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I am not sure where I should solicit advice for my situation, but I thought this might be the best place to start. Please let me know if there's a better place for this sort of discussion.

I am currently a meteorologist with the federal government. I chose this profession because it is a lovely blend of my two passions: computer science and environmental science. I enjoy what I do, but I have decided that a career in IT, specifically full stack web development, is what would make me feel the most fulfilled. I've been testing the water of the private sector to get a feel for where I stand, but that only led me to confusion and frustration.

Why?

Recruiters keep trying to slot me for 'Senior Level' positions because of the years of experience I have. Normally, that would be fine, but my 'years of experience' are in an organization that failed to introduce me to agile development, newer technologies/languages, best practices, testing, and loads of other things I'd need to succeed in the private sector. Worst of all, OOP is discouraged, and I am forced to write procedural code.

I've been struggling to identify exactly what holes/weaknesses to address before I actively pursue the private sector, and I am desperately looking for help in making this tough transition.

I feel like I have a lot to offer, but I need to be in an environment where the focus is on self improvement and learning as much as delivering a product. I feel that I should begin my new career as a 'Junior' developer, so that I can not only learn from experienced senior developers, but also so that I can learn all the cutting methodologies of the trade in the private sector.

I am strongest in PHP/JS, but I have experience with numerous languages. That said, I feel that I'd be best served starting this new career path with a fresher language/stack such as RoR or MEAN.

My questions are then:

  1. Should I alter my resume to downplay my level of experience in languages I am not interested in working with as much (PHP)?

  2. Should I spend a year or two boosting my MEAN stack or ROR skills before seeking a junior position with either of these?

  3. How can I find a mentor who is willing to give me advice (on rare occasions) about the direction of my career/or advice to improve my code?

  4. How can I get experience with agile when I work in an organization that doesn't encourage it/know it exists?

  5. Should I boost my understanding of languages like C#/Java if don't wish to be a C#/Java developer in the short term?

  6. Should I focus exclusively on front-end design/UX vs back-end/database or the entire stack? I see so many jobs focused on either the front-end or back-end only, but I am used to doing everything myself.

  7. How can I determine my level of expertise versus peers? I know professional developers and they are unfamiliar with much of what I know, but I am sure there are many developers that would laugh at my level of expertise.

Thanks!

For more info on my situation, please check out this post: http://www.artfuladvection.com/?p=265

closed as off-topic by Jim G., jmort253 Apr 12 '14 at 23:54

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking advice on what job to take, what skills to learn, etc. are off-topic as the answers are rarely useful to anyone else." – Jim G., jmort253
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Please let me know where I should ask this sort of advice if you are down-voting for the purpose of it being too broad/situation specific. I have been struggling with my situation for a few months now, and I am now trying to reach out on the web. Thanks. – DrewP84 Apr 12 '14 at 20:40
  • Hey Drew, welcome to The Workplace. The main issue is that this is several questions wrapped up in one big ball. Our Q&A site works better when questions are focused on a single question. With that said, you have one really solid answer that you've accepted, so I'm hoping that helps! For more information on how our site works, please see tour and the help center. Good luck! – jmort253 Apr 12 '14 at 23:55
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Should I alter my resume to downplay my level of experience in languages I am not interested in working with as much (PHP)?

There are pro's and cons to doing this - you'll have to decide for yourself based on how much experience you have in all applicable languages and how you wish to come across.

If one sees:

Extensive experience: Java, C, C#, C++, Prolog, Octave, Matlab, ...
Proficient: PHP
...

That's probably not going to look like you're very interested in working in PHP, even if applying for a PHP job. You could consider putting them all on the same level as PHP, or even below.

However, if "Working knowledge" (or similar - i.e. "not a lot") is how experienced you are in PHP, it's probably not going to look like you have a lot of experience as a programmer in general, but perhaps this is what you want.

Keep in mind that (for many people) programming experience is programming experience - even if the language is greatly different from the one required in the position you're applying for, just having experience in it is worth noting.

With regard to listing work experience + accomplishments, I don't think it will make a big difference. If a change you made saved the company X dollars, or made the program X% faster, I doubt many people will care that you did it in C rather than PHP. You should obviously consider giving the non-programming-related achievements and work history less priority, but don't necessarily discard all of them - doing amazing things are worth noting, even if it isn't in the applicable field.

