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I've recently finished my portfolio and begun applying to entry level positions.

I've been applying to front end job postings and I've made sure to create 4 solid projects that showcase my skills in front end development.

I have a pathfinding Visualizer made with JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. A chess AI made with JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. A front end only website that uses React and Tailwind. And a wordle clone that works on mobile and desktop made in React.

I have no educational experience or work experience but I feel like I have made great projects to showcase my skills. However no matter where I apply to (front end positions), I get declined.

I've also made my portfolio website that showcases everything neatly. I always make sure to provide a live site link to all my projects along with the git repo.

Are there other things I should be doing? Is there something I'm missing? Should I make other projects? More projects? Should I be learning different skills?

Not being able to find a job has been quite demotivating lately as I've spent weeks making sure I had everything correct. Any advice would be appreciated as I've been developing some impostor syndrome and I'm not sure what to do at the moment.

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    Respectfully, this post needed to be proofread before it was posted. Is your portfolio polished in the non-technical aspects as well? Spelling, grammar, layout, accessibility, etc.?
    – MackM
    Jul 25, 2022 at 17:12
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    If you told us what country you are in, we might be able to offer alternatives. There is a huge difference between going 100K into debt because you live in the US and look at college and for example an apprenticeship in Germany, that will actually pay you enough to pay for rent and food while doing it. Both are education options that improve your chances at finding a job, but we have no idea which are actually available to you.
    – nvoigt
    Jul 26, 2022 at 8:49
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    @MackM Personally, I dont care too much about grammar and spelling when new candidates show up. I want a programmer, not a linguist. There is a minimum ofcourse. Unfortunately not everybody thinks like that.
    – Martijn
    Jul 26, 2022 at 9:31
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    @Martijn These days programming is a far cry from the old stereotype of some guy sitting alone in a closet and hacking code. Being able to communicate efficiently with colleagues and clients is an important skill for most development positions (as are many other "soft skills"). Some typos aren't the end of the world, but it's another criteria people can use to make decisions.
    – Voo
    Jul 26, 2022 at 15:32
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    @Martijn Employers don't necessarily care about grammar and spelling per se but rather because it indicates a lack of attention to detail. If the candidate can't be bothered with such details at a time when they are trying to convince you to hire them, that might suggest they won't bother with other details once they are in the job. Jul 27, 2022 at 11:51

14 Answers 14

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Contrary to opinions expressed in other answers, I don't believe you should need a very high level academic degree to land your first role in software. However, education level is often used as a crude filter for CVs of incoming applicants, particularly in large organisations where non-experts are involved in the recruitment process.

With that in mind, what sort of companies have you currently applied to? You may have more luck with smaller, locally focussed companies than with bigger more impersonal ones? Have you been applying to internship/apprenticeship programs or "full-time" roles?

Finally, see if you can get in touch with a local development community if one exists in your area. In many cities now there are maker-spaces and community meet-ups where you can introduce yourself, learn some more skills and find out about opportunities in your area.

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    Most of the jobs I've ever gotten in my life have come from connections as opposed to cold applications. Meeting other devs in the industry at meetups/conferences can help a ton for getting your foot in the door with a company. Jul 25, 2022 at 17:27
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    This seems like more applicable approach for me as opposed to schooling. I've basically applied to every type of job as long as it's relevant to the skills I have.
    – Arxci
    Jul 25, 2022 at 18:38
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    @RobinClower it's also important to note that while some people get very good results from direct connections, many people also get jobs through direct applications. In my experience more than 80% of junior developers hired in companies I've worked for have come through application rather than recommendation.
    – David258
    Jul 27, 2022 at 10:18
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    @Arxci, it's also important to take into account what kind of work the companies you apply to do: companies that rely on grant money or government contracting may have strict academic degree requirements because of the grants or contacts they work on.
    – Soulis
    Jul 27, 2022 at 18:39
  • "Contrary to some other opinions on this site, I don't believe you should need a very high level academic degree to land your first role in software." why do you think the latter is some kind of a prevalent opinion on "this site"? :o
    – BartoszKP
    Jul 28, 2022 at 0:45
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It isn't easy from an existing piece of code to ascertain your level of skill.

