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My question is as the title says, how can I help revive/restart my career after having been unemployed for longer than I have been employed? Here's the situation.

I have a bachelor's degree in Journalism but chose not to further pursue that. Instead I followed a traineeship as a Java Developer in 2016 where I got my Java 8 OCA cert, followed by 10 months of work experience as a junior developer. This ended in late 2017 due to serious mental health struggles (which I had ignored for too long). I was still technically employed by the company that offered the traineeship, but because I asked to work 32 hours p/w, I was benched for nearly a year. So in short, my work experience is only 10 months + training.

Since then I have been searching for work unsuccessfully as a junior developer (or anything I could start learning), going on 3 years now. Since I have been home for so long, it has taken its toll on my mental health, making it even harder to find work.

In the meantime I have been working on myself as per everyone's advice, but this has not made it easier to work on my career. In the past 3 years I have worked on my programming skills, though this is obviously not enough. So far I have created an Android app and published this, learned the basics of pen-testing and followed a couple of tutorials here and there, but I'm finding it hard to pick any one thing, as I'm not sure if what I'm learning will help me advance my career.

In 2015 I was diagnosed with autism and I'm still learning how to fit this into my life (and workplace). In my previous job I had no help in managing my work/life balance, which lead to me having to leave the workplace. Now that I have the help, I just need a job to put the theory into practice.

I am unsure where I stand. A lot of people have told me that with my resume I should be able to get a job just fine, but personally I feel like I might be arrogant in thinking I stand a chance, especially without an IT-related degree and so little work experience.

So with that as my background, my question would be: what are my options? Do I find another traineeship to start over with? Do I further expand my skills and learn different languages? Or do I stick to what I know and dive deeper into that, getting more certifications? Should I focus on certifications or on making personal projects? Do you think there are options to get (unpaid) work experience, even remote?

Or have I just not found the right company yet? I currently have the time, means and help to get things done, to follow courses and get certifications, but the people helping me lack the expertise to know what exactly I should be doing. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you in advance.

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    What are the reasons of not getting hired you hear from the companies you’re applying to? They might be helpful in determining what your next steps could be. – AsheraH Nov 18 at 14:44
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Full disclosure about myself:

  • Autistic
  • No degree
  • No certifications
  • Have worked for very large companies that are household names

Here:

  • Don't overanalyze.
  • Don't go for anymore certs, get out there and apply.
  • Make friends, network with people, learn to promote yourself.

Get these books:

  • The seven habits of highly effective people
  • Brag: How to toot your own horn without blowing it
  • How to win friends and influence people
  • Rhinoceros success

As autistics, we tend to overthink things, and get obsessive. That's fine, but get obsessive over the RIGHT things. Up your negotiating skills, and get out there. Do practice interviews with friends.

Find a charity near you and volunteer to do some IT work for them. That way, you get experience AND you get to add charitable work to a resume. That always looks good.

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    "Don't go for anymore certs, get out there and apply." Really that says it all. – Fattie Nov 18 at 15:15
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    I'd also say add a side project with the latest-ish version of Java. – An SO User Nov 18 at 17:06
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    +1 for practicing interview. It helps immensely when preparing to practice both coding questions and interview questions. A place like leetcode.com is great for practicing problems. A friend is great for practicing interview questions. – mkamerath Nov 18 at 17:19
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    @nick012000 Well, aside from being rude, that was wildly inaccurate. I had to start over about 7 years ago, and had homelessness, and a stroke to recover from. Never make assumptions about people, they can be quite embarrassing when proven wrong. Oh, and dealing with age discrimination as well. But, if you would like to provide an answer that's better than your implication to just give up, I'd love to hear it. – Old_Lamplighter Nov 21 at 15:30
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    I couldn't care less if @nick012000 was / wasn't rude (I'm ruder than anyone! fuck you all!) but IMO nick's interpretation of the job markets (both "then" for Boomers and "now") is wholly wrong. – Fattie Nov 22 at 1:09
6

I can offer practical insight purely on the software job scene.

(I have, absolutely, no knowledge whatsoever about mental health issues - sorry about that! :O )

  • "traineeship as a Java Developer in 2016 where I got my Java 8 OCA cert, followed by 10 months of work experience as a junior developer"

On the bad news front, it's a commonplace in programming that

  1. In general terms, for better or worse, certificates unfortunately just don't mean much in the field.

  2. In general terms, for better or worse, training unfortunately just doesn't mean much in the field.

  3. Indeed it's a commonplace that many - not all, but many - even very senior, even famous, programmers have less, none, or truncated degrees.

Unfortunately, "getting paid to program" is a real catch-22 .. if you have experience, you can easily get a job anywhere at any time; if you don't have experience it's very hard to get a job.

