Starting Out

This summer marks 4 years since I graduated form Birmingham City University with a bachelors degree in MultiMedia Technology. Since then, I’ve worked for a number of companies including the University that I graduated from. In that time I have completely changed my skillset to adapt to the ever changing market.

This post is aimed towards graduates that are looking to pursue a career as a web developer.

The degree that I undertook offered many routes in terms on career choice; web, radio, TV or print. I chose to go down the web root as I enjoyed the ASP and Flash modules (my final year project was to create a Flash based VLE with an ASP back end – the co-incidently lead on to me working as a Flash based eLearning Developer, within the Universities Knowledge Centre).

In contrast I’m now working as lead developer, specialising in PHP and Actionscript. The point is that this industry is constantly changing and in order to remain relevant you must ensure that you update your skillset accordingly. However, this doesn’t mean that you should constantly switch to whatever the trendy new language may be, but you must have a general knowledge of how it works, and when is best to use it.

Below are some pointers as to the skills that will make you stand out amongst other graduates:

Read

Never underestimate the power of reading and gaining knowledge, even if this isn’t directly in your subject field. Set yourself up with a Google Reader account and add some tech feeds. Also Subscribe to a service such as Instapaper, and collect articles and posts to read at a later date.

Connect

Find a local meetup group and connect with other like minded developers. If you are in the Birmingham area, come along to HydraHack. This meetup isn’t specific to a particular language and is a great way to discuss general development topics. This will help to broaden your understanding of other development practices and techniques.

Build

Hook yourself up with a Github account and go and build something that you will use on a regular basis. This pet project ca  be as simple or complex as you like. Try something that will actually help you in your everyday workflow as you’ll be more inclined to add features and maintain it. Social coding will help you to get peer related feedback, plus if you can introduce a new technique or language along the way you’ll help to widen your skill set.

Interact

Set yourself up with an account on Stackoverflow or Forrst and participate in some healthy dev discussion. Even if you can’t answer any of the questions straight away, this will help you in understanding how to answer questions. Remember it’s important to understand that a great developer won’t always know all of the answers straight away, but will know how or where to find the answers.

Write

Set yourself up with a blog and start writing about your experiences, knowledge and anything you feel would be good to start a discussion. You may find it tough starting out in terms of subject matter, but over time you’ll find your writing skills will improve. This will help you out when it comes to writing briefs and specs for clients.

In summary, you will never learn everything from a University course or a book, actual hands on experience is vital, and the more you can get the better you will become in your chosen field.

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