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Listener Question: Michael Asks About Qualifications for Career Changes

Published 7/27/2016

In today's episode I answer listener Michael's question about being qualified to jump career tracks.

Today's episode is sponsored by RefactorU, the 10-week JavaScript training bootcamp focused on developers dedicated to reinventing themselves. You can get 20% off of tuition by mentioning Developer Tea today! Head over to spec.fm/refactor to get started!

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I'm answering listener Michael's question about being qualified to switch career paths. Today's episode is sponsored by RefactorU. You can reinvent yourself with RefactorU's full stack JavaScript bootcamp. It is a 10 week course we will talk more about what RefactorU has to offer two Developer Tealisteners later on in today's episode, but first I want to jump straight into this question from Michael. Michael wrote an email to me. He said, hey Jonathan, started listening to Developer Teasix weeks ago and have been catching up on all the episodes. There's quite a few episodes to catch up on Michael, so I appreciate the time you're investing. Michael says, love the show. I'm not sure if you've covered this topic before, but I am a software engineer at a large healthcare IT corporation and have been doing Java services, Eclipse, RCP and MySQL dev for the last three and a half years. I'm not very passionate about this domain of work and this tech stack, but I don't know how to go about shifting my focus. I've been taking the online classes from code school, university, etc. for Ruby on Rails, Node.js and working on side projects and I love it so far. There are a couple of Ruby and Node dev shops at smaller companies in my city that I think would really fit my style. My concern is that I'm not qualified for a Ruby dev job. They are asking for one to two years of experience in Ruby for their software engineer posting and three to five years of experience in their senior engineer posting. How should I approach those opportunities? Should I apply for either the entry level, the senior or none at all? Thanks in advance for any help. Michael, here's the thing. You are doing your first career switch. This will likely not be your last career switch. Now, there are basically three different types of career switches. The first type is what I would call the parallel jump. A parallel jump only changes one minor aspect of your career. This is typically what occurs with a promotion or a similar title change, but it may also be, for example, when an on-site employee decides to go remote. You might slightly change your skill set but work for the same employer or you might change your position. You might change who you work with on a daily basis, but you're not going to change your career significantly. The second type is what I would call a 90 degree turn. The 90 degree turn is when you have at least one major change in your career. This is your case, Michael. You kind of have like a 90 degree turn and a parallel shift. Your major change is your employer and your minor change is your skill set. Now for the sake of conversation, the third type is if you made a total diversion, a 180 degree turn away from your current career. If you decided one day that you wanted to be a mechanic or pursue woodworking or filmmaking or theater, these would be so incredibly different from your current career that has no real resemblance of your previous career, except metaphorically or symbolically. The main connecting point being you. There's no part of your current career that resembles that future career. So Michael, you fall right in the middle here and it's important to note the difference between a major and a minor change and that's really what we're going to focus heavily on right after this quick sponsor break for our fantastic sponsor today, Refactor U. Are you learning to code online but hitting a brick wall? Refactor U is an immersive full stack JavaScript bootcamp dedicated to the learning needs of aspiring web developers looking to reinvent themselves. What does that really mean? Well, it's an immersive 10 week JavaScript training bootcamp. You heard Michael talking about learning Node.js. That's what you would be learning here at Refactor U. They have a dedicated career services team and they are GI Bill approved. You can use the GI Bill for your tuition at Refactor U. They are based in the booming tech city of Boulder, Colorado absolutely beautiful place and they have housing resources available. They have diversity scholarships available for each of the cohorts that go through the school and here's a fantastic gift that they are giving to Developer Tealisteners. They have a 20% tuition discount when you mention Developer Tea. So when you're signing up, mention Developer Teato learn more head straight over to spec.fm slash refactor. Spec.fm slash refactor that will take you over to Refactor U. At Refactor U, students learn from world class peers and instructors while working on real hands on coding projects. 10 weeks of JavaScript training bootcamp. Go and check it out. Spec.fm slash refactor. Thanks again to Refactor U for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So let's jump back into Michael's question here. Michael is pursuing a major change in employer going from a large healthcare company to a small local development shop. This is a major change. The interesting thing about Michael's question and his phrasing is that Michael, you are focused primarily on the Rails knowledge, the tech side of this shift. We've talked about experience requirements on the show before, but the ultimate test here comes down to this. Do you feel qualified and confident that you can take on the job? Do you feel qualified and confident? The answer is a personal one. I can't give you that answer. Michael, only you can give you that answer. There's not a certain class you can take or a particular side project that you can complete that will objectively give me the