Looking to re-enter my field, but I'm terribly rusty. Best choice to sharpen up?
July 26, 2006 10:35 AM   Subscribe

I haven't worked in my field for over a year, so I need to spend some time getting back in the habit of programming, and probably to learn some more current skills. The problem is: which?

I graduated from St. Lawrence Collge with a Computer Programming Analyst diploma. I came out of the course with a pretty good knowledge of COBOL, Java, C++, and Visual Basic. During and previous to that time, I'd taught myself PHP, Flash Actionscript, and some pretty exceptional Visual Basic.

None of the languages I feel really confident in are in high demand by most companies looking to hire people with my (lack of) experience, plus I've been doing non-programming work for over a year now due to a lack of local jobs.

I've accepted that I'm going to have to be willing to move to find a job programming, but the question now is, which language to bone up on in the meantime? I'm (in general) a very good coder, with very good business practices (version control, proper commenting, coding style, Code Complete is my Bible, etc.), so I'm not worried that I'm embarrass myself with a lack of professionalism. Actually, I stand out from the crowd of entry-level programmers in that respect. But what language or languages should I be focusing on to make myself seriously marketable?
posted by Imperfect to Work & Money (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Java and/or one of the various .NET languages. I'm biased towards Java personally, because it doesn't tie you to a specific platform. In just about anyplace with a solid tech job community, you should be qualified for tons of jobs with either or both on your resume.

The problem, of course, is how to prove to potential employers that you know this language when you have no professional experience using it. I suggest working on an open-source project or two, which you can then reference on your resume.

Good luck!
posted by cerebus19 at 10:42 AM on July 26, 2006

Response by poster: cerebus19: I should have mentioned that, but I did plan on working on an open-source app for a bit, or finding some project that I'd been putting off for a while and trying my hand at that.

But more than just "practise, practise!" I'd intended to create something to demo.
posted by Imperfect at 11:11 AM on July 26, 2006

Everybody has hot code samples, and mad algorithmic skillz these days, at least in interviews. What sets apart the working new programmer from the interview wannabe is a demonstrated ability to work and contribute meaningfully in a team environment. You have to show a solid balance between cooperative people skills, and individual initiative and achievement, to get a rookie slot.

Can you work test productively? Are you capable of doing user interface development that results not only in satisfied users, but consistent and maintainable style? Are you willing to plop a big ol' smelly kludge down right in the middle of your effort, at the last minute, because "...that's the way we do it. Sorry we didn't make that clear."? Can you cash paychecks for months and years, getting only incremental daily satisfaction, but showing up on time every day, and reliably cranking out your 250 lines of source, while contributing solidly in project management meetings?

It's admirable that you're looking to improve your programming, but that only makes you a better programming widget. To actually become a programmer, you have to demonstrate that you are a worthwhile team player, interested in becoming a still better employee.
posted by paulsc at 11:34 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Damn fine advice, paulsc, and that's the kind of thing I focused heartily on when actually working in my field. I read Joel on Software, Eric Sink's blog, took Code Complete to heart, and tried to apply everything I knew on every team I was on. Impart wisdom when I had it, and take other's wisdom to heart when they were willing to share.

But I mean, that's really a step above where I am right now. I need the basic programming skills to get me in the door, then I can get back at those career-building skills. I just need to know which ones are... saleable and popular just now.

It's kind of looking like C#, because I've always been a Microsoftie, and Visual Studio Express is a pretty sweet free learning tool.
posted by Imperfect at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2006

Yeah, I'd say C# and ASP.NET are going to be where it's at for you, with your background. Good luck!
posted by matildaben at 5:07 PM on July 26, 2006

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