Be the nail that sticks out - how to get hired by an interesting company

When I've posted about recruitment in the past and how ThoughtWorks strives to ensure that truly passionate and competent people are hired, at least one comment says "But do we really need that level of competence in plenty?" or something similar. It's an interesting question, but its obvious by observing hiring practices in India's vast outsourcing industry that most people don't think so. The question is, what does this mean for the developer who cares about his code?

Traditional career paths treat writing code as a menial task (that damn 'software is a commodity' philosophy). To get anywhere, you have to make team lead in 2 years, architect/project manager in 7 and then you start scaling the heights of upper-management. You need, essentially, to go from being a hacker to being a suit. This means that at most companies, it's people who have 0-4 years of experience who actually write code. And most of the time they have little say in the design or other decision making - a highly frustrating position to be in.

So the obvious step for someone who is an alpha geek in the wrong job is to find another, more suitable one. And the truth is, there aren't that many programming jobs out there which would suit. Worse, these jobs are distributed across several companies ranging from Google down to small start-ups in stealth mode. One ray of light is that the personnel departments (I dislike the phrase 'Human Resource', I mean, come on...) of these companies are as desperate to hire you as you are to work for them. In an industry flooded with 9-to-5 developers for whom writing code is 'just a job', separating the wheat from the chaff can be very difficult indeed.

Here is some advice to help get yourself noticed by such companies. Interestingly, they will work as a filter to weed out employers like the one you're trying to get away from. It's just two words - 'stand out'.
  1. Be opinionated. You can't write code, care about it, and not have opinions. In your current organisation you may get hammered for it, but hey, that's why you want to quit in the first place, right?
  2. State these opinions somewhere for the record. A blog, perhaps. It shows the evolution of your opinions over time and gives you a talking point during an interview. Please don't blindly copy someone else's. Of course, if I needed to tell you that, then I'm targeting the wrong audience with this post :-). I'm assuming you'd be too proud to do that anyways.
  3. You don't need to make your resume conform to the industry standard. For gods sakes, some of the things I see on resumes under the 'Objectives' section are plain silly. I'm pretty sure that the people who wrote them thought they were silly too, but were forced to put them in there because everyone knows it's expected in a resume. If a company won't hire you because your resume doesn't have an objective along the lines of 'To strive for the betterment of the organisation and for personal growth to achieve success', then you probably don't want to work there, right?
  4. Don't make assumptions about career paths. Most organisations where alpha geeks are respected also have flexible roles.
  5. Say which programming languages you like in your resume. Also say why. Like I said, if you think Java is an ugly language and someone won't hire you because of that (despite the fact that you've done n projects in java, know it well and thus have a sound basis for your judgement), then you probably don't want to work there, right?
  6. Try to publish some code on your blog or on Google code or something. Link to it in your blog and your resume. Put your code where your mouth is. If you are what you claim to be in you resume, then prove it in code. My initial impression of someone goes up substantially if they've linked to their code in their resumes.

If you have any additional suggestions which I can add to this list, please let me know and I'll drop them in.

Update 2007-07-01: As promised, here are more suggestions distilled from the comments on this post. Do keep them coming.
  1. Sunil: Some people I've come across have half-baked opinions, that they throw around to impress. I'm sure they'll be shot down during interviews. Know your stuff before you go around pronouncing opinions.
  2. Amy Isikoff Newell: Be a woman.
  3. Amy Isikoff Newell: Be honest. If you took time off for something important (like having kids), say so in your resume instead of trying to hide the 'gap', as they call it.
  4. Neil Bartlett: Look for opportunities to speak at conferences. Start small, for example with you local User Group, work up from there, and in a little while you could be presenting at JavaOne.
  5. Sidu: List your programming experience as far back as it goes. I have more years of BASIC than C++ and more of C++ than Java/C#/Ruby (and this is true for several of my classmates from school). People who have done programming in school usually tend to choose it as career because they've tried it for a while and decided they like it, not because it offers good job prospects (something which happens a lot in India).

You may also want to read: What developers look for when they consider a job offer
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