Oct. 25, 2021

She Got Hired By Building a Pokemon App!? (Jessica's Developer Job Search Journey)


Jessica just landed her first developer role. I invited her on to share her job search journey. We dove into the frustrating parts and also tried to figure out what really made her stand out. I want to continue sharing these stories and show you how different each person's path is to finally getting that first position - just like yours is.

Host (Don Hansen):
Linkedin - https://www.linkedin.com/in/donthedeveloper

Guest (Jessica Chen):
Portfolio that got her hired: http://jessicaazchen.com
Linkedin post that helped her get noticed by hiring managers:
https://www.linkedin.com/posts/jessicachen415_folks-i-just-graduated-from-rithm-a-fullstack-activity-6805557029491630080--urC

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Transcript
Don Hansen:

So welcome back to another podcast episode where we help aspiring developers get jobs and junior developers grow. In this episode, we're gonna be talking about another aspiring developer story. Jessica, who was on one of our previous podcast episodes, the rhythm one. She finally got a job, which is awesome. And we're gonna talk about how that job search went and hopefully dive into some advice for other aspiring developers out there. Jessica. Welcome back. How you doing? I'm doing great. Thank you. How are you? I'm really good. Life is good and congrats on the new position by the way.

Jessica Chen:

Thank you.

Don Hansen:

So I like seeing success stories and I also like learning about how they happened. So let's just dive into this. Um, well maybe we should do a, a quick intro because some people might not have seen the previous episode. So introduce your. . Jessica Chen: Yeah, sure. So, hi, I'm Jessica. I am a software engineer at flow cast. Um, prior to flow cast, I did a bootcamp called rhythm and that was a four month program. And then after I graduated, I found a job within a month. So that's awesome in my engineering story. yeah, it's a really, um, man, that's a really short timeframe for getting a job, so I can't wait to hear how you actually did that, but, um, I guess let's just start, uh, with a generic question. What was your job search like?

Jessica Chen:

Um, I got very lucky my job search was thankfully not as grueling as I know it can be. Um, I reached out a lot to my network and kind of, you know, talked to other engineers and, um, just had a lot of opportunities to interview. Companies that were, you know, within my network. And so that was really cool.

Don Hansen:

Okay. So when you reached out, what did your messages look like? How you sure.

Jessica Chen:

So the first message I got actually was like, my LinkedIn post was like, Hey, I'm doing this new engineering thing. And, um, somebody reached out to me through that post. I had never met him. Um, he worked at. The same company I did, but like 10 years prior to me, and he was like, Hey, there's this front end, front, front end engineer role. Do you wanna interview for it? And I was like, sure. And I interviewed for that and it went terribly. I did not get the job, but it was still really, it, it was still a learning experience for me because that was the first time I was talking about. As an engineer. And so I was really nervous. I just, I didn't really know how to craft my engineering story. So, you know, even though I didn't get it, I thought it was still, you know, very valuable to me.

Don Hansen:

Um, why do you feel like you didn't do well?

Jessica Chen:

I was so nervous. He was like, so like, tell me about your, uh, experience with react. And he's like, this is a react only role. I was like, yeah, react. I, I learned it in my bootcamp. so I, I, at that point I was like, I should learn more react.

Don Hansen:

did you have any projects on your, uh, did you have a portfolio?

Jessica Chen:

I do. So, um, I started building that before I ended my bootcamp. Um, and so I have my website up, um, but I didn't have any like, projects that weren't done during the bootcamp. So then after that interview, I was like, ah, I should really practice some react. And so I built like a single page react app in like a week or so. And, you know, I was able to slap that onto my portfolio.

Don Hansen:

do you feel like that application helped you in the job search?

Jessica Chen:

I think it did, but not in the way most people expect. I think technically it was not a very difficult project. but it, I think it showed that I, um, you know, had some initiative to, to do this project on my own. And, um, it was a, I used the Pokemon API, so I was like very passionate about it. and so I think that that passion in that, um, You know, really came through of like, you know, I'm building this cool thing and I'm tying it in with my childhood nostalgia. So I think, I think like that in that sense it helps me, but technically it was not a very difficult project.