Sure, it is easy to say which level of skill you could have, assuming you understood all the concepts, came up with the architecture yourself and typed every single character of code. Debugged it all into a working shape and got it ready on your github repo. But it is incredibly hard to guess how much of it you actually did. How close to the tutorial were these projects? Did you actually have multiple options to solve a problem, knew a few solutions and picked the one you thought best, or did you follow along an online article on how to do this giving you "the" solution? Since this is something that isn't in a repo, all the decisions you made along the way and whether they were your own informed decisions or just made for you by someone else.

A formal education will solve this problem for employers. They have a set curriculum, things that have been taught, things that have been examined whether the person understood them. By a third party institution employers trust.

There is much more to a developer job than just an education, but an education as a base is something that makes it comparable.

Now, an education does not need to be "Computer Science" at a university.

Employers don't need scientists. They need software developers. And depending on country there are many ways to become one. But all of them are formal, state approved educations where employers can be relatively sure about what they get. I mean humans are all different, but it's a foundation, a minimum level.

Without that minimum level, you are a surprise package. You might be great. Or you might be horrible. While a solid education would have had multiple years to find that out, companies have hours. There is no way a company can find out how good you are exactly, in a timeframe that is less than the written college finals, time for reading and grading by teachers not even included.

So it is mostly up to the economy whether companies risk hiring the "surprise package". In a very good economy, when you have money to risk or just are very short on people, sure. Why not. But when the economy is bad, you don't want risks.

So the advice? Try to get a formal education. There is so much more to developing software than just coding and while certainly not impossible, it is incredibly hard and time-wasting trying to scrape that knowledge together on your own. There is a reason, "teacher" is a profession. We don't sit kids in front of Youtube and it does not work that much better for adults.

If you have to work a McJob on the side to afford that, it may be worth it. If you think you are almost ready and only missing the paperwork, then you should be able to coast through that little bit of coursework.

To make that clear: if you can land a job without a formal education, more power to you. Good for you! After a while with enough job experience, nobody will look at old paperwork.

But if you can not, and it seems this is why you are here, my advice is to go the route of formal education, whatever that may be in your country. Not self-learning, not Youtube, not pre-recorded online courses. A real person as a teacher, a real, recognized degree in the end.

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    I agree with most of this, except that I don't think the conclusion is necessarily correct. There are many well known programmers who never got a formal education, but would be taken with open hands by most employers. But what they all have in common: They have a corpus of work that demonstrates their skillset and abilities. Instead of spending time developing some dummy app just to demonstrate your skills, you might as well become an important contributor to an open source project. Nobody asks for the education if the provided code is up to snuff and follows procedure.
    – Voo
    Jul 26, 2022 at 15:47
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    Well, we cannot all be the exception. Yes, there are some very talented people out there, who do not have a degree of any kind. But that is why you know of them: they are exceptional. I don't know the OP that well. If they are indeed exceptional, then this may be the route for them. My answers always assume the OP is an average Joe like the rest of us. If someone asks how to get money for example, I would always advise them to get a job. While there is a proven record of lottery winners out there, "just win the lottery, it works, see" is not my take on it.
    – nvoigt
    Jul 27, 2022 at 6:16
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    I didn't want to imply that the op should go and create the next popular framework. More that open source is a way - also for the average Joe - to demonstrate competence. "I have no degree, but here's my GitHub profile. Look I've worked on multiple features in ASP NET Core that are used by millions worldwide" is a pretty good selling point imo.
    – Voo
    Jul 27, 2022 at 6:50
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Generally speaking, I don't agree with the answers that say the "obvious" choice is to go and get yourself a relevant degree. It's hard to say without more info (such as your current CV/resume) but for an entry-level job especially having a degree isn't a requirement (although I do agree with sentiments that it would make it easier)

In your position, your best bet would be to polish your CV/resume and work with recruiters to get yourself on the ladder. Recruiters are good when you're earlier in your career because, well, they (& their company) get a nice bonus when they land you a job through them. The first few jobs I had (similar situation to you - no degree, HS-level classes in computer science) were thanks to recruiters! You likely won't land a FAANG job this way but you'll find it easier to navigate the waters when you have someone who has that incentive to put you in a job.

