What can I do to move into product development software?
May 30, 2012 2:01 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to move to a company that makes software as it's primary product... what kind of skills will I need to add to my resume to get in the door?

I have a CS degree and love programming, but I've been writing code for hardware manufacturing and QA for about a decade. I'm wondering if it's left me with some blind spots. Also, I admit that I sometimes feel like the software industry sees programmers with my experience as second class citizens... perhaps it's just me?

Among other things, I've built a lot of tools and manufacturing test equipment, set up source code control and build management systems, made small projects in half dozen different programming languages, spent time reading technical books and papers, and helped organize user group meetings for others in the same niche I'm working in. In other words, I'm competent.

BUT, the systems that I've worked on tend to be small (for instance, I've never had to merge code in any automated way), and I've very rarely had the opportunity to work in person with really top notch programmers (amazing scientists, electrical and mechanical engineers, yes, but programmers... a bit less). And only rarely do I have the chance to do a really deep dive on the technology I'm working on. Just enough to learn the API and get the tool built and product out the door.

While I've enjoyed what I've done, I'd like to move away from the QA firing line ("What do you do here, anyway?" is depressingly common from management... or perhaps its more alarmingly common, since I work in medical devices). And, I'd like to work directly on making something that's used by more than the engineers down the hall.

So, hivemind, what can I do to move in that direction?
posted by underflow to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Start applying for jobs. Your experience sounds more than relevant enough. It's good that you have experience with learning new APIs, source code management, and multiple languages.

You will need to be comfortable discussing your design and implementation choices with other programmers on the team. You might not get a chance to do it at your current job, but as long as you can confidently explain why you chose X to get Y done, you'll be fine.

If you actually get rejected because of your lack of experience on large projects (unlikely IMO), you could contribute to a big open-source project to get a feel for it.
posted by scose at 4:49 PM on May 30, 2012

It sounds like right now you are working in manufacturing (test). If so, 10 years of experience doing that is not going to be as impressive as 10 years of product development experience.

I think scose's open source project idea is a good one. Also, does your medical device have any software or firmware content? Can you get into product development or R&D in your present company? Or, maybe IT? From that, you might be positioned better to move to the role you want in a software company.

You may need to take a bit of step back in responsibility/pay, but hopefully it is worth it in the long term.
posted by elmay at 9:25 PM on May 30, 2012

Look, can you program?

Can you write a linked list and a binary search tree? Can you decompose problems into functions and/or classes? Can you implement FizzBuzz (google it)?

If you can program, you can get a job as a programmer. For instance, you could look for people who make the shrinkwrapped versions of tools similar to what you've built in-house. There, your experience is directly applicable to what they're actually shipping. Failing that, there are certainly tools companies in all sorts of industries.

That said, you need to go to one of the big-money systems/hardware/OS companies to get to work with the great scientists. Best you usually hope for is a few real hackers.
posted by Netzapper at 4:55 PM on May 31, 2012

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