I wouldn't recommend altogether omitting any work experience from your resume though (at least not recent experience - not sure about non-recent experience) - gaps are mostly seen as a bad sign - you could even just have a single line for a job if you don't deem it that important.

Should I spend a year or two boosting my MEAN stack or ROR skills before seeking a junior position with either of these?

You could certainly get a junior position without much / any experience in some given language or framework, although many positions may expect some experience. Whether or not you want to wait until you have a bit more experience to increase the odds of getting a role is completely up to you.

You could always keep applying while you boost your skills - while some conditions may hinder your chances at success if reapplying for a position you already applied for a year or more down the line, lack of experience doesn't tend to be one of them - a visible attempt at gaining the required experience between applications could even be seen as a very good sign.

How can I find a mentor who is willing to give me advice (on rare occasions) about the direction of my career/or advice to improve my code?

If you're willing to pay, I'm sure you can find a career advisor. Any programmer friends or recruiters you get into contact with may also be able to offer some advice here and there.

Where appropriate, you can ask on this site (the Workplace).

With relation to improving code, you could ask on Code Review.

How can I get experience with agile when I work in an organization that doesn't encourage it/know it exists?

You could get knowledge of Agile through books and such.

You could perhaps get experience in Agile through an Open Source project.

If the company doesn't know it exists, you could always introduce it (by making a case for it with your manager, for example).

But, as a developer, I personally don't attribute too much value to knowing much more than the basics about methodologies. Most methodologies are easy enough to pick up if you were to start at a company using one you haven't used before. And even without any knowledge of methodologies, one should fairly easily be able to identify weaknesses with the current development approach (and either fix it, or know where to go looking for the knowledge to be able to do so). If you were to even find yourself in a position needing to implement one yourself, you could always learn. But then again, I don't like calling myself a "Software Engineer" for the association with formal processes and the like, as these often distract from getting the job done (but I do appreciate the need for them).

Should I boost my understanding of languages like C#/Java if don't wish to be a C#/Java developer in the short term?

  • If you see C#/Java as popular, so you're wondering whether you should learn about and consider going into that temporarily if the opportunity were to present itself - web languages (which is what you seem to be interested in) are popular enough that you probably don't need to do this, however, it can certainly be one way to get into the programming industry.

  • If you think you'll need C#/Java in addition to the languages you prefer in some roles, yes, there are roles that require this, but there are also many others that don't, and I wouldn't suggest that you go for one of the roles that don't if you're not really interested in C#/Java development, as you could spend a lot of time doing that.

Should I focus exclusively on front-end design/UX vs back-end/database or the entire stack? I see so many jobs focused on either the front-end or back-end only, but I am used to doing everything myself.

It's completely up to you. Focussing on one should give you greater in-depth knowledge than focussing on the entire stack, but some positions are full-stack, so it really depends on what you want to do in the long term.

How can I determine my level of expertise versus peers? I know professional developers and they are unfamiliar with much of what I know, but I am sure there are many developers that would laugh at my level of expertise.

I'm not aware of an easy way to measure this. I think whether you can get a job and your success doing it are mainly determined by knowing enough to do that job (non-technical skill not withstanding), which would vary greatly from job to job.

But I do spend some time on Stack Overflow, where you'll likely be humbled by seeing those that know so much more than you, and where you'll also see those that know so much less.

Recruiters keep trying to slot me for 'Senior Level' positions because of the years of experience I have.

You could specifically apply for junior roles, or explicitly tell recruiters that you don't have a lot of programming experience and wish to be considered for a more junior role instead (or discuss this with them).

  • Thank you so much for the time you spent answering my questions. I appreciate it. I believe working on an open source project would be a great thing for me. I will look into how to contribute to a project at a low-level to get experience with oop+agile+new languages. – DrewP84 Apr 12 '14 at 19:06
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The simple answer is that you're not stupid. Getting out of your comfort zone will take you to another level - and beyond, if you sustain a continuous-learning attitude. Learning from books written by thought-leaders will give you an edge - f your peers can't teach you anything, you'd better learn from books. The more you read, the more you'll be able to back-up your point of view - with credibility of the best in the field that you have read.

Learn in depth what is you want to do - and have a good appreciation of stuff you don't want to do.

Feel the fear and do it anyway!

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