Gears with man standing holding laptop.

Every month, Atlanta JavaScript holds a meetup for developers of all skill levels, sponsored by Sevaa,, and Codeship. This month, panelists gathered to provide tips and tricks for landing your first development job (most of these tips can be applied to other jobs outside of the tech industry as well). Some of the panelists currently work for startups, but their success didn’t come without a healthy dose of unsatisfactory job interviews. On the other hand, the remaining panelists sit on the other side of the desk, having conducted many interviews over the course of their careers. This diverse group of panelists provided the audience with a balanced discussion with suggestions from both sides. Questions came from social media followers.


Self taught, bootcamp or computer science degree?

You need a jumping off point, but which strategy will work for you? It all depends on your learning style. If you prefer an independent approach, self-taught is the way to go. You can set your own deadlines and go at your own pace. A good way to begin this endeavor is to get involved with open source projects, like those found through OpenHatch. However, this process requires that you be extremely organized and skilled at creating a structured learning plan for yourself.

On the other end of the spectrum, bootcamps are fast and intense. One panelist chose this route because she was coming from a previous career and based on personal preferences, wanted a more direct route to a development career. Bootcamps range in prices, curriculum, and time length. Here some popular Atlanta-based bootcamps:

A computer science degree allows you to come into an environment with an established structure and timeline. A degree opens accessibility to various coding languages if you’re unsure about which language you want to focus on. Keep in mind, this route is a bit more time-consuming and costly.

Another resource to consider is a portfolio school like the Creative Circus in Atlanta, which offers an Interactive Developer program that teaches various coding languages. In order to graduate, students create portfolios to present the skills they’ve learned and the projects they’ve created over the course of their time at Creative Circus.


What do I need to know for my first dev job?

From a technical standpoint, one panelist stressed the importance of knowing JavaScript to its core, since almost every development project uses this coding language. Another panelist mentioned the CSS box model. The box model refers to a webpage or HTML page’s composition using CSS. The box model makes use of 4 parameters:

  • Height/width: describes the dimensions of the content within this box, whether it be text or images.
  • Padding: describes the space between the content and the border of the box.
  • Border: describes what kind of line, if any, the border takes on (dotted, lined, solid, etc.)
  • Margin: describes the space around the border.

Learn more about the CSS box model with online resource,

In addition, you should have a willingness to learn. You will undoubtedly run into roadblocks during development projects, and you’ll be forced to teach yourself or ask a team member. Employers want to know you have the patience and ambition to find a solution. Likewise, you should be able to work on a team. Collaboration is commonplace in development projects, and the people on your team can be a wealth of knowledge. Know the company, the co-workers, and the types of projects you’ll be working on. Take initiative in team settings. Make sure you’re producing quality work with your team and nurture an attention to detail. One panelist said, “Nobody likes the developer who butchers the design.”


Are mentors important? How do I get one?

Mentors are a wealth of knowledge, so of course they’re important. One panelist described having a mentor as a shiny, golden object that emerging developers are constantly reaching for. However, they aren’t as inaccessible as you may think. Go to someone above you, someone that you admire, and ask if they’d be willing to mentor you.

Give yourself room to grow, and keep an open mind. Don’t find a mentor just to learn one specific subject, take advantage of this valuable resource. Be proactive and open to critique. Another great way to find mentors is to get involved. Go to meetups like the Atlanta JavaScript meetup or Women Who Code ATL. These meetups usually include people at your own skill level as well as professionals in the field.


How do you know when you’re ready for the job?

One panelist simply exclaimed, “You never know! Just go for it!” Think of interviews as a learning process. Even if you don’t get the job or you stumble on a question, there are plenty of opportunities to prepare for your next interview. Ask how you might’ve answered a question more effectively or what the interviewer was looking for in a specific answer. Ask why you didn’t get the job and how you can improve. Lastly, it’s okay to ask an interviewer if he/she knows of any companies that are hiring people at your skill level.

In general, most of the panelists agreed that software development jobs are in high demand these days. Every company needs a quality website, and if you know HTML and CSS, finding a job shouldn’t be hard. It’s too difficult to determine a minimum skill set required for a developer position, as one panelist explained. You’re most likely qualified for something, even if you don’t have much experience. Maybe you only know 60% of the skills that the company is asking for, and that’s okay. The employer doesn’t expect you to know 100% of the material, especially if it’s your first development job. Obviously, the more you know, the better, but don’t get discouraged and NOT apply for a position just because you can’t check off all the “required” skills listed.


How do I utilize online tools (like LinkedIn and to get a job?

All of those resources are useful, but it’s still a good idea to get your face out there and network! People will start to recognize you, and you’ll make important connections. Go to meetups and…meet people. Again, meetups aren’t exclusive to only professionals, they tend to attract people with a wide variety of skill sets. You don’t have to become best friends with people above you, but it’s always good to know a name or get insight on a company straight from the developers that work there. One panelist even claimed that having an in-person connection can be more valuable than posting your résumé online.

Still, those online resources are very important, especially considering the field you’re going into. Many resources like LinkedIn and Indeed allow you to upload your résumé. Make sure your résumé is clear, and don’t bog it down with things like extracurriculars and volunteer work, those aspects can go straight onto your profile. Save space on your résumé for more professional, relevant credits.

Social media is also a great way to build up your brand. Follow the company you want to work for and learn more about them, follow people who have the same interests, and share relevant articles.

Don’t stop there, though. A great way to show off your developing and design skills is to build your own portfolio (without a template or cheat sheet). Keep track of what challenges you encounter along the way and the steps you took to resolve the problems in order to show the employer that you can deal with conflicts.


What do I put in my portfolio?

Include whatever projects you love working on, and do a lot of them. If you like building websites, find a company with a mediocre website and rebuild it. You can ask the business to do it for free or simply do it without asking permission and create more of a demo website. Smaller businesses are a great place to start. This shows employers that you can take initiative and work independently.

On the other hand, open source projects allow you to collaborate with others in order to complete a single project. This shows employers that you can also work on a team. One panelist said that doing quality work on one or a few open source projects looks a lot better than a bunch of (potentially unfinished) pet projects. Never include unfinished projects in your portfolio.


What should I look for in my first company?

When you find a company that intrigues you, check out reviews online. See what customers think of the company’s work. Go further and find out who works at that company, and ask current developers why they like working there (this is called, as one audience member stated, “light stalking”).

You’ll most likely have a phone interview first, and it’s okay to ask what sort of questions you might expect in the technical interview. Once you pass the phone interview, prepare your own questions for the employer and do your homework; know what the company is all about and what type of projects they work on. Be direct with your questions. Ask who you’ll be working with, how many people work on one project, who came before you and why they didn’t work out, etc.


What’s the salary like for a entry-level developer?

One panelist estimated that entry-level front-end and back-end developers in Atlanta generally make between $50,000 and $70,000 a year. When it comes to that part of the hiring process, have a range in mind, and start by asking for the high end (best case – they say yes, worst case – let the negotiations begin). Having a range allows you to set boundaries for yourself. Maybe the high end is a bit hopeful, but don’t settle for anything less than the low end. If you’re nervous about starting negotiations, it’s okay to wait for the employer to make the first offer.

Besides salary, be aware of the companies benefits, especially if you’re deciding between two companies. If a company offers equity, it is perfectly acceptable to ask to see their financials, but DON’T go for a company strictly because of their equity.

You nail the interview and get the job with a great starting salary, but eventually you’ll want a raise. When asking for a raise, be thoughtful. Employers want to know why you deserve more money. Be ready to explain how your responsibilities have changed or increased since you first began. A lot of times, companies will conduct timely reviews to determine if you’re eligible for a raise. In this case (and in any case), keep a record of your work in a journal to refer to when it comes to your review.

Panelists were keen on messages like “Go for it!” “What’s the worst that could happen?” and perseverance. Be confident in the skills you have and your ability to absorb what your teammates and interviewers have to offer you, whether it be constructive criticism or insight to a new coding language. And if you don’t get the job, don’t worry, try and try again. There is no lack of developing jobs in this growing technical world.

Everyone is welcome at Atlanta JavaScript meetups, whether you’re a seasoned professional or just learning what “HTML” stands for. There is always a chance to network, and if nothing else….there are free tacos.

Free consultation to discover your best-fit solution.