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The Background

I have a bachelor's degree in computer programming and information systems. During school I worked as an intern doing network administration and hardware maintenance for a government organization. After graduating, I was hired permanently at that job and I continue to work there. My supervisors knew that I wanted to be a programmer, but they recommended that I take the job offer anyway. They reasoned that it's easier to apply for positions from within the organization than to apply from the outside. Now that I'm established in the organization, I'd like to begin to apply for programming jobs.

The Problem

I'd like to get a position as a programmer within the same organization, but my current job is not programming related; therefore, my résumé lacks in programming related experience. In my spare time at work my supervisors let me program small tools and medium sized applications to help us in our work, but it's by no means a professional programming environment.

If I write my résumé including the work that I actually do ninety percent of the time, then it won't include any programming experience. If I leave what I actually do out of my résumé and only include the (unofficial) programming I've done at work, then I'd really be lying about what I'm paid to do. It's also obvious from the title of my job that I'm not currently a programmer.

I don't have much programming experience outside of work either. I have the work I've done in school which is mildly impressive. I have some small projects I've worked on at home that are mostly puzzle type programs, such as finding prime numbers, converting binary to decimal, the knight's tour, etc. I continue to study and practice as if I'm still in school. I read books on programming and analysis and design, and write small programs to test what I've learned, but I don't have any significant professional programming experience that I can list on a résumé.

I know I have the necessary knowledge and ability to get an entry level programming job. I just don't know how to show it on a résumé, because a résumé typically shows only your professional history.

I appreciate any advice on how to handle this.

  • @JoeStrazzere I would include my current job on my résumé. The issue is my current job mostly includes troubleshooting hardware, replacing parts, troubleshooting network issues, or helping users with basic application issues. My job title (IT Specialist - Network/Customer Support) even eludes to the fact that I don't get paid to write programs. Someone hiring for a programming position would not care about the IT Specialist work I do. On the other hand, the programming work I do is not officially part of my job so how do I include that in my job responsibilities? – TheSecretSquad Jul 6 '13 at 22:34
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The main thing in your favour is that you want to change direction but stay in the same organisation. Most employers would want to help an employee be happy and productive rather than lose them. I have known plenty of people move into programming from other areas of the business. The thing here is that you're not just relying on your resume, but also on your network. It wouldn't harm to talk to your manager and ask for his help. Also talk to other programmers in your organisation. If you have a buddy there it will help you when you look for a job in that team. Stress that you're trying to learn programming, maybe get them to help you, recommend reference books or whatever. This shows initiative and a willingness to self-learn, which will help your case.

When it comes to your resume, I would recommend you don't make stuff up. The truth will come out. However you can stress your soft skills; your willingness to learn, the fact that you are teaching yourself at home. In my own CV I do include work I do at home, though writing my own iPhone apps is more of a second job than a pastime.

I've lived in the UK and New Zealand, so maybe resume styles differ from where you are. However the resumes I've read, and my own, have a section at the start that talks about my work ethic, the things I love doing and my long term goals. It's about a paragraph. I think I even say that I love programming and have taught myself new programming languages, that I love working with clever people and enjoy mentoring juniors; all the soft skills that don't come out from the list of places I've worked. Whenever I read someone's CV before interviewing them, I've pretty much decided whether they are the person I want by the time I've read that first paragraph.

  • Good suggestions. I'm trying to determine if it's appropriate to include my programming work at my current job under the responsibilities of my current job because that's not what I'm paid to do. I would like to include the programming I do at work and at home in a section about my personal work ethic and long term goals. However, I'm in the US, and while a résumé in the private sector might include a personal touch, the government has a preset format that they prefer which does not include a section for any personal summary. How then do I include this programming experience in my résumé? – TheSecretSquad Jul 6 '13 at 22:55
  • I would like to talk to some programmers within the organization, but there are none where I am. I've been there almost four years and have yet to meet a programmer. There are certain locations where they do that type of work, and other locations you just won't see any programmers. I spoke to one programmer over the phone who works in a different state, and he basically told me I have a decent job with good pay; why would I want to leave? Knowing people is a benefit where I am, but ultimately the system relies heavily on a résumé (with the right keywords...). – TheSecretSquad Jul 6 '13 at 23:02
  • Ouch, you're pretty much tied down. In your "current role" section you could I guess list work you've done at home. I suppose the worst that could happen is it would be ignored. However you have shown initiative and that must count for something even in the most strictly controlled environment. – Derek Knight Jul 8 '13 at 2:24
  • Regarding the "do what you do and don't complain" attitude, maybe that's typical in government, and really if that attitude is prevalent maybe the only way you'd swap careers is away from your company. In any case, if there are no programmers where you are, you'd have to move to a different office at least, so maybe a different company is not a bad thing – Derek Knight Jul 8 '13 at 2:32
  • I don't want to give the wrong impression. There isn't a "do what you do and don't complain" attitude. That was the attitude I got from that one person. People change positions all the time here, and sometimes enter entirely different career paths within the organization or with different agencies. What I'm trying to do is possible. I just figured I'd have a better chance at getting selected for a position if my résumé included some programming experience. I just can't figure out where to put it so it doesn't seem out of place. – TheSecretSquad Jul 23 '13 at 2:44
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I was in the same position as you. Had a lot of systems administration background but graduated with a Bachelors in Computer Science without any industry experience in software development.

