23 Jan 2012, 02:18
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Gabriela Jack (3 posts)

Hi,

I just finished reading your book and enjoyed every single bit of it. I found a lot of very useful information that isn’t out there in any of the carreer advice books or websites I had consulted before. It’s really a great book.

My question, however, refers to those of us who are trying to get into this field a little late in life. I’m in my late 30’s, have a bachelors in mechanical engineering, but not really a lot of experience in that field either. I married shortly after graduation, and came to live here with my husband. While waiting for a work permit, we started a family and I have stayed home ever since.

Truth is I always wanted to explore computer programming, but went into mechanical engineering for a number of reasons. I knew some C++ from college, but had never really done much programming before. Last year, I signed up for a Java SE6 class at community college and I loved it. My final project was a video game. It was simple, similar to the 1 to 50 game for mobile phones, but I really threw myself into it. It was a desktop application, with a really nice GUI. Granted, it’s not perfect, I’m sure there’s a lot that can be improved, but I had never felt as happy doing something as I was when I was coding that little game. So, I signed up for the Java EE6 class the following semester and I enjoyed it as well. I’ve been told that if I take a couple more classes, I could obtain a certification of completion as a Java Developer, that I’m sure doesn’t mean much to anybody else, but it means something to me.

I really like programming, I learn quickly and I think I can be really good at it. I would like to do this for a living, but I wonder if I have a real chance of getting into this field so late in life and because I have no work experience in the field or much work experience in any field at all.

In the book I read about working in an open source project and writing your own code to have some good examples of your work to show off. Those are great ideas, but… should I try to get a job even if it’s not related to programming, just to build some kind of work experience even if unrelated? What do you recommend?

Thanks!

23 Jan 2012, 04:52
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Andy Lester (18 posts)

Thanks for the kind words about my book. I’m glad you liked it so much. You may also want to follow my blog at http://petdance.com/

I don’t think your change from ME to programming needs to be a daunting change. It’s less of a hurdle than changing from, say, English teacher.

I think there may be value in taking a non-programming job as a step to programming. More than the position that you take, I’d look at the company at which you apply. Look for a company where there are likely to be future programming possibilities that interest you, rather than just the job that is most similar to programming. Most companies would rather hire from within, so getting a position at a company that does work that interests you is the best way to get to be doing the work that interests you as well.

Make sure you explain in any cover letters that you say you’re looking to make a career change, and explain what you’ve done to prepare yourself for it. You already know from the book that you always write a cover letter when applying, and that it’s always personalized to the job for which you’re applying. In your case, explain that you’re looking to make a change, and that New Company Inc is a company that you’ve long admired, and that the entry level programming position sounds like a great way to make an impact and show the world what you can do. Without some explanation in the cover letter, I’m likely to see the lack of programming experience and conclude that you’re just trying to get any job possible.

Then the flip side to that is you have to be able to back it up. If you get called in for an interview, the first thing I’m going to ask you is “tell me why you want to change to programming, and what programming have you done?” You need a good, non-negative answer for the first, and you have to have a solid portfolio of code that you’ve written. That code should also be the type of code you’d like to be writing. If you would like to write web apps, then code for a smartphone game isn’t going to be as effective as a web-based address book app with a RESTful interface.

I hope this helps, and I welcome more questions in this thread.

Thanks, Andy

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