Don Hansen:

Okay. I feel like a lot of a software engineers can just reminisce about Pokemon and be like, oh yeah, I get it. right. It makes sense. That's pretty cool. Okay. So do you mind. Because I, I think, I think it'd be really helpful if people could see the LinkedIn post, see your portfolio. And I think people are really curious, like, okay, what, what was a portfolio? What did that portfolio look like for a person that got a job? What was their LinkedIn post? Like? Do you mind if I linked those. Okay.

Jessica Chen:

Yeah, of course. Should I give it to you like

Don Hansen:

later? Yeah. Give it to me later. I'll link it in the description, but I, I let me know if this is invaluable, but I'm gonna link it. I think it's gonna be valuable. So you got a job within a month, like mm-hmm you, you mentioned that you got lucky. Why do you feel like you got lucky?

Jessica Chen:

Yeah. So I, like I said, I utilized my network a lot and a lot of the time I would just reach out to engineers and my network and be like, Hey, do you have any tips for me? And you know, a lot of people said, grind, lead code. I was like, oh, gotta do the lead code. Yeah. Um, But sometimes once in a while, they'd be like, oh, my company's actually hiring. Like you sh I'll put in a referral for you. And that happened three times. So I got three referrals. I got three technical interviews and, um, I got a job from one of them.

Don Hansen:

Wow. Um, to me that, I mean, maybe you're just being humble to me. That doesn't sound like, look, um, that feels like you get the result of networking. It feels like, you know, you were proactive about it. You connected with people. A lot of people are shy to do that and they don't know what to say, and they're kind of nervous or they're, they're gonna make a fool themselves, or they're wasting their time. A lot of different reasons people won't reach out for, but you. Did that, what made you think that was going to be a good idea that you should do it?

Jessica Chen:

Um, I did that simultaneously while I was just throwing my application out into the wild. Um, and I was like, you know what, I gotta, I gotta come at this from two fronts. Like I just gotta go wide. But then I also wanna try to like go a little bit focused and see, you know, like, and, and part of it was, I actually want to hear. Their experience or, you know, my friends is, um, my, my network's, um, advice for me or like what their experience was graduating from the bootcamp or how they found a job. And so part of it was like, you know, I, I genuinely want this advice because they are, they have an engineering job they're they did something right.

Don Hansen:

right. Yeah. Okay. That's, that's pretty. And that's proactive. I, I like that you did that. And that's probably why you got the position so fast. So I wanna cover both interviews. You had mentioned you went through an interview and you did poorly because you were nervous and I've had several of those by the way, so I can relate, but I wanna walk through that interview and the interview for your current. Now I wanna stress, don't talk about the specific problems, because I think a lot of those get leaked and then, you know, managers have to spend a long time, but, um, if you would just kind of walk through how that first interview process went, where you were really nervous.

Jessica Chen:

Yeah. So it was more just like a call with the, the hiring manager and he was just like, oh, Hey, I'm looking for somebody on, on this, my team to build these react widgets. And I. I didn't know what to say. um, part of it was like maybe I don't know enough about react to, to talk about react. And then part of it was, I don't know how to craft my story. You know, we practiced it at, at, you know, at the end of my bootcamp, but it was, it was a totally different thing doing it live versus, you know, doing it with my cohort mates, um, where nothing's at stake. So. I just got really nervous and I just couldn't talk about myself. Um, couldn't talk about react.

Don Hansen:

So did you make it past that phone screening? I did not. Okay. Yeah. Interesting. What about the second interview? How did that go with your current position?

