Tips, advice, and guidance for changing your career.
on Tuesday, April 12 @ 8:22pm
Software developer positions are highly desired. Just as astronauts, Supreme Court justices, and Hogwarts professors must have a variety of skills and knowledge, software developers have a combination of technical knowledge and soft skills. This post explores the skills that many companies look for.
All computer science programs are difficult. This is primarily because the underlying material is difficult to comprehend. Computer science encompasses philosophy, math, science, and logic. All of these can be both very abstract and very specific. Your CS program will be incredibly difficult in this respect. You will have to stretch your brain to grasp concepts that you didn’t even know existed, but you will be glad to have learned them when you’re done. You will have to wrap your mind around something as concrete as binary numbers to something as abstract as encapsulation. These small battles of understanding one particular topic at a time will help you understand the overall picture much better when you’re done. It will take you a long time to win a small battle, but this is why wars sometimes take a long time.
If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. — Sun Tzu
We will never understand the entire picture, but understanding computer science is a big piece to that puzzle.
You will fail. You will lose some battles. You will not understand certain things. It will take you a longer time to understand certain concepts compared to some of your peers, but you might learn other concepts more quickly. Failure is an integral part of success. If you don’t fail, you can’t learn from our mistakes and push ourselves into the next stage. A sailor who ties a knot incorrectly that causes a sail to blow out does not stop sailing; that person continues to sail until that knot is tied correctly. Repeated failure leaves a more permanent mark in your mind than repeated success does. This is called progression. Success tastes much sweeter when you have repeatedly failed.
This is a great thing! Nerds are a great type of people. Don’t be afraid to assimilate with your fellow nerds. Most nerds are introverted, but don’t be afraid to talk to them. Most likely, they want to talk to you as well! You might make a wonderful new friend or study partner, and these connections might be helpful down the road as you expand your career.
As is the case in most of life, you will never be the best. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be the best in a certain facet. Strive to compete with your peers in a respectable, reasonable way. You will not be the best, but you can be the best in at least one thing. Find that thing, set an example. It might be asking more questions in front of an audience, or solving a problem in a graceful manner while thoroughly explaining how you solved it. Find your talent and harness it.
When confronted with a problem, most computer scientists will tell you that, “there’s a better solution”. The truth is, they’re often correct. For example, one could use an iterative search to search through a list, but a computer scientist would tell you you’re wasting your time. But the trick is that you can still solve any problem with brute force. Giving up is the only type of real failure that you can commit.
Your journey starts in the marina. Your journey ultimately ends where you started. Along the way, you will experience both rough and calm seas. The reward is the wealth of experience and knowledge you gain. Your mistakes, failures and successes along the way will mold your character and build you into a tougher, more resilient person. You will also obtain a cunning ability to solve not just math and programming problems but also anything that needs more efficiency. When you are done, you won’t even care about your “merits” because you will be so excited with the new knowledge you have at your disposal to give to the world.
I work hard for the audience. It’s entertainment. I don’t need validation. — Denzel Washington
If you only learn what a CS program offers, you might graduate with very strong theoretical and analytical skills, but only minimal practical skills. To maximize your chances of getting a great job, ensure you’re also studying popular frameworks, platforms, and languages. For example, many employers expect software engineers to be familiar with modern tools like Ruby on Rails, GitHub, AngularJS, Heroku, Amazon AWS, etc. The combination of a theoretical foundation with practical skills will make you invaluable to any team.
If you’re considering a CS degree, you might want to compare it with Bloc’s Software Engineering Track which builds upon CS degree fundamentals with things like mentors with actual industry experience, an open source apprenticeship, the aforementioned technologies, and a whole community of people rooting for you every step of the way.
Go forth, and conquer!
We’ve never formalized our core values at Bloc, but if you surveyed our employees you would probably see authenticity in the top three most cited responses — followed closely by swag and Batman. We’ll focus on authenticity today.
