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Climbing the corporate ladder

by drewbie (Chaplain)
on Jun 11, 2004 at 04:40 UTC ( #363296=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

As we're moving farther and farther from the dot-com boom, my lack of a degree is really starting to come back and haunt me. I left school to be part of the "internet revolution" because I saw something facinating being built which I felt had great potential. Thus my first job as a HTML monkey, which quickly lead into my first programming forays - the humble formmail script and soon thereafter basic database-driven applications w/ oraperl (perl 4 pre-DBI). This was 1996 and I knew I was onto something big and exciting.

As I continued working and building my skills, my lack of formal schooling didn't matter. Times were good and jobs were plentiful. I could easily demonstrate my skills and prove I could do the job even though I had no degree. However, that's not the case any more. As more and more of my work is tucked away behind closed doors, it's becoming more difficult to demonstrate the increasing sophistication of my work. So how do you compensate?

During my day job I use lots of CPAN modules because I don't believe in reinventing the wheel, and the boss is agreeable to ocasionally submitting patches back to the community. This is one way of demonstrating skills, but patches usually don't show you know how to architect an application, just improve it. In the next week or two I'll be starting work on a personal project using Mason, Class::DBI, and whatever interesting release might come along on CPAN. I'm doing this primarily as a resume highlight, but I intend for it to be a profitable venture as well. I definitely plan on using this as a way to sell myself, and to have good, unencumbered sample code for interviews. I'm also focusing much more on good UI design, and designing applications that are easy for an end-user to learn and use. I think it's safe to say that "programmer designed" UI's often suck from a usability point of view. My early ones certainly did.

It seems that more and more these days, if you don't have a degree you're almost considered to be lesser than those with one. I say this NOT to knock on those degree holders out there, because they certainly deserve recognition for their achievements and persistence. This time of Graduation serves to remind me of those who toughed it out and the need for a degree these days. But what about the "self-made man"? How does he make himself standout in the crowd? How can he demonstrate the experience he's built up?

I know all about the benefits of networking, and am slowly building my contacts. But what about those times when you don't know someone in the company who can help get you past HR? What can you do besides go back to school (high on my TODO list already)?

I do not lack a degree because I'm dumb. on the contraty, I'm a smart guy, and I believe current and former coworkers would agree. I've single-handedly designed & developed 10k line web applications. I wrote a complete e-commerce system back in the day (that was my rite of passage, like writing a templating system or database wrapper is today). I've done lots of interesting things with creating PDF's on the fly. Problem solving is fun and enjoyable, and it motivates me to go to work in the mornings.

When looking for the next big challenge, how can I move myself to the front of the pack? Thanks for your ideas and tips.

Comment on Climbing the corporate ladder
Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by jZed (Prior) on Jun 11, 2004 at 04:50 UTC
    As Yogi said "If you don't know where you're going, you might not get there". I bring this up only by way of asking what your goals are other than "climbing the corporate ladder"? What are your interstes either in programming or outside of it that you would find satisfying to work on? Or ones that you could get passionate about as you did in 1996? It's those interests and passions that will get you where you want to go. If you really want something and you're good at it and you know where you want to go with it, those things will speak louder than degrees when the chips are down.
      My end goal is to keep advancing myself professionally. I really enjoy being just a developer right now. But I don't want to be a pure developer forever. I want the chance to gain more leadership experience, which usually means you have to climb the ladder a bit or strike out on your own. That leadership experience is one of the things I see more and more of as a requirement for "Senior Developer" positions, so it's a bit of a catch-22. You can't get the experience w/o moving up the ladder, but it's not easy getting to the first step so you can start climbing.

      The project I mentioned is one I've been sitting on for a year that should be interesting both from the standpoint of developing a business around it and technically (ie. the problems are not trivial to solve and will require a bit of thinking outside the box).

      Outside of coding, I intend to do a lot of sailing/canoeing/kayaking this summer. I'm going to get outside more - something I don't do nearly enough these days. Being outdoors and "experiencing" nature really energizes me, but at this point I'm unsure of how I can use that to advance myself professionally.

Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by Callum (Chaplain) on Jun 11, 2004 at 09:53 UTC
    A few comments for getting through the HR CV sift and into the hands of someone technical.

    There will generally be a hierarchy of degrees for a typical technical role -- at the top is a relevant science/tech degree, then a non-relevant sci/tech degree, then non-tech, then no degree. Not directly applicable to you, but for myself (astrophysics) and many others it's important.

    Distance learning, night classes, etc can be of great use, even if you're only taking one course a year your CV now says you're currently taking a (relevant) degree. This isn't 100% of course, as some companies definately don't want people studying whilst working, but in many cases it will get your CV through the initial sifts and onto the desk of someone who can evaluate it on it's technical merits.

    "But what about those times when you don't know someone in the company who can help get you past HR?" I'll be a bit flippant and say -- find someone who can. If your covering letter can say that you've spoken with Joe Manager about the job then it stands a chance of bypassing the sift altogether.

    Unless time is short, write to the HR department before you submit a CV, ask if they've any preffered formats for receiving CVs -- they may like to receive it in a particular easily OCRable font for example, or if they accept email applications in a particular document format. Also enquire if there's a particular person that applications should be addressed to -- ie rather than hr@acme.com IT applications go to it_hr@acme.com -- at the least this ensures the company recieves your CV the way they want it, with the added benefit that a couple of people there may recognise your name the next time they see it.

      Distance learning, night classes, etc can be of great use, even if you're only taking one course a year your CV now says you're currently taking a (relevant) degree.
      That's a good point. So "Finish my degree" moves from my TODO list to my DOING list, therefore I show initiative. And that is (almost) always a good thing.
      "But what about those times when you don't know someone in the company who can help get you past HR?" I'll be a bit flippant and say -- find someone who can. If your covering letter can say that you've spoken with Joe Manager about the job then it stands a chance of bypassing the sift altogether.
      Another good point. This echos what Ask The Headhunter has been saying for a long time: Study the companies out there, find one that you want to work for, and then cultivate a contact so can get you in the back door.

      Here's an interesting article off that site. Basically it says: Be honest, don't lie, and it's your responsibility to make yourself outshine the others.

      If you need a rule to follow, let it be this: Speak the truth.
      • Let it be the listener's responsibility to take your words at face value and act on them accordingly. If you're afraid the truth won't help you achieve your goal, then it's up to you to find a more compelling and honest way to communicate your point. The challenge is yours.
      • Take others at their word, and let it be their responsibility to be honest. If it turns out they're lying, stop doing business with them; stop associating with them. The challenge is theirs.

        I'm in a similar situation. Left school early because I ran out of money and started working. Did several (10) years hard time as an SA (actually dug it, but quite tired of it now) and slowly moved into writing more and more code. I'm now writing software for a living. It's quite nice. However, when I was job hunting after getting laid off it was fairly apparent that not having a degree (and not currently working on one) was quite detrimental.

        Luckily I have a job that I love. I have a strong desire to make sure that I'm in as good of a position as I can be to always have jobs that I love. (for the most part I have, I consider myself extremely fortunate) As a result of my recent experiance job hunting (and much prodding and poking from my fiance) I am taking classes again.

        After much thought about work and life schedules I realized that spending 3 nights a week in class would not be practical. So I started taking classes at Uo Phoenix. The classes are reasonably challenging (have not taken any techincal classes yet) and the format is fantastic. I'm fully aware that a deg. from UoP is not going to carry nearly as much weight as a deg. from a more traditional school but I figured that with my experience would get me past a lot of the roadblocks.

        The amount of work needed for the classes is by no means less than the amount of work needed for "traditional" schools. You just get to do it when you have time to. The classes are condensed into 6 weeks and you will cover the same amount of material that would be covered in a normal 16 week semester. I would work an average of 4 to 5 hours a night 4 nights a week on the class I was taking. I expect that will change depending on the class but that's been my experience with the 3 classes I've taken so far.

        my .02
Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by WhiteBird (Hermit) on Jun 11, 2004 at 13:17 UTC
    Depending on where in the world you live and what schools you have available, you can look into the possibility of getting some of your degree credits through either testing out of certain courses and/or through experiential credits. You can get credit for things you've done simply by submitting documentation from your employer to the school showing what you've accomplished. You still have to pay a certain fee to gain credit that way, but it's a good way to get part of your degree out of the way.

