Finding a (Bay Area) tech job with a degree and no experience
November 17, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: how does one find an entry-level job as a software engineer--in supposedly the "best" market in the US, the Bay Area--without prior internship experience?

He has an undergrad CS degree from a reputable-if-you've-heard-of-it East Coast school, but almost zero work experience. No campus or summer jobs during college, except for one summer of math/theory-related research at an REU.

Applying to the usual prospects has resulted in a few interviews which didn't work out, but also a majority of straight rejections without even a phone screen. Areas of interest are algorithms and machine learning, maybe statistics/data science (although he only minored in math). It seems like everyone is looking for at least internship experience, but intern openings are limited to full-time students.

He is really smart and has passed all of the phone screens that he's gotten, so I think the major barrier is finding smaller companies to apply to and then actually getting through the resume screen. Networking has been tried to some success, but may be exhausted by now after the first round of interviews. What can he do to persuade companies to give him a chance?
posted by serelliya to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps find some relevant open source projects on Github or Bitbucket that need work and contribute pull requests. Write a blog that discusses work that was done related to projects. Set up a LinkedIn or similar networking page that details contributions. If anything, this will help learn programming skills that will be testable in an interview.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:42 AM on November 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

His college career center ?

I mean, what was he doing on those summers while in college? Anything he can put a spin on ? What classes did he take ? And local friends to reach out to, or even remote friends ? Is he currently living out there ? Doing what work-wise ? Is he only looking to work for Google, or is he applying everywhere/anywhere ?
posted by k5.user at 11:50 AM on November 17, 2014

Best answer: How many applications has he put out? I have 10+ years experience in engineering and the hit rate is pretty low - 10:1 is roughly what I'm getting. I get lots of rejections even without a phone screen.

Just keep trying, and if he doesn't get the job, ask for feedback on how he could improve i.e. is it experience or is he turning people off in his interviews? Why didn't he make it past the phone screen phase? That kind of thing.

Otherwise keep applying.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:08 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

IDK, but when I've interviewed recent college grads I look for smarts and niceness and that's about it. Many internships are worthless and most experience outside of that sort of looks the same, so perhaps your friend just needs to stick with it (and seconding the advice to reach out to friends).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:09 PM on November 17, 2014

Establish a reputation by contributing to projects on GitHub; build a portfolio of relevant knowledge experience. Starting a blog is a good idea.

Many computer programmers don't do well with person-to-person interactions and so interview poorly, both over the phone and in person. I have no idea if this is the case for the person about whom this question is posed, but that's another thing to consider.

Consider also that there may be some psychological issues (depression? anxiety? etc.) that affect this person's interviewing ability/motivation/interpersonal communication).

Finally, is this person actually located in the Bay Area? You mention an east coast college; finding jobs in the Bay Area is a lot easier if one is actually in the Bay Area.
posted by dfriedman at 12:16 PM on November 17, 2014

Response by poster: Quick update to answer questions: He is currently located in the Bay Area and unemployed (his housing situation is free, which makes it tenable). I went to the same East Coast college as him so I can say with confidence that our career center is near-worthless, although the CS department itself is starting to be more helpful with industry rather than just academia.
posted by serelliya at 12:24 PM on November 17, 2014

Best answer: The key is just finding the dozens of little ten-to-a-hundred-person companies which would probably be happy to hire him if they knew he existed.

If he's up for a little networking, he might want to consider finding a local meetup group that matches something he's interested in and capable at (e.g. some programming language, tool, or field of endeavor) and ask around there whether anyone's company is hiring. Most engineers get significant referral bonuses, so they're incentivized to help out if they hear someone moderately credible is looking for a job.

Making a portfolio or a blog is a fine idea, but it's not really a solution for getting hired next week.
posted by value of information at 12:32 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is he asking too much or only applying to google and facebook (the usual suspects)?
The bay area hiring market for CS students is crazy right now - like if you have a pulse you can find a job, though maybe not at Google or Facebook.

