How should I do a long distance job search for an entry level software developer position?
July 13, 2010 7:24 PM   Subscribe

How should I do a long distance job search for an entry level software developer position? Options inside.

A long while ago I quit my job in IT because I was seriously burned out on the particular job and type of work I was doing and had some money saved up. I have almost no personal or financial responsibilities. I did some traveling, some nothing, lots of thinking, etc. Some months ago I rediscovered a passion for writing code, and since then I've worked very hard to get my skills up. I've built a small portfolio and web presence. My past work experience and education also, very fortunately, complement my goals. I'm ready to get back to work and I want to get my new career as a developer off to the right start.

The core problem is that right now I'm staying with family and the area I live in is not the best for me professionally or personally. I want to move. There are about half a dozen major US cities I would be happy to move to. The challenges are limited money, a near total lack of any professional network, and no direct experience in the field.

I'm really not sure how to proceed. I feel like I would be a phenomenal fit as an entry level developer but I just don't know how to get there.

Here's a list of options with some comments:

1) Move without a job or permanent housing to one of my target cities and look when I get there.

Comments: I'll admit, this is the most tempting approach, mostly because my current living-with-family situation is getting old. But my current money won't last very long independently, and if I end up on the streets this all becomes much more complicated. And how much face-to-face networking can you do if you can barely afford peanut butter sandwiches in your rented room on the outskirts of town? I might be able to get a survival job until I get the software job I really want, but can I count on that? I'm a dictionary example of overqualified -- too experienced, too educated, and too eager to move on.

2) Search long distance through the job boards for an entry level position from my current location.

Comments: Is long distance searching reasonable for entry level software jobs? I don't know. If the search will be fruitless then I don't want to waste months on it and have to take option (1) flat-broke. Also, what I really want is a job with learning potential and lots of people smarter and more experienced than me -- the kind of job that you get through personal networking, unfortunately. At the very least I don't want something soul-destroying. How can you sort the good from the bad long distance, given how generic most software job ads are?

3) Don't move. Get over the relocation idea and instead just search locally for an entry level position. Maybe move after I get some experience, build a network and have more money.

Comments: Probably the most "responsible" approach. But I'm getting older and I want my next location to be my home base for a long time. So choosing this option is really just choosing to settle where I live now. It's a not a terrible idea -- I could do much worse -- but it's not really what I want. I don't want to live the rest of my life regretting taking the safe path.

4) Search for a position in my old IT field and then transition internally once I've been at a company for a year or two. Or, use the money saved from a year or two of work and revisit the other options.

Comments: This is a non-option. My personal experience is that if you want to work as a developer, you need to get a job as a developer. It's not impossible to transition internally but it's an uphill battle. More importantly, I'm not setting myself up for that kind of burnout again, no matter what is supposedly offered at the end.

So that's it. What am I missing? Any ideas? I recognize that I've painted myself into a corner here, and it's a lesson learned for the future but there's not much I can do about it now except look forward.

Thanks in advance. Email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Look into hackerspaces some have living space involved. Are you reading "hacker news"? Lots of information about creative living situations for programmers and startups. Good Luck.
posted by sammyo at 7:43 PM on July 13, 2010

I got my first job at a distance. Most companies recruit college students from all over, so it's not really unusual for companies (especially big companies) to fly people out for interviews. Do you have any connection to a local university? Maybe you could get in on their career fair and do some networking there. Another possibility is that you could plan to be in Silicon Valley (or a similar place) for a few weeks and plan for a shit-ton of interviewing during those few weeks, and if nothing pans out, rinse and repeat. Happily, there are decent numbers of open dev positions these days, it seems.

One thing that might be a good compromise is trying to find a position with a local branch of a large company, and then transferring locations in a couple of years.
posted by little light-giver at 8:19 PM on July 13, 2010

Why do you say you are phenomenal fit? What kind of software do you want to do? What languages?

Have you ever been through a programming interview before? Regardless of your answer, I'd recommend the book Programming Interviews Exposed.

For #2, if you focus on job boards like Joel on Software or 37 Signals, you can still have time to work on other options. (I believe these two boards attract companies and people of slightly higher caliber than a typical newspaper or Craigslist ad.) The volume on those boards is not that high, and some of the jobs will not apply or be appealing to you. Judge the best you can on what you can find, but be sure to use the interviews to ask questions.

In any case, obtaining a job at a distance is not uncommon for software engineers. I wouldn't be too discouraged about it. Don't be afraid to try.
posted by aloysius on the mixing boards at 8:32 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine, today, over happy hour beers: I've got five heads of funding but only two developers... we haven't been able to hire anyone.

Me: What, there's more demand than supply, even in this economy?

Him: Yes.


That's in Seattle. So the jobs are there. Without experience, though, it's going to be an uphill battle. In order to pass an interview, though, you'll need to know things that you may not have learned by teaching yourself. Interview prep material will be a good starting point for identifying those things.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:50 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

You may be able to earn some money doing contract work, where you don't necessarily have to be in the same city as your clients. You could start doing that work now, then continue once you've moved to whatever city, since in theory your location shouldn't matter. Hopefully that would help you afford to live there. It may give you enough free time to look for a permanent job, and would help you build up experience. You can find that sort of work on sites like elance and craigslist.

One good way to start networking in a new city is by joining any local groups devoted to whatever programming languages you're interested in.
posted by blue grama at 10:01 PM on July 13, 2010

In my experience, you will get many more responses when the address on your resume matches the city you're applying in.
posted by teki at 8:37 AM on July 14, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
@aloysius on the mixing boards: I didn't get into details because I didn't want this to be a blatant advertisement for my services. But since you asked, my current languages are C++, Python, and C, but I have non-trivial experience with several others. I float between a 1 and 2 in most categories on the Programmer Competency Matrix. I'll consider any opportunity, but I have a strong math background and feel I'm more suited to heavy back-end algorithmic type stuff rather than, for example, front-end web development. I'm also very Linux-oriented but am not morally opposed to working with Microsoft stuff, it would just take me longer to get up to speed. I've looked at Joel on Software and 37 Signals, as well as Stack Overflow and Ars Technica. I agree that these jobs look more interesting but I assumed they would be harder to get. For example I see a job listing on Stack Overflow that's only two days old and has over 2000 views. But maybe I'm just psyching myself out.

For everyone: how helpful are recruiters long-distance? Any recommendations for where you live? Also, if anyone in the industry would be willing to review my resume or basically just take a look at what I have to offer and let me know where I stand in the grand scheme of things, please send me an email. My background is kind of unusual and I don't have many industry contacts so it's hard to gauge things. I'd really appreciate the feedback.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:49 PM on July 14, 2010

I understand your apprehension, but it's mostly in your head. You can't get anything if you don't try.

You should definitely consider other options, but it may be beneficial to apply for a few jobs you like. This option is not mutually exclusive with the others. Be sure to write a good cover letter and tailor your resume to the position (if possible, I understand your resume may be light since you are starting out). Yeah, you may not hear from anyone, but I don't think it'd be a waste of months as you say. You'll probably get at least a phone screen. I know several people who have gotten their jobs this way.
posted by aloysius on the mixing boards at 7:45 PM on July 14, 2010

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