    If you're an experienced programmer why should you have to sit through a class in Basic PC use? Or in Program Design? Talk to a school admissions counselor and the department head of the CIS division and find out how many credits you can get for the stuff you already know.

      Good idea. I must confess though that my first thought was: Isn't that how a "degree mill" works. :-) While I couldn't get out of compiler theory, I should be able to at least get credit for all those freshman/sophmore seminars they make you attend.

      All this talk of school has inspired me to start doing some serious inquiries into taking classes again. I had a friend who got her Masters from UMass Boston last year and had good things to say about them, so I'll probably start there first since tuition is more reasonable at a state school.

Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by zentara (Archbishop) on Jun 11, 2004 at 16:26 UTC
    "But what about the "self-made man"?"

    The best way is to start your business.... are you really a self-made man if you get onto the "corporate welfare roles?"

    Me? I have learned to love being poor and under-employed.... because I can still proclaim my "innocense". Once you declare yourself a professional, heavy responsibility (karma) seems to come your way. I worry about my soul more than anything the "rat-race" can give me.


    I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. flash japh
      While there are definitely many "corporate welfare roles" out there, they are not the ones I'm looking for and pursuing. The biggest advantage I know of for working for a corporation is that they often have resources I probably would not have as an independent. I'm talking about things such as oracle licenses, "enterprise" apps such as ERP, CRM, etc that require large amounts of cash to purchase.

      There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the coin and IMHO it's unfair to lump all corporate jobs into "welfare". I don't want to be poor & living paycheck-to-paycheck. I have a wife and child that I have to think about, and they need stability. Ever priced a family health insurance plan? Want corporate contributions to your retirement? My point is simply that corporate jobs aren't all bad.

Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by McMahon (Chaplain) on Jun 11, 2004 at 18:29 UTC
    Build yourself a killer resume.
    Put all of your excellent skills and experience at the beginning of it.
    Write a cover letter that shows that you know the domain, the job, and the company.
    Don't be afraid to tweak each resume you send out to appeal to that particular company.

    I don't have a degree either, and this strategy has worked well for me since 1997.
      I've been doing this to varying degrees in the past, but that is excellent advice and I'll continue to do better. More and more I've been reading that you should not have a stock resume. Instead, customize a resume for each potential employer to highlight the experience that would be most beneficial for that position.

      Congratulations on your success!

Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by tilly (Archbishop) on Jun 11, 2004 at 21:19 UTC
    I know that you say that you know about the benefits of networking, etc. But I still have to say that how you look for a job should be the first thing that you focus on to overcome the lack of a degree.

    First of all if you don't have a degree, then it is likely that any kind of automated cut will cut you. Unfortunate but true. And, short of getting a degree, there isn't much that you can do about it. Therefore it pays to look for jobs in ways that are unlikely to be hit by an automated filter like that.

    Since you've got Perl experience, I have to recommend http://jobs.perl.org. Anyone posting jobs there has someone involved in the hiring process who understands the Perl community. Such people are more likely to be able to evaluate the quality of an applicant. Likewise get involved in your local perlmongers group if there is one. (You can always start one if none exists...) That is an excellent way to get contacts. For instance if you were in LA, you'd have heard about 3 different companies hiring within the last month. And you can ask on the list for the names of good headhunters.

    And if you're spending time on the job boards, don't. To understand why not just read this article. About 2% of hires happen through job boards. And your lack of a degree puts you at a disadvantage there. No amount of work on your resume will change the fact that those are not effective for finding you jobs, and that your lack of a degree really hurts you there.

