I'm not sure what to consider when counting my years of experience in the programming area.

In real jobs, I have 1 year and 8 months of internship and 4 months in a full time job.

Additionally, I chose to stay home (without a job) for 6 months doing some personal projects every day. They were useful for me because I learned many new things (languages, frameworks, concepts) that are used in my job today, but I'm not sure if this counts as experience.

Also, I started to learn programming in 2007 (technical school, college).

So, what should I consider when counting my years of experience? Only real jobs? Personal projects? College time?

EDIT I have this question because much of my knowledge comes from personal projects, not from my job. Thus considering just the job experience doesn't sounds fair.

  • In what context? What you put on your resume? Or deciding whether to apply for a job? If the latter, does the job ad say "commercial experience" or just "experience"? So much more detail needed.
    – pdr
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 11:30
  • @pdr I'm considering to put my years of experience in my resume to apply for jobs in the future. Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 11:36
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    You have 4 months of experience. It is best for you that you not look until you have at least 1 yesar of professional fulltime experience.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 14:47

2 Answers 2


Assuming this is for choosing which jobs are worth applying for, you want to choose the highest sensible number. To be more specific, assume the highest number you can, limited by whether the interview will expose your inability to do the job. If you're not sure, assume higher. At worst, you'll turn up to the interview, find out you can't do the job, and learn from it. (e.g. "I didn't know this, so I couldn't get the job. Now I can go and learn more, so I can get the next job that asks this")

For example, if straight out of uni, you think "I need to put down 4 years experience to get that job", then when you're asked in an interview, "so, what did you do in your last job", and you describe your hobbywork or uni project that, while valuable from a skills perspective, nobody would pay you for, it immediately gives the interviewer a "mistrust this person" vibe. At which point you're in trouble. Similarly, nothing infuriates an interviewer more than hearing that the "professional" C++ programmer doesn't know what adding #include at the top of a file does.

If you think "I actually can do that job that says at least 4 years experience", then instead of saying "I have 4 years experience", put into your resume the equivalent of "Here's what I've done that is the equivalent of the 4 years experience you asked for."

For your resume, I'd recommend not putting a number down. Instead, give a list of the last 6 years (2007-2013), including personal projects, major uni projects/courses, basically any work at all. This gives me your six years experience, and I can then decide if that meets my requirements. If you're really worried about the number, add a sub-heading above that list that reads "Experience (6 years, 2007-2013):". Honest and the largest possible number.

Edit: As pdr says, it's important to highlight actual employment from pet projects (either via 2 lists or via highlighting the commercial), although different companies would have different policies on where things like short-term employment, off-the-books IT support, and internships lie.

Important: Leave no gaps. This means that if you spent the last two years working in a retail store while playing Halo in the evenings, put the store work in. If I notice a two-year gap post-uni, I can at best assume you did nothing of value. If I learn you spent two years working retail, I now know you can hold down a job.

If you actually did spend 2011-2013 playing videogames and eating pizza, then putting it down as something along the lines of "A journey of 'profound self-discovery' in which I learnt that I actually needed to achieve something with my life and that X-Box Achievements don't count." is still better than the gap, which reads as "I don't want you to know I did nothing during this period where I can't describe what you did. Now give me money."


You need to understand that commercial experience and personal experience are very different to an employer. I get that it feels unfair, when you have a lot of personal experience, but when you've worked as a programmer for a while, you'll totally see why. It's a completely different learning experience when you bring teams, customers, existing technology, etc. into the process.

If someone asks for 3 years' commercial experience, they really want 3 years' commercial experience. But, that doesn't mean that they won't consider you if you have 2 years' commercial experience and 4 years' non-commercial, particularly if they can see that you know the difference.

So put it on your CV, but separate them very clearly. List your commercial experience first, then education, then personal projects, because that's the order your potential employers will care.

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    "They really want 3 years' commercial experience".. This is generally so not true! In fact most of the time they don't know what they want, and just put a list of buzzwords with exaggerated number of years as requirements. When I got my first job it required years of experience, I had 0 excluding personal projects and yet with some deceiving in the resume I got hired and things worked quite well, in fact I was promoted 3 times in the first 2 years Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 16:32
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    @AndreasBonini: Well, that's a slightly different issue. Some companies certainly don't want half of what they ask for. But any company who promotes a wet junior 3 times in their first two years really doesn't know what they're doing. That company probably doesn't understand the difference between commercial and personal experience, I agree.
    – pdr
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 17:02

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