If you don't already have a LinkedIn account, I would suggest that you create one and start networking with some local recruiters in your area - schedule some calls and see if any of them have any jobs at the moment that you could apply to. Failing that, they may ask to keep your contact details on file in case something comes up.

There are other ways to start working on your professional identity that you can explore, such as creating a blog (you can crosspost these posts to LinkedIn, DevTo, Medium etc. to get some extra traffic), contributing to open source projects (or, alternatively, make the source code to some of your projects open), exploring fun side hobbies etc. With that being said, those would likely bring you more value later in to your career than earlier on.

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  • +1 for "if you aim is to get a job - strive to get a job; not got to school/uni/courses". I got into programming with a high school diploma and some passion.
    – Vorac
    Aug 1, 2022 at 2:02
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I'd echo @nvoigt answer, getting a formal education would probably be best on your resume, but not necessary for all jobs. The next best thing to education is experience, which an open source project (github) provides some of the best resources.

An open source project exposes you to:

  • A large, complex project
    • working on a project that you don't necessarily know all the pieces to
    • jumping into the middle of a project-which is often the case in a new job (have to be able to read/understand other's code)
    • project workflow (bug report/feature request, clarify requirements, finding where in the code the fix is, optimal fix, code review, merge)
  • working with other developers
  • working with other technologies you aren't necessarily 100% comfortable with (git, js package, etc)
  • expanding your portfolio (can share your github account, which will show your contributions to various projects)
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    Ideally a good quality open source project, because if you spend a lot of time working on a project you will learn from the other people in the community and it is better to learn good habits than bad ones, both in how you write code and how you review other people's code. Easier said than done for a junior to identify such projects but some indicators are projects with explicit code quality standards that are strictly adhered to, a history of thorough code reviews, using automated testing, etc.
    – rooby
    Jul 27, 2022 at 3:19
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As someone who hires developers from time to time (but not at this time), I would say that I care if you have a college degree (and what it's in), but not a lot. I've hired people without degrees.

What matters is how you get your resume put together. Make sure it's clean and organized. Ideally, have someone in the industry who has experience look at it. Most resumes from young new developers look terrible, and don't put the right information up front. They spend too much time talking about irrelevant details, or they are basically "tech vomit" where they just list thirty different technologies but don't actually have a good way of telling which of those the person is actually any good at.

Mostly, though, get yourself in front of people. That could be simply by applying to a lot of positions. It could be by working with a recruiter - some places like to hire from recruiters who do some screening first to match candidates with jobs, and that can help show candidates who are good but nontraditional in a better light. It could also be by looking at companies, researching them, and talking about why you want to work at that company in the application - it makes a difference, to me at least, when an application shows the applicant did some basic research on the company and at least claims to want to work in our field.

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I believe, based on the framing of the question and the interactions you had with others in the comments, that you are falling prey to 2 different types of bias.

One is that you think based on stories you've heard from social media (and IRL?) that going to school is a waste of time and money. This is survivorship bias, plain and simple. People who skip school and succeed make youtube videos about how school is a waste of time and money. People who skip school and wind up working at Bucky's Car Wash do not make videos about it. You're only looking at the lucky winners, not the entire cohort.

But it's what you seem to want to hear. That's confirmation bias: searching out evidence that reinforces your preferred narrative and downplaying or ignoring contradictory evidence. If you go looking for evidence that supports your hypothesis, you will definitely find it, no matter what your hypothesis is.

Why You Should Consider an Education

NOTE: the following is a bit American-centric. Extrapolate elsewhere with care.

