see them code. The resume is only useful so I can pick out a few things to set the initial direction of the conversation. If you came in for an interview, we'd grill you on the stuff you claim to know well. I don't expect you to be an expert in building large scale client-side applications, but if that's the job, I need to make sure you have the fundamentals down, and that you "think like a software engineer". Look at it from my point of view: I'm taking a chance on someone who might grow with the opportunity and contribute value to the business, or might bring the whole team down with sloppiness, laziness, or just mediocrity and a sense of indifference. So I'm trying to answer some questions:

* Do you care about the craft of software engineering, beyond just slapping stuff together?

* What is your approach to code quality? Maintainability? Testability? Documentation?

* Are you a fast learner? Can you hit the ground running with someone else's code base?

* Are you self-motivated? Can you finish a project and ship it? Can I trust you to work without being micromanaged?

* Do you know how and when to ask for help or more information?

* Can you work well as part of a team?

* Am I going to get more out of you than I put in? (Eventually)

Of course, I don't ask these questions directly, I'm looking for evidence, a little bit from your work history, but much more from the way you handle problem solving in the ridiculously inefficient, artificial, and constrained environment of a job interview. This is why it's so hard to hire the right people, and so hard for the right people to get hired. The best you can hope for is that everyone involved knows how the system sucks and has some techniques for dealing with it.

It's really valuable for me to know what you are looking for, as a hiring manager. It's also reassuring to know that I meet most of those requirements. I just have to make sure I can show that to the right people. Thanks for the awesome feedback.

You sound a lot like me!

I posted something similar a year or so back and didn't get too many responses (probably posted it at the wrong time), so I'll take the replies here to apply to me as well :)

Personal qualities matter a lot more than what you say here, so I can't tell. IF you'd be hired, it'd be a junior position.

Sure, you have what it takes to find a programming job.

I have no degree and have been programming professionally since 1997.

the money spot for you would be to a finance programmer. C++ FTW. If you can code up a black sholes ( i know its antiquated, but its good practice) or any kind of financial model, you will get hired. Maybe you don't want to work in finance. Front office developer are rockstars though

Uh good luck even getting an interview at those places without a 3.8+ gpa from an Ivy league school. They also tend to test you pretty hard during the interview so if you get nervous you are screwed.

I actually coded up black scholes in Excel(VBA) 4 or 5 years ago. It was fun and not that hard. I was/am passionate about trading and loved dabbling in options, but it just wasn't for me.

Unlike in Capitalism, Globalization demands you to be an "Highly Skilled Wage Slave" to get/retain a job

Definitely. In fact, in most places I have worked there were hardly any CS graduates.

I might (and I have open seats). Where are you located? Are you willing to relocate?

Right now I'm in Japan. We'll be moving back to the U.S. this fall. I wasn't posting this looking for an interview, but I would obviously love to chat with anyone who wants to. My email is in my profile or on my blog.

Yes, you're a strong candidate. No, I wouldn't hire you for a junior dev position. You're 28. You'd hate it. Trust me.

I'd quite possibly hire you for a mid-level developer position, perhaps with a little bit more pairing than for people with a more traditional trajectory. I wouldn't hire you unless I was confident that you'd be fully mid-level within 12 months. That said, the fact that you're active in open-source and have learned a lot on your own makes you a very strong candidate for that.

The above is, by the way, what you'll be facing. Based on what I've gleaned from your work, you're a strong candidate for mid-level front-end positions. No one is going to hire you for a truly junior position because of your age; but you're a strong candidate for mid-level work.

What else? First of all, I'm biased against business undergraduate programs. I don't hold it against the students (that's a decision made at 19-20, and you're a lot older than that) but I dislike the idea of undergraduate business majors. That said, you probably have stronger quantitative skills than most college graduates, and combining that with your front-end chops, I think you've overcome any bias there.

Also, you don't need a CS major to get a decent programming job. "Ivy League" (or the lack thereof) doesn't matter after 25.

You want to market yourself as a well-traveled "jack of all trades". You've taught. That's an extremely valuable experience. Most developers suck at teaching others, which is why they generate undocumented, poorly-structured code. You've learned a lot of skills on your own. That's a major plus. You write better than most engineers. Include that in your pitch. You've worked in the open source world. That's a bonus, too. You're probably overqualified (and too old, sorry) for truly junior/subordinate developer positions but you're a very strong candidate for the mid-level stuff that requires some leadership, aesthetic sense, and creativity.

You don't have the "rubber stamp" of a CS degree, but you have a lot of validations that matter more, in my opinion, so long as you can actually code (and it appears that you can). Learning a new skill at 28 is more indicative than having picked the right courses at 20, at least as far as I see it.

Wow. That's great feedback. It isn't what I expected to hear, but it's great to hear it nonetheless. Thank you. I have learned a lot and I can code, but I just assumed that the first type of job would be entry-level. I'll take your words to heart and work on refining my pitch when the time comes to emphasize the strengths you mentioned.

Very interesting that you link his age with the position. If he was 28 and just graduated with a CS degree would that still apply? Or are you saying that because of his other experiences you would not hire him as a truly junior (taking his age out of the equation)?

Out of interest, on the salary side of things would you start him off at a junior rate and then increase to mid-level when you think he has reached the mid-level criteria?

Interested in this too

I'd hire you. I'd hire you so hard. (You know, if we were hiring...sorry.)

On a more serious note to get past my company's HR filter (which I can override, but the higher ups like it when I don't have to) how many years HTML/CSS/JS/PHP?

lol. It's fine. To answer your question, only 2 years experience with the above, but it feels like a lot longer.

It always does...now, do you deploy your own LAMP stack or do you let someone else handle that? Being able to set up your own environment/stack without someone doing it for you is a plus (even if company policy is that someone SHOULD do it for you) that you should be listing!

I've set up my own local dev environment on a couple machines. If you're talking about a dedicated server, I haven't ventured there yet. In due time, though, I will.

Go here - https://www.digitalocean.com/ - and pony up the $5.

Then go here - https://library.linode.com/ - and start getting familiar.

Had no idea. Will definitely look into this for my next project. Hell, $5 is cheaper than I'm currently paying for a crappy shared hosting account...

If for some reason that is even too much take a look at the top providers on the Low End Talk Wiki here: http://www.lowendtalk.com/wiki/top-providers

Then keep an eye on Low End Box here: http://www.lowendbox.com

When one of those providers runs a deal then get it. If you don't want to have to shop deals then DigitalOcean is a good idea. I have trust issues with Linode so I can't recommend them anymore, and frankly, some of their guides are terrible.

You should be reading the documentation of the software as provided by the vendor of the software along with the docs of your distribution before you attempt any guide because quite often the guides will have you do something that won't work, is suboptimal, or just plain wrong. nginx has an entire section of their wiki dedicated to bad configurations from guides on the Internet and what you should be doing instead: http://wiki.nginx.org/Pitfalls

Understanding the full stack and being able to build it from scratch and tweak it gives you a competitive advantage over people who cannot, and that makes you look better to employers.

Curious - would a substantial familiarity with EC2 be counted as an experience similar to that with linode?

It depends on what you use EC2 for. The experience I'm talking about isn't "with Linode". The experience is with taking a distribution that has none of the parts of the typical LAMP stack installed and installing and configuring them properly for the solution that you are providing.

Now experience with EC2 in provisioning many machines of the same configuration using something like Puppet or Chef is a related but separate thing, and is also good to have, but you have to be able to walk before you can run.

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