Because you’re no different than the other applicants.
Here’s how to stand out. Note: This doesn’t only apply to programmers. Everyone should have a portfolio.
I am in college, but have lots of free time, so I can work fulltime at a startup plus add in a lot of extra hours (I know how startups are) on site or by telecommuting.
I applied to a few, sent my resume, etc.. but the same thing always happens. They want a portfolio.. links to things I’ve worked on. I am a programmer, PHP/Rails/C/Ruby/etc.. but I don’t have a degree in anything related to CS, and no professional portfolio.
I’m thinking the only option I have is to get a regular $8/hr job, while working on more and more projects in my free time. Enough projects to get a startup interested in me.
You’re a programmer, so why don’t you create a portfolio for yourself? Find interesting things that you wish software did — and build it for yourself.
Maybe you want a new way to integrate your iPhone with Outlook, or you wish there was a way to scrape all the images off a web page with 1 click. Whatever. Then build it. There — you have a portfolio.
Do you contribute to open-source projects?
Have you started a blog?
Or have you found someone who has an idea and helped them to build it?
Without some/all of those things, you’re just another programmer. Ask yourself how you can stand out.
There are a couple books that had a huge impact on my career. Rather than the typical how-to-get-a-job books, they’re a little different:
Staying Street Smart in the Internet Age: What Hasn’t Changed About the Way We Do Business (it has nothing to do with the Internet age, and everything to do with a kickass mindset in your current job).
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. (It’s not just for businesses. I used the ideas in this book to convince Seth Godin to hire me as his first-ever intern and work on a bestselling book with him.)
For more book recommendations, see a list of what I read.
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