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I am currently 19. Frustrated by education system drop out college and became self guided student. Now, I have learned several things in programming, software engineering,....I feel myself comparable to a college graduate. I also have some freelancing experience and few certificates from reputed organisations.

Now, I am looking for a full time programming job. But, the problem is because of my age and slim body I don't even look 19. So, because of that I believe most of the people make assumption that I have very little skill and experience in software development. I believe this because during my freelancing at oDesk, there were many cases that client stopped discussing job with me saying I am kid. And whenever I attend local developer meetups people stare at me because I am very young.

So, How can I convince different companies and other developers to look at my knowledge and experience and not my education qualification or mainly age?

  • This answer to a related question might be interesting for you. – enderland Nov 22 '13 at 13:57
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    You think industry is not going to be frustrating? We don't have hard deadlines? Long hours? Monotonous work sometimes? The university experience isn't just textbook learning - it's living and working with others successfully, handling deadlines and project coordination, money and living away from home. Even without the academic aspects, it's a huge challenge and if you can successfully manage it over three or four years, the tenacity you'll develop over the course will stand you in good stead for industry. – Faelkle Nov 22 '13 at 14:28
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    Frustrated by education system drop out college - This gives the perception that you don't have what it takes to see a project through to the end even when you are unhappy with it or disagree with its usages. This concept alone would disqualify you with many companies. – Joel Etherton Nov 22 '13 at 18:03
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    @MeredithPoor: Interesting notion, but this college drop out isn't building a start up he's looking for a job. If he were looking to build a start up my advice would be different. Since he's looking for a job, he's probably going to have to go the route that 99% of employed professionals have to go - suck it up and finish the degree. – Joel Etherton Nov 23 '13 at 3:30
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    @MeredithPoor there may be three billionaires that where college drop outs, but there are probably many more college dropouts that did not become extremely successful. So, the billionaires are outliers, that probably do not say much in regard to how good of an idea it is to drop out of college. I think, in general, finishing a degree is a good idea. However, there is of course no 1:1 correspondence between finishing a degree and being successful, nor between not finishing and not being successful. – Paul Hiemstra Nov 23 '13 at 10:21
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I don't know the cultural working environment in India as well as I know the European environment but I would expect these issues to be applicable worldwide, and if anything, it to be a stronger barrier in India than elsewhere.

When you're an entry level anything, a company has to make an assessment of you. This assessment happens far before the interview level as by the time a company interviews, they've already invested a significant amount of time in the process.

So, CV and application screening for an entry-level position:

  1. Education
  2. Relevant work experience
  3. Other work experience

What you need to do, is emphasise 2 and try to get them to see past your lack of Education. Writing your application should always focus on 2, every problem solved - refer back to something in the 2 category, every accomplishment listed should point to relevant work experience etc.

Now, you said that because of your slim build - does this mean you are getting interviews? If a company is interviewing you then they are willing to hire you, I would guess you aren't coming across as confident enough in the interview but it could be dozens of things - interviews do get easier with practice.

Also - maybe apply for an intern position and grow into the full developer role? You're only 19, there's still lots of code in your future!

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It sounds like you've got a few factors working against you:

  • Age - you've simply spent fewer years on this planet than the average college graduate. Worse yet, you look younger than you are, making the age factor even more significant.

  • Easily quantifiable experience - you've got experience and knowledge, but it's not as easily quantifiable as a person with a degree and a GPA.

  • Selectivity - the best description of this quality that I've ever heard of was Joel on Software (see link, p. 154 the bottom of the page) when he talks about the idea that someone who was vetted by something relatively exclusive and in high demand creates an impression that the candidate is someone special.

Over time, some of these factors will change - you'll get more and more experience, you'll get older and older and you'll look older and older. But the idea here is to find you a match to a job now.

Here's some thoughts on how to combat some of these factors.

Age and the Vision of a Young Person

Ender's link is pretty good for this. Anything you can do in person with your dress, your mannerisms, and your general attitude to brand yourself as someone with the appropriate experience is a good thing.

Prior to appearing in the interview, do everything you can to let your work speak for you. While this is true for everyone, I'd say it's extra true for someone fighting the stigma of a less traditional background:

  • Make sure your resume is spotless - no typos, no strange grammer, very clean and easy to read.
  • Have examples of your work that you can provide BEFORE you appear in person. Let the first impression be your excellent work, not your young face. Provide the ability to view this work before you appear in person.

Make It Easier to Quantify your Experience

Years of experience doing freelance, languages learned, certifications earned - anything that could be understood by a search engine is a real win here. When you're applying for a large company job these days, it's generally true that a computer will see your resume long before a person does.

In any area where you have demonstrated profound talent or a case of high-selectivity (even if it is unusual) - make it clear. "I was the only one of 100 candidates to be given the opportunity to..." is a great topic for a cover letter. "I contributed to a full lifecycle of project X" gives a sense of longevity that shows that your claim of experience is well-earned. These phrases are generally not search-engine friendly, but they make it clear to the person reading the resume just why the work you've done makes you the equivalent of a college grad.

