The Search for a Web Development Job

It’s now been 2 months since I started looking for work again, 8 whole weeks since the Coding Dojo bomb dropped and 7 weeks since my last day there, and I’m still searching, still ain’t got no job, but plenty of shit to do.

I’ve been applying, I’ve been interviewing, I’ve been networking. And let me tell you, it’s HARD! No other job hunt process throughout my entire life has been this difficult, this tedious, this demoralizing, this bipolar, this political. And in my opinion, and in the words of the demigod Maui, in this business ….

… (hey, I have a toddler at home, Moana’s been playing practically non-stop for the past few months).

There’s no sugarcoating it, if you’re about to go through a coding bootcamp, you have your work cut out for you. I’m not just a recent bootcamp grad anymore either, that was last year, and since then I was working full-time teaching coding, which apparently means absolutely nothing. In fact, throughout all my interviews, it was apparent that everyone kept thinking I was just hanging around Coding Dojo just helping out for free. I had some odd reactions when they realized I was actually a full-time employee with full-time benefits.

Part of the problem is that the hiring procedures are either outdated, or just flat out looking for the wrong thing. I understand that this is a highly technical skill and position to fill, and you have to prove you know what you’re doing. So why not look at a person’s actual code? The things they’ve actually done? Ask me about that. Give me a coding challenge, a small app to build. I’d honestly love to do that, and I know I’d knock it out of the park!

Instead questions are asked that have nothing to do with what you’re being hired for (and don’t really add substance to the whole “let’s see how you think”). I was asked one technical question that I honestly blanked on in the moment, but I’ve done that one thing a hundred times, hell, I even have a youtube video demonstrating it, but no, because I blanked at the wrong time I get told no. Most people don’t remember every single thing they need to do at all times, sometimes you need a reminder, and in the real world, it would have literally taken me less than 5 seconds to just glance at what I was blanking on and be able to run with it. A senior dev I was talking to said the same thing. I won’t even go into the part where I had questions about languages that weren’t even what the position called for (like a Ruby on Rails question in an interview for a Python role).

It’s not just about what you know at that moment in time though, especially not in an industry that is constantly changing. For example, the CEO of one of the positions I applied for was quoted saying “I don’t really care about your background, I care about what you’re capable of”. That quote was in context with his hiring philosophy, unfortunately it’s not something that his hiring managers believe. If it’s about what I’m capable of, well I can show example after example of that.

But let’s talk about background some more, I’ve made it no secret that I don’t have a CS degree, or any degree at all. It didn’t seem to be much of an issue with most places (although I have no idea how many times I was instantly passed up because of it either), but there have been a few that it has come up. The worst was when I got a call from a recruiter. Second question he asked was that. As soon as I said ‘no’, he told me they refuse to hire anyone without a degree (not even a CS degree mind you), and that was the end of it. To be honest, I don’t know how a degree in underwater basket-weaving that I got 20 years ago could possibly help me in a developing job! I’ve heard people say, “having a degree shows you don’t give up”, kooky-dooks! I can tell you numerous stories of people without degrees who are some of the most dedicated, persistent, stubborn people I know who break their backs, literally, before giving up on something. But maybe there were other circumstances that prevented them from finishing a degree, circumstances out of their control. Let’s not forget that I was in the military. I joined the United States Air Force and signed my life away to the government, but in the end a piece of paper that says ‘honorable discharge’ doesn’t hold a candle to one that says ‘bachelor of arts’.

I need to rein myself in a bit here, there’s more than one side to that debate and that’s not the main point of this post. What I want to get back to is capableness. Most of the jobs I’ve had in my life I was under-qualified for, and in many cases, flat-out had ZERO experience in. But somehow I managed to get those jobs, and then excel in them. I won’t get too crazy in showing off my accomplishments, I did enough of that back in my Gearbox post from last year.

I do want to bring up one company in particular here though, Geico. Yes, the auto insurance company that has more mascots than college football. Here’s a company that is on the right track with how they hire. Their philosophy truly is about finding people based on what they’re capable of, and not what they know. They believe that it’s about the people, and no matter how technical something may be, hard skills like that can be taught. That’s why the company is so strong, it’s why they’re everywhere, it’s why they continue to grow in a business that’s already saturated. I knew nothing about insurance when I applied there, but they didn’t care. They saw who I was, what I was capable of. So much so that they had to get upper management to sign off on a few issues I had. Insurance companies are just financial ones really, so they normally don’t like to hire people with credit issues like the ones that cough I had cough.

