Career Planning: Letter To A Young Developer

So we had this request for advice show up this week, and it strikes us as a good topic for some crowdsourced wisdom from our Dear Readers:

Hello Alex I am currently a senior in high school and want to pursue a career in mobile development after high school.

An excellent choice indeed!

I know the common route most developers take is going to college and obtaining a CS degree but college is very expensive and theory based for a field that doesn’t necessarily require a degree.

Make that ridiculously expensive, in the US these days, and somewhat tenuously connected to skills actually needed for a career in mobile development, this is true.

However, there are a great number of opportunities gated by that credentialism — most notably, it’s far easier to get a job and/or residence abroad if you do have a degree, and we’re big fans of travel as you may notice on our other blog. So before completely dismissing the college option, look into the option of taking a degree program in a country that doesn’t charge US prices, here’s a good looking start we googled up:

Where Can You Study Abroad for Free?

You might also consider looking for universities that offer co-op programs, like our alma mater Simon Fraser University. Having the university place you in work terms makes the financial burden a great deal less, plus once finished you’ll have enough of a résumé to have no problem getting hired — especially since a good co-op program will get you placed at companies far more impressive than you could land on your own; by the time we finished our degree we’d had terms not only in British Columbia where SFU is, but in Ontario, Maryland, and England.

I’ve heard of attending Bootcamps but I’m not sure of the success rate in landing a job afterwards.

From what we gather the majority could be not unfairly characterized as “worthless ripoffs,” yes. And never heard of one we’d recommend for the educational value alone compared to just learning by doing your own projects, which is how we prefer to learn … well, anything, really.

However, we also gather that there are a good number of employers that treat bootcamps as a way of preselecting entry level employees, on the theory that getting through it successfully is as good a screen as their own HR could do; pretty much like the co-op programs we recommended above. So, we do recommend you give the bootcamp thing serious consideration … but only bootcamps that offer 100% refund if you fail to land a job in short order. Here’s a start on that:

Guide to Coding Bootcamps with Job Guarantees – Course Report

What path would you recommend me to take?

Well, if I was a senior in high school right now, what I would personally be doing is throwing up a landing page for some wacky Bright Idea™ and applying for a Thiel Fellowship.

The Thiel Fellowship gives $100,000 to young people who want to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom.

College can be good for learning about what’s been done before, but it can also discourage you from doing something new. Each of our fellows charts a unique course; together they have proven that young people can succeed by thinking for themselves instead of competing on old career tracks…

…The hardest thing about being a young entrepreneur is that you haven’t met everyone you’ll need to know to make your venture succeed. We can help connect you — to investors, partners, prospective customers — in Silicon Valley and beyond.

You may have noted above we prefer to learn by doing our own projects? Well, doing our own projects for a couple years with 100 large of Peter Thiel’s money, that strikes us as the best scholarship there is out there.

Failing that, I’d take a look at guaranteed co-op/bootcamp options like we linked to above and see if any of them suited my available financial resources.

And failing that, the next thing I would do is spend full time teaching myself and creating a public profile — which is a good idea to get started on right away no matter what! — but is how you’re going to make up for your lack of experience and credentialism, by substituting with a portfolio and community stature. Here’s a rough outline:

  1. If you don’t have a Github profile, create one now
  2. Start looking for Open Source projects you can contribute to
  3. If you don’t have a Stack Overflow profile, create one now
  4. Start answering questions on Stack Overflow
  5. Build your own mobile projects, open sourced on Github — trivial projects, to start you simply want to show you can ship something
  6. Start a journal somewhere, we like WordPress as you can tell here but Medium seems to be a popular choice in the mobile developer community, and post a couple times a week or so about what you’re learning, the SO questions you’re answering, how you’re approaching your own projects, whatever

Doing that full-time for a couple years, we confidently predict, will

  • teach you much more than any formal education would
  • provide an Open Source portfolio, a much better credential for sensible employers than any piece of paper is
  • do a better job of networking in the community for serendipitous opportunities than any likely school will

If that sounds just a bit overwhelming to go figure out on your own, we also noticed this week a book which looks like a comprehensive guide to exactly what we recommend:


Forge Your Future with Open Source

Build Your Skills. Build Your Network. Build the Future of Technology

Free and open source is the foundation of software development, and it’s built by people just like you. Discover the fundamental tenets that drive the movement. Take control of your career by selecting the right project to meet your professional goals. Master the language and avoid the pitfalls that typically ensnare new contributors. Join a community of like-minded people and change the world. Programmers, writers, designers, and everyone interested in software will make their mark through free and open source software contributions…

So, although we haven’t read it, just going over the table of contents makes us believe that this would be an excellent $18.95 investment in planning your career, no matter which path you choose to take!

I appreciate you taking time to read my question, thanks!

And you’re very welcome. How about you, Dear Readers? Have any better, or at least different, advice for our young friend?

Alex | February 16, 2018

Leave a Reply