Going to college for CS (not necessarily finishing mind you) will give you three opportunities besides the obvious one of the learning itself, and are arguably more important to your career than said learning:

  1. You will have more free time as a college undergraduate than you ever will again until you retire. Use it for self-learning.
  2. It will be much easier to gain real-world experience via internships. Your university will have resources including existing relationships with potential employers to facilitate this.
  3. You will have an opportunity to be recruited by companies who come to your campus for that purpose. It's a very different interview when they come knocking on your door rather than the other way around.

If you are looking at the situation like "ok, I could spend 4 years of my life and $100k to get a degree that doesn't teach me what I need to know and don't actually need for my job" then sure, it looks like a bad deal.

That's not what you go to school for. Stop getting distracted by the degree. Going to school just to have the "piece of paper" was something my parent's generation did, and I'm in my 40's. Those 3 things I listed above are still valuable even without the degree (i.e. you don't finish school before leaving for industry), the degree without those 3 things is largely worthless.

All that being said...

School Isn't For Everyone

I get it, I do.

For your portfolio some things that you will want to show:

  1. Basic familiarity with source control, i.e. git. Preferably outside of just Github.
  2. Unit Tests. You don't need to aim for perfection but there should be some, using a popular testing framework for the given language.
  3. Basic documentation: readme, docstrings, pertinent comments in the source, etc.
  4. Well-formatted code in a popular language that does something useful, even if it's not particularly novel.

There are plenty of online resources for all of those. You don't have to become an expert (yet) but you should at least have some familiarity with how to do those things. I regularly flunk interview candidates, including some that have years of experience in industry, for utterly failing in one of those areas (and I don't mean "not expert", I mean "doesn't have the first clue").

Meaning that if you have at least some basic proficiencies in those there will be that many fewer red flags your profile will raise.

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  • Not necessarily. I can't do the education route as I have bills to pay and can't afford to quit my current job for schooling. I've thought about college or a boot camp for the sole purpose of internships, but I can't make that happen right now.
    – Arxci
    Jul 26, 2022 at 3:38
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    The question (in its current form) asks how the OP can improve their portfolio, not whether or not education is good or necessary for the chosen career. While it might be the case that OP should consider an education, this is not the question asked, and it is also clear that improving the portfolio will marginally improve OP's chances of a job, even if not by the same amount as a degree.
    – Max
    Jul 26, 2022 at 6:02
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    @Arxci "I've thought about college or a boot camp for the sole purpose of internships, but I can't make that happen right now" that's fair, just mind the difference between disparaging the education route (even cynically taken) and saying "I see the value but can't do it". I dropped out of my CS program to work in industry after 1 year because I had a wife, a 2 year old, and a mortgage. So believe me I get it. Jul 27, 2022 at 15:30
  • @Max I get it and I don't disagree but this is too long for a comment and given the framing it needed to be said. Jul 27, 2022 at 15:35
  • @Max I edited to still make the points but also address the question more directly. Jul 27, 2022 at 16:16
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The reason you keep getting overlooked may not have anything to do with your portfolio. It may also not have anything to do with much you can change right now.

I have 10 years professional experience as a software developer, with me starting to learn software development nearly 30 years ago. I at least have an associates degree, but that doesn't seem to help. And even with a fairly steady work history up to last year, I'm having troubles finding a job. Even 6 month "temp to hire" contracts aren't that easy to get. And the last two I had didn't follow through with the "hire" part, with one saying it was a change in department budget.

Last year, I couldn't find too many jobs that didn't require 10 years experience when I "only" had 9. I have a profile site and accounts with several online programming "certificate" and learning sites, but they don't seem to matter much. I admittedly don't have much on GitHub, because most of the projects I work on are either for an employer or my own projects that I'm trying to turn into commercial products.

Some people suggest helping out on open source projects to get experience. That can help, but it can also hurt. While it shows that you are able to work on these projects and get your code into development, it also shows that you are willing to work for free. Far too many employers will try to force you to work after hours for no extra pay, even when there's not real deadline to hit, or a deadline they artificially created to get their devs to work for free. Maybe your location has laws against that, but without letting us know where you are, that's hard to advise on.