Jessica Chen:

So my current position was my first technical interview. Okay. um, I straight up told the interviewer, like this is my first time doing technical interview. I'm a little bit nervous and he was so nice. He was like, don't worry. This is only my second time interviewing. So we, we both be nervous. That's. and I, like, I think that's when I kind of knew like, okay, this is a company that I would wanna work for. why just having that personable, like having somebody relate to you, you know? Okay. He was just very personable and I felt like, you know, he's interviewing. So he probably has some say in, you know, who gets hired and if he's very. Like reasonable and like patient I'm sure the other hiring council will, you know, have similar values. So it's like, okay. I'm gonna try harder. I'm gonna try for this one.

Don Hansen:

okay. So that's interesting. So when you kind of felt that connection, you, you felt more confident and you also, it sounds like you put more effort into it. Um, and you know, that's a realistic thing. Sometimes you do get a position from, even if we're going back to who you apply for, if you're just. Sending out a bunch of, uh, or sending out your resume and doing a bunch of cold applications. Sometimes you will get a job, but there are com and I think it's important to emphasize when there is a company that you feel like your values align, the product aligns, stuff like that. You put some extra effort in. And so, I mean, you only have so much time, so, okay. So he kind of made you feel comfortable. He was relatable. He's humble. It sounds like. Um, did you get to meet other members of the team before you were hired?

Jessica Chen:

yes, I did. So that was the first technical screen. Um, and then, you know, it was either pass or fail and I passed through to the next round. And then I met, um, a couple of hiring managers and a couple of senior, uh, engineers there. And, um, you know, just went through the pipeline with, uh, interviewing.

Don Hansen:

It's interesting meeting other departments. I, I remember in my interview meeting with product. And I'm like, I have no idea what to say to product. And I remember meeting with QA and design. I'm like, I don't, I don't know what to say to you. And I did my best to just like, try to have a conversation. I connect and I ask questions, but I'm like, I, I heard, I also heard some interesting questions from them that I hadn't thought of. So in your interview with these other departments,

Jessica Chen:

what was sorry? They're all engineers. Just, um, they were all, yeah. Oh,

Don Hansen:

My bad I misheard.

Jessica Chen:

Oh no, no worries. I might have misspoken . Don Hansen: What was, what was a question you didn't think they were gonna ask. I think during one of my interviews, um, somebody asked me about the implementation of one of my projects and I didn't really know how to answer . Um, I was like, You know, he asked me, oh, like what, what was the issue here? Like, how did you solve this problem? I was like, I don't remember. I, I wrote this code so long ago. I mean, I didn't say that, but I was like, um, you know, I think the person I paired with, we had disagreements on the implementation. And I just couldn't remember, then I went back to the phone and I was like, oh my God. I remember now we, we had to prevent sequel injection. I man, you know, you know so that was kind of a question that kind of threw me. I was like, I didn't think that they would dig so deep.

Don Hansen:

yeah. That's um, well, that's kind of cool that you handled that you, you spent some time thinking about that. Some people would just be like, I don't remember. I don't know. And like, that's a, that's a really important conversation to have when you. I guess, okay, maybe I'm gonna rant and maybe this is advice, but implementation questions happen often in interviews, you know, engineers wanna know why you implemented it in a certain way. They wanna hear your process. And I think some people kind of frees up and sometimes even the project they built like six months ago. They get embarrassed. They're like, I don't even want to tell this person why I implemented it this way. Right. But having a conversation and, and trying to, um, you know, give some sort of response or talk about it a bit, or even just take like two seconds to review the code. I think that that's awesome. Cause a lot of people will freeze up there. So it sounds like overall you enjoyed the team. They liked you, obviously they hired you. Right? What do you feel like made you stand out amongst all other applicants? This is something time to be humble. Okay. Go

Jessica Chen:

I think part of it was just, um, How I carry myself and how, you know, I was super excited to talk about the Pokemon project. I'm gonna keep going to that project. It's very not impressive. But I think me talking about that project and talking about like, Having to do that outside of the bootcamp and learning how to, you know, do all these different things through that project. I think that really helped me stand out as a candidate of like, oh, she's passionate. She, she genuinely enjoys making things and she made this thing by yourself because she wanted to, and not because, you know, she had.

