How to Be an In-Demand Programmer
Looking for a silver bullet to get a job? In this post, I show you a formula on how be in demand and stand out from other developers.
In this day and age, developers are in demand.
Pick an industry and you'll immediately recognize a position for a technologist, developer, programmer, or architect.
If the company has a website or intranet, you can bet they have a technology staff to further their bottom line.
But what if you don't have that cushy job on Friday? What happens if they let you go cold turkey and hand you a box to pack your things?
You should always be marketable. Granted, it's not the company's responsibility, it's yours.
At one point in my career, I was let go and wasn't given a word of warning or anything until on a Friday at 11:00 in the morning.
It wasn't just me. It was me and 40 other individuals.
It wasn't pretty and it happened during the bubble burst in the 2000-ish Internet period.
Personally, I couldn't remember anything afterwards because the entire team went out and...well...you get the idea. ;-)
On that Sunday (after my recovery), I started to create a plan of attack on how to look for another position.
I finally found something...six months later!
During that six month period, it was a full-time job to find a full-time job.
I didn't have any contacts.
The Internet left a bad taste in business owners' mouth where they didn't even want to hear the word 'Internet.'
It was tough to keep up my technology skills while scraping just to get by.
This was a hard time in my life, but because of my persistence, it made me a little bit stronger.
So what did I learn from these tough times?
A formula to always try to stay ahead of the curve based on my career choices and observations.
1. Always Have Two Expert Skills!
When I first started my corporate career, I came out of college knowing Clipper (Yes, THAT Clipper) and knew more than most developers.
One-third into my tenure there, the company was deciding whether to use Delphi or Visual Basic. They settled on Delphi because it was a true object-oriented language.
So I started learning Delphi. I was even certified in it and used it for nine years (Don't hold it against me).
At this time, I had two skills under my belt: Clipper and Delphi.
As I watched the industry, I noticed Clipper wasn't as popular as Delphi or Visual Basic, but I learned Delphi for my position.
Then, outside of my corporate job, I heard about this new technology called the Internet in 1994/1995. I started looking into it and created my first website.
It wasn't much since the Internet was in it's infancy back then.
So as Clipper died off, HTML took it's place. Notice I still had two skills: Delphi and HTML/Internet.
Someone in the company heard I built my own website and wanted me and a team to create the corporate website.
As I continued to monitor the industry, I would leave one skill behind and pick up a new "hotness" that companies were looking for in their technology stack.
So throughout my career, I went from:
- Clipper and Delphi
- Delphi and Classic ASP
- Classic ASP, Delphi, and C#
- C# and ASP.NET WebForms
- C#, ASP.NET WebForms, and ASP.NET MVC
- ASP.NET MVC, C#, and ASP.NET Core
And I haven't looked back since.
The only downside with this approach is the industry could poo-poo BOTH technologies and leave you with nothing.
This is what happened to me in the 2000's because I intentionally wasn't watching what the developer market was doing.
I lost my edge, and because I lost my edge, it pissed me off.
Sorry to make this long-winded, but throughout my career, this approach has worked for me in numerous circumstances.
Moral: Always have two expert skills to keep yourself marketable.
2. Help Someone Out!
I can truthfully say it doesn't feel good to be layed off or let go from a position.
I've seen a number of GOOD people let go when it wasn't in a budget or their contract couldn't be extended.
This is why I've always tried to help people when and where I can.
Recently, one friend of mine was let go because a "higher-up" didn't like him. Just flat out didn't like him.
He asked him to pack his bags and this would be his last day at the company.
As I watched this person leave, I asked if there was anything I could do to help him out.
They said, "yeah, find me a job."
I contacted a few consulting and recruiting companies and they were able to help this person out.
It felt good.
A year later, someone asked my friend if he knew of a developer who could help him with a large project.
My friend said, "I know just the person." ;-)
Now, I've been working with this new person for a while and it's turning into a very solid business partnership.
If you help someone out, provide a recommendation, or do something nice, that person will always remember you because of the law of reciprocity.
Of course, be aware they may not reciprocate, but that's another "story of expectations" altogether.
Moral: Help out where you can. That little help can go a long way for someone (and possibly you in the future).
3. Bring Your Creativity (through experience)
I've mentioned in the past about devigners (developers with design experience) and how they can really make a web page pop when given the right direction for the project.