    And a last option to consider. Work for yourself. There is no question that you're willing to overlook your own lack of a degree. When people hire consultants they generally ask different questions than when they hire employees. You might just find that your lack of a degree is less of a barrier there. But be warned that being successfully self-employed has its own challenges. Nor is this an easy market to do it in.
      As always, tilly you have some excellent points. I decided today that it's time to go back to school and will be filling out an application for UMass Boston this weekend. I'll probably only do 1 class a semester for a while, but that's better than nothing!

      I've been on the perl jobs list pretty much since the start. That is my gauge of the perl jobs waters, and I'm happy to report that the water is definitely getting warmer. Unfortunately, nearly all the jobs posted are not in the New England area. If I was in CA I'm confident I could have gotten a new job a long time ago. But I'm in Boston, which has been slower to recover from the tech job losses in the last few years. It's picking back up, but the volume (for perl anyway) is still much smaller. Now if I was a Java guru ...

      I don't think I've looked at job boards in months. I occasionally troll for "perl" in Boston but I don't waste more than a few minutes doing so. I read the Ask the Headhunter article you referenced, and completely agree with Nick's conclusion. BTW, I highly recommend his email newsletter to everyone. He has some spot on advice regardless of your specialty.

      Finally, long term I would love to work for myself. But I'm not there yet, and will probably finish school before I try striking it out on my own. What I'm trying to do now is start some small projects I can work on the side that could turn into full-time ventures. Again, that's all in the future. I have a family to think about, which unfortunately limits my entrepreneurial abilities.

      I have to recommend http://jobs.perl.org. Anyone posting jobs there has someone involved in the hiring process who understands the Perl community.
      That I know not to be true. I've pointed recruiters to jobs.perl.org (and seen their offerings appear there) who had no knowledge what so ever about any "Perl community" except for the fact the only person they knew with significant Perl knowledge was me. I know of others who succesfully point recruiters to jobs.perl.org. Being able to figure out a webform to post a job opening doesn't make one understand the Perl community.

      Work for yourself. There is no question that you're willing to overlook your own lack of a degree. When people hire consultants they generally ask different questions than when they hire employees. You might just find that your lack of a degree is less of a barrier there.
      Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know how the situation is in the USA, but I've worked for a consulting company in .nl for a couple of years. And unless you have been hired by a company before, almost every application for a consulting gig starts with sending a resume, which is used as a first filter for the company potentially hiring you. Now the difference is that for many consulting gigs, you have to do a very specific thing - so they might weight experience more than degree. But that's a chicken-and-egg problem, to be able to get (more) experience, one must have experience.

      Abigail

        And unless you have been hired by a company before, almost every application for a consulting gig starts with sending a resume, which is used as a first filter for the company potentially hiring you. Now the difference is that for many consulting gigs, you have to do a very specific thing - so they might weight experience more than degree. But that's a chicken-and-egg problem, to be able to get (more) experience, one must have experience.

        I agree, indeed it is a chicken-and-egg problem, but I don't see that much as a big problem. From 1994 to 2000 I've contracted 60 people and to be able to hire the better ones, I had to read and analyze hundreds of resumes. I discussed this work with several other (personnel) managers and almost everybody does stress the importance of experience, but there are several forms of experience.

        The form most considered is experience in a paid job, for an employer. Quite often, applicants for a job at my cmpany, didn't have such experience, but they had exerience in working at home or (as a student) at university or high school. And they could show that experience: websites, database-driven, several scripts, server logs and statistics.

        For me, and quite a lot of managers of small companies, a degree is absolutely not important, and neither is experience in a paid job. Just be able to show you have experience.

Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by perlfan (Curate) on Jun 11, 2004 at 22:25 UTC
    I would seriously consider finishing your degree. I have a bachelors, and I am working on my masters *just* so I can compete. Your hard work will pay off. Besides, it is much easier to convince management of your worth/skills if you can tell them that you are finishing your degree and have an anticipated graduation date.
      I've come to the same conclusion. See my earlier reply to tilly about applying to school.
Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by cLive ;-) (Parson) on Jun 11, 2004 at 22:46 UTC

    I'm heading that way too drewbie, but I more sort of fell into managing. What worked for me was to spot problems outside of my immediate area of responsibility and then fix them (making sure you're not treading on anybody's toes :).

