No Frills, No Lace : The Truth of Everyone Can Code

Today, we are pretty lucky; at least if we are in tech. Lots of jobs are flooding the market: data science, web development, software engineering, Full Stack development; you name it. According to some sources, 300,000 developer positions will be set to open on the job market. And let’s be honest, a job as a developer seems pretty tempting right about now. The world of 2020 has been repeatedly assaulted by COVID19 and the rise of remote work has pretty much become an inevitability in most corners of the world. We are all in for some disturbing times when the world opens back up; economic hardships are going to be plenty. This unique combination of circumstances is precisely why a developer job, or something else related to coding, is such a hot topic right now.

Everyone can Code

Everyone can code. The title is pretty pithy and is one that is very attractive for people who read it. I like it too; in fact, that’s how I actually started my own coding journey. I bought into the title that everyone can code and for the most part, I genuinely believe in it, but it is also a title that is filled with marketing psychology. It is rife filled with ambiguities and half truths for those who choose to become self-taught developers.

But first, what is behind this title? I think I will Apple let explain it better than I could:

“Everyone Can Code is Apple’s comprehensive curriculum aimed at proving the statement that’s right there on the tin: Everyone Can Code. With apps, teacher guides, and lessons for iPad and Mac, the curriculum is built from the ground up to help educators teach students how to code” — MIKAH SARGENT

Officially and originally introduced by Apple, this program is something that represents part of a larger techno-social movement towards programming that coincides with technology’s meteoric rise in society. The caveat is that the movement has existed since before Apple even introduced “Everyone can code”. In reality, the popularization of self-taught and non-university based programming educations has been around since at least 2011 when the first popular coding bootcamps became a thing. But with 1.5 paragraphs of history what exactly is this movement in reality?

The movement of “everyone can code” is summed up like this: sign up to a cheap, quick education in development and get set up for a vast job market and a rapid career transition. This is the main attraction of this movement and one that draws in a massive variety of people. People in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s come to this. And the reasons are pretty understandable: disappointing careers, limited opportunities for growth, and crappy pay. The so called usual suspect reasons for disgruntled people wanting to get out of their current career paths. And with the way bootcamps and online educations are marketed, it’s pretty easy to see why this is actually a movement.

Good Marketing and Marshmallows

I want to actually go and take a look at a nice marketing claim for the program that got me started on my coding journey. Search for “Javascript FullStack Techdegree Treehouse” and you will be taken here. From this page, it is possible to download a job report for jobs relating to this program. It will claim two major statistics:

  1. Fullstack developers will make a base salary average of $105,813.
  2. It is possible to get hired in as little as 5 months, taking into account the techdegree completion time.

These are 2 very VERY juicy claims for anyone looking to enter a lucrative career in as little time as possible. Basically, you can get a 6 figure salary in less than half a year! Except…that isn’t quite how jobs in the tech recruiting industry work. These 2 statistics are true, but sadly they are grossly taken out of context. There are a couple of counter points that a quick google search picks up:

  1. The average entry level salary of a FullStack developer is closer to $84,903
  2. A “junior” or “entry” level role in FullStack development can take anywhere from 1–3 years of full professional experience to get.

Basically, the statistics from the treehouse job report didn’t exactly take into account a couple of crucial things: job seniority and the level of experience that most actual Fullstack developer jobs require. Sadly, the real truth is a daunting one: developer jobs, in the US or internationally, are hellishly hard to get because a gross amount of experience is needed. Bootcamps and online sites will often post these statistics out of context. For example, it is true that a fullstack developer job can net a 6 figure salary, but certainly not an entry level position if you use the national averages. Rather, the 6 figure salary actually refers to mid-level (3–5 years) and senior-level (5–7 years minimum) developer positions. On top of that, 5 months of job-hunting is only true for those lucky few who actually managed to secure a job; they were pins in a needle stack of other people who haven’t found any jobs within 1 year of looking.

Of course, the bootcamps and online programs need to survive, so good marketing is needed. 6 figures and an effortless job hunt are powerful marketing gimmicks and they are *Technically* true, but not actually accurate. I want to share what a more accurate version of the truth is.

