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Is it still possible to get a developer job without previous experience and without a CS degree, especially for the first time? What would you suggest to a CS student who dropped out of university and wants to find junior developer job?

Some qualities:

  • HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Bootstrap
  • NodeJS, ExpressJS, MongoDB
  • Advanced C/C++ programming
  • Operating systems fundamental knowledge
  • One full stack personal project
  • Year of studying in university (best possible grade in programming courses)
  • Completed Web Development Bootcamp

He's most interested in programming and backend development. He applied for many companies but always got an answer "We found someone else".

Could you give some brief guide what should be done in order to start developer career from this perspective? Are data structures and algorithms necessary?

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    To expand @PhilipKendall's question: "a CS student who dropped out of university and wants to find junior developer job?" - in the CS student's location, is there no certification of professional qualification between "a university degree" and "nothing" whatsoever? No non-university college-type schools, no apprenticeship programs, etc.? Mar 8 at 20:38
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    @codproe "We found someone else" doesn't mean "we found someone else". It means "we're not going to tell you why we rejected you". Mar 8 at 21:23
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    @codproe - So write what you actually know, not what you have been to introduced to for 5 minutes, your current description doesn’t tell a hiring official anything
    – Donald
    Mar 8 at 23:29
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    From industry perspective, beginner who claims advanced C++ sounds a lot like someone who's going to template metaprogram all the things just because it's possible. This is not a positive sign.
    – ojs
    Mar 9 at 8:53
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    You should have a very good explanation ready about why you dropped out of university, because you will most likely be asked as they might be curious if that is relevant to if you can finish a project assignment. Mar 10 at 15:05

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I'd say it is possible, but dropping out of university (despite good grades) is a major issue; it raises doubts in an employer's mind as to whether the candidate will stay in the job they are given, or drop out of that as well, if it doesn't turn out to be the dream employment they were hoping for.

These doubts are reinforced by the fact you are posting this question on the candidate's behalf; do they really want a developer job, or are they being pressurised by yourself or others into it?

If there is a real desire for employment, I'd suggest contacting small businesses who might need a general-purpose computing person, maybe even do some short-term contracting to build up a portfolio of work. But the key question of commitment must be tackled head-on, because it is the first thought any potential employer will have.

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    The OP really needs to have a good explanation of why he dropped out. Sometimes stuff just happens, family issues, financial issues, health issues, etc. There might be a good reason so I'd address it with the recruiter or hiring manager right off. You want them to understand that you are not a "quitter" but rather are a good risk for them to take.
    – jwh20
    Mar 8 at 20:31
  • Here's a list of all courses in first year: electrical engineering, engineering physics, engineering mathematics, mathematical logic and computational theory, linear algebra, probability and statistics, operating systems, introduction to programming, programming techniques
    – codproe
    Mar 8 at 21:00
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    @codproe I would say to that that being a programmer involves more than just writing code. If they can't deal with subjects that are not strictly computer science, how are they going to attend meeting, write documentation, read technical specification, write reports, etc. All things that nobody likes doing, but may come with the territory. Mar 10 at 12:37
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    How did the student come to take a degree with a majority of courses they weren't interested in? If they weren't aware of what the degree entailed, that looks like bad planning; if they were, it looks like inability to see things through. Either way, taking on a responsibility that you don't plan to — or will be unable or unwilling to — finish doesn't look good to a potential employer.
    – gidds
    Mar 10 at 16:28
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    MIT, Harvard, and Cambridge have gatekeepers to try to ensure they only admit excellent students who will complete their studies. Local colleges do not have such stringent standards. I don't consider it a dishonor to have to drop out of a software engineering major, but SE is different than "general IT." Your friend may be qualified for an MIS degree and find it more to their liking, but many employers will not hire applicants who don't have a degree and quit because it's too hard, like others here have said. Mar 10 at 22:51
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It's absolutely possible to get a job without a degree, or without even half a degree, but it's more difficult than if you had a degree.

If they are having trouble finding a job, their best bet is to consider (re)joining a university, transferring the credits across, and finishing their studies. If the university was too "engineering-based" by its nature, transfer to a different university that is more suitable.

Dropping out of uni, because they disagreed that some of the subjects were "programming" or were simply too hard, does not look good. These subjects are part of a syllabus because they create well-rounded individuals. Experts have decided, in some way, they are important for all students that graduate.

Note that universities give their students the capability to do electives that go into the specific areas of interest so there is certain wiggle-room to target specific areas of interest.

Are data structures and algorithms necessary?

... Yes.

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Of course it's possible! I did it and have enjoyed a successful 22 year career in IT, and I have many friends in IT with no qualifications. IT is not regulated so anyone can do it without particular education. I wouldn't necessarily encourage them not completing studies though, and completing them may be preferable depending on the person.

Give me a textbook, an IDE, and some samples, and I will learn all I can. Sit me in a course and I learn nothing - it's just who I am.

