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Dave Fecak has served as the President and Founder of the Philadelphia Area Java Users' Group since 2000. He is an active blogger on software engineering career topics at http://jobtipsforgeeks.com, and author of Job Tips For GEEKS: The Job Search ebook (http://jobtipsforgeeksbook.com) Professionally, Dave has been a recruiter and consultant for 15 years helping startup and early growth firms to hire software engineers (primarily focused on Java/JVM, Python, Ruby, functional languages, and mobile). Dave is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 72 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

How Ben Accidentally Became a Developer

05.22.2014
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In early April I received a message from Ben, delivered to my Reddit account.

I’ve been reading /r/resumes for, well, the whole time I’ve been actively looking for another job. I’ve noticed your comments on other posts and respect your opinion. Even though I’m not a “programmer” per se, I do enjoy reading your site and appreciate the time you take to help folks like me who are trying to make the best impression possible.

Ben wanted some advice on his résumé and career prospects in technology, and he wrote a quick bio. He earned a degree in religion and worked in that field for seven years before deciding that his passion was for technology. During his tenure in the church he dabbled in web development and learned to solve basic networking and hardware issues to reduce the church’s technology expenses. He resigned his church position to pursue entry-level roles, and ended up spending a year in retail before eventually being hired as a Junior Computer Technician.

After spending three years in the technician role, Ben asked his manager for additional responsibilities. He was already performing light systems administration tasks for their small office, and was then entrusted to write a web application. Ben taught himself PHP, JavaScript, and SQL. The web app he built became a major revenue source for his company and a highlight of his career.LineDrawingManComputer

Ben, on paper

After learning about Ben’s work history, I reviewed his résumé. The two sentence profile atop his résumé mentioned troubleshooting, managing hardware and software, vendor selection and training. There was no mention of programming experience.

Below the profile was a listing for certifications. None of his certs were truly relevant to programming.

His experience section was next. The first role listed was Systems Administrator, which had descriptions of his accomplishments in that role.

I was now halfway down the page and I have seen nothing about what he saw as his most valuable professional accomplishment. And then there it was – Web Developer. He had duties in both sys admin and development, and chose to list the sys admin experience first.

His technical skills section led with several operating systems, servers, and virtualization tools. Below that, a mere two lines from the bottom of the résumé (just above his degree), he listed programming languages.

“…not a programmer, per se…”?

After I finished reading the résumé, I thought back to his comment from the original Reddit comment. “Even though I’m not a ‘programmer’ per se…” At this point it was hard to tell if Ben would be more marketable (or happier) as a sys admin or a developer, so more information was required. 

Ben then sent me a random email to tell me about his blog, which he had recently converted from WordPress to Octopress and had subsequently picked up some Ruby along the way. I checked it out and saw he had a couple small GitHub repos. This was all news to me. I asked if he had any other programming experience he was hiding.

It turns out he had done some freelance front-end web development work for a bit. He added that he had also contributed to the development of a template that was adopted by WordPress as a stock theme.

Ben might not have considered himself a programmer, but I expected others would disagree.

The Intervention

I sent Ben an email suggesting he focus 100% of job search efforts on finding a development role, and that his experience should qualify him for intermediate level slots. Ben responded that he had been reluctant to seek programming positions because he’d been doing that work for the least amount of time, but acknowledged that he’d probably be happier (and better compensated) as a developer. We worked together over the course of a couple days to rewrite his résumé, which emphasized his coding accomplishments.

Results

Within five days of our first contact, Ben had a couple interviews lined up for web development positions. Fifteen days later Ben accepted a new job offer as a developer, which came with a 60% increase from his prior salary.

Ben now describes himself as a “Full-stack web developer” on his blog.

Published at DZone with permission of Dave Fecak, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

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Comments

Dave Glasser replied on Thu, 2014/05/22 - 3:25pm

 I love stories like this. I think people like this guy, who, while pursuing some other career path, feel drawn toward programming and follow the urge, tend to do very well in the field. They're more likely to be one of the people for whom software development is not just a job, but a calling.

Dave Fecak replied on Fri, 2014/05/23 - 7:29am in response to: Dave Glasser

I agree, and that's why I felt his story was worth telling. The comment about software development being "a calling" for Ben is, in my opinion, even more interesting when you factor in that he was in pursuit of his calling (religious studies) when he got deep into technology. I think (and hope) that he will do quite well in the field.

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