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Note - this is somewhat related to these two questions
Should I reply to unsolicited recruitment emails?
Request to interview for a job I'm not qualified for

I am a largely self taught programmer who has recently started going to school to get a more formal education in the topic. Most of my work has been independent projects on things I'm interested in, with some occasional freelance stuff for people I know.

I recently got an email from a senior recruiter at a pretty well known company, saying they had seen my GitHub repositories and were interested in speaking with me. Reading their email, and researching the company itself, I'm pretty sure that I'm grossly underqualified to get the job. This is largely based on my own self-assessment. My experience with "good" programmers has largely been through Stack Overflow and Programmers.SE - and I've concluded that I'm overwhelmingly not on their level. However after taking some of my (intermediate level) classes I've found them to be very easy, perhaps meaning that I'm better at this than I thought I was. The recruiter (based on their LinkedIn page) appears to have a very solid background in computer science, which I suppose could make them more qualified than me to judge someone's skill level.

So here's my dilemma. I'd be very interested in working for this company - they're doing some cool stuff with cool technologies that I have some (very small) experience in. However I'm likely going to be out of my depth, and I'd like to finish school first. Is there a graceful way to reply, thank them for their interest, explain my situation, and then ask if I could arrange some sort of internship there for the summer, possibly leading to employment after I graduate? Would this be inappropriate to do?

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    Is the recruiter someone who works for the company, or a third party recruiter? – DJClayworth Sep 18 '14 at 17:43
  • Assuming that the recruiter is an in-house recruiter, by all means, ask. The worst that happens is that they say no. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 18 '14 at 18:11
  • @DJClayworth yes, she works for the company – Dannnno Sep 18 '14 at 19:15
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It's perfectly fine to ask, I would honestly be impressed if I were the recruiter. Perhaps they could start you off part time / contract while you work on your degree then pull you in fulltime once that's said and done.

Issues of a programmer

There are primarily two issues related to confidence programmers face... the Dunning-Kruger effect and Imposter Syndrome. Most programmers will from time to time experience these conditions, others seem to permanently fall in one group or another. (you don't want to spend a lot of time in either) You might actually fall into the category of imposter syndrome here...

(image thanks to "thisisindexed.com") Dunning-Kruger effect vs Imposter Syndrome

Dunning-Kruger effect

Dunning-Kruger effect is when someone is incompetent in a skill set yet believes they are extremely skilled in that skill set... but are so incompetent they incapable of recognizing their own incompetence...

Imposter Syndrome

The imposter syndrome is when you are actually very skilled, but your confidence is in that skill is so low you feel it's dishonest to claim said skill. Essentially in your case you might have a lot of talent in your skill set, but because you're outshined by some 10-20 year vets are humbled into thinking you're a novice. when in reality you might be more of an intermediate level.

What should you do?

With this recruiter I'd ask for what you want, worst they can say is no. (nothing gained, nothing lost) best case you get exactly what you want (lots gained)

With yourself... Well you need to figure out where you stand. Are you really a novice? Or are you more of an intermediate level? Perhaps you're somewhere in between? There are assessment tests you can take, but they tend to be a mixed bag. You could also compare against fellow class mates. I will say Github can be pretty merciless depending on who you network with. I've seen fresh talent raked over the coals by senior devs for mistakes we all made as rookies.

That and if you're just learned N-Tier and someone introduces you to advanced concepts like inversion of control through dependency injection it'll be something between deer in headlights and swearing these people are using some kind of black magic at first.

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I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask for an internship instead, considering you're still in school. The recruiter will probably need to check with his/her manager first. If they do allow it and you make it further through the interview process, here are a few questions I'd get clarity on:

  • How long will the internship last and will it require relocation?
  • Will the internship be paid? And if you have a desired salary, tell them, but say you're flexible. If they are paying you, will you be an employee or an independent contractor (1099)?
  • What kind of technologies should you ramp up on before starting?

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