And guess what, I excelled. I moved up. I eventually went on to be an auto damage adjuster, where they continued their hiring philosophy. Oh yeah, and I didn’t have a degree, hmm, seems odd doesn’t it? Sounds like I should try and find a job again with Geico huh? This time I actually do have some experience, and you know they have a big development department. Honestly I did think about it, and looked it up, but unfortunately their entire development team is in the D.C. area and there’s no way I can move out there.

I’ve done the hiring at places before, and maybe one day I will for my own company. If that time comes I will look at the person, I’ll look at how they performed at what they’ve done before, regardless of what industry it was in. I’ll look at what others think of them. It’s like the movie, A Knight’s Tale. Here’s a guy without a pedegree, a peasant, who tries to become something that his background says he shouldn’t be. But he does it anyway, becomes great at it, and earns the loyalty of his friends along the way, to the point that they stood by him when he was found out. My favorite part of that entire movie is when he’s in the stockade, and Prince Edward comes up to him and just before ordering his release he says “…your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough…”

That’s how I felt when I wrote my last post. Coding Dojo had thrown me into the stockade where recruiters and hiring managers were throwing rocks at me. Meanwhile the cohort I led at the end, Grim Repo, along with others I’ve helped teach over the past several months, all stood by me, throwing the rocks back in the form of emails and surveys to managers and ceo’s. Unfortunately life isn’t the movies though, and that isn’t enough to be given a chance to prove myself as a developer. Awesome movie though!

Now we come full-circle, I’m still looking for work, still putting my family’s livelihood in the hands of strangers, strangers that with one word, can alter the future of me and my family. That’s a lot of power I’m not comfortable with being in someone else’s hands. Yes, I know, I determine my own future, blah blah blah, but think about that for a moment.

I’m willing to bet there are some of you reading this that are just thinking, ‘oh great, another whiny post about someone who didn’t get the job’, and I admit that much of it does come off that way. I was debating whether or not to even write this post, but this entire blog is about my odyssey, and it would be wrong of me to leave out the bad stuff. And I’ve accepted the fact that I’m terrible with rejection, always have been and always will be. But one day maybe I can look back at this post and tell myself what a fool I was, but it still doesn’t make it not true.

In the meantime I’m doing some private tutoring to other coding bootcamp students and looking for freelance work. I’m continuing my education in developing, trying to learn something new everyday. I’m even working on making some Amazon Alexa Skills right now! I have a couple static sites I need to work on that I’m being paid for and for family/friends that need one for their business. Plus I have my own projects, ones that I’ve started and a bunch that’s still in the imagination phase. I’m sure one of them is going to be ‘the big one’ haha. Then of course is the continued job search. My family didn’t go away, and they need me. I’ll keep applying, I’ll keep interviewing, and eventually something good will happen, because even though I don’t have a degree, I’m not a quitter.

One thing I refuse to do however, is to not be myself. I refuse to go into an interview trying to be someone I’m not. I refuse to answer questions with what I think someone might WANT to hear. One thing I am is honest, even if that honesty might work against me. So what if my answer might be cliché, there’s a reason things become cliché, because they’re true quite often, and if I’m saying it, you can be assured I mean it. If you ask me if I like to work, of course I’m going to say no, I don’t know of many people that would say yes to that, and I’m not going to make up something that I think you want to hear, but just because that might be a no doesn’t mean I won’t be bad ass at my job. Hell, even after the whole Coding Dojo thing guess what I did more than a month after I no longer worked there? I helped them setup for an event! Why? Because I was there and that’s just what I do. Besides, coding hasn’t been like work to me so that question doesn’t even apply!

P.S. Looking back, I wish I blogged in more detail throughout all my interviews like I did going through the bootcamp, but it’s too late now. What I will do though is create a new resource page where I’ll start adding some of the various questions I’ve been asked at these interviews.

Author: Chris Ulanowicz

Full-stack web developer made in Detroit currently living in the DFW area. Always trying to learn as much as I can about everything I can, especially new technologies and programming languages. When I have time I'm into gaming, comic books, ice hockey, drag racing, and spending time with my family of course.

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