It may take a Rare Opportunity

It may be that the right opportunity is as unusual as you are, so get creative in the hunt. An enormous organization with a lot of applicants is more likely to have strict rules and enough opportunity to hire others that they don't need to take a risk. Several organizations I've worked in simply won't consider a graduate without a certain caliber of college degree - the reasoning is, if they get 100 applicants for 20 positions and they find 20 talented and qualified college grads with minimal effort - then why take the risk?

What you want in an opportunity is an organization that isn't thinking that way - one that values your unique experience. This can come from personal networking, or looking at organizations that aren't as large or aren't so entrenched in their recruiting practices.

Make sure of Your Non-Technical Skills

I'm not here to sell college educations - but this is the part where I talk about the value of the college education with the point that you want to make sure that when you say "I'm the equivalent of a college grad in the value that I can offer a company" that you are correct and capable of selling the idea.

Many times when I talk to technical people, I hear the theme that they could have learned all the technical skills just as easily (and for far cheaper!) by self-learning. They are probably right.

What I've seen in observation, however, is that there's a couple other factors in college life that help in the workplace. Here's my list:

  • Time spent on teams - It really doesn't matter whether it's a school project, volunteer work, or a hobby, club or activity - when people get together to something hard enough that it takes multiple people, they learn about how to get things done together. Communication skills grow, negotiation/compromise skills develop, and people learn more about themselves as members of a team environment. The only way to develop team skills is to be on teams. There's plenty of books on it, but it's an art that has to be practiced.

  • Traditional written and verbal communication skills - engineers for the most part aren't great writers. But an engineer who graduated college has been forced to write well enough (at least a few times) to pass courses with writing requirements. Similarly, most have had to speak in public enough that they can form a coherent thought and make a case clearly and succinctly. Mileage varies on which language is expected. I've noticed that in recent years, most college grads from India speak quite clear English and write well enough to be understood. I can't say for sure whether this is a baseline within India, as most of my experience has been with engineers who were educated in India but are now working in the U.S. and have been for some time.

  • Able to perform in a fixed schedule, receive and respond to feedback, and juggle competing priorities - there's a certain level of conformity expected in a college environment. People have to manage to attend classes on time (mostly), respond to the feedback provided in graded assignments in a constructive way, and deal with competiting priorities. Needless to say - college isn't special, but I have seen cases where the reasons college was a bad fit for an individual was one of these factors. That's fine - but for some companies, these are ALSO key elements of success in the corporate world.

There's two parts to this section. First, you need these skills and experiences if you're going to claim "the equivalent of a degree" when you write your resume and sell yourself. Second, you need to be able to sell the idea when you submit your resume for a job. This doesn't have to be a case of demonstrating skills on the job or in the class room. For example: - If you do large scale volunteer work or a challenging, team-oriented hobby with some degree of intensity - you can highlight team skills. - If you have written reports or have other examples of good communication skills - you can include them on your resume - whether or not they are technically related. - If you have conformed to rigid schedules, complex priorities and a structured environment, you can either highlight on your resume or speak to it in your cover letter or interview.

My thought is that there is very likely a double standard. If you have a friend who is a lot like you except he's a college graduate - it's quite likely that interviewers are looking at your friend and cutting him slack when he's weak on some of these softer skills. But where they are probably thinking "this guy isn't a college graduate, can he really handle working here?" then a small slip in the soft skills confirms a negative impression. Fair or unfair, it's a possibility.

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You have to remember that you are in competition with people who have degrees and who have possibly more extensive freelancing work than you have. You are also in competition with people who have had internships at well-respected companies.

You say you have done some freelancing and some self-study, but what you need to realize is that you have to do much more than that to move ahead of your competition. You need to show success on complex business-type projects or you need to have education.

Frankly from what you described, only companies who are not attracting good candidates would consider you. I suggest you return to school or get several years of successful freelancing with projects of increasing difficulty before trying for a full-time job.

I've worked with a lot of developers from India and, without exception, they all had university degrees. So you may also be facing a larger cultural problem in getting hired. In the US, many devs started without a degree. It seems to be less common in your home country from my experience.

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The short answer: You can't. If you want to carve out your own world and build your own empire, go for it. If you want to be in the enterprise / commercial software development world as a line developer for a company, you have to fit yourself to their mold, not expect them to fit to yours.

I would start by asking what is frustrating you about school? Do you feel the topics aren't relevant to what you want to do? The pace is too slow? You don't like working with groups?

Well, here's a shocker: We all felt that way when we were 19. However, it is a sign of professional maturity to put those feelings aside and do what employers expect: You have to work in teams, even when you have team members not pulling their weight. You have to do the work assigned, even when you feel that the work isn't that important. You have to do the mundane work and prove you can excel at it before you are given more sensitive and important work.