Unfortunately, times are tough. For everyone. One reason that you might not be able to find a job is that devs with more experience and education are trying to find better jobs, too. Unfortunately for you, the people with education and experience are far more likely to get a job than someone without either.

The last couple of times I've been looking for a job in the past 18 months, I've seen very few jobs that don't require at least 5 years of experience. That's pretty hard to get when you can't get into the industry.

That's the catch-22 I've always hated: you can't get a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job.

Some companies say they don't care that much about education, but, really, there's someone in the organization that does (usually in HR), so you're still not going to be considered.

If you can't tell, I've been there, done that, got the bitterness.

At your stage, the only thing you can really hope for is a pre-employment skills test. I've never liked them and they can be totally worthless beyond getting hired, but it's how I've gotten at least one job, including my first programming job.

1

Keep building sites.

From what you described your portfolio is impressive but possibly lacks a lot of real-world examples. What I mean is that it's great you made a chess AI but employers will be looking for proof that you can build good looking, responsive websites.

Start freelancing, offer to build a site for a friends business or advertise your services on your local craigslist. Then you can add real client work to your portfolio.

This is exactly what I did. I taught myself, built around 5 websites for clients and then landed my first agency job.

I only charged clients a tiny amount ($70) despite the fact it took me a long time to build the sites at first. I saw it as investing in my future career.

Don't give up. Coding has absolutely changed my life. I went from living paycheck to paycheck to traveling the world working remotely.

1

Keep in mind that the first job is the most difficult one to get, but once you get into the industry, it will be much easier. You can apply to thousands of positions and you just need to get lucky once.

I am a developer and was a team lead up until recently. I have regularly hired people in the past and screened a lot of resumes. Here's what catches my eye in an applicant:

Resume

Style:

Have a compact, clean and beautiful resume. It is better if it is single page (maybe except cover letter). Feel free to experiment with different layouts, big header, sidebar, 1-2 columns etc.

Stay away from LinkedIn CV export or similar. Use a tool with nice templates. I have done mine in canva and got a lot of positive feedback. They have many nice templates for free.

Photo:

This might depend on the personal preference of the screener, but be aware that your resume is not your passport. I always found casual photos with a warm smile more eye catching and they gave me positive vibe. Make sure that they are high quality and have good lighting.

Cover Letter:

This one is extremely important. Be casual, sincere and respectful. Avoid "dear madam/sir" kind of beginnings, even a simple "hello" would be better. Talk about yourself, why you would be a good developer, what you have found very interesting about development, sprinkle some humor here and there if you can.

Research briefly what company does, what the role is about and add 1-2 sentences specific about that position. This will help screener to understand your application is not a noise and you are serious about it.

General:

  • Avoid typos.
  • Have proper capitalization (React, SQL, Java, ExpressJS etc.).
  • Avoid huge text blocks, use paragraphs.
  • Since you are applying for a developer job, exclude office programs and similar from your skills, maybe put some emphasis on some key skills, such as React, TypeScript etc.
  • Since you don't have any relevant experience, you don't have to explain what you do in your current role. You can put 1-2 sentences that underlines what a good team player you are.
  • You can fill the empty space with your projects, explain what they are about briefly, which technologies you have used etc.
  • Don't be afraid to space out some content or to use slightly bigger fonts.
  • A little exaggeration is alright if you can back it up during interview, but never lie.

Note: Preparing your initial resume might take a few hours, maybe even a day, but it shouldn't take more than 15 minutes to adjust the targeted sentences in your cover letter and apply to any position.