Starting a career without the degree can be a little more difficult and requires a few things:

  • Be enthusiastic and apply for as many jobs as they can
  • Learn about the companies to show they are interested
  • Have demo work available to show
  • Learn all they can online and never stop learning
  • Accept a junior position and don't be too proud to turn down jobs they think you may be better than
  • Be completely upfront about their education, skills, and experience, and always say in interviews when they don't know something and offer to talk through something different or acknowledge a guess
  • Optionally complete a small project for cheap so they have real work experience

The trickiest part here is having front end skills and being interested in back end work. For that I would recommend taking a front end job at a place that does backend or fullstack work so this person can move into it with on the job training.

If the above is not possible, then take on front end work and while gaining experience look out for opportunities to skill up in all things backend.

p.s. I am sorry your question got downvoted because it's a very good question and is worth asking to see a variety of opinions on the matter

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    Have you met any people who got that done today? A lot has changed in the last 20-30 years. 30 years ago many colleges did not have a CS department, today, every single one does. So it's a lot harder and there is a lot more competition having degrees than in the last millenium.
    – nvoigt
    Mar 10 at 6:37
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    @nvoigt I did it ~1.5 years ago. I studied CS back in 2010-2011, dropped out and only did programming as a hobby until covid. In 2020 I did a coding bootcamp thing, followed by a 4-month unpaid internship, which turned into a permanent position halfway through. Most of the others that I've heard of from the bootcamp also found jobs as software devs.
    – jkiiski
    Mar 10 at 13:36
  • @jkiiski Well, that's great. Maybe write an answer and help the OP, who seems to have done roughly the same and is struggling. Maybe you can add some insights for them to improve.
    – nvoigt
    Mar 10 at 13:48
  • Yes I have met many who have done it since I started, the most recent being 2020. He got into web design and SEO. He studied as much as he could online then found an entry level job and worked as hard as he could and has been promoted twice. It is no different today than it was 20 years ago. I would argue that it was even more exclusive back then with fewer online resources available to learn back then. What matters is people's drive and ability to do the hard work and accept a low position with the humility to learn off everyone.
    – dbmuller
    Mar 11 at 0:02
  • In 2015 I was lead on some in house recruitment software and there was a lady who performed manual reporting in spreadsheets. She had no training but I could tell by talking to her that she thought the right way about data, so one day I gave her a read only SQL Account on a dev database and told her to start querying, and sent some samples and articles on how to SQL. She worked long hours to skill herself up and found resources online to study on weekends, and now she works ETL on SAP migrations earning more than me.
    – dbmuller
    Mar 11 at 0:13
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Disclaimer: I am yet to do a job hunt, so my perspective is bit different - every time it was someone else coming to me asking "Can you do this?".

The entire part of getting a job is, in my humble opinion, convincing the recruiter that you can perform the work they want you to perform consistently, quickly and well. Now, there are two main options: either the interview is shallow and done more on the HR side or even outsourced, in which case it boils down to comparing CVs, or it is more on the technical side and whatever team needs people gets involved. For a college dropout, the latter is by far easier to navigate. The list of qualifications in your post seems to me a bullshit response to a bullshit system with lots of chest pumping involved. If I see "Advanced C/C++ programming" alongside with "Operating systems fundamental knowledge (working with cmd)" and the rest of the resume filled with mostly frontend technologies, I get a feeling the person has no clue whatsoever. Importantly, if they do, they are presenting it wrong.

Adopt a problem-solving approach instead. Instead of "knowledge of X, Y and Z" focus more on "I know how to build a website using MERN stack, here's my personal project". Be open and ready to talk about the issues concerning the prospective employer: paint them a picture of how your (your friend, in this case) skills will help them solve their problems. Ask what these problems are! Discussing them or even toy problems - given that they are relevant to the actual job - often reveals something about the candidate. Importantly, do not be self-absorbed and do not approach interviews like some sort of a ritual dance where the candidate shows their CV and sides talk a bit and then they maybe get hired.

Dropping out of the college generally paints a negative picture, and I fear it is further exacerbated by code bootcamps (personally, I view them as highly negative and a sign that a candidate thinks that getting some certification makes them a developer. It gets even worse if they decided to NOT get one from the college, on a whim). Everyone has their personal circumstances, and from the hiring side, we were always willing to give a chance, but that really hinged on the candidate being actually able to interact. Unfortunately, we have been getting quite a lot of empty-eyed students who just sat there with all their certifications and all, unable to click on the most basic things. Some would even technically solve the problem, but the amount of micro-management needed for that would be ungodly. Do not be that person on an interview.

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Could you give some brief guide what should be done in order to start developer career from this perspective?