Authenticity is a word that we use very specifically, and we don’t use it to mean the same thing as honesty or transparency. The easiest way I’ve found to articulate the difference is to explain it in the context of someone asking a question:
Here’s an example: when we raised our Series A investment last year, a few of my friends asked me if I was now a millionaire.
An honest answer would be yes. On paper, if we had hypothetically raised a round with a post-money valuation over $5M and I owned at least 20% of the company I would have 20% x $5M = $1M ownership in a privately valued company and could technically be considered a millionaire.
The authentic answer would be no, not even close. The question my friends intended to ask was “do you have a million dollars of liquid cash that you can spend to buy me a Tesla Model S?” And the answer to that question is decidedly “no”, unless Elon would accept Bloc equity as cash.
The developer bootcamp industry has an obsession with something called “the placement rate number.” It’s meant to measure a program’s efficacy by quantifying the percentage of graduates who successfully start careers as developers.
Bloc is one of few programs that has never advertised a placement rate. Prospective students are eager to ask us for this statistic, and I don’t necessarily blame them given how appealing it is to use a simple benchmark to compare programs. We don’t publish a placement rate though, as we believe it would potentially conflict with our commitment to authenticity, not because we lack confidence in the efficacy of our program.
When a prospective student asks us “what is your placement rate?” we could honestly say anywhere between 0-100% depending on how we qualify our answer. We could, today, say that 99% of our students find jobs after they graduate from Bloc in a way that is both technically honest and legally defensible, but not authentic or ethical. It’s not very difficult to game that statistic.
99% of our “splorkdents” find “globs” within 90 days of “schmanuating”. – Credit: SMBC Comics.
The truly authentic answer has nothing to do with statistics though. The question our students intend to ask is closer to “Does your program work?” or more specifically “Will your program work for me?” We’ve found a better way to answer that question: our Software Engineering Track comes with a tuition reimbursement policy for students who are unable to find new careers in software development after graduating, and now our students don’t have to worry about landing on the wrong side of a program’s 90% placement rate.
When there are programs with less than 20 grads touting a 100% placement rate and dozens of hidden qualifications, that number devolves from a transparent industry benchmark to a disingenuous marketing prop. While we look for authentic and quantifiable ways to evaluate program quality, I’ll encourage students to dig deeper: ask about the curriculum, background and experience of instructors, tuition and opportunity costs, and the hidden qualifications of these placement rate numbers.
When starting a new career, you want to give yourself every advantage. If that career is in software development, then learning computer science fundamentals is that extra bit of oomph you bring to each interview. Most bootcamps eschew these fundamentals for more pragmatic skills. But as these bootcamp grads expand the talent pool, recruiters start to see a lot of the same credentials.
To help our students stand out, we’ve included Software Engineering Principles in our new CS-degree replacing program: the Software Engineering Track. We included the following topics after consulting with some of the best engineering companies in the world, including Twitter and Google. Read on to learn why these four skill-sets are critical to every software engineer.
The Data Structures section challenges students to build and apply hash maps, linked lists, stacks, queues, trees, and graphs. Interviewers test for knowledge of data structures because these constructs are the most commonly employed tools in software development. We dissect these structures to reveal how they work, and thus provide students the insight necessary to optimize their use.
Some data structures perform better than others, and each applies to specific scenarios. Using the wrong data structure can hinder performance, and relying on an unsuitable data structure can lead to illegible code and wasted effort. In one example, students build two versions of a favorite film organizer, each powered by a different data structure. This project demonstrates how choosing the right structure improves performance and utility.
Algorithms act upon data to sort, calculate, or otherwise manipulate information into a desired form. For example, given a set of 10,000 numbers, return the five smallest. We can devise infinite ways to perform this work, and each way represents a unique algorithm.
Students study known algorithms as well as their complexity to understand the performance cost of each. Complexity analysis goes further to assess the value of any piece of code: both the number of operations required as well as memory consumed. This is a critical skill to have, chiefly for those students hired by firms that work with large data sets. The cost of a small oversight is minimal when operating on 12 pieces of data, but enormous with 12 million.