Thus I would say. You mention it's been hard to find a job for a little while. I would point out to you that is the normal case for programmers with little/no experience. It is very hard for programmers to get that "first break".

If you have a medical problem, or whatever, note that it's very hard for anyone to get that "first break", when you have little/no experience.

"Getting your foot in the door" as a programmer is a little like "getting your foot in the door" as an actor or pop singer. It is very, VERY, hard to get that "first step". It is not for everyone.

(Indeed, like having a singing voice, you have to have an innate talent; you can train and advance but not everyone can do it.)

It is insanely well-paid (subsequently, everyone wants to do it), it is often crazy fun and hardly like working (subsequently, everyone wants to do it), and there are jobs everywhere, usually in your pyjamas (subsequently, everyone wants to do it).

Do I find another traineeship to start over with?

A traineeship is basically a job, if you find one - GREAT!

Do I further expand my skills and learn different languages?

Unfortunately this is misguided. Programmers have to learn new languages all the time as a matter of course throughout their career.

Or do I stick to what I know and dive deeper into that, getting more certifications?

Unfortunately as mentioned, "nobody really cares a lot" about certifications, in the programming world. It's "better than nothing" but unfortunately the only way to "get a job is to get a job".

... on making personal projects?

It's "better than nothing" but unfortunately nobody really cares much about personal projects.

Do you think there are options to get (unpaid) work experience...

I actually don't know, but ANY work experience is VERY GOOD.

What about working for a very low rate, to get you going?

Foot in the door.

YES, any sort of work experience is the answer.

Or have I just not found the right company yet?

Correct! As in Hollywood, you have to go to a million castings.

Apply for positions like crazy - ten a day.

I would like to repeat that the fact that you haven't found a job almost certainly has NO CONNECTION to any medical issues (about which I know nothing).

Simple fact, it is INCREDIBLY hard to "get your foot in the door" in programming.


BTW as soon as you get that first job, it's best to leave after a year to make more money! :) https://workplace.stackexchange.com/a/166368/22844

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    I think between the two of us, we've covered all the bases – Old_Lamplighter Nov 18 at 15:17
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    I think the only thing to add is "and when programming, don't procrastinate on QA sites!!!!!" :O – Fattie Nov 18 at 15:19
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    Daniel, you make a fascinating point. For projects, many folks/teams send out a "standard thing". We always (perhaps .. utterly pointlessly :) ) waste hours customizing everything. You're right that there are "two distinct ways" to send out cvs when job hunting. Anyway, not to distract the OP, OP should "apply like crazy", whatever form that takes for OP. – Fattie Nov 18 at 17:45
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    “the fact that you haven't found a job almost certainly has NO CONNECTION to any medical issues” This is almost definitely wrong. Job interviews require very specific social skills, which autism inhibits. Downvoted. – nick012000 Nov 21 at 1:19
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    You're the first person I've ever seen claim it's hard to get a job as a software developer. Certainly I've never heard it's nearly as impossible as being a famous singer or actor! I've always heard the exact opposite, and every person I know in the field has been easily able to find a job. I'm not doubting your experience, but maybe there's a regional difference or something at play here? – Kat Nov 21 at 5:14
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If you haven't done so already, I'd strongly recommend looking for organisations that are set up to help autistic people find employment. A couple that I'm aware of:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specialisterne (has presence in multiple countries)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dandelion_Program (Australia only)

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4

Fattie and Old_Lamplighter's answers are great. All I'd add is from the employer's point of view what I look for when hiring is someone who is technically competent, committed to doing the work and will fit in the team.

Technically competent means showing an in-depth knowledge of a subject and the ability to learn – remember your employer's product is particular to them and what pays the bills, they'll expect newbies to have a steep learning curve. Collecting certificates isn't really the point.

Committed to doing the work doesn't mean becoming a workaholic and continual crunches, but it does mean showing that you will take ownership of a problem and work at it, until you've got it beat.

Fitting in a team is pretty self evident, you need to make useful contributions and do no damage.

The first is easy, and is why employers like to see Github repos and preferably collaborative work. Working on an open source project may help. The last two are always the hardest for a candidate to demonstrate and the hardest for an employer to evaluate. One thing that helps is if the candidate has done other work, paid or voluntary, that involves working with others and shows commitment to the job. I once took on someone who'd been made redundant as a coder and spent a year or so as a shelf-stacker. He'd done OK but not great in our technical tests but his employer thought highly of him, he showed that he was really bought into his role, was helpful to others, and had stuck at it. When we took him on he turned into an outstanding employee.

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    Thanks, it's great to get the perspective of an employer. – Old_Lamplighter Nov 21 at 19:20
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    Notice where it says FATTIE'S ANSWER IS GREAT. I'd like to emphasize FATTIE'S ANSWER IS GREAT. Woot ! – Fattie Nov 22 at 1:11
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I would like to add to the excellent answers the importance of getting interview practice. I would recommend interviewing for a position that you don't even want to start at first. That may seem counterintuitive, but in my experience ( from both sides of the process ), first time interviewers can be nervous and/or inexperienced.