I am not a big believer in the Computer Science degree, but I am a huge advocate of the university experience. You need to show that you can master a subject to the point you can be awarded a degree in it, whatever that subject may be. You need to show that you can work in a team, both as a participant and as a leader. You need to show that you can meet deadlines, manage resources, and be responsible for yourself.

To me, there are several ways to accomplish and demonstrate this, but the college degree is the most universally accepted of these. Also, more and more the trait managers are looking for is manageability: Will this person follow instructions, work with the team, and do the tasks assigned? Everything about what you said above says, "No."

Here in the U.S., you would be what is (so very incorrectly) called a "Cowboy Coder." (Actual "cowboys" were very much team players, as it took 20 or so people working closely together to run a cattle drive or maintain a large ranch.) It means someone who will not work within guidelines or follow requirements.

Sometimes these types do well. But you either have to embed yourself as the only developer in a shop that's not doing software as a business, or you have to be so startlingly brilliant that management is willing to isolate you and let you "run wild."

If you are dead-set against college, then you are always going to be fighting uphill. You will not get a chance at a corporate job until you have 5 to 7 years' of professional experience behind you, and they have to include successful projects. Your only real choice would be to find an independent contractor who is willing to mentor you and give you some of his overflow work. You'd have to do that for several years and build up a list of references from his client base before anyone would take you seriously.

If you don't like the Computer Science programs, but still want to do development, then go back to school and get a degree in mathematics or finance. Those skills would serve you very well in software development.

  • I almost thought I wrote this answer while reading it:) The only other thing I would have added is in the paragraph with "above says no", is with regards to "I feel myself comparable to a college graduate". That confirms absolutely that the "above says no". The more you know, the more you realize how little you know. At 19, and being a dropout, to have the gall to think you are comparable to a college grad? Shows how little you do know. – Dunk Nov 26 '13 at 19:24
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    @Dunk - Thanks. I've often heard people say, "I wish I knew then what I know now." However I say, "I wish I knew now what I thought I knew then." :) – Wesley Long Nov 26 '13 at 21:04
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I started writing code at 15 and took on my first paying programming work at 16, so I've been there. However, this was in 1971 and it helped that my old man (father) was a vice-president at a computer company.

You are 'working outside normal channels' - i.e., finish college, get full time job. Therefore, the work available is with employers that aren't getting any help 'working through normal channels'.

What you know is how to write code. What users want is business solutions. This means, among other things, knowing how to keep a set of books, handle shipping chargebacks, and track serial numbers on appliances during order fulfillment. The reason I point this out is that this is exactly what I had to learn as an early-20s programmer working for mainstream businesses.

One thing that will help immensely is if you find a mentor - someone who can 'farm work out to you' and monitor your progress. In my situation, a company needed a 'programmer', when I showed up this was for a Z80-based embedded control system. The interviewer gave me a dirty look and a written test - how to code Z80 assembler. Since I had programmed in similar microprocessor Assemblers, this wasn't a stretch for me. I filled it out, turned it in, went home. They called me back the next day.

My direct boss also programmed, so they gave me an assignment and he was able to review the code as I got various layers done. I had to explain what I was doing, but in general they found my work useful.

In short, you can't simply go it alone. You will need to latch on to people that 'believe in you' - they are rare but extremely valuable.

I went through a couple of rounds of 'full time day jobs' and quit to become independent. I ran into someone running a business with about 25 employees who had learned electronics in the Army Signal Corps and had wired accounting machines in the early 1960s. Safe to say that when I ran into him in 1979 he had already had 20 years of experience automating business processes, and could tell instantly that I knew what I was doing.

This relationship continued through six companies, 30 years, and a bankruptcy. At the beginning, I was simply the programmer that he couldn't find anywhere else. His business went bust 20 years later, and he owed me a few thousand dollars at that point. About a year afterwards, I showed up at his house to see how he was doing. This was another round of 'dirty looks' - what do you want? I asked him what he was doing now.

Once he realized I wasn't trying to get the money and that I was trying to see where he was going next, he realized I was offering support. One of the sayings is that 'you find out who your real friends are with things get tough'. At the time, he was raising money to start a new business - this took another year or two. He learned a new line of business as a result, and was hired to be an operations manager of a big food packing plant - in 1999. They had a Y2K problem - big time. This kept me in rent money and trinkets for the next five years.

More than likely, you will find work with small companies - a few dozen employees. You should plan on remaining a contractor, or however that's done in India. The person running this small business will be both knowledgeable and desperate - good at code but not wanting to do it. You will probably hear that he or she has 'been through a dozen programmers' or something like that and couldn't find anyone that understood their stuff. The business will have some unusual characteristics that more or less prevent standard packaged software from being of much help.

Don't worry about 'being a kid'. I found all kinds of work at 19, and at that time computers cost $20,000 apiece (in 1972 dollars). Don't focus on organizations, find people that want what you do. Forget HR and recruiters - they are of no help. Stick around the programmers groups - this is pure gold.

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