    I get a say in the hiring process for new developers here now and, personally, I can't remember if anyone on my team has a degree. What I look for is passion. Passion for what you do and curiosity to know more. I'll even consider people with currently weak Perl skills if they've already proved they can learn and adapt. Of course, unless I get hassled directly, I only get to see the resumes HR and my boss have filtered :)

    As for the getting the resume through HR - I used humor to get interviews (I had two sections on the skills part of my resume, "Things I can spell" (ie, thing's I've used but have little memory of right now), and "Things I can do". I think I also added a bullet point about "can hold a conversation without staring at my shoes" somewhere too.

    But then, in a more formal corporate environment that might not quite work as well. But I'm happy sitting here in shorts and bare feet pottering away...

    I think the key thing is to keep track of your achievements outside of development. How have you improved efficiency? How did you organize the dev process to improve QA? etc... and, if you are organizing chunks of work for work mates, how are you ensuring they do the work to an acceptable quality level?

    My management stuff is 5% of my time, but I find that general fixing of broken processes etc takes up a lot more time.

    just my .02 of rambling thoughts...

    cLive ;-)

Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by baruch (Beadle) on Jun 12, 2004 at 04:23 UTC

    Hi, Drewbie. Your comments touched a nerve. Unfortunately, having a degree is increasingly becoming the magic key. The dilemma is that many of us are highly qualified, experienced, competent programmers, yet that lack of degree keeps us from getting in the front door. Many of us were busy learning how to program, while others were getting their degrees, so to speak.

    I think this is part of the cycle for new technologies. Early on, there are no degrees, because no one's done it before. At that stage, the need for people to learn the technology is critical, so mere paper qualifications aren't important. As the technology matures, there are more teachers, more students, and eventually more degrees.

    Management types seem to be comforted by the paper qualifications. It's safer for their jobs. If they are faced with two candidates, one with a degree (but who can't program), and the other who may be a god, but has no degree, a manager will probably opt for the degree. It's simply safer for him. If the god doesn't work out, he has no defense. He hired the guy, and now the guy's gone. But if he takes the degree, he's not at risk.

    It has been my experience that a degree doesn't have much to do with programming ability either way. Some great programmers have degrees; many do not. And there are plenty of crappy programmers out there, with and without paper.

    I don't see a good solution for this, for those of us (such as myself) who have no degree. It is getting harder to find jobs in corporations, as they move to requiring more paper. I am seeing smaller, hungrier companies willing to take a risk with someone without a degree. Unfortunately, these companies often can't pay much. They are taking risks because they're already marginal. Not much job security.

    As to moving yourself to the "front of the pack", I'm not exactly sure what you meant by that. I've always tried to make sure I'm at my best, and to let my skills speak for themselves. To me (and it sounds like to you, as well) getting in the door is the hard part. Once I get a chance to show what I can offer, I feel I have a good shot at a job. Certainly not a shoo-in. There are better programmers than I am; but at least a fair chance at it.


    בּרוּך
Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by deprecated (Priest) on Jun 12, 2004 at 05:41 UTC
    I hope you'll pardon my not addressing your node point-by-point.

    I, too, am one of these people without a degree who has occasionally gotten a bit of flak for it. In general, I find that the people that give me this flak are those with degrees who have wasted 4-8 years of their lives obtaining said degree.

    Let me elaborate a little further.

    I failed algebra in high school. Shortly thereafter, I decided high school was a waste of time, and dropped out. I started college. After 2 years of that, I got a better offer. Work, and support myself full time, or go to college, and incur debt. This was an easy decision.

    I still don't really understand math in a pure sense. However, in the last month, I've been required to "learn" set theory and pieces of calculus through my job. In fact, the only way I ever came to understand Algebra itself was in terms of programming. My professor was very understanding and allowed me to use programs I had written to solve equations on tests.