Keep in mind that as an interviewer, one gets a limited amount of time to judge people. The easier it is for you, the easier it is for the interviewer to get a somewhat honest impression of you, and that is a good thing both for you and the people hiring.

It also helps as you can reflect on what happened to a degree (don't obsess, but I've definitely said things in my first interview that I didn't feel were a great idea), anticipate some questions for the next interview, and generally make you more comfortable.

To reduce nervousness, doing an interview for a job you don't feel too strongly about is great, as you don't mind not getting it, but being offered one can still be a nice boost.

Obviously, one shouldn't take this too far, but it's a shame to have the first interview with your dream company, in a sense, as it's quite likely you won't be at your best without any practice.

Most of the interview in my experience is about fit and ( at least in the UK ) technical competency is established through tests and sometimes more technical conversations in earlier rounds. From your post, and the fact you're looking for a junior position, I would judge that being comfortable and coming across well in the interview will be the harder challenge for you than passing the technical competency rounds of the process.

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+300

First off, a little about myself: I'm diagnosed with Asperger's myself, and i've worked in software and IT for nearly a decade - that is including some long-term unemployment (a little over 2 years has been the most for me).

With that out of the way, i'll take it from the top.

I have a bachelor's degree in Journalism but chose not to further pursue that. Instead I followed a traineeship as a Java Developer in 2016 where I got my Java 8 OCA cert, followed by 10 months of work experience as a junior developer.

You have a certification and less than a year's worth of experience - with that in mind, how does your resumé look otherwise. Have you had a lot of short-term jobs?

Most of the places i've worked at, i've been at for a little over a year at most. Most companies want to see that you can commit for a longer time than that.

Aside from that, you mentioned that you asked for a 32 hour work week. Are you still asking for that?

Most companies ask and often need someone in software or IT to be able to commit to a full work week and even overtime, especially when it comes to jobs that where deadlines are a big part of the development schedule, like web dev bureaus, consultancies etc - they want a lot of work done in a short timeframe, and often include customer-facing support as part of the job. Your best bet could be in a company that doesn't do software development as its main role, as an internal programmer.

In the meantime I have been working on myself as per everyone's advice, but this has not made it easier to work on my career. In the past 3 years I have worked on my programming skills, though this is obviously not enough. So far I have created an Android app and published this, learned the basics of pen-testing and followed a couple of tutorials here and there, but I'm finding it hard to pick any one thing, as I'm not sure if what I'm learning will help me advance my career.

You do have your Android app as part of your portfolio - make sure to mention in an interview what you have done with it, learned from it and what your experiences have been. Having something to show off as a programmer is better than nothing. Being able to pen-test and do IT-related forensics is a nice skill on paper, then again it doesn't stand on its own - to be a good pen-tester (or hacker for that matter) you need to be well-versed in multiple programming languages, hardware, security practices, observation and social interaction.

I'm not saying it's impossible to pursue that path as an autist - on the contrary it's a good way to face the shortcomings that many autists have and combine it with their strengths.

I am unsure where I stand. A lot of people have told me that with my resume I should be able to get a job just fine, but personally I feel like I might be arrogant in thinking I stand a chance, especially without an IT-related degree and so little work experience.

We've all been there - even with a degree and experience it's tough to get a job. However, it's worth mentioning that it's not because of you - it's because software development is a job market that is oversaturated not only by other prospecting software developers, but also by literally a million different systems, APIs, paradigms, languages and ways to handle projects.

Feeling arrogant and unsure about your own skills is something that happens to everyone in the face of a flood of rejections. It's worth mentioning that the paperwork and interview cannot in any way gauge your actual skill. They stand alone as a way of figuring out who you are and how you work. You may get a test on writing a fizz-buzz program or something similar - but it too doesn't gauge your actual skill.

Remember always: You have the skill and competence they seek - they want to know how and if you can actually apply that skill. You have an app and (hopefully) some numbers that can prove it.

Tailor it to whomever you are speaking with at the interview - If it's the CTO or someone from the tech department, they usually want the technicalities. On the other hand if it's HR or the CEO, they want numbers and your personal (or "soft") skills.

So with that as my background, my question would be: what are my options?

It does depend on your age. If you're young, you still have the option of seeking out other paths. This is something that has been on my mind as well - there is the option of taking jobs that are in demand. Personally, i've considered becoming a long-haul trucker myself, as it's a job in my area that's in high demand and has good job stability.

If you're willing to go back to school for a while, the trades (plumber, carpenter etc.) also become a viable option. Tradesfolk are in great demand, especially in many Western countries, and do offer a good pay - even for entry-level.