information to say yes, you are ready to apply for one of these jobs. I can answer the underlying question here. Is your experience going to keep you from getting the job? The best answer I can give here is maybe, but probably not. Your experience can always be a strength, even if it's not necessarily relevant or exactly by the letter, what is in the job requirements spec sheet, whatever that thing is called, the call for applications. Your experience can always be a strength. Typically, when experience in tech is listed, it often assumes that the person applying has only that many of years of experience with any tech. Five years of experience in Java usually means that you started at the beginning with Java and you've only been doing this for five years. It typically doesn't mean 10 years of experience in another object, oriented language, but not in Java is going to mean you're dead in the water. That's not typically the case. If you have 10 years of experience in an object, oriented language, and then you move to Java, a lot of that experience is going to inform the way that you work with Java. Most likely, Michael, your experience is not what would keep you from getting this job. One to two years of experience in Ruby is certainly well within your range, especially if you've been working with complicated tech like you've been working with. And if you feel confident, I would apply for the other job as well. The worst that can happen is that you don't get the job. The worst that can happen is that you go in and you apply and you don't get the job. And perhaps they remember you as the person who didn't get the job, but there are certainly much worse things that can happen. If you never apply for the job, you definitely are not going to get the job. So I would absolutely say that you should apply for these given that you believe you're confident that you can actually do the job that you're applying for. Now, I have three things I want you to focus on, Michael, before we in the show, I'm going to run through these very quickly. Number one, focus on the culture of the company you are applying to. What kind of people are they? Who are the passionate ones in the group? If you could characterize them as a kind of collective person, what is that person's likes and dislikes? What is the personality of the company? Focus on understanding that culture and determining how you would fit into that culture and help them accomplish their goals. Number two, when you do your practice, when you're actually studying Ruby or studying no JS, focus on one learning resource at a time. And instead of splitting your attention to multiple resources, take that time to build small things. This is a common message on the show. If you haven't heard it before, we are big proponents of building small things at spec. Don't split your focus between multiple courses at once. Maybe do one course at a time and build small projects and Ruby or in no JS to practice and hone your skills. And take some of the knowledge that you learned in focus point number one that you're focusing on the culture of the company. Use that information to inform what kind of small things you build. If you know a lot of people at the company appreciate the outdoors, then maybe you build something that has something to do with the outdoors. It doesn't have to be that, but certainly not a bad idea. And number three, focus on the needs of the job, not the numbers of the job. That's the kind of a takeaway point here, right? Focus on the needs of the job, not the numbers of the job. If you have one year of experience writing Ruby, but you can fulfill the needs of the job, you're infinitely better than someone with 10 years of experience who cannot fulfill the needs of the job. Think about that for a second. Your number of years of experience with anything doesn't matter if you can't do the job at hand. So it doesn't really matter how many years of experience you have. If you can fulfill those job needs, so meet with the people who work at that company that you're wanting to apply at and ask them what the problems the ideal candidate would be solving. Ask them about those problems, get as much detail about that stuff as you can. What would their dream hire for that position look like? And then ask yourself, can you become that person? Or maybe are you already that person? Can you exceed and absolutely blow them out of the water on the needs of that particular job? So Michael, I hope this has been encouraging rather than discouraging. And I hope that you will take some time to think through this stuff. It's not an easy road making a shift in your career can be a rocky road. And I can't guarantee that you're going to walk in and then hire you every company is different, every situation is different. But what I can say is that in most cases experience is not determinable by a number of years. It's determined by whether or not you can solve a problem with what you're working with. So if you feel confident that you can walk in and fulfill their needs, Michael, then I absolutely recommend that you go and apply for these jobs. Thank you so much for sending in the question, Michael. And thank you the rest of the world for listening to Developer Tea. I appreciate the time you spend listening to this show. We are going to surpass. This is kind of leading up to our celebration episode, but we are getting ready to surpass four million listens. It's an incredible number. And I'm incredibly excited that you are listening in today. So thank you so much. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Refactor You. If you are looking to reinvent yourself, if you may be your like Michael, and you want to reinvent your career, then go and check out Refactor You. Spectat FM slash refactor. It's a 10 week JavaScript training course that is built to help you reinvent yourself. Go and check it out. You have 20% tuition discount. That is a huge discount. Spectat FM slash refactor. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. And until next time, enjoy your tea.