I'm not sure what kind of projects you did in school to think that it was insignificant, but the projects I did in school was what got me to fill my resume with programming experience. Are you positive you didn't have impressive projects? Even when you don't think that it's impressive, you can elaborate briefly the on technology or algorithm you had to use. But make sure that whatever you put on your resume you can immediately explain everything in detail because that's what I had to do in my interview. It's much too easy to put something like "Knowledge in Haskell" when you only did one simple program using that language. It's not enough to be worth mentioning.

But one thing is for sure, you are in a much better position to get the programming job as you have probably built great relationship with the people there. At my job a lot of the Help Desk guys easily transfer to the Software Engineer side.

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    I'm going to second @cYn. Programming is only one required skill. Understanding the domain (the business) and working effectively with others are big pieces of the "new hire" puzzle, too. You've already nailed those! (Hopefully). Ask your manager to introduce you to the dev leads and managers. Resumes and CV's are only one way to get introduced. Any competent manager will recognize the value of keeping a good employee in another department vs. losing them entirely. Who you know is almost as important as what you know. In fact, once you hit about 40, it's even more important. – Wesley Long Jul 6 '13 at 7:22
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If you've done programming, you have one or more demos. While they might not look like much, many employers have a yes/no attitude to programming, either you can do it or you can't. Which language, etc., is a detail.

Two or three things would communicate to me that you could hack the job - first is the database 'round trip', where you enter data into a form, insert it into a database, query the existing record, update a column, and save the column update to the record. Good if you can do this in Microsoft Access or C#/Winforms, better if you can do it in HTML5/Ajax. The latter involves setting up a web service on the database side.

Second is creating a report of some sort, in which you provide parameters (such as a start and end date), invoke a stored procedure in the database, then generate a report from a table generated from the stored procedure.

Third is taking a not quite nice .csv or flat text file (not nice meaning missing data, or needing to combine text lines from multiple records into one) and importing it into the database, with appropriate cleanups to catch records that would invalidate the table relationships.

Any one of these things would probably persuade the software people you're ready for bigger things. All three of them would be pretty impressive for a newbie.

  • I've done everything you mentioned and more, and with varying platforms and languages; with the exception of working with web services (it's on my list of things to learn). How do I include it on a resume that only provides space for "work experience"? I've done some of it at my current job, but it's not actually part of my job description and I don't do it full time at work. – TheSecretSquad Jul 23 '13 at 3:10
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    Forget the 'job description'. If you did it, you can do it again. My job title at one company was 'System Administrator': my role was to keep the network, PC, and Servers running. What I did: 'Connected Attachmate 3270 emulator to Access form through OLE to scrape data from terminal to local database; reverse engineered Pascal 6 byte floating point in C, converting fields to IEEE double precision; combined weekly production reports and computed linear regression to plot volume growth'. – Meredith Poor Jul 23 '13 at 4:34
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There is a simple answer to this.

You need to produce a copy of your CV that is tailored for this programming job. Your question reeks of negativity - but you can get around that.

First things first, write up a list of your highlights on the programming situation (that's what you're going to be, right?). Concentrate on them. Format your Resume to allude to a love of it. You're already part of the company that you want to code for - so play to that as well.

To summarise:

  1. Play your strengths in programming, exclude superfluous information.
  2. You're already in-house and well known.
  3. Work your ass off out of hours to get to the level you need to be at.

In short, go for it - don't lie - but play to your positives. When you're asked about negatives, your go-to answer is something about not knowing enough or not being challenged. The corollary to that is - don't get overwhelmed by the job just because you want it.

  • "Play your strengths in programming, exclude superfluous information." This is what I'm having trouble figuring out how to do. Where in my résumé do I do this? In my work history? If I only include the programming work I do at my current job and exclude my actual job responsibilities for the sake of tailoring my résumé, then I'm not being entirely truthful about what I do at my job most of the time. – TheSecretSquad Jul 6 '13 at 23:18
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My experience has been almost exclusively in the private sector, so I am sorry if I come across as ignorant of government hiring protocol, that's because I am: if I go for a job for which I did not qualify in my resume, I usually tailor the cover letter to reflect all of the bits and pieces of my work experience and education which, I claim, qualify me for the opinion.

If your government organization accepts cover letters as part of the applicant's documentation, then I would recommend my approach as easier to implement (in my opinion :))

If your government organization requires that everything is in the resume and does not want a cover letter, then you'll have to create a custom resume for the occasion, a process which could be both painful and time consuming :)

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