Do I find another traineeship to start over with?

Short-term trainneships and internships are worth considering, as they are a good way of opening the door to a full job. Give the company the option if you want to, to intern for a month or two.

Do I further expand my skills and learn different languages?

You should. Java is a good option to start off with, however the language has little in the way of flexibility. Java can be used for apps - but only for apps. The more niches you can fill out with programming skills, the better off you are. I would recommend you to go further with something like C# - The language is popular and paves a direct road to ASP.NET. With ASP.NET, you can tailor complex webpages and APIs. This is where the programming market is - if you can make webpages, webstores etc apart from isolated apps, you'll be much better off in the software dev world.

Or do I stick to what I know and dive deeper into that, getting more certifications?

In IT jobs, you have to keep moving - sticking to your comfort zone won't help. Certifications won't do as much in the software world as it will in the hardware-related jobs. Focus on expanding your skills in more flexible languages, learn useful stuff like SQL and database design, and make sure you have something to show for it (ie. personal projects)

Do you think there are options to get (unpaid) work experience, even remote?

There are a good deal of options, including remote work. You could try doing some freelance through places like upwork or fiverr. It won't just give you work experience and things to show off, but also a bit of money.

Or have I just not found the right company yet?

As I said, there are a million ways to do programming and companies have just as many differing demands. Finding the right company in any IT-related field is much like finding the right girlfriend/boyfriend.

Seeing that you can program and that you are interested in expanding those skills, freelancing might be a good fit for you. You can make money off of it (with a bit of patience), and it allows you to create your own work/life balance. There are loads of opportunities that can also help you towards further projects of your own.

Fellow user Geoffery Brent mentions Specialisterne in his post - they not only help autists find work, but may also have a position for you internally. If you're in the US, Aspiritech might also be a valid option, though they don't hire remote employees currently. As mentioned, there might also be similar opportunities in your part of the world.

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Give up. It's hopeless. Go back to uni and retrain to do something else.

Speaking from personal experience, as someone with autism in exactly the same situation as you (non-IT university degree, five years unemployment despite attempts at upskilling after graduation)? Give up. It's hopeless.

The companies won't hire you, no matter how hard you try or how many resumes you send out. There's a reason why about half as many people who have autism have jobs when compared to people with other disabilities; the impairment in social interactions just totally nukes your ability to succeed in job interviews, if you even get that far to begin with.

Add onto that the generally unforgiving nature of the job market nowadays. Companies in IT don't want to risk hiring junior employees that they'll need to train up, because they're terrified that you'll run off to another company afterwards. They'd rather leave the job opening empty and keep reposting the same job advert for months rather than take a chance on you. Additionally, because of the costs of sorting through hundreds or thousands of resumes for each position, they'll outsource their hiring process to "recruitment" companies whose jobs are purely to toss your resume in the bin as cheaply as possible.

Some people here are telling you the trite advice of things like "send your resume into lots of places" or "go knocking on doors". Things might have used to work that way in the 60s or 70s, but the job market doesn't work like that anymore (even before Covid made things even worse); basically all big companies or white-collar small companies have formalized HR processes that stop you from walking in the door and getting a job by asking for one, and sending in your resume is fruitless for the reasons discussed above.

Besides, if those things worked, you wouldn't be asking this question, because you'd already have a job, because you've been doing those things for years now, right?

Starting your own business might work, but if you've never been employed, you've got no seed money to start a business, you've got no business contacts to get customers, and you've got no experience to convince anyone to lend you money. Even if you did somehow start a business, though, the simple truth is that 90% of startups fail, and then you'll be even worse off, because you'll have no job and lots of debt from a failed business, to boot.

It's why I've decided to give up on ever getting hired by anyone in industry, and to get a PhD so that I can go into academia, instead. Even if only 1/10 PhD students get a job after they finish their degree, that's still better than the odds I've experienced outside academia, and if I can get a scholarship for the PhD, I'll be getting paid about minimum wage while studying, which is better than what I've been getting from government benefits.

You might be able to find work if you can "cheat" by getting a family member to hire you (since as a beginner, you have no professional network, so family members are your only viable options for finding work through networking), but if you could do that, you probably already would have.

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  • You know, I'd appreciate knowing why people are downvoting. This is an answer based on personal experience by someone in a nearly identical position. – nick012000 Nov 23 at 15:44
  • I downvoted this answer because it is fatalistic. It is well written, and contains good information. It seems like it could be edited to highlight the difficulties (as OP has well experienced), and to propose going back to the university. Stating that it isn't possible to succeed doesn't seem helpful, even if it felt like the only option for you – Noel Nov 23 at 22:10
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    Perhaps it is the defeatism that is the cause of the down-votes. – Old_Lamplighter Nov 24 at 4:13

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