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I've been filling out job applications recently, and a lot of them want to know how many years of experience I have programming in something like C or Java. I've been in college for a whopping eight years, and I've been programming in one language or another the entire time. I've gathered several years' worth of experience in multiple languages, the kind that would prove quite useful for a programming job (and it has, in my current internship). I've written tens of thousands of lines of code in my academic career and even had a published paper based around unique programming work I've done.

I've seen other answers here that suggest only professional experience should be put on the job application, which I can understand. What gives me pause is that for several of these jobs, the required qualifications can be as little as "has a high school degree and can speak English". I have only two months' experience in a professional setting, and I'm worried that if that's the only "experience" I quantify, I'm going to look as unqualified as any random high school graduate who they expect to learn all of their skills on the job. I'm especially worried that my application will get thrown out before someone even looks at my resume, since all of this is automated and online. At large companies I may not have the luxury of explaining my experience for that reason, but I also don't want to appear like I'm being deceptive.

In a preliminary stage where I cannot explain further or give anything but a number, how much academic experience should I include in my "years of experience" if any?

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The purpose of a resume or job application is to get the interview. Include the experience that will attract the attention of the hiring manager. –  user987654 Jul 28 at 22:09

5 Answers 5

I'm going to say what the other answers don't say:

Academic experience counts - to a limit.

4 years of class-room programming is never going to match up to 4 years of actual experience in a corporate environment - so don't waste your time and potential employers' time thinking you meet those requirements. The reality is that an employer looking to fill a mid-level position (3-4 years' expierence) is not even going to consider a fresh graduate.

On the other hand - if you have a collection of projects that are additional to your course, then you are a step ahead of most other people who have just left university or college.

Even better - if you have 4 years of education, and then 1 year's experience, then you might be able to get in when a job posts "4 years' experience". It's slim - but as a hiring development manager, it would at least get you conversation over the phone to assess your technical knowledge. 4 years' working experience doesn't imply you know what you're doing.

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Academic experience definitely counts. If you have been programming in C and Java for eight years, that's eight years. Maybe you didn't spend all day, every day programming. That's fine. No one else does either.

Experience demands on job postings are pretty loose anyway. When a job posting asks for "5 years of Java experience", what it really says is "We don't want to train an average new graduate, and we want to pay about average for programmers five years out of school."

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Your academic experience really counts. The most basic mission of programming is to build something that is verifiably working, and I think you have that part down pat. I think you will survive most coding interviews where they set out small tasks for you to do.

On the other hand, you may have acquired some repulsive habits coding on your own. I am concerned about you writing your code like you do your homework i.e. only you can understand what you've written, your code is poorly architected - a small change may require modifications in six or seven areas of the code rather than just one area - and poorly written, where any change to your code could blow your code to smithereens.

As an aside, I was hired once to clean up a faculty member's C code - He would use several variables to which he had assigned the same meaning, AND he would assign the different meanings to the same variable depending upon where in the code tree the variable was. By the time they called me, he had the only the vaguest idea what his code was doing. I still have an upset stomach just thinking about it :)

Make sure that your code is well organized and cleanly written, and you should be good to go :)

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Was it experience?

Did you spend time learning or exercising a particular skill? If so, that's experience. Obviously exposure in an academic setting is different than an industry production environment, but you need to learn somewhere.

Typically resume advice suggests you highlight results and achievements - things you've accomplished. For any kind of leadership position, this is expected. For an entry-level position, it's just not what you're going to get.

For entry-level positions, you want to highlight your skills and competencies. Any successful results you can discuss are nice, if possible, but aren't necessarily expected. What's expected of entry-level staff (anyone fresh out of school) is some basic knowledge and skills that enable you to do some work. An employer (at least a good employer) will want to provide you with guidance and training, but expect that you have an underlying skillset that this training and guidance can focus into something productive. As long as doing the work expected is not obviously well above your skill level, you should be fine.

To get to the point,

how much academic experience should I include in my "years of experience" if any?

"Years of experience" isn't necessarily something described by a single number. There are many types of experience that play into a work/education history. You could absolutely qualify the experience you have by mentioning that it's in an academic setting. Consider any projects you've worked on in that environment. You could style a section of your resume as though your studies were a job, and your academic projects were work projects. Describe what roles and responsibilities you had, what skills you applied, and what kind of results you achieved.

You don't need a recruiter/potential employer to think "this person should be running a company making a million dollars!". You want them to see your resume and think "I could give this person a job to do, and expect that it will be done, and be done well."

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@TheSoundDefense Put in a number that's high enough to get past the filters, and explain your case to a human. That's the only way you'll be able to determine whether the number of years you put in will fly :) Anyway, no one is going to be fool enough to hire you without looking at your code. If your code looks good and you can talk turkey about the fundamentals, nobody is going to quibble whether you put in two, three or four years of experience. –  Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 29 at 3:47

Yes your academic experience counts!

However... Programming in school and programming in the workplace can be totally different beasts. I was in an interview one time and I joking said that we failed if we used the Standard Template Library for our C++ course and he replied by saying if you don't use the STL at work you would get fired.

What you should take away from this is that while you have learned how to program in school, and that experience is totally valid, you will need some real world programming experience in order to feel at comfortable in the workplace. If you already have that experience, great! If not, then you might not be as prepared as someone who spent the equivalent amount of time working.

For example, if you feel like you rocked your programming classes and have experience working on an actual application (not just some class which traverses a graph quickly) such as an open source project then I would encourage you to put your most or all of your academic experience on the application: I was at school for 4 years, I have 3-4 years experience. If you don't have any experience programming on your own, maybe try reducing that number until you feel like you would be confidant working at that level: I was at school for 4 year, I have about 1-2 years experience.

Of course this is not a simple 'x numbers of years in school to y numbers of years experience', just fill out how long you think it would of taken you to learn what you know if you had been in the workplace instead.

Also worth noting, your personal experience counts too! If you are an active member of an open source project or something similar, I would totally count that too!

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