How do I find a "real" tech job?
December 26, 2013 5:50 PM   Subscribe

My workplace is in a decline, and I think it's time for me to explore other options. I'm a programmer at heart, an architect and team leader in practice, and a manager in name. Prior to this job I'd had really soul-crushing experiences in consulting, so (for example) I am experienced with but extremely cynical about capital-E "Enterprise" platforms and technologies. I don't want to go back to that world; I want to find a company and a team with a spark of life to it and people with the incentives to help each other out. What's the best way to filter for tech job opportunities that won't sink me back into the muck?

I've spent a lot of time this year on the hiring side of things, and I think I have a good sense of how to construct my résumé so that it'd be recognized by the type of people I want to work with. Unfortunately, they're not usually the ones who write the actual job descriptions, so when I'm browsing Dice or Monster I don't know how to identify the types of job listings I should find interesting. This is compounded by the fact that I live in a region overwhelmed by government and defense contracts, which already tend to drown out listings for more customer- or internal-facing positions.

Are there any keywords or patterns I should be searching for that are dogwhistles for "ignore the buzzwords, we actually know what we're talking about"? Does anyone have any recommendations about where to search that would have a better ratio of those sorts of workplaces?

Unfortunately, my professional network is pretty much limited to people who are consulting lifers or currently work with me, so I can't really pursue that avenue.

Any suggestions?
posted by my name is irl to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I work at a government contractor that's not totally soul sucking, and needs certain people, memail me.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:37 PM on December 26, 2013

I find this is odd: I don't know how to identify the types of job listings I should find interesting

Do you not find any jobs interesting? Or are there interesting listings but you are afraid that behind them is a soul-crushing job?

I get the sense that you're spooked based on your prior experience. That's normal. But I don't think you can divine everything you want from keywords in job listings. You'll get a much better sense of how good a company or a team is from the interview process, especially if you're proactive in asking questions that will help suss out the nature of the team — questions about management style, about how people work together, how goals are defined and evaluated. And I'm sure others here can provide more ideas for this angle.

It can also be really helpful to research the companies that are listing the jobs, especially in the tech world. Are they making cool products? Are they respected? Are they publishing open source projects to GitHub? It's not always easy to suss these things out but it can really help you get a sense of how dynamic the working environment is likely to be.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:40 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you been going to user group meetings for programming languages you're into? You gotta talk to people if you wanna get what you want.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:57 PM on December 26, 2013

If you target smaller companies (start ups generally), they're not going to have bureaucratic HR departments that write generic job descriptions. The hiring manager or someone close to that will be writing the job descriptions.

Also skip Monster, try LinkedIn and Indeed. If you live in a big enough city, Craigslist might also be useful (I live in SF and got my job through Craigslist, but when I lived in New Orleans it was all scammy postings).
posted by radioamy at 9:58 PM on December 26, 2013

An anecdotal counterpoint to "keywords or patterns I should be searching". My previous and my current jobs were/are my ideal type of a job, which is essentially a startup within a large company where you get all the fun of a startup without any of the poverty. There was nothing in the job descriptions that would tell you that ahead of time. If anything, these job descriptions were written by HR in a way that would give you the most dreadful impression (I believe one literally had a line about being able to operate a calculator and lift x lbs without assistance, and yes, these were system architect/software engineer jobs). It was not until the interviews that I got the idea of what these teams were even doing, let alone how. So I am afraid that you will inadvertently filter out the best jobs if you rely on the job descriptions too much, or at all.

(For what it's worth, my husband and I strenuously agree that I would never ever agree to meet him based on his online profile, and yet we are so compatible it's not even funny).

One other thing that you might find helpful. My current job is at an engineering firm and I love it. Almost everyone through C-level has a mechanical, electrical or software engineering or science background and there is just so much less politics and dysfunction compared to everywhere else I've been. Obviously this could be a fluke but it would make sense to me if it weren't. So perhaps actively seek out companies that have tech at their heart?
posted by rada at 7:43 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a dissenting opinion re. @radioamy's advice above. I am really wary of smaller companies based on my personal experiences and those of family/friends. There is almost always some degree of nepotism going on and it can be very unpleasant to have to work around that dynamic.

(By "some degree" I mean that instead of the prototypical nephew, it's often the CEO's best bud from college who is much better at drinking than leading a software team. These things are very hard to filter for in an interview - it's easy enough to get disclosure about familial relations but people who are on the inside of the buddy dynamic will usually just tell you that it's a great close-knit team).
posted by rada at 8:06 AM on December 27, 2013

Unfortunately, my professional network is pretty much limited to people who are consulting lifers or currently work with me, so I can't really pursue that avenue.

Which city are you in? I've lived in NYC and Minneapolis and there are tons of really great start-up and hacking centered events that are awesome for networking. Meetup and Eventbrite are both good places to start your search.
posted by rada at 8:10 AM on December 27, 2013

Agreeing with radioamy. I found worse than monster useless, so many recruitment type just spamming you with the same jobs. LinkedIn got me many more approaches, joining the relevant groups helped , as was regularly updating my profile.
posted by Z303 at 10:01 AM on December 27, 2013

If you're in the DC area (given the govt/defense thing), feel free to message me and I might be able to give some ideas.

This post has a pretty good idea of what you don't want to do, but not enough of what you do: do you want to do product management? Code?
posted by tmcw at 3:59 PM on December 27, 2013

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