Databases provide the storage backbone for nearly all applications. Frameworks such as Rails help abstract the database from the developer with Object-Relational Mapping (ORM). While beneficial to the seasoned coder, these abstractions can hinder a beginner’s understanding of how modern software reads and writes persistent data.
During the Databases section of the Software Engineering phase, we instruct in the Structured Query Language, more commonly known as SQL. We use SQL to build an ORM by creating tables, inserting data, accessing rows, and performing other common framework operations. Students will also learn how to support object associations and protect their databases from malicious injections.
For companies like Facebook, their database structure is critical. Facebook users across the globe access millions of data elements every second; a poor query or mal-designed schema can translate to countless dollars lost every day.
With a working understanding of Rails, data structures, algorithms, complexity, and databases, students will build a new framework. The Software Engineering phase requires this because it removes the last metaphoric road block that separates an amateur from a professional.
After completing this project, students are no longer mere users of a framework, they are its marshals. They understand how frameworks operate and need not assume how Rails brings their applications to life. This section empowers the idea that nothing is beyond a student’s understanding.
Comprehending framework design is critical, especially for employees at GitHub. GitHub once ran on a forked version of Rails which they modified to suit their product’s needs. Without the requisite knowledge, creating and maintaining a custom framework is extremely difficult.
At their core, Bloc’s Software Engineering Principles address the gaps of knowledge between a web developer and a software engineer. By dismissing the “magic” of software, students acknowledge that beneath every shortcut and library, more code exists. Students armed with this knowledge are more valuable to future employers, coworkers, and projects.
As an aspiring software developer, you must immerse yourself in the software industry and its culture. You need to be able to speak the language of software, in addition to knowing how to code. Fortunately, the software industry has a culture of openness and sharing, so there are plenty of ways to learn about it. One source of information comes via podcasts. Our engineering team at Bloc assembled a Top 10 list that aspiring developers should follow, in no particular order:
Accidental Tech Podcast was created by three people, two of whom are developers. In the podcast, they discuss industry trends, capabilities of new devices, new products with great design, as well as other topics.
CodeNewbie features stories about people who are new to development and are now working as developers full-time.
Shop Talk Show is hosted by Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert. They interview notable developers, designers, and other industry leaders to discuss hot topics in development and design.
Software Engineering Radio targets professional software developers. Each episode focuses on specific topics as well as tutorials on software engineering.
Ruby Rogues is dedicated to the Ruby programming language. It features technical discussions as well as general concepts on Ruby.
This Developing Story was developed by Bloc’s very own Brian Douglas. As a former student and current engineer at Bloc, he interviews new developers to discuss their stories about learning and becoming software engineers.
Under the Radar is primarily for independent iOS developers. However, it hosts a lot of discussions about the day-to-day responsibilities of being a developer.
While short-lived (only four episodes), Reboot is worth listening to. The podcast, hosted by Thoughtbot, shares the stories of people who transitioned from non-technical careers to software development.
Release Notes’ features news and information about Mac and iOS indie software development. Hosts Charles Perry and Joe Cieplinski discuss topics, tricks, and tips for new developers focused on Mac and iOS platforms.
Mule Design’s Mike Monteiro and company host Let’s Make Mistakes. While it focuses more on design than development, it’s worth listening to for anyone who thinks about software.
While not all of these strictly apply to software development, their topics are interesting and each conversation can help you understand the industry as a whole.
If you look through the history of each podcast, you can also find other topics of interest or topics that pertain to a particular skill you’re trying to learn. As you listen, don’t be worried if you’re not familiar with all of the concepts they’re discussing. Listen to the context of each concept they talk about, and take notes on things you want to continue learning. You then have the ability to follow up by Googling or searching on Stack Overflow for more information. Several of these podcasts also have “Show Notes” associated with each episode, such as this Accidental Tech Podcast episode. They have links to articles with the topics covered in each show, and you can use those to continue your research.