Of course, programmers have their own way of being creative and artsy-fartsy by writing code using design patterns, practices, and umm...interesting algorithms.
As you progress through your career, you gain experience from past projects and look for better ways to design a UI for users.
If you don't have a UI background, it may be time to come out of your comfort zone and learn a little design...maybe learn some UI/UX courses or CSS? Hmmm?
This only makes you stronger and more marketable because you are gaining additional skills where others are shying away from them.
Moral: Flex those creativity muscles and come out of your comfort zone. Most creative steps come from first steps.
4. [Try to] Be Humble, But Know When To Toot Your Horn
Developers need to check their ego's at the door when working on teams.
There isn't room on a team for someone who thinks they know it all and "talks the talk," but can they "walk the walk." (You know who you are...I'm looking at you!) ;-)
You'll get your chance. So, know when to step-up and show what you're made of and what you can do, but also have the knowledge to know when to step back and let someone else take the reigns.
Be receptive and humble to constructive (not bitching) criticism.
Moral: Your personality is definitely a factor on how well you mesh with a team. Check your ego at the door.
5. Have a Healthy Network
Are we talking an HSA?
No, I'm talking about a healthy network of contacts like LinkedIn.
As I mentioned above, during my time of being laid off from a number of companies, I contacted a lot of recruiters and consulting companies.
No, I mean A LOT of recruiters and consulting companies.
I know the good ones, the bad ones, and yes, the ugly ones.
I have a list of the top 5 and bottom 5.
Even after 15 years, I'm still in contact with 20-30% of them.
If it wasn't for my network of connections, I wouldn't have been able to:
- Find my friend (and various others) a job
- Find various jobs for myself
- Find a business partner
As you can see, it pays to have a network of connections with a portfolio on LinkedIn.
Someone who knows of someone who has a job opportunity for them becomes popular really quick!
Moral: Give recommendations and build your network because tomorrow may be your last day at work.
6. Show Proven Results
If you were an interviewer, which statement on a resume would appeal to you more?
Wrote a program for the Sales and Marketing Department
Wrote a program for the Sales and Marketing Department which resulted in a company growth by 50% through sales.
First one...ehh..not so much
Second one...oooo...tell me more about this program. Who wrote it? How did it do that?
People want to see the fruits of your labors. What results did people receive from your work?
Once you visibly show proven results, they start calculating how to imitate those same results by imagining you injected into their company.
These types of results and wording should be sprinkled throughout your LinkedIn profile which will generate a higher demand for your skill set.
Moral: To be in demand, sell the sizzle, not the steak!
7. Always Be Learning!
Finally, this should be a given.
If you are one of the best in your industry, you know you never stop learning. There's always something new to learn.
As I grow older, I've come to a realization about learning in any kind of school whether it's middle school, high school, or college.
School is meant for two things: Learning to Learn and Finishing What You Started
Learning to Learn means you (not your mom, not your dad, YOU!) need to learn how to learn new things in your life. Once you know how to learn new things and Yearn for the Learn Burn, the world is your oyster.
Never. Stop. Learning.
Secondly, as Van Halen says, "Finish what you started."
In this world, people look at what you've completed in your career, not half-finished or quarter-finished. What projects have you completed?
They want to see your completed projects and results...including your completed diplomas!
The key here is to always look for ways to improve yourself and always be learning.
One of my bosses always used to say to me when I would learn something new, "you could be hanging off a technology cliff with just your fingers on the edge and somehow you would learn it well enough to pull yourself up and start running with the new technology."
This type of learning is what companies desire in candidates.
Someone willing to sniff out the latest trends approaching in the year, learn just enough to become dangerous, and integrate it into an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to speed the TTM (Time To Market).
THAT would make an individual in demand!
Moral: Always be learning and showcase your completed projects!
Looking back on this list, I shouldn't call this a formula, but more of a set of guidelines you can use throughout your own career.
As you integrate these into your life, you'll start to see a change.
People will notice your skills. You'll have a full LinkedIn profile. Recruiters will be contacting you 1-2 times a week. You'll be given opportunities geared towards your skills.
You'll know when you're in demand...
...You won't be able to breathe. ;-)
Are you currently in demand? Was it word of mouth? Post your comments below and let's discuss.