Bryan Says...

Rants, opinions, and other stuff I find interesting.

Landing a Rails Job with No Experience is just silly talk

Before we begin, lets be reasonable.  As a hiring manager, or a startup founder, why would I hire you without experience?  That seems like a pretty crazy way to run in a business to me.  So when I see blog posts with the title, “How to Land a Rails Job with No Experience“, my bullshit alarm goes off the meter.

Now, we need to be reasonable of course.  At one time, none of us had any experience.  We were all once green in some way or another.  So how many of you went out and paid $699 – $1500 for somebody to tell you how to get experience? (and no, I’m not talking about college)  I’m going to guess the answer is pretty low.

I’m going to give you a lesson on how to get experience for free.  No, I won’t charge you even one dime.  I’m going to give you a free lesson, because I don’t think this type of knowledge has a dollar amount.

So where do we begin?

Step 1.  Find a real problem.  Make sure this problem is either something you are genuinely interested in, or something you wouldn’t mind finding a solution for.  If you can’t find a problem, maybe you should go back to Step 0, and evaluate if you are really looking for some experience to further your career and life goals, or are you just looking for a quick buck?

Step 2.  Dedicate some time in figuring out what a solution your problem would look like without involving any specific programming technology.  For instance, if you want figure out how to do a drop down list using AJAX, work on understanding the semantics of the interaction before looking up any documentation on how to do it with Rails.

Step 3.  Iterate on your solution until you have something that satisfies you.

Now take a look back at these three steps.  You’ve identified a problem, you did some research, and then you created a solution.  Isn’t that what most businesses do?  So technically, what you just did qualifies as experience, correct?  Well of course it does, but some might not consider that real experience.  Here is a life lesson:  You don’t want to work at any job, where they won’t take this type of experience.  Just take it as a warning, and run away before you get burnt.

Now you’ve piqued some potential employer’s interest,  what do you do now?  I’m sure they’ll want some sort of resume, and I’m sure you’ll have sort of interview.  If you don’t have a resume already, now is the time to make one.  In my opinion there are no secrets to this, all a resume does it get you seen, so you can potentially get an interview.  There are plenty of free books at your local library that tell you how to do this, so any who charges for this is just trying to take your money.

As for the interview itself, there are no real secrets.  Your job as the interviewee is to gauge (in the first 5 minutes or less), the people you will be interviewing against.  Of course this is easier in person, than on the phone.  If you have a phone interview, make sure to ask everyone what they do from day-to-day before you start, so you can get some tidbits on things you can say that’ll make them look or feel good.  And truthfully from what I can tell, from my experience in interviewing for technical jobs, involve some person who was most like bullied around at some point in their earlier life trying to trip you up by asking you questions about situations you most likely won’t occur in real life.  The easiest way to get around this situation is to get the interviewers to focus on themselves and their egos.

Now, how can I help you get a job?  Here are all the things I can help you with over skype for free, if you take the time to work with my schedule.

  1. I can help you review your code.  No, I won’t write anything for you of course, but I’m sure I can give you some advice that will help you along your way.
  2. I can review your resume.  I’ve seen a bunch of crappy ones in the past, so at the minimum, I can at least offer you some advice.
  3. I can give you a few strategies for getting through interviews.  Or, if you’ve had a particular bad situation, I can be your cheerleader, to help you get back on track.
  4. I can help you to start learning how to do test driven development.

So, what does Bryan get out of all this?  Well, you might not believe, but I enjoy helping people progress their lives and careers.   I also get the experience that may potentially help me become a better teacher in the future.  Also, helping others is part of my 5 steps to live.  Keep in mind, I’m a family man, and I have kids, but I do have free time here and there.  If you are interested in some free help, I’m on skype and you can email me at iam@smartic.us to schedule some time.

 

  • Sami

    Bryan, you da man!!

  • Mr K

    This is mighty nice of you and a good article – bookmarked!

  • http://jonathanjulian.com/ jjulian

    This is fantastic, Bryan! I hope you help many folks get some Ruby experience and get that new job they want and need!

    Oh, by the way – I landed a gig with no Rails experience once. I temporarily lowered my rates to show my desire, and made sure I had high-quality references that had worked with me before. And of course I interviewed to show my enthusiasm to learn something new. So…it can be done.

  • r00k

    Hey Brian,

    I'm the author of How to Land A Rails Job with No Experience. Thanks for posting this!

    Honestly, I think we're more on the same page here than it seems :)

    You and I both offer a few immediate tips for getting hired without previous professional experience. I like that you emphasized that the problem to be solved should be something you're passionate about; that's great advice.