Look at who is hiring on Craigslist, maybe sign up with a recruiter.
Work on the interviewing skills.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:33 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Perhaps find work with a temp agency? I hire software engineers and a lot of times it is temp to hire these days.
Are there any alumni of your college employed in your field in the bay area? Perhaps hitting LinkedIn or the Alumni network can help.
posted by elmay at 1:13 PM on November 17, 2014

Best answer: In my experience, these days tech companies care a million times more what you can do than what your degree is (I could go in to details on why but it's not super relevant and I'm typing this on a phone). When I applied for jobs in a very similar situation - fresh CS degree from a tiny East Coast liberal arts college, no tech internship experience to speak of - employers cared waaaay more about the small iOS app I had in the App Store/on github than they did anything from my degree. The best advice for your friend is to get some projects - build SOMETHING, put it out in the world, and throw the code up on GitHub. That takes time, though, so for now he can fake it by putting a "Projects" section on his resume and listing any sizeable class projects he did, along with languages and technologies used, etc. I listed the compiler I built in one of my upper-level seminars, for instance.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:28 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, not interning while in college was a bit of a mistake. He can still intern now though. If he's just unemployed anyway, an internship is a great way to get his foot in the door somewhere. I definitely know people who took internships after college to help move their career forward and in the cases I know of, it always worked -- they ended up with a job. If it doesn't result in a job, it can result in positive references and networking, assuming the intern tries to do a good job. I don't really see why he'd just hang out unemployed and NOT intern somewhere now that he is clearly able to. I question his decision-making a bit and how badly he wants a job.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:43 PM on November 17, 2014

Google, one of the most data-driven companies in existence, admits that its vaunted interview process was essentially no better than chance at identifying good candidates. Software is, paradoxically, a field where the work product is entirely concrete (i.e., computer does what it's supposed to, or doesn't), and yet everyone from academics to recruiters agree that it's essentially impossible to tell from an interview whether someone is any good or not. Observing real work product produced in the professional environment is the only way. Compounding the problem is a flood of non-programmers, some ostensibly with the correct credentials, applying for programming jobs. So the recruiting situation is completely screwed up.
The good news is that with Github it's never been easier to demonstrate real work product. Go to meetups, see what interesting things people are working on, fork, and start accomplishing something.
posted by wnissen at 1:49 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's all about networking. Also he should go to Meetups in tech areas that he's either good at or is interested in. For instance if he was in to mapping, I'd ay go to a MapTime event or two and talk with people and then maybe from there meet up for #geobeers and within three weeks he's got an offer to interview somewhere interesting, at least if he's smart and presents well. For any tech niche – Javascript, NoSQL databases, Rust, GoLang, etc – there's a group that meets weekly or biweekly. He needs to be there meeting people.

He's already over the biggest hurdle, already in the Bay Area. He just has to work that presence. GitHub is a great way to network online, but it's way better in person.
posted by Nelson at 8:39 PM on November 17, 2014

Does he have any friends that are employed by tech companies? He should ask them to refer him for positions. Many many jobs get filled this way. Also could try, make sure his linkedin is up to date, etc, but I think the friend referrals are the best way to go. So many companies are hiring like mad, he may just need that intro to cover his lack of experience.

But also he should be prepared to do web development type stuff. Barely anyone actually does data mining, basically no one does "algorithms", ditto with data science unless he has some actual background in it. The good thing is that a kid who has nothing but a degree, not even internship experience, probably has actually no idea what will really make him happy. So he should find a place that will pay him well enough with coworkers he likes and a company culture that doesn't seem toxic and learn something about himself!
posted by ch1x0r at 9:03 AM on November 18, 2014

Referrals are the strongest possible signal for hiring managers; it's worth figuring out if any college acquaintances are out here, and ask them for a referral. They'll usually get a cash bonus for doing it, so they have easy incentive, even if they don't know the person they're referring well.

They can put in the referral "I knew this person, and can't say anything bad about them, but thats all I know" and it's *still* a strong positive signal for hiring someone.

That said, I'm curious if the local startups are easier to get hired into.

As a surrogate for an internship, take any college project work and personal work (if any!), and put it into a portfolio that you can link to from the resume. They're interested in the internship experience because it's a signal for actual experience; that said, a portfolio is likely better still, because by default... the company you interned for didn't hire you if you're applying elsewhere, and that in itself can be a *negative* signal.

Good luck. :)
posted by talldean at 2:50 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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