Monday, December 25, 2000

Developer Career Tip #0029---New kid on the block---Tip #1

Developer Career Tips #0029

New kid on the block---Tip #1

I've written extensively about pursuing and obtaining your first programming job---now let's assume that you've gotten it--what should you do in your first day or days on the job?

I recently received an email from someone who tries to take newly hired programmers under her wing, and she mentioned several important points that new programmers should bear in mind in their first days, weeks and months on the job.

First, come to grips with the fact that even if you're the world's greatest programmer, you just started with the company, and there's a lot about the company's business to learn. For instance, if you've just started with an insurance company, take the time to learn as much as possible about insurance--just getting up to speed on your company's business rules could take you a year or more. Your first day on the job is the time to start learning. The same applies to nearly every industry for which you will work--remember, you don't program Visual Basic, or C or Java--you program applications, and those applications have a business behind them.

Second, try to stretch your horizons, and be willing to take challenges. You may have been hired as a programmer, but in many companies, you're expected to be much more. For instance, if a user calls or visits about a problem logging into the company's network, roll up your sleeves and try to resolve the problem. It's OK to ask someone else for advice, but passing the user off because it's a 'Systems problem" makes you look bad in the eyes of the user and, even works, in the eyes of those you're working with.

Third, obtain a knowledge of the IT environment in which you are working as soon as possible---it will avoid problems down the road. For instance, if you can't understand why it's taking hours to build a Recordset from the company's Oracle Database down the hall, instead of complaining that the tech school from which you graduated had T1 connections, take some time to understand why the network is slow, and see if you can program around it. It could turn out that the problem is that there are a limited number of licenses, or that your program is running while the database is being backed up or maintenance is running.

Monday, December 18, 2000

Developer Career Tip #0028---Job search woes

Developer Career Tips #0028

Job search woes

I received my latest issue of Philly Tech magazine the other day ( Philly Tech magazine, as the name implies, is a Philadelphia area high tech magazine, and it's a good one. I always start with the letters to the editors section, and for the third consecutive issue, more than half of the letters dealt with graduates of computer schools complaining about their lack of success in finding their first job--despite the promises of a hot job market by their respective computer school.

It's always difficult to determine if the letter writer is representative of the group as a whole, or just a single individual who for whatever reason can't find work.

I teach and mentor quite a few students who wish to break into the programming field---I asked myself---could I be wrong when I tell my students that it is possible for a beginner to obtain a programming position?

I maintain a large mailing list/group on, and last week I sent out a request to my members to take a survey I had put together. I asked that only members of my group who had recently obtained employment in the IT field complete the survey. I've posted the results of the survey at:

if you'd like to read them---I think you'll find them interesting.

There are several themes conveyed in the survey results, but perhaps none is more important than the respondent's belief that enthusiasm for their work in many cases got them a job. I tend to agree. Right after experience, I think employers are looking for evidence of a real zeal for work.

I remember interviewing a potentially great programmer several years ago. She obviously knew her stuff. Then I asked her to copy her Visual Basic program to a PC in my office so that I could see it run. She told me her 'copy' skills weren't very good--at the computer school she attended, one of the computer technicians did that for the students. That remark--and what it spoke of in regards to her zeal--cost her a job with me. In my small company, I expect programmers to be able to do a little bit of everything, and I don't think this attitude is found only in small companies. Personally, I wondered why someone who professed to desire a career in the IT world wouldn't bother to learn something about the computers for which they wanted to write programs.

As one hiring manager told me recently, she looks for candidates who eat, sleep, and dream IT. Make your prospective employer believe that of you, and you can land your first job.

Monday, December 11, 2000

Developer Career Tip #0027---Starting out in Consulting---Professional Liability Insurance

Developer Career Tips #0027

Starting out in Consulting---Professional Liability Insurance

I've written a few tips on starting out in the consulting field, and in my last tip on the subject I dealt with an issue that can be crucial in determining your success or failure as a consultant---setting your billing rate. Today I'd like to discuss something else that can be just as important if not more so---Professional Liability Insurance.

Think of Professional Liability Insurance as Malpractice Insurance for software developers and consultants. This insurance can provide you coverage in the event that one of your clients brings a claim against you and your work (it can happen.) Professionals such as architects and accountants have used Liability Insurance for years. Recently, software developers and consultants have embraced the protection that Professional Liability Insurance can offer (there's also a subset of Processional Liability Insurance designed specifically for software developers called Errors and Omissions coverage.)

Professional Liability Insurance coverage is not cheap, but the peace of mine it gives you may be well worth it.

I spoke with one associate of mine who told me she picked up a one million dollar Professional Liability policy for about $1,500---and is extremely pleased to know she's insured not only against mistakes she might make, but mistakes her clients believe she's made (obviously, there's a difference, but in a court of law that may not be so clear.)

Another associate of mine, Bob Lautenbach, president of Bayside Technology ( points out that not only does Professional Liability Insurance provide you with protection, but in many instances, on prospective jobs he's been asked to bid on as a subcontractor, Professional Liability Insurance was a requirement in order to win the contract. Bob points out that coverage is available through most insurance brokers---but be sure to read the fine print. Like all insurance policies, Professional Liability policies have exceptions and exclusions--make sure you know what they are before committing.

The bottom line is that Professional Liability insurance is a cost of doing business--and you should seriously consider it in your consultant practice.

Monday, December 4, 2000

Developer Career Tip #0026---Getting that first job--use some common sense techniques

Developer Career Tips #0026

Getting that first job--use some common sense techniques

I just finished reading my latest copy of Computer User, and the first letter to the editor is another one of the many I've been seeing lately--a disgruntled student of a fast paced, high tech computer school complaining about their inability to get a job. This individual paid more than $8,000 for tuition, passed all six exams of the MCSE on the first try, and hasn't received a single job offer---and is justifiably disgruntled.

I've got to wonder why someone from an accredited school with obvious technical credentials (although no experience) can't at least get an offer for an entry level position somewhere--but I do have some ideas.

As you probably know, I teach and mentor quite a few students. I've written extensively about the need for a job candidate to have not only good technical skills, but good communication skills as well. And let's add some common sense to the equation also.

Just placing your resume on one of the IT job Web Sites isn't likely to get a beginner with no job experience an offer. There are just too many candidates out there with more experience. You've got to add the personal touch to your package.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a job selection process, and you'd be amazed at the little things that can tip the scales in your favor--frequently it's the candidate who shows enthusiasm and initiative during the job hiring process that gets the job.

We interviewed ten candidates for an entry level Visual Basic job. All ten had good resumes. At interview time, however, five appeared to be head and shoulders above the others. Why?

Those five brought samples of programs they had written to the interview. Of the remaining group of five, two made great impressions during the interview. The other three, while great coders, had virtually no communication skills whatsoever. Two of them appeared to be painfully shy---making no eye contact, and mumbling their responses. The other one wasn't shy--just the opposite. He chatted incessantly---making us believe that it would be difficult for him (or his team members) to get any meaningful work done in a team environment.

That left us with two excellent candidates to choose from. The selection ultimately went to the candidate who took some time to learn about the company. It probably hadn't taken her long at all (maybe just a quick glance at the company's Web Site), but she came to the interview having read the company's last major press release announcing a new product -and she found a way to make us aware of that knowledge when she asked a question about it. That question--and her enthusiasm---got her the job!