A Web Developers Transition from School to the Workplace

July 22, 2014    job search school web development

It has been around a year since I graduated and I can still remember how anxious I was about going into the workplace. After nearly a year of working in the industry, I feel that sharing my experiences will be helpful to those currently transitioning from school to the workplace.

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A little bit about me: I interned as a junior web developer at an agency for a couple of months, got a full-time job at that same agency, and now I am currently working at a startup/software company.

When I got out of school I got an internship at a brand engagement agency called Dashboard. After working there as an intern for two months I received an offer for a full time position as a junior web developer. This doesn’t always happen, I think it was good timing because they were looking to hire a junior developer near the end of my internship period. You can read more about my internship experiences here: https://phong.io/blog/2013-10-20-internship-learning-experience/

I worked there for about three months doing mainly front end code with a little bit of PHP. Things did not work out, I ended up at a startup/software company called ScribbleLive and I have been working there for a little over four months doing HTML/CSS, JavaScript and a bit of C#.


Going to College was a bit of a weird process for me. I did not fully know what I wanted to do, but I was sure it had to do something with computers and code so I went with the safe bet and completed a two year diploma in programming. After graduating I still felt unmotivated and unsure if this was what I wanted to do, but then I remembered how I used to love building sites back in high school.

I then made a big decision to go back to school for a postgraduate certificate in web development because I felt my skills and motivation were lacking. I had a few emails asking about the Web Development program at Humber College, in short: it is a great program, if you are focused and actually interested then you will definitely get what you want out of it.

College was an interesting time, the most important skill you can get from school is self learning. The ability to teach yourself anything and to develop on your own is extremely important as technology is always growing. Another thing you should do is keep in touch with all your classmates and professors because networking is the best way to find a job. A good referral will always beat a random resume.


Portfolio and Job Searching

Having a portfolio is extremely beneficial because it is a good way to showcase and also explain your work. Most people like seeing graphics and pictures, therefore having a visually appealing website portfolio would put you ahead of the curve.

Resumes are required but as a Web Developer, having a portfolio website is critical.

A few tips for a good portfolio:

  • Make it small and straight to the point
  • Be consistent
  • Show only your best projects
  • Have lots of pictures
  • Description or explanation of your work

Another important aspect of finding a job is to have a LinkedIn account. There are a ton of job search websites out there, but through my experiences I feel that LinkedIn stands out the most. When you apply for a job on LinkedIn, your account is connecting to the application so the recruiter can see your profile and not just your resume. It is essential to fill out your LinkedIn profile with as much information as possible and yes, you NEED a profile picture.

Other job search sites you can use are Indeed and Monster or your school’s job bank. A better way would be to apply straight through the companies website, you can Google search to find these companies and see if they are hiring. For example if you are in Toronto you can search “Toronto Digital Agency”, “Toronto Developer Company”, etc.

When you apply, tailor your cover letter specifically to the job posting. I like to keep it forward and list my skills according to the posting. For example, if they are asking for JavaScript you can list your skill level: JavaScript – 710 or Advanced. More importantly, don’t lie about your skills and experiences.

The community of web developers is open source. A lot of people share their code and resources, meaning that you should too. A good website to contribute to open source is GitHub. You should also try to ask meaningful questions and answer other people’s questions on StackOverflow. Having an online presence is important and some employers do look for it.


Interview Process

Throughout the past year I have had many different interviews, I’m talking 20+ range. I was probably terrible at interviews, but each time I had an interview I got better. A good thing to do is to try and write down the questions they ask and how you answered them. Learning from your mistakes will only make you better. I literally have a whole notebook of interview notes.

Every company has different interview processes from phone interviews to coding tests and of course, in person. Phone interviews usually consist of them gauging your skill levels and asking about your experiences/education. As a web developer, you should always be prepared for some kind of coding test to be thrown at you. They can be on the spot during the interview, they call this whiteboard testing, or as a take home assignment. For the in person interview, there will almost always be a technical person who will ask you some hard ass questions. If you’re a front end developer, you can check out this resource for interview questions: https://github.com/darcyclarke/Front-end-Developer-Interview-Questions . In addition, they will also be looking to see if you’re a good fit for the team. Therefore, ask a lot of questions about their team and how they work.

For the salary offer, you will either get an offer during the interview if they really like you or you will get a call/email about it. This is followed by a contract which you should read very carefully. As for the amount of money the offer is, you should probably know the average salary for the job judging from your peers and professors. I would say if this is your first job then don’t worry too much about the amount, experience when starting out is way more important than the money. I have learned way more in the first few months working than in my three years in school, it is just a different environment. If you desperately need the money then you can always negotiate.

The Future and Continuous Learning

As a web developer, you should never stop learning and growing. Newer technologies and libraries are always emerging, it is best to always be curious and try them out if you can. Check out my previous article about learning new technologies: https://phong.io/blog/2014-04-01-learning-new-technology/

Find a mentor, they can be someone you work with or you can reach out to other developers who are better than you. In addition, try and mentor others when you feel like you have enough experience.

Attend web talks, meetups, and conferences. Web conferences are expensive but most companies do cover it because it will help their employee grow which in return will benefit them. If not you can always volunteer, most volunteer programs at conferences allow you to attend most of the conference. Plus volunteering is awesome, you get to meet great people and give back.