You should apply to at least 20 positions per week. The more the better. Remember:

---------
\       / --> Applications
 \     /  
  \   /
   \ / -----> Interviews
    ˙ ------> Hired

Interview

  • Brush up your code kata skills with LeetCode or similar.
  • Knowing array, object, string methods and being able to find your way around RegEx helps a lot with those tasks.
  • Do a little research about JavaScript interview for juniors and what kind of questions are asked.
  • Be relaxed.
  • Since you are a beginner, nobody expects you to be an expert on anything.
  • You have to show them you are extremely motivated, love coding, always open to learn new things (languages, frameworks, paradigms, principles etc.).
  • You also need to show them your soft skills. You are friendly, humble, a good team player, happy to collaborate etc.
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  • In some places, including a photo can get you immediately removed from consideration, for fear of various discrimination lawsuits. resumegenius.com/blog/resume-help/including-a-resume-picture And I keep getting recruiters asking me to add more and more to my resume, even though it's already 6 pages. A 1 page resume is good for many industries, but not IT. Professional resume writers and recruiters tell me, as a software developer, to include as much relevant information as possible to add as many keywords as possible. Aug 1, 2022 at 21:15
  • @computercarguy It might depend on the location perhaps. I got hired with a one page resume by a top company in Germany recently. Also as a starter, filling even one page can be difficult. Having a compact CV is always preferable by readers, at least to my experience. I might be wrong but I would be very surprised if anybody is really reading past second page. Maybe they may quickly skim through.
    – s.alem
    Aug 2, 2022 at 16:10
  • The US seems to heavily rely on software to pick out key words and match the number of those key words and the type of key words with some semi-random number HR or a hiring manager deems "necessary". I can definitely understand that someone new to the industry would only have 1 page, but I don't know how I could do it with the wide variety of different things I've done over the past decade. I'd have to leave out massive amounts of relevant info. I'm glad to hear that other places are better are a human reading the resume/CV than the US. Aug 2, 2022 at 16:29
  • The OP mentions in the comments they are in the US, so unfortunately they have to deal with that sometimes backwards (or worse) nature of employment and hiring practices. Aug 2, 2022 at 16:35
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Just show up.

Go into their office and drop off a paper resume. I got my first internship that way. I got my first job in a new city that way. Cold applicants are a dime a dozen and you need to stand out. Give them a reason to notice you, otherwise they'll probably never see your demonstration projects.

This can be difficult at larger companies, it can be time consuming and costly. That's part of why it works. People recognize that.

On a similar note, work with a recruiter to get your foot in the door at places you otherwise may not be able to, or where visiting their office in person is impractical.

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  • When I was first starting out trying to get a job as a computer repair tech +20 years ago, most companies refused to take a paper resume. Something like 99% of them wanted them submitted on their website or through the recruitment website they had the job listed on, such as Dice or Monster. Only the small repair shops bothered with a paper resume. I can't imagine too many software job taking paper resumes anymore. And you should never have to pay to get a job or to be recognized as a potential candidate, unless you are C-suite level. Aug 1, 2022 at 21:06
  • @computercarguy There are a lot of things you should never have to do to get a job, but have to anyway. I'm not saying it works every time, but eventually you'll find someone who appreciates the effort. I was lucky enough to do this in school, got an interview with the CTO right then and there, talked for a couple hours and started a paid internship the following Monday. Turned that into a full time job with stock options before graduation. Anecdotal evidence of course, but the strategy has been a boon to my career.
    – TCooper
    Aug 2, 2022 at 17:46
  • I hear what you are saying, but that's simply not possible for everyone. Not only can workers not spend a couple hours talking with each possible future employer, but CxOs aren't going to spend that time talking to every candidate for every job. And people generally give different requirements for internships as well as for people before they graduate. And hiring someone without publicly advertising the position may be against the law in some locations. Posting a position publicly that's already filled may also be illegal. You hit the "right place at the right time", which most of us don't. Aug 2, 2022 at 17:53
1

I've done a lot of technical interviews in my stint at my current employer, and while I'm generally sympathetic to junior developers, this sticks out at me as a red flag.

I have no educational experience or work experience but I feel like I have made great projects to showcase my skills.