Your friend should:

  • Consider trying a different university or course, if the one he tried before wasn't what he expected it to be. While doing that...
  • Build up a portfolio of completed personal projects (open source is also frequently recommended), to learn, and to prove to others that he has learned.
  • Seek local businesses who might want simple websites or small applications building for them, for the same reasons as above but with the potential of payment.
  • Spend (at most) minimal effort applying to companies that are likely to demand a formal qualification. For example, I'd imagine the big tech firms like Microsoft, Google etc. get so many applicants that a degree is the first thing their recruiters filter for.
  • Focus instead on smaller companies, sending personalised cover letters/emails explaining why he would be a good fit for them, linking to his completed personal projects.

We are lucky enough to live in the year 2022, in which the ability to design, develop, test, distribute, and advertise working software products can all be done completely for free (as long as you have access to a laptop or similar), as can learning how to do all the above if you don't already know. Formal education can guide that learning, and paid tools can make things easier too, but there is literally nothing stopping your friend from developing software today, nor using the experience of doing that to get a well-paid career developing software professionally tomorrow.

Are data structures and algorithms necessary?

Yes. But if your friend thinks he can list "Advanced C/C++ Programming" as a skill without already having an in-depth and intimate understanding of data structures and algorithms, then he doesn't know what "Advanced C/C++ Programming" is and should replace it with "Basic understanding of C/C++ syntax" instead.

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Could you give some brief guide what should be done in order to start developer career from this perspective?

We get these questions a lot here. People seem to think that half an education is enough to start a job as a software developer. That software developer is something you don't need to learn like other jobs, you can just hop in if you have a good hobbyist's understanding. But that is not the case.

  • Would you buy from a butcher that has completed half their courses on food safety? What if they are really good with a knife, though?
  • Would you hire a dentist that had a year of medicine in college and then just though "let's drill away, how hard can it be?"
  • Would you trust a taxi driver, that almost got their driver's license?
  • Would you be fine with a lawyer that did not pass the bar, but is really passionate about law?
  • Would you have your taxes filed by someone with a "good enough" understanding of tax laws, but no formal education?
  • Would you have your hair cut by a person that is reasonable good with scissors but somehow dropped out of trade school?
  • Would you get your house wired by someone that did mostly good but never finished their electrician's apprenticeship?

Sorry, but software developer is a real job. How do you get a real job? You complete a real education for that job.

Now, a real education doesn't necessarily mean university. Where I live, there are at least three different paths (university, apprenticeship, trade school) to get a certified education that companies hiring software developers will respect as "fully qualified". They are different because they train to different standards and with different focus. For example an apprentice will have more real world experience than a university graduate, but if one ever wanted to do research or papers instead of production ready software, the university graduate would certainly be the right choice.

So what to do? Get an education. Not a boot camp. A real education. With a certified education, companies will take you seriously. If you need a McJob to pay for your education, go for it. Nobody will blame you. No job is a bad job if it pays for your meals, shelter and education. But trying to get a software developer job without being a software developer is a fool's errand. That would not work in any other industry and it does not work in ours.

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    This answer is simply wrong. I offer as proof the large numbers of people developing software professionally without a qualification. I've worked with dozens in my career, there was no difference on average between them and people who were qualified, and the best developer I ever worked with was entirely self-taught. Ask John Carmack whether dropping out of education did his programming career any harm (spoiler: no). Mar 9 at 19:10
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    Where those people hired as junior with no experiences today or could it be those people have been around for a while? Because yes, 25 years ago, it was possible. And now with 25 years of experience, it's not a problem for them either. But if you want to find a job today with no completed education and no experience, good luck. Do you know anybody who did that? Feel free to ask them to contribute an answer on how they did it.
    – nvoigt
    Mar 9 at 20:18
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    Driving without having driver's license is illegal. Practicing law and medicine without a license is a criminal offence. Participating in food processing without having completed the health & safety training could be a violation of sanitary code. Meanwhile, there are no laws that would prohibit or criminalize programming without having a degree. It is misleading to make analogies like that.
    – user132962
    Mar 9 at 22:24
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    Not sure why you're getting down-votes. Maybe there is simply a disagreement about how serious programming is as a profession. For some people it's moving elements on a WiX website with maybe a bit of glue code, and others it's a stream of engineering with rigid processes. Mar 10 at 12:42
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    I disagree with the implication that a formal, structured, accredited, multiple-year course of instruction is the only way to learn to code well… I for one have had very little formal education in Computer Science (just one GCSE in it — a 2-year course, ages 14–16), but have nearly 30 years' professional experience of developing software, not to mention over 40 years doing so personally (almost entirely self-taught) — and to judge from what colleagues and employers say, I seem to know what I'm doing!
    – gidds
    Mar 10 at 16:42
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Your friend should first of all give his CV to a trusted person to review it and if possible to improve it. I have been given CVs for that purpose sometimes, and changed them from "I would never hire that person" (based on the CV) to "That person would most definitely get an interview" (same contents in the CV, but presented in a positive light, focussing on successes rather than on failures).

And in one CV I changed the spelling of the word "wether". Which has a 99% chance of not being the word that you meant in a CV. Unless you are a vet, possibly.

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