How to Network and Interview as a Self-taught Programmer

Hi there – I taught myself to code. You can teach yourself, too. It takes work and time, but it’s worth it.

Why?

Because programming can be used to improve every type of job there is. Whether you work as a janitor, an engineer, a financial analyst, or an insurance agent – you can use programming to make yourself more efficient.

Here’s how I learned to code:

Part 1. How I learned to Code – The Intro

Part 2. How to Go About Teaching Yourself to Code

Part 3. How to Network and Interview as a Self-Taught Programmer (this article)

Part 4. How to not give up and land yourself a job


In June of 2018, I decided to make the leap – I decided to quit my job and attempt to transition to a new career.

There were a couple of factors that allowed me to do this. My wife was transitioning to a new job and we had to move anyway. We had been anticipating that I would make this move for a while, and we had created a safety net in our finances that would allow me to stop working for about four months, more if we stretched. We were also moving to San Diego – a rising hub for startups and new businesses.

There were two essential skills that I had been developing that would prove essential in the coming months of job searching:

  1. How to interview
  2. How to get involved in a local community

How to interview

The Most Important Interview Questions

There are two questions you must know how to answer:

“Tell me about yourself”

“Tell me about a time when…”

These are the two most important questions – they will help you with any other questions and will set you up for success in any interview.


“Tell me about yourself”

This question should be no longer than 5 minutes long. Summarize the highlights of your recent journey into programming (or whatever profession you choose). It should roughly follow this structure:

  1. Talk about who you are and core value you have. This could be to work hard, or to follow your dreams, make an impact on society, or become an expert in your field.
  2. Give a brief summary of how you got to where you are (as long as it relates to this job). Perhaps you were an electrical contractor that set yourself a goal of becoming a security expert. You started taking classes in the evening to accomplish this goal. You went to a conference that introduced you to a new aspect of the field and you worked on the weekends to expand your knowledge.
  3. Mention how this job aligns with your goals. Perhaps as a future security analyst, this job will help you attain and hone the skills you need to become an expert in your field.
  4. Talk about your goals for the future. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? How does this job align with that goal? End by circling back to your core value(s) and how you see this job aligning with that and where you are headed in life.

“Tell me about a time when…”

This question is the preface to almost any common behavioral interview. It can be phrased in many different ways, such as “Is there a time you had a conflict with a fellow employee?” “Tell me about something you’re proud of.” etc. The reason for these types of questions is so that your potential employer can get an idea of how you would behave in different situations. The key to these questions is to prepare. Prepare lists of you accomplishments. Look up lists of these types of questions and try to answer them ahead of time. You’ll be surprised how only a few of your experiences can be adapted on the fly to many different types of these questions.

The structure of your answers should follow this structure, and should be about 3-5 minutes:

  1. Start by summarizing and talking about the end result of what happened. This should be very brief – max 30 seconds. Summarize your points( you should have 2-3 points per answer). For example, for the question “Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict in the workplace”, I might say something like: “There was a time when an employee had a conflict with a security guard and I had to be the arbiter. I helped resolve their conflict by deescalating the situation(point 1), making sure they were both listened to (point 2) and negotiating terms for resolution (point 3)”.
  2. Go into greater detail about each point. Each point should have two-three sentences that help expand information about what you did. For example, for point 2 above, I might say something like “I made sure both people were listened to by setting up individual appointments with each to get their side of the story. I believe a lot of conflict can be avoided and resolved by making sure individuals feel listened to. I let them know that I would work to meet their needs.”
  3. End with a high-level review of the results of what you did. “By separating the employees, making sure they were heard, and defining clear boundaries and expectations, I was able to resolve the situation and put preventative measures in place.”

Practice Interviewing

Stand in front of a mirror. Film yourself once a week and watch yourself being interviewed. Have a friend ask you common interview questions and answer them in full until you can say them flawlessly. Make a list of all the significant accomplishments you’ve had – write them on an index card and go through them weekly.

How to network through local community

You can find local programming community by:

  • Asking friends if they know programmers to network with
  • Go to all the meetups with topics even remotely related to programming
  • Work for free (but not for too long – don’t let people take advantage!)
  • Meet people at local startups

Go to All the Meetups

Yes, meetup.com has many events for programmers like you and me to go to. Check it out. You can also find events on Eventbrite. Look for conferences related to the

Working for free

If you’re going to work for free, make it clear that you’re doing it as charitable work – set your boundaries clearly. I had a good experience working through taproot, a platform that facilitates getting programmers connected with non-profit organizations who need help.

Meet people at local startups.

One fantastic place to meet people is https://www.1millioncups.com/. There may be one in your city! If you can find local startups, they more than likely need help with something. This is a good way to get your foot in the door and get some experience – if you’re extremely lucky, the startup will take off. Just keep in mind that these positions are very unreliable and that they likely won’t be around in 3 months. Go in with that mindset and be ready to roll with the punches. Remember to also set clear boundaries for working hours – these companies are young and, without boundaries, may ask more of you than you’re willing to give.

Next: Don’t give up!

You just read:  Part 3. How to Network and Interview as a Self-Taught Programmer (this article)

How I learned to code:

Part 1. How I learned to Code – The Intro

Part 2. How to Go About Teaching Yourself to Code

Part 4. How to not give up and land yourself a job

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