    You and I also seem to agree on the kind of coaching that would help people: code reviews, resume editing, and a discussion of interview techniques.

    So, I'm curious what in particular set off your bullshit meter. You seem to agree that these things provide value (else why offer to do it yourself?).

    Is it because I'm charging? If so, what's wrong with being compensated for providing a valuable service? I already donate time to the Ruby community in several ways: I've spoken at Boston.rb and RailsConf for free, and have contributed many patches to open-source tools.

    Curious to hear your thoughts!

    -Ben

  • bcardarella

    @Ben I think the response would be different if you were offering training on how to develop Ruby/Rails apps based upon the path you took rather than how to say the right things to get a job with no prior experience.

    TBH, I read your original post and was saddened that you're attempting this. Far be it from me to tell other people how to make their money but this feels like you're trying to take advantage of people. I've met you and I don't think you're that type of person. But this is not a good direction for the community to head in.

  • http://graysky.org graysky

    Could you add a 5th bullet to that list? “Bryan will yell TAFT at you on a weekly basis”. I think that would help a lot of n00bs.

  • http://nirvdrum.com/ nirvdrum

    I wholly agree with Bryan and Brian. It's a community prerogative to help one another out and pay it forward. I got a lot of help early in my career and my mentors got a lot of help from someone before them.

  • http://twitter.com/Croaky Dan Croak

    I like that Ben is experimenting with the one-on-one coaching model and don't see anything wrong with charging for it or with making the focus “land a full-time Rails job”.

    I don't think what he's doing is insidious but it depends on the offering.

    If he's offering “$699 – $1500 to tell you how to get experience” like Bryan characterizes, or he's trying to help people pull the wool over the eyes of hiring managers, obviously that's not cool. I don't think he's trying to do that.

    If the offering is advice that can be offered for free on blog posts, mailing lists, or Ruby groups (maybe the code review and resume review in Ben's bullets), then he's not offering anything that people will value. Particularly at a price point of $1,500 (roughly equivalent to 2-3 day Rails training courses), people just won't pay for it. No harm done.

    If the offering is something that people will pay for and isn't offered by the community (mock interview, world-class customer service as part of one-on-one coaching), then he opened a market and more power to him.

  • Pat Maddox

    The beautiful thing about Rails is that it's trivial to fix the “no experience” problem. Just write an app! (or 100…) Building something and then launching it, or making it open source, is going to give you more experience than your first paying gig, which is typically working in someone else's shitty codebase on their shitty idea.

    Anyway, I think what you're doing is really cool. Keep at it man.

  • http://smartic.us bryanl

    Take what I said more like an infomercial. I'm not personally knocking your service one bit. Everyone deserves a chance to have their own hustle, and make money however they can. When I said it was bullshit, I was preparing the reader for an alternative I proposed.

    That being said, I can't say I'm a fan of profitting off my peers. It is one thing to create a service and offer it for a cost, but I (and I can only speak for myself) can't see myself charging someone who is trying to get on their feet. Personally, it leaves a weird taste in my mouth.

    With that being said, I could be totally wrong. It could actually be a good idea to help people hurdle over the initial rigamarole by setting them in the right direction and charging them a fee. Of course I don't believe that, so I'm offering the free alternative. One benefit of not charging is that it allows me to remain flexible, and not be bound by the money exchange. I also believe this presents good will that will hopefully be paid forward at a future date.

    Remember I'm only one detractor. I do see the value of training and one-on-one coaching, as it is something I hope to get into myself at some later date. I would just rather spend my time helping improve my community for free, so my business can reap the benefits of a much larger install base. Think of it like seeding a lake with carp or bass for free, so you can sell more fishing poles and bait to the *tourists* later.

  • tonyc

    I posted a reply but I think it got swallowed.

    This is a great idea, and I might float it at our next local Ruby user group meeting. Maybe even have a meeting dedicated to training and tutoring, or even just lending some free expert advice.

  • http://rhnh.net/ Xavier Shay

    Money is just one commodity. Sure, resume tips are available for free, but you have to spend time to get down to the library and wade through the good and bad. Bryan offers free training, but as stated he's a busy family man and may not fit in with your schedule. That costs you more time, effort, and share of mind.

    Ben provides a valuable service, at *your* convenience, *and* a full refund if you don't find it worth your money. How is that taking advantage of people?

    Reminds me of the Woody Allen quote “The most expensive sex is free sex”. Some people have money, some people have time. There's a market for both.

  • Nap

    +1

  • jcasimir

    I used to be in charge or hiring at my last place, so I'd be happy to pitch in especially with the resume building/reviewing. A regular skype/campfire meeting could be interesting.

