Keys to Landing Your First Junior Developer Role

Sujen Sathiyanathan, is a Software Engineer who worked as a Junior Developer at Google before moving to a role in Engineering Leadership. He performed duties including, amongst others, hiring junior devs. In this article, he shares advice on how to appeal to recruiters as a junior developer.

Tiwatayo Kunle
July 13, 2022

Sujen was drawn to Software Development because of video games. He played a lot of them growing up and wanted to understand how they were made. He watched a good number of tutorials via YouTube and over time his interest in the subject matter kept growing.

Today, as someone with experience (i) as a junior developer and (ii) hiring junior developers, he’s in the perfect position to share his learnings with aspiring junior developers.

So let’s play a fun game of Sujen On…

… The way to identify when you’re ready to apply to junior dev roles?

Sujen says you’re never really ready, but it’s also not about being ready. Apply, and keep applying. If it’s not working out, perhaps consider joining a Bootcamp or getting more experience. Even if you already have a Computer Science degree, if you feel like you’re lacking in experience then you should definitely attend a Bootcamp. It’s a great way to get the experience that you need and to know if tech is even what you want to work in.

… On what skills Junior developers should prioritize?

Many junior devs focus on the programming, and rightfully so too, that is their job after all. Apparently though, to stand out, the magic is actually teamwork and communication. In Sujen’s words, “you’ve got to be professional in two languages. One is the language that you speak with the computer and the other one is the language you use with your teammates and your manager”.

In Sujen’s experience, many hiring managers hire applicants who have experience working in a team over those who do not. If there was a hierarchy, it would be qualified people, then people with experience – perhaps in side projects or solo projects and then at the top of the pyramid would be those with experience who have also worked as part of a team.

Sujen advises junior devs, where possible, to upgrade their solo projects to teamwork. And for a more formal experience, Software Development Bootcamps such as Co.Lab are excellent as you can be sure that you’ll work not just with other Software Developers but with a Product Manager and other cross disciplines.

Good communication from a developer helps everyone in the line of approvals. Communicating with and about your code as well as the metadata for why you’ve done things in the way that you have, helps the people approving really understand what is going on. It makes everyone’s lives easier, reduces issues with the code and helps people sort of want software to be built.

Also, being able to communicate with the Product Manager or your manager to set expectations by carrying them along on projects and letting them know when you’re falling behind helps normalize the fact that we’re often not going to get many things right on our first try.

It’s normal to meet roadblocks and to deal with imposter syndrome as you carry out your work and so junior devs need to practice open communication and work in tandem with their managers to achieve the career growth that they want.

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… On what participating in hackathons tell the hiring manager about an applicant?

Sujen thinks it means that they're really willing, they're willing to put themselves in a position to really learn. It’s usually uncomfortable to apply to a hackathon because it requires really accepting the fact that you might not win. So the fact that they’re willing to do that is a great sign that they're willing to do a lot in order to learn.

“It doesn't really matter what they achieve in the hackathon. I think that just participation in itself is a great thing.”

Although he is no longer a junior developer, Sujen still attends Bootcamps because the learning never stops.

… On portfolio advice for junior devs?

As a hiring manager, Sujen ranks portfolios over resumes. They’re both highly relevant but in the grand scheme of things, the portfolio is just more accessible for people to look through.

“I think portfolio links or things that are running and deployed are a huge deal.” Just to see that something has been done and that the applicant even has a point of reference is great. However, it’s also important to deploy it, especially if you're in the job market.

For a junior dev looking to build their portfolio, Sujen struggles on whether to advocate for quality over quantity of projects or vice-versa. On the one hand, quality is…quality. It’s undeniable and good quality work has no rivals. Yet, based only on first impressions, quantity is great. It’s nice for recruiters to open up your portfolio and see all these things you’ve worked on. Additionally, the more projects you work on, the more your quality is bound to improve.

For someone that doesn't have a portfolio at all, he advises quantity over quality, because eventually, your quality will get better. It's hard to really achieve quality work in just a few tries.

… On things junior devs can do to stand out?

  •  Deploy lots of good quality projects.
  • Build something that solves a user’s problem because hiring managers are more impressed when engineers build something that solves a problem for someone.
  • Establish a relationship with someone who's more senior once you do join the company, and that can help a lot too.
  • Go to developer meetups, join communities, anywhere you might be able to tap into a network, and form new relationships where they can advocate for you.

These are things that give you a good edge. Someone will refer you to someone who knows someone and very often that’s how job offers are secured.

… On how junior developers can pitch themselves to a Hiring Manager?

The typical thing is to talk about how you would help the company but it’s also very important to talk about why you want the job for yourself. Talk about what you want to get out of the position. Don’t spray and pray (the practice of submitting your application and just praying for all to go well instead of putting in the work),  take initiative and display actual enthusiasm during the application process.

Make sure your portfolio links –whether they’re Co.Lab profiles or Bootcamp work or personal projects are all easily accessible in your cold email. The hiring manager should not need to open an attachment to find your work. You should also ensure that you’re giving direct links to specific projects that you’d like to draw their attention to so that they don’t just skim your website and miss out on important details.

Remember that when people hire junior devs, they’re looking at the trajectory. “One of the promises of hiring a Junior Dev is that they really are on their way to becoming something great. So I think that if you can outline your trajectory and how the company is serving that, you’ll distinguish yourself.”

If, for example, you were working in a different industry, then you went to Co.Lab to practice Software Development, and then in a couple of months, you've created a product, you're learning every day, you're interacting with Software Development content wherever they’re found, and generally just show evidence that you’re learning, it proves that there’s a lot of value in you specifically.

… On finding mentorship as a junior dev?

Definitely look inwards first. Look at your manager that you work with and talk to the person about your goals. They’re often more happy to be aligned because it’s also in their interest for you to do well.

For those who don’t have jobs yet, Discord communities, Twitter, LinkedIn are all great places to reach out to people and talk about mentorship and what they would like out of a mentor-mentee relationship.

Fortunately, a lot of older Software Engineers want to provide and give back to the community and so if you like someone’s work, you can send a DM or cold email them saying why you think you’d benefit from a relationship with them. It’s a very proactive task because there’s no recruiter on the other end to move things along.

Overall, Sujen advises all junior developers to keep focusing on improving and never stop seeking out opportunities to learn. As a dynamic field, there’s always something to be learned in Software Engineering and one of the biggest mistakes any software engineer can make is to think that they know all they need. Stagnancy will have you left behind while technology moves forward. 

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