How To Get a Job As a Computer Programmer

Businessman in his office

“Doing your preliminary research” is the first of the six steps you need to take to get a job as a computer programmer. I will not name the other five steps here because they have already been listed in my Ezine article “Computer Programming: How To Get a Job As a Computer Programmer – An Overview.”

So what does preliminary research mean in the context we are currently exploring?

The closest analogy can be obtained by replacing the word “preliminary” with “market” to get “market research.” So why didn’t I just call it market research? One of the reasons I didn’t do this is because of the way the mind works.

We like to fit ideas into neat little boxes; so generally speaking once this has been done, we tend to switch off in the belief that we fully understand what has been put into that box. Preliminary research is a specific kind of market research which I would like us to explore with an open mind and fresh eyes.

Computer Programming is a vast field and one of the reasons why this is so is because of the variety of individuals who are engaged in its practice. Unlike fields like law and architecture there is not much regulation here because we are dealing with a field which is younger and less well established.

The first computer science degree program (of which computer programming is an aspect) is said to have started in 1953 at Cambridge University. Yet about 90 years earlier we have one of the first formal programs for the study of architecture being launched at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S.A.

So how does knowing all this help with finding a job as a computer programmer? We need to approach the task of finding a job with the clear awareness that we are dealing with a young and still fast growing field which is forever changing. Let us now translate this into more practical terms.

Those looking for a job as a computer programmer can be broadly divided into three categories. The first category will know little or nothing about computer programming but will be curious about it and might probably be in contact with somebody who practices it on a day-to-day basis.

If you are in the second category you will probably be at an intermediate stage whereby you have read a few books and maybe even been on a programming course. You will be able to write computer programs in a standard programming language. But you won’t have worked in a professional capacity.

Finally if you are in the third category then you are a bona fide computer programmer who has worked professionally and successfully for at least a year and probably much longer.

Now for each of these three categories the approach taken to do your preliminary research will differ if you are to succeed. Let’s look at each category in turn.

Preliminary research for the beginner

If you are just starting out then you have quite an advantage as you are reading this article. You might be wondering which aspect of computer programming to pursue. Maybe you can’t decide what computer programming language to study. You’re reading this because you want to work as a professional. So before expending copious amounts of time, energy and money studying various courses, let’s take the time to find out what is really happening out there in the professional computer programming space. As a beginner the following steps are recommended.

1. Go onto a recruitment website like Jobserve (Google this if you haven’t been to this site before). Put in search criteria such as “computer programming” and pick a location. London is a good choice because you will get a lot of diversity and hence get a good sense of what is out there.

2. As you study each job description make a note of keywords which you don’t understand. Open up a suitable editor and cut and paste any details which catch your eye into this document. Or you might prefer to manually take notes. Do whatever’s comfortable.

3. Now if you are using the Jobserve website type in “computer programming” into the job criteria field and hit the search button. Never mind about the results at this stage. You should now find a band of salary ranges from below 15,000 per annum to over 100,000 per annum located on the left hand side. Please note that this option will only appear after doing the first search.

By clicking on the Go button on the left hand side you will be able to search either by salary per annum or rate per hour. Start with the highest salary per annum visible by deselecting everything except the top two bands. Last time I looked the two top bands were 75,000 to 100,000 and above 100,000. Now push the Go button and explore what programming skills are currently required to earn this sort of income.

4. You have either been cutting and pasting details into a text editor or you have been making copious notes. Whichever way you have been recording you now need to get down to the detail of researching each of the key phrases you have come across. For example you might pick the following three key phrases “object oriented design and analysis”, “Multi-threaded programming”, and “java developer.”

Google each of these items in turn and find out what they mean. By the way I picked these key phrases at random off a job which has been advertised at the rate of 400 a day. I chose to go by rate per hour because this is the option for freelance computer programmers but I’m not going to go into detail about that here.

5. As you keep up this exercise for each job in turn you might find that you want to talk to somebody to gain a bit more information. If you know anybody in the field then carry your research to the next level. But you can see here that you will be armed with more intelligent questions which may elicit more useful information than if you had approached them cold. Also because you have focused on the highest paying jobs you are now focused on those skills which can maximize your earning potential.

As you interview experienced practitioners either in person or via online chat forums take time to also explore their general qualifications. For example did they need a university degree to get started?

6. The final stage of your preliminary research will be to get the training required to enable you to perform as a computer programmer. This will lead naturally to the second phase of getting a job as a computer programmer – general preparation.

General Preparation for the beginner

Hence for the beginner, General Preparation (which is the second stage in the job securing process) will mainly comprises extensive training of the right kind while learning the right skills. The vital key words here are “right kind” and “right skills.”

What we often find here is that due to poor or non-existent preliminary research the potential candidate ends up getting training of the wrong kind while learning the wrong skills.

Preliminary Research for those at the Intermediate level

In “How To Get a Job As a Computer Programmer – Doing Your Preliminary Research Part Two” we will explore the preliminary research required for the individual who is at the intermediate level of expertise.