    So now I'm 26, and I have almost a decade of experience under my belt. The last time I was actually hunting for a job, it was because I was unhappy with the job I had. I found a new one, and was prepared to leave when my current employer offered me a 20% raise. I realized at that point that the only implication of that was that they had been paying me 20% less than they thought I was worth to somebody else. This, too, was an easy decision: I took the new job at a slight cut, knowing they wanted me for who I was and what I could do for them. I'm generally much happier with this employer.

    Whoever is giving you guff has (usually) one of two reasons:

    • They wish to pay you less than you are worth.
    • They wish to justify the time they spent in school and the money they spent on it.
    While I don't really like to point at demagogues and pop psych, I might suggest you read The Fountainhead.

    Don't let it get under your skin. If you're where you are, and they're where they are, you have a definite competitive edge. Don't let their insecurity rob you of that.

    dep
    and no, i'm not bitter. not even a little.

    --
    Tilly is my hero.

Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by bradcathey (Prior) on Jun 12, 2004 at 16:20 UTC

    Drewbie, I realize I'm a little late replying to this node, but I do bring a slightly different angle to your dilema.

    I'm not a Perl programmer by trade, I'm a graphic designer. Before I get to the Perl stuff, let me tell you about my design pilgrimage. I don't have a degree in design, it's in music. I knew my skills and talents were in design back in high school, but when I went to college back in the late 60's, it was the era of doing-your-own-thing, bucking the establishment. So I did music and nearly starved to death.

    So, I went back to design and started looking for work. Of course, all potential employers wanted a degree, in spite of my abilities. So, I struck out on my own, lucked out, and for 26 years have been self-employed and have employed approx 100 others over the years.

    I fell into Perl when I started doing web development. I started with a used copy of an 1995 edition of some forgotten Perl book and just started hammering out scripts to handle forms and send e-mails. I now love programming (though I have so much to learn, as coming to the monastery nearly a year ago has shown me, but that's a whole other story). Now, my favorite days are when I get to program--not design.

    The fact that I don't have a degree in design or computer science has not stopped me. Granted, I don't want, or have ability, to be a full-time programmer like yourself, but hanging out your own shingle means you can call the shots. Oh, believe me, there are times when being self-employed is scary, but now I get to do two things I love without anyone asking me if I have a degree in either one. And when I do get asked, it's fun to see the reaction when I tell them it's in music.

    Be encouraged! Think outside the box! And consider choosing your own path and creating your own destiny, even with the pitfalls. All the best!


    —Brad
    "Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up. " G. K. Chesterton
Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by sfink (Deacon) on Jun 12, 2004 at 21:46 UTC
    I have been fairly heavily involved in the hiring process at my current and previous jobs. At my previous job, I often looked first at the applicant's college, degree, and GPA, and if I didn't like what I saw there I barely scanned the rest of the resume. At my current job, I will often look at the degree, but I will only pay attention to it if it is something interesting (namely, something besides a CS degree). And I think I had decent justification for both attitudes.

    In my previous job, our company was heavily involved with creating, optimizing, and implementing fairly complex algorithms. Most of what we did was to analyze a problem, place it in the context of known algorithms, figure out what new techniques or algorithms needed to be developed, come up with them, and then translate them into code. As we gained experience in interviewing people, it became evident that those skills were rarely found in self-taught coders. It requires a genius to get good at those on one's own, whereas they teach exactly that sort of thing, useful or not, to everyone who goes through a CS education. We loved fresh college hires.

    That company is now dead, and I suspect a big part of the reason is because we spent our time and effort doing what I just described. Like so many other companies from that time, ours was technology-obsessed, and we had a great solution in search of a profitable problem. We worked hard to make our solution just right, but didn't pay too much attention to making it useful or appealing to customers. (Sound familiar, anyone?)

    At my current company, we've been shipping product since near the beginning, and we mostly need developers who can figure out what people need, code it up, and make sure it keeps working even in unanticipated situations. And for that, college is largely useless. We don't care for fresh college hires. Someone with a good solid degree may work out fine -- but usually only if they've had quite a bit of post-college real-world experience, and a self-taught guy with 6 years of experience is usually way better than someone with 2 years of experience plus 4 years of college.

