You’re focusing on finding that first Ruby job. You’ve been practicing for months or years. You’ve been applying to entry-level jobs, even internships.
You polish your resume. Tweak your portfolio. Attach your CV. Press Submit.
Chirp, chirp, chirp 🦗
Worse: you do an amazing interview, people loved you. But then they say they are moving forward with someone else that has more experience.
Welp, next time is going to be different. Keep hoping for the best.
You ask yourself: “Should I just keep practicing and building my portfolio?” 🤔
That may sound like a good idea. After all, no one will say no to you when you show your perfect portfolio that you’ve been crafting for the past months, right?
When you get a no and people say you don’t have experience, they are mostly asking themselves this question:
Are you recommended by someone I know?
It’s just how humans work. We are wired to confirm our biases. We don’t like uncertainty and unfamiliarity.
If you look closely, there are people out there getting jobs without experience. Some of them are far less skilled than you. Lack of experience is not the only problem.
But what else can you do to get experience and recommendations for your first Ruby dev job?
Did you ever think about getting experience by doing volunteer work? I know, working for free doesn’t sound good.
But your current strategy sucks. You’re still reading this post because you are not sure what else you can do. Deep inside, you know just practicing isn’t the answer.
By the time you get to the end of this post, you’ll know how to get out of the Dev With No Experience Roller Coaster™ by strategically doing volunteer work.
Get real-world experience with volunteer work
“Volunteer work is one of the best ways there is to get your feet wet and gain experience in a new field. You don’t need credentials or prior experience. You don’t have to pay them a cent for your training. […] Volunteer work is the great cure for the classic vicious cycle, ‘Can’t get experience without a job; can’t get a job without experience.’ If you think unpaid experience doesn’t count on a resume, think again. Experience is experience.” — Wishcraft, by Barbara Sher.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege of working without getting paid. Therefore, this strategy doesn’t work for everyone.
But if you’ve been investing your time and resources into practicing your coding skills by doing one workshop/course/tutorial after another, then you do have the time and resources to get real-world experience by doing volunteer work.
It’s not that investing in Education is bad! Improving your skills is necessary and will get you further. Study and also volunteer.
I’ve heard countless examples of people that were offered great opportunities after they have done volunteer work. One of my first job opportunities came from volunteering to be a coach at a Rails Girls workshop. I also volunteered for non-profit projects.
When you’re a helpful, reliable, and motivated person, people will trust and advocate for you. You might not even need to apply for jobs. People will want to work with you because you have experience helping others.
Everything you don’t get by building yet another project and practicing your coding skills in the controlled environment you’re trapping yourself in.
How to get started with volunteering
Don’t know any organizations/projects that you can reach out to get started? I didn’t as well! I asked some friends around and I got this list for you:
Contribute to an open-source project. I’ve heard good things about CASA;
Build an app for a project in your local community;
Volunteer at non-profits. These are great ones to help you get started:
- Ruby for Good - A non-profit organizations to build an inclusive technology community, and provide technology-focused educational opportunities to underserved communities;
- MPKAT - A not-for-profit diversity community initiative. They provide a network for growth and healing through resources, discussion, supportive relationships, and opportunities;
- Tech for Good - In general, lots of communities called “tech for good” are a good place to start.
- Code for America - Each city has brigades of people with a range of skills, and they organize those people to work on software/tools to benefit civic/nonprofit orgs in that city;
- Code for Philly - Code for Philly is a very successful brigade from a larger organization called The Brigade Network.
Ask around and you will find out people who successfully followed this strategy. Study their trajectory and follow their steps. I’m happy to chat, if you want!
Note: if you notice that you are taking a long time choosing one from the list, set a 15min timer to make a decision. It’s not important that you find the perfect one for you. Just get started. See how it goes. If it doesn’t work out, try another one. You’ll get confidence by taking action, not by overthinking. Deal? 🙋♀️
Another note: Keep in mind that it’s possible that people have expectations that you know how solve most of the problems on your own. Everyone is probably solving their own problems and that requires too much already. That doesn’t mean you should know how to solve them, though. You’re learning and having support is part of the process. Make sure to find a group that can help you along the way. It’s okay to ask for help <3
Let’s be clear: no single strategy can guarantee you a job. There is no guarantee for anything. But if you want to get different results and maximize your opportunities, then volunteering is a great way to build your new career.
Meet people that will advocate for you. Meet people that you can help with the skills you have to create valuable work. Show the world what you got.
To quote Barbara Sher (again):
Volunteering is one of the best ways to get out there now.
Get out there. Help someone by volunteering your time and skills and start making things happen for you.
You got this 💪.
PS. Thanks Sarah Eggleston, Alex Hillman and Ben Novack for suggesting some of the organizations included in this post. If you’d like to suggest one, please reach out to me ^.^
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