  • http://twitter.com/Croaky Dan Croak

    I don't follow the “peers” argument.

    I've bought all kinds of Peepcode and Pragmatic Programmer stuff over the years, including a three-day training in below zero Minnesota. I've also bought solo stuff from folks like Marc-André Cournoyer and Remi Taylor.

    I've also learned a ton from Railscasts and the Rails Rumble and watching github commits and reading Rails Guides and tons of other free stuff.

    The common theme with all of those free and for-pay products were that they were… good. Both models are good as long as the product offering is good. Do you just think this particular offering isn't any good?

    Or is the real issue you're getting at “charging for helping people get a job?” Is that what what you mean by helping people get “on their feet”? That's where you and others in the comments on Twitter feel the moral indignation?

  • http://nirvdrum.com/ nirvdrum

    The issue I have with this is primarily philosophical. When hiring, I look for experience, ability, and potential. I'm not looking for Rails experience. I'm not even necessarily looking for Ruby experience. Sure, they help, but if you've spent the last year in Django, I'm sure you'll be fine making the switch. Now, if you lack Web development experience entirely, that changes the dynamic, but you're really not going to fool me with a single portfolio app either.

    Having hopped from one segment to another in our industry (from network engineering to machine learning to embedded device development to Web development), I've never run into the “you don't know Rails so we're not going to hire you” problem. Maybe it's because I've never wanted to work for a company that prefers short-term gain over long-term value, but I'd like to think it's because I've demonstrated enthusiasm, commitment, and discipline in my person and in my work. I think these three qualities make you the best candidate you possibly could be and are directly materialized as the qualities I'm looking for when hiring.

    No one can teach you how to be committed or enthusiastic about software development. And while you can be taught discipline in development, I was referring primarily to self-discipline, which cannot. Someone new to the industry might not know all this and think they can somehow skip right to the front of the line if they just pay their fee (and this viewpoint is strengthened if Ben is seen as an authoritative figure). It reminds me of all the MCSE tutoring sessions that popped up; you could learn how to pass the exam without knowing anything about administering a Windows domain. And once you got that certification that HR managers sought after so badly, you basically had a job.

    A more emotional reaction is that there's almost no way for this model to fail. There are so many RoR jobs out there that many companies are looking to hire anyone with a modicum of Rails experience. So, when step #1 of this program is “learn Rails” I'd be hard-pressed to believe that the student wouldn't be able to get a job some place. The notion of causation versus correlation is blurred at best and I'd really hate for this to become viewed as the way to land a Rails job.

  • http://www.hentzia.com Justin Blake

    I like the idea of random phone calls from Bryan during typical business hours: “Are you teeeesting…?”

  • http://deafmacbeth.net/ warren vosper

    Interesting discussion….

    I am the first mentee in Ben's new program and will be blogging about the whole experience as well as why I chose to hire a mentor.

    Check it out at http://deafmacbeth.net

    I'll also be at the July DCRUG and B'More on Rails meetings if you'd like to chat about it.

  • http://twitter.com/grossberg Joe Grossberg

    Heh, custom Growl notifications? :P

  • http://twitter.com/grossberg Joe Grossberg

    FWIW, my beef is that the title “How To Land a Rails Job with No Experience” is a bit misleading — “How To Land a Rails Job If You Have No Experience Yet” is more accurate. As you both say, by the end of building the “portfolio app” and the start of that new Rails gig, the person is going to have some hands-on experience with a wide range of tech.

  • novemberkilo

    As a Ruby and Rails newbie that has just landed his first gig, I'd like to add my $0.02. I checked in with my community early in the piece and was told to get on with getting some code up on my GitHub account – this would speak for itself and would certainly trump courses or certifications. I was also told to get up and speak at my local Ruby on Rails meetup. So this is what I did. I think it's terrific that Bryan is offering to mentor people through the early stages of their metamorphosis and I applaud his altruism … it's very Ruby :-)!

    I have also come across a few Rubyists who make themselves available for mentoring and are up front about what they will charge. I strongly urge the community not to pass judgement on either approach – not everyone is able to manage their altruism similarly and we need to be mindful of the balance we all strike between contributing to open source projects, writing articles, presenting at conferences and helping people out with advice.

    Finally, as a way of contributing to the community, I have been writing about my journey as a Ruby (and as it turns out Python) newbie here: http://novemberkilo.com – hopefully it is of benefit.

  • Michael Hendrickx

    For instance, if you want figure out how to do a drop down list using AJAX,
    work on understanding the semantics of the interaction before looking up
    any documentation on how to do it with Rails.

    Amen to that.