Don Hansen:

So that's okay. You know, that that's really cool to hear. So it was just about like your interest and passion and curiosity, and it showed through. A Pokemon project. So, you know, for all the people that have been giving me crap for my mock interview, my front end, we did a Pokemon app. We had the applicant build it. It does happen. These interviews actually happen. Employers care about it. Employers can relate to it. And I think it's quirky. It's like, it's a fun, quirky thing. And it's interesting. This is what's interesting. If that manager liked Pokemon in the past, that's relatable. You, you wouldn't think so. You're like, oh, this person's probably just like business oriented. It's like, no, they, they had a childhood, they had a pass. You'd be surprised at how many engineers are like, this is kind of cool, you know? Yeah. Yeah. I think that that's a good choice. So what do you think was the most frustrating part of your job search?

Jessica Chen:

oh my God. It was throwing out all those applications and getting nowhere. Um, you know, I applied to, I, I cold applied to a lot of jobs through LinkedIn or indeed, um, and a lot. And I would tailor my cover letter to the job description. I'd have like, okay, they they're looking for, you know, GraphQL and, you know, so such and such and such and such. And I would talk about my experience or, you know, even though I spent time crafting, you know, redoing my cover letter, crafting it to the job description. Like I think I only got one interview from that and it, I didn't do well , you know, like it, it, that, I think that was the most frustrating part was I felt like I spending a lot of time doing something that had no, um, like final result. Like the final result was just nothing.

Don Hansen:

So the, you felt like you were putting way too much effort into cover letters, which wasn't really giving you a final, a good result.

Jessica Chen:

Yeah, exactly. I was putting a lot of effort into cover letters and sending out my resume to cold and, you know, I, I only got one entered from it.

Don Hansen:

So what did you highlight on your resume? What, like what'd you put at the top? What'd you put at the bottom?

Jessica Chen:

Yeah. So I, my resume is just like a chronological resume. So my top was like my internship experience. And then. After that was my non-engineering job descriptions. Um, but I on like the right side or maybe the left side, I forget now. Um, I highlighted like which specific, uh, engineering technology I'm familiar with. So like, oh, I'm familiar with rest API, but I'm also familiar with GraphQL. I can do JavaScript and I can do a Python. Um, you know, just stuff like.

Don Hansen:

okay. Did you prioritize your skills based on how comfortable you were with them? Like order them? Um, I

Jessica Chen:

think I just listed them based on like front end, back, end testing other . Don Hansen: Okay. Did you have a, um, What would you call it? Just like a abstract, a description of what you were looking for. Like, um, you know, I'm looking for a front end position, blah, blah, blah, blah. A lot of people include that at the top. Oh. Um, I think I just put full stack developer.

Don Hansen:

Okay. So you kept it short and concise. Yeah. Yeah. Gotcha. Even if you applied to front end or back on positions, you put full stack. Yep. Yep. Okay, cool. Did you list your education?

Jessica Chen:

I did. I believe I listed my bootcamp first and then my degree.

Don Hansen:

Okay. All right. Interesting. I really need to just like put together all these resumes of people that get developer jobs and what their final resume look like. It would be interesting aggregating that data, I guess.

Jessica Chen:

That's, uh, a lot of ours would look very similar. I think I just use like the Google, like template.

Don Hansen:

It's all just from one random Google template that everyone uses. okay. Maybe I'll squash that idea.

Jessica Chen:

Okay. That's what I did. And I know a lot of my cohort. Did that.

Don Hansen:

Okay. Fair enough. So that's really cool. You got through the interview and it's, I almost feel like you did really well, just because the interviewer made you feel comfortable. I see that a lot. Um, you know, that's really important. Um, what was your first day like?

Jessica Chen:

Um, my first day. Oh my goodness. I think. Didn't even meet my team. I , I met, I, I met my manager's manager and he just kind of went through some docs with me and he was like, okay, this is a 30 60 day plan. This is your first week plