Hi all, here’s another edition of me writing some words. About a week and a half ago I went over to the General Assembly and thought I’d talk about my time there. First things first, the General Assembly is so cool, both as a concept and on a physical level. Their offices, full of natural light from the floor-length windows, overlooking Aldgate East is the perfect place to study, but the idea of the General Assembly taking someone with a keen interest in development, UX or product and turning them into a skilled professional is amazing.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to help a gap in the market of front-end development; there’s a serious ‘skills shortage’ with lots of companies showing unwillingness to hone junior developers and upskill them to the right role – everything has to be ‘hit the ground running’ these days without taking in the process behind it. As part of this, I’ve been speaking to lots of current GA students and recent graduates to give advice and help them with any problems and help do my bit to solve this problem.

I had the pleasure of sitting alongside Lucas Tang, a senior tech recruiter at Deliveroo, Tony Dong, the CTO at the start-up Mighty Sharp and Denise Neves Santos, a software engineering manager at Arcadia Group in a panel to talk to the most recent crop of General Assembly graduates about stepping into the big wide world of job hunting. It was not only great to talk to the grads and try to answer their questions, but it was awesome to hear opinions from the other side of the fence as it’s always good to have perspective.

I thought there were a couple points raised by the grads this time that I thought were really interesting – having come from such mixed backgrounds and interests, the whole group seemed to think slightly more outside the box to normal and it was good to look at recruitment from that point of view.

A big one for me was someone asking ‘how do we stand out from all the other graduates?’, I think what’s interesting in this question is the generally perceived notion that one developer with the same skill-set and ability of another developer are therefore equal. At a junior level more than any other, personality and culture fit are massive. There are companies that will value this higher than others, of course, but to downplay your application based on hard-skills alone is the wrong way to look at things. In reality, when hiring a junior developer, a company is looking first and foremost for attitude over aptitude – at that level, a fresh graduate, chances are you will be the least experienced developer in the company, so you have to bring to the table your enthusiasm for learning, delivery and trying to take in all the knowledge you can. My advice to this is: ask all the questions you can. Every senior developer has been in those shoes before and should be willing to help – if you have a problem, try and take a crack at it for 20 minutes, see how it goes. If it’s not going well, ask for some help – the worst that can happen is that you’ll learn something!

Another question I don’t hear a lot is asking about red flags – from both ends of the stick. What sticks out as a red flag when viewing a CV, and what is a red flag from a company? I like this question a lot because, from my point of view, I rarely see anyone pull up red flags at a job role other than technologies. For me, there’s a handful of red flags to look out for when applying for a role. First and foremost, is the cringeworthy job titles and descriptions (normally from start-ups or companies out of touch with the digital sector) normally along the lines of ‘Rockstar Developer’ or ‘JavaScript Ninja’. I don’t understand why these companies feel the need to call it anything other than ‘Web Developer’ and ‘JavaScript Engineer’, but the condescending tone of those adverts shows, to me, where you would be seen in terms of company hierarchy and how much respect you would have. As well as that, it’s not uncommon to see things like ‘we’re looking for a developer who can live and breathe code’ or someone who ‘doesn’t stop thinking about frameworks’ being dotted around job spec. There is nothing wrong at all with being that person, but when the company expects you to be that person at all hours, you might want to reconsider. For a start, they’re assuming that all your enthusiasm for coding will go towards their own codebase rather than your interesting side projects, but secondly you might want to consider that if they’re asking you to be excited enough about the product that maybe they should be paying you for all the extra work you’ll be doing at home.

As well as that, you have to consider red flags on your own application. Chances are that you don’t mean them, but people look at things in different ways. The most obvious and painful red flag from an application is a cover letter applying for the wrong role, applying for a location you can’t consider or just applying for the wrong role. For a junior level, however, a red flag that sticks out a little more to me are things such being too opinionated and refusing to be tech-agnostic. By this, I mean that rejecting roles and opportunities because it’s not your framework of choice, or not wanting to work on a Microsoft stack or any similar problems. In reality, as a junior developer, you have to be open and you have to be a sponge – every tool has its uses and to not respect that on your first professional day on the job is ridiculous! There are amazing developers at all levels in different types of companies using every technology possible – as a junior, try and learn why each tool is used and how, it will only become beneficial for you in the future.

I reached out to a couple senior developers for some advice on this topic who imparted some great knowledge as well. In terms of what a junior can do to really separate themselves, a big one is showing your passion for development outside of your current role – showing a real interest in producing your own projects will show a company that you will always be looking to progress and find new ways of doing things. Keeping up to date outside of your own company’s eco-system shows that when it comes to a discussion around rebuilding a new front-end or working on architecture you will be there with fresh ideas and thoughts. For red flags, the company that you’re interviewing with has to have transparency about where they’re heading – you don’t want to move to a company that might leave you redundant in two months’ time; if there isn’t the transparency there and you’re feeling uneasy, then ask them questions! An interview is always a two-way street and it’s important to remember that.

I can write a book on the great advice I’ve heard from senior developers for juniors, so I imagine I’ll be returning to this topic in the not too distant future. I really appreciated the opportunity the General Assembly gave me to speak to some of their graduates and look forward to collaborating with them in the future, so watch this space for any updates on some of the interesting questions I’ve been asked from some promising junior developers.

For any advice and guidance please feel free to drop me a note at JP@redcat-digital.com

Written by Jack Prior, Talent Aquisition Manager – Front-end Development

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jack-prior-4a764a127/

Twitter: @Jack_RedCat @RedCat_Digital

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RedCatDigital/

Google+: RedCat Digital


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