Update: September 2014

Below is an email I sent to a friend of mine who is coaching me through the process of how to break into the programming world. He went to Princeton, worked at Google for a year or two, and has now been working at hedge funds for the past few years, so I trust his advice.


I made good progress this month: I made changes to my job application email (see below), my Python script sent out ~130 emails about a week ago to people posting in the HackerNews “Who’s Hiring” thread, and my inbox is now full of ~30-40 responses. I’ve had ~5 phone interviews in the past few days, three or four of which were with people who went to Princeton / Harvard / Yale / MIT, and I have a bunch of people I need to get back to via email.

I think I’ve pretty much figured out how to get an interview. Now I need to practice getting past the interview. For the interviews I’ve had I can tell I have consistently underwhelmed my interviewer when they give me a coding challenge. For the next month I’m going to focus on HackerRank and Cracking the Coding Interview.

What I did this past month:

1) In August I only attached my resume to my emails. This time I attached my resume, portfolio, references, and a list of books I’ve read since I graduated college. (I’ve attached everything I used just in case you’re curious.) I think this was a big part of why I got so many more responses this time, especially the portfolio.

2) I made the changes you recommended to my resume. When I first read what you wrote I was defensive, thinking, “I don’t want to work with squares!”, but after thinking about it longer I agree with you: a certain level of formality can inspire confidence in a potential-employer when you’re first getting to know them; it helps show that you know how to get down to business.

3) I “rebranded” some of my previous jobs: for any job where I used programming to get my job done, I described myself as being a Developer of some sort, as opposed to being an Administrative Assistant who uses programming to get his job done faster.

4) I ran an A/B test on my resume: for half the emails I sent out I used a resume that said I had just graduated from DevBootcamp, and for the other half of the emails my resume said I had been accepted and was deciding whether to go. Surprisingly (to me), I actually got more responses to the resume that said I hadn’t gone to DevBootcamp. All but one of my phone interviews were for applications that said I hadn’t gone. Today I had an interview with an MIT PhD who said he found it very impressive that I was self-taught. So I think I’m going to pass on going to a bootcamp and just focus on being able to pass an interview (big-O notation, data structures, algorithms, coding challenges).

5) I added a second page to my portfolio with some more-minor projects.

6) Last month I applied the day that the HN thread was posted. This time I procrastinated and sent the emails out about a week later. Because of the large response I got, I suspect that might be a better way to do it in the future.

———Unrelated to my job applications————-

6) I started reading Calculus For Dummies, Linear Algebra For Dummies, Sams Teach Yourself SQL In 10 Minutes, and Beginning Programming With Java For Dummies. I’m trying to do a chapter a day for each book as much as possible. I can read the SQL / Java book at work without having to worry about getting in trouble, and I read the Calc/Lin. Alg. book at home in bed when I’m getting ready to go to sleep.

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