Researching the software development scene
June 21, 2006 4:17 AM   Subscribe

How do I approach software companies for information on getting future jobs?

I'm about half way through a degree in Software Engineering. I need to organise work experience before I graduate (which isn't urgent - two years). The other day I googled out a list of about five 'software consultant' firms in my area, and I'd like to contact them for ideas on what I should be doing to get work experience, what kind of skills they look for, etcetera, so that I know if everybody wants me to know visual basic or whatever. It'd be awesome if they turned around and said 'hey, do two weeks with us now!' but I'm not really expecting that and I'm a little worried that if it comes across like I am, I'll look crazy disorganised.

My problem is that I'm not sure how to approach them, especially as I'm going overseas for six months in August so I'm not available this summer (December) when most work experience positions are open. Also I'm nervous about approaching people in general. Is it acceptable to just send an email to the 'jobs' contact on a website asking for that kind of information, or is there a better way to go about it? Is it even worth doing this now, when I'm not really available to instant offers, or should I wait till next year when I'm going to be around?

Bonus question: what other ways are there to identify companies with a software development aspect? I just googled 'software (consultant, development) brisbane'.
posted by jacalata to Work & Money (7 answers total)
Why don't you try to intern for them?
posted by k8t at 4:30 AM on June 21, 2006

Note: the skills/technologies that software companies are looking for now are likely to be very different from the skills/technologies they're looking for in 6 months, a year, 2 years. So any info you get now will be out of date by the time you get around to doing this later.

As for finding companies that do software development: Or other job hunting websites. Do searches on things like "software developer", "software engineer", etc, and see what companies are hiring for those positions. Those will be the ones you're looking to contact.
posted by antifuse at 4:45 AM on June 21, 2006

I've found that many major companies are reluctant to share this sort of information on the grounds that they feel they might be falsely implying that you can have a job.

For instance, I once approached Merck about the common skills their bioinformatics employees have, or people would need to have, in order to have a chance at entering. I found a total reluctance on their part to share this information for the aforementioned reason.

I don't think it hurts asking though. How could it? Hundreds of people ask the majors these sorts of questions daily, and they've come to expect it. Just be aware of how you're asking the question so as not to make it sound like you're trying to tailor a skill set just for them. Antifuse's idea is excellent too.
posted by BioCSnerd at 5:10 AM on June 21, 2006

Best answer: I was just talking to my coworkers yesterday about this topic. That is, what are we looking for when we interview job candidates? We have interviewed numerous candidates over the past six months but have hired only four with three more positions to fill. The problem is that most people don't seem to have any passion or self-motivation for their career. They might be smart, good at their job, etc., but do they demonstrate a real interest in what they're doing or are they working solely for a paycheck.?

My company needs people with Java/Javascript/AJAX/DHTML/*nix experience, but if you ask again in two years it could be something else. So what we are really looking for is people who are genuinely interested in computer science, people who love problem solving, who can spend many frustrating hours trying to solve a single problem without giving up.

If I interviewed you and you had none or barely any of the skills listed above, but you whipped out an application that you developed because you thought it was a cool idea (e.g., music organizer, photo manager, fantasy baseball league coordinator, ..., anything), I would be thrilled. Failing that, if you could tell me about a technical book that you recently read and why you're really glad you read it or why it was a waste of time, that would be good. Failing that, tell me the blogs you read regularly to keep up on tech issues.

So to make a long comment a bit longer, show passion for the job you want. If you are doing something in your free time to improve your professional skills, then you are setting yourself apart from the vast majority of jobseekers out there.
posted by tutbon at 6:54 AM on June 21, 2006

Not exactly an answer, more a related observation: It sounds like you'd get more mileage out of networking and astroturfing than asking about skillsets.

Build relationships with people in industry (hint: the top year in your school will have been in the workforce 2 years when you're looking for a job), join something like IEEE, start a blog, make sure anyone typing your name in Google gets lots of interesting hits back, stuff like that.
posted by Leon at 7:45 AM on June 21, 2006

how about joining a local users group. Maybe google for email address and see if any of the developers at the company are part of any users group.

I have to agree with tutbon, show some enthusiasm when networking. Companies want team players and your personality will go a long way in showing that off.
posted by bored at 2:55 PM on June 21, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all for the suggestions: I kind of ignored this for a while to finish exams, sorry. Sounds like overall it's more worth doing a little more personal development and working on the projects I have than chatting to future employers at the moment.
posted by jacalata at 9:56 PM on June 28, 2006

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