How To Find The Right People To Boost Your Software Career
Lately, a student asked me how you find the right people in your career as a software developer. This got me thinking. I wasn't really looking for the right people. I just did things that randomly got me to certain people that influenced me. This might sound similar to finding mentors, but let me start from the beginning.
Right after having my first few lectures in my studies, I wanted to find a job where I write code, that was used by actual customers for the first time.
You could say, I wanted to be a professional software developer fast. Before, I just hacked some stuff together at home as a teenager. At least it felt that way most of the time.
Anyways, I started looking around what companies exist in my hometown and simply called them. Well, I have to admit, it wasn't really that simple. I wasn't an extroverted guy who just loved to approach people. No, absolutely not. I was scared of the phone. Especially asking for a job with no professional experience was not an easy task for me.
But you have to get out of your comfort zone, I guess. And it worked. Out of maybe ten companies, two actually wanted to see me. The first job wasn't really a developer job, though. It was kind of an IT support thing. But after a few weeks, I got the other job where I learned to make software in Visual Basic.NET and Visual Basic for Applications.
It was amazing (although I'm really happy I don't have to write software in these languages anymore). For the very first time, my code was used by people I don't know and they actually paid for that.
Of course, I learned a lot. And my bosses, who have been the founders as well as the programmers of that small company taught me a lot. One day I was really embarrassed because I didn't know how debugging in Visual Studio worked. Well, after that day, I knew.
During my studies, there was a time where I had to look for an internship. I still got my working student position, but I wanted to see something else. Another company, another team, another programming language.
So, a fellow student and I approached several different companies. It was a lot easier this time because they had these exhibitions at our university where different companies introduced themselves and were actually looking for interns.
Additionally, one of our professors recommended us to a former student of one of these companies to increase the chance of an interview. Thinking back, it still was important to have good grades. So, maybe that's something to keep in mind.
Anyways, the interview went well, we got the internship, we learned Java for a change, but the payment was bad. Well, we have been paid with experience, of course.
I still am in touch with my mentor I met during this internship. So much for meeting the right people. After the internship, we stayed at the company for a working student position (with a tiny raise) and even wrote our bachelor's thesis there. For the master's degree, we changed our jobs, though, and started in the games industry.
Becoming a professional game developer was my dream ever since I touched a video game for the very first time as a kid.
Whenever I played a game I liked, I not only wanted to play this game all day long, but I also wanted to know how this game was made.
So, I started making games by myself. Standard stuff like Pong or Tetris, little browser games, you name it. During our studies, a fellow student and I made more and more little games and also organized some talks by people from the industry at our university. Actual game developers came to us and just talked about making games. The lecture halls were packed!
One day we saw an open position at Limbic Entertainment (Might & Magic: Heroes VII, Tropico 6). Well, we could be two part-time students which would equal one fulltime position, right? So, we applied and got the job. I cried!
I learned so much there. Heck, I was a professional game developer! (By the way, it's funny to see that fewer and fewer students dream of making games professionally. It seems they know that you can't make a lot of money as a game developer, hence the love of making games fades.)
What's the takeaway here? If you dream of a specific position, do some side-projects in that area, keep your eyes open for opportunities, maybe contact people that might lead you in the right direction and have the courage to grab opportunities like applying for your dream job. Too many people think they can't do it anyways, hence don't even try. I say: Just do it!
Ooh, that scary term for us introverts. Do you have to network?
In my experience, networking can help, but it's absolutely no guarantee and so it's not absolutely necessary.
Then again, it depends on how you define networking. Going to conferences or meetups and traveling around the globe? Or do you already network when you leave a comment below or connect with someone online on Twitter or LinkedIn?
If you don't want to take the time to go to someplace physically, then don't. There are plenty of other ways to reach your goals apart from hoping to meet the right person at a conference who knows someone who knows someone who - you get the idea.
And by the way, it works both ways. Networking is not only about getting something from someone but also about giving back.
Still, you can network and find the right people by watching live streams and writing direct messages on Twitter, for instance.
When I was making my own little indie game, I saw a potential indie publisher on Twitch. They asked all indies looking for a publisher to send them a message on Twitter. So I did.
Soon after a short conversation on Twitter and via email, we met at their office, I presented my game, they liked it and now I can proudly say that I have a game available on Steam and that I presented this game at gamescom in Cologne.
And yes, at gamescom I met a whole lot of other indie game developers and they did help me with some questions regarding the indie game industry.
You see, conferences or fairs can help. But so can a DM on Twitter.
Apart from that, you don't have to meet or even talk to a particular person directly.
I have learned very much by reading, listening and watching lots of stuff on the world wide web.
At this moment, you're reading this article. Thank you, by the way! This means, blogs or communities like dev.to definitely help. You could also listen to podcasts or watch YouTube videos.
But it doesn't end online, of course. Reading biographies like the ones of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or coding related stuff like Clean Code or Cracking the Coding Interview will definitely boost your career.
You will get new insights, new ideas, other perspectives and probably also more confidence.
In the end, I can't state enough that you have to make your own experiences. Create, learn, teach, experiment, socialize or don't. Just be consistent in what you're doing and maybe change your path from time to time.
Stick to that mindset, trust the process and yourself and you will get there, wherever there is.
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