I can often forgive no formal education for equivalent time spent in the industry. After all, there were a lot of people who didn't bother getting the four-year degree and went through a vocational school or other formal training, and landed a gig somewhere, and did very well. Also too, after your first couple of years in the industry, your education matters drastically less and your experience weighs a whole lot more.

If you don't have work experience either, then it's a very tough sell. You're marketing yourself as a competent and capable developer without the paper trail needed to be able to back up that claim.

Some places have to be equal and fair to all applicants, and if the requirement is a degree or work equivalent, then there's no way that the hiring managers (in good conscience) could take you on board.

But it's not all doom and gloom. You have some options at hand.

  • Some places may be interested in mentoring a junior developer. Look into what their requirements are for that kind of role. Be open to working somewhere that is more local, and not necessarily a Fortune 500 company.
  • If the barrier really is credentials, then taking some kind of coding boot camp in the technologies you're familiar with will pacify those calls.

Ultimately though, there are places (like mine when we look to hire) that have a lot of applicants to sift through. We can't objectively evaluate the quality of your code from a project you wrote, but having it tells us that you're at least interested in the craft.

(But to be completely fair, if you did make it through the resume screen and you did offer that you could do good work, then you'd better be able to prove it in your interview, since you can't do it on paper.)

0

With regard to finding employment, I echo the others: connections & recognized degrees are the golden path.

If you insist on doing it the hard way, there are two issues with your portfolio:

  1. You showcase the final product, not the process1 : it is not possible to ascertain from the final product how good you are, for all we know you may have copy/pasted it or blindly followed an online tutorial.
  2. Your projects are all solo projects: they do not demonstrate your ability to work in a team. You have created a freelancer portfolio, and use it to try and appeal for a team member position. Bad mismatch.

1 Of course, you cannot possibly showcase the process on solo projects...

Both of those issues can be solved by contributing to well-known open source projects:

  1. Contributions to well-known open source projects are genuine. If the solution could be copy/pasted, they wouldn't have waited for you to do it.
  2. Contributions to large open source projects require working with the other people of the projects, going through code-review, etc... just like in a team.

So, strictly with regard to your portfolio, I would advise starting contributing to open-source projects:

  • Pick one (or two at most) open source project(s) that appeals to you and that you expect to be well known (and have the respect of) your prospective employers.
  • Read thoroughly how to contribute, and check a few existing contributions to get a feel for how it goes. Most notably, double-check the timeline: not all maintainers react quickly to contributions.
  • Pick one "small" issue. Many projects now have special labels for "easy" issues, to help select them. Develop a solution for it and open a small PR. You're new in town, don't preach a revolt. Be polite, remember that you may have to wait several days for a reply.
  • Work with the maintainer(s) to integrate your PR. Do not "PUSH", be respectful, be open-minded: your communication trail is also part of your portfolio, after all.
  • If you like it, start contributing more. If not, back to step 1 and choose another project.

And with that done...

Work on your connections. It's much easier to talk about your contributions and "hype them up" to a fellow developer at a meet-up around a drink, than it is to impress non-technical people with a one-liner on a CV.

Speaking of which: the very maintainers and other developers you interact with on those open source projects will be your first connections. Chances are they are in the wrong country or locality, but cultivate them nonetheless, who knows what the future holds.

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The other answers raise some good points but I'd also like to point out that links in CVs are often ignored. You say

I always make sure to provide a live site link to all my projects along with the git repo.

But you shouldn't assume that someone will take the time (or have time!) to visit the site or look into the code. Therefore, you should add sufficient descriptions in your CV so that it can stand alone, highlighting what technologies you used and what you learned.

Overall, keep in mind that it's a game of odds - sometimes it just takes a lot of applications to land a job, esp the first one and there's no golden bullet that you can add in your CV.

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Regarding education, go to a code school. These are affordable (sometimes free) and will expose you to more technologies. They are a few days a week as they are geared towards people who already have jobs or other responsibilities. Usually a semester ends with you completing a project that you can use on your resume. And frequently there will be an open house to which recruiters are invited.

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