    I guess I'm saying that college can be useful, but it's really dependent on the company and position. If a company ignores you because you don't have a degree, then it might be for a good reason (eg they are working on stuff similar to what is taught in schools), or it might be for a bad reason (eg they have a blind belief that a person with a degree is always better or safer to hire than a person without). Both types of reasons might be cause for not wanting to work at that company in the first place.

    Another related bit of experience: upper management types, when looking to hire peers, definitely do notice degrees for prestigious universities. On the other hand, I've also heard them ooh and aah over someone's track record, when that person never finished their degree. You will need something for them to be impressed with for that sort of position, but education is only one type of shiny object you can hold out.

    For myself, I would only go to school if it was going to actually teach me something that I needed. Perhaps that's because I have a steady paycheck, no kids, and a well-stocked refrigerator, but if you have the luxury of improving yourself rather than improving your superficial appeal to other people, then do whatever is going to really make you more effective. The experience gained from tackling a difficult problem certainly qualifies. Schooling might, if you feel you are lacking analytical skills or knowledge of the state of the art and algorithmic techniques. College will definitely expose you to many patterns and approaches that you might not encounter in your regular life (or not recognize). So will reading other people's code, working collaboratively on open source, or reading and trying to understand the various technical blogs and summaries floating around.

    Oh, and one last data point -- in hiring at my current job, a CPAN module or open source project on someone's resume is going to be way more impressive to me than any degree. And I have an advanced degree from a good school, so it's not just because I'm a defensive antiestablishment basement coder. (I'm a mainstream defensive basement coder, dammit! Agree with me or be irrelevant!)

Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on Jun 13, 2004 at 13:56 UTC
    But what about those times when you don't know someone in the company who can help get you past HR?
    Find a good recruiter. Seriously. A few years ago, I moved from .us to .nl. I had zero contacts in .nl, but I had to find a job. On a monday morning, I had contact with a recruiting agency - I explained by background, what I was looking for, and they assigned me to a recruiter most appropriate for my wishes. Before the end of the day, he had set up two job interviews for me on the following Wednesday. On Wednesday itself, he had set up another interview for me on Friday morning. Friday at noon, I had three job offers to pick from, and I started work the next Monday.

    Half a year later, I decided to quit my job (three months before the company went belly-up). For a few weeks, I unsuccesfully tried to find a job on my own. So, I contacted the same recruiter - on a Friday afternoon at 4pm. By 7pm, he had set up two interviews for me on Monday morning. On Monday, there were two more interviews set up on Tuesday. On Friday, I had four offers to pick between.

    Abigail

Re: Climbing the corporate ladder
by Sandy (Deacon) on Jun 14, 2004 at 21:52 UTC

    I have no answers, but I do have a different perspective.

    I have too many degrees (PhD), not in computer science. When looking for a job, no one would even talk to me.

    So, how did I get my current position... I stubbornly went to a job fair, and after numerous technical people refused to talk to me, I started saying "I have a PhD, will you still talk to me?". This usually embarassed them into talking to me. The rest was up to me. I got 2 job offers doing that.... However, the job that I ended up with was more luck than anything else. I was standing in the hallway arguing with the HR lady, arguing that just because I was 'over educated' didn't mean that I would get bored and quit the company after 2 months. As I was arguing, some manager came along, who was also 'over qualified' and felt the kinship. We talked, complained about engineers, and he offered me a job, and I promised him that I would not quit after two months. I've been here 8 years now.

    You'd think people would learn... while looking for fresh blood with my new supervisor, scanning CVs by the hundreds, he cavaliarly discarded all CVs that did not have a bachelor degree, but also discarded all CVs that had more than a bachelor degree. I pointed out his flawed logic to him, and he blushed, but I do not think that this has made a lasting impression.

    Do I have solutions? Nope, but I think the key is getting in to actually talk to the persons who you would work with.

    Me, if I were in the position to do so, I would hire people who love programming, because, IMHO, it is truly the real requirement to becomming a good programmer.

    Sandy

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