The Red Pill of Tech Jobs

I admit that during my own job search, indeed.com became a bit of a source of personal stress. And if you are like I was, then it will also be a source of stress for you too. All a person needs to do is simply go and search for entry level or junior developer jobs and take a look at the job requirements. The “Everyone one can code” job seeker will find a few universally crappy bullet points under “Job Requirements”:

  1. X years of experience in a full time professional developer setting.
  2. A computer science degree or equivalent
  3. An absolute hoard of technologies needed, the so called “stack” of technologies.
  4. A ton of keywords: Agile development, CI/CD, version control, etc.

The good news: bootcamps and online programs cover points 3–4 pretty well.

The bad news: points 1–2 are going to screw you over.

I bolded these for good reasons. Bootcamps and online programs are fantastic for equipping you with knowledge of “practical” software developing. You will learn all the things you need to learn about the buzz words, the version control, and the technology stacks. And the best part is that computer science degrees rarely cover these things to the same extent as the bootcamps do.

However, the bad news is that many many entry level jobs have a strong bias towards having a computer science degree as a qualification. Recruitment in the tech industry holds an error filled belief that a 4 year computer science degree is the be all, end all for being a good software developer. As wrong as this belief is, it is very common. Especially at bigger companies, this bias will phase many self-taught and bootcamp people out of possible positions that they could be qualified for.

But the worst news is not even that. Even people with a 4 year computer science degree will find themselves at the mercy of point 1: professional experience. The old proverbial problem of millennials is still true here and is summed up in the following statement:

“How the hell am I supposed to get an entry level job if the job requires experience?” — A very pissed off millennial graduate

This is even true for “internships” in many cases. Computer science graduates / students, bootcampers, and self-taughts all find themselves in the same boat with this point. The only difference is that the degree holders will likely find jobs / internships somewhat more quickly than the rest. But the sad truth remains: a lot of developer jobs require a disproportionate amount of experience. This is not something that will be advertised by universities and bootcamps alike because it is something that disfavors them from a marketing point of view. And sadly this is also the reason why there are so many developer “jobs” that are advertised as being “available”. In reality, there are simply little to no actual people able to fill them.

There is no Magic Bullet

When I write this article I am not trying to be a pessimist or a cynic; it is very possible to get a developer job as a self-taught or bootcamper. In that sense, “Everyone can Code” is true; the software / tech industry is one of the few skilled STEM industries that actually allow a person with no professional certification to find a good well paying career path. But the truth of the situation has been extremely misrepresented by out of context statistics, erroneous (but very effective) marketing, and hushed up truths. The bottom line is very simple, yet very stark: there is no magic bullet. Getting a job in software is extremely hard for a person from a non-traditional background. It requires a lot of work, a lot of strategizing, and a LOT of grit.

My own story reflects this. I am lucky to have found an internship at all, but I spent over 6 months interviewing with different companies and applied to almost 80 job openings. I applied to everything: start ups, big companies, and everything in between. I am based in Switzerland, but I also applied to jobs in Europe and the US. Among the jobs I applied to, the only ones that gave a shred of attention were the internships at the start ups. And I went in with my own strategy and with a CV I paid more then $100 to make. I came very close to giving up, I will admit that. Quite frankly, the internship I got was going to be my last application before I hung up the gloves and tried something else like freelancing.

This experience is considered a lucky one in many books. Some people have gone and applied to 150+ jobs without a single response. A lot of these people are still looking. To be fair, others have also gotten a job in shorter times than I have. In the end, however, people from non-traditional backgrounds will find it a hard grind, that is filled with difficulties. It is to these people, I wish all the luck and to whom I wish to help write some more material, from my own personal experiences, that will be of help for them in launching their careers. This advice exists elsewhere and I am certainly not going to add a revolutionary approach; if I did, then I am in the wrong industry and should be charging you for this. But I will give articles and thoughts that I hope will help these individuals down the line to maximize their chances to win this game.

But before any starts happen, everyone must always know the no frills, no lace truth of what they are getting themselves into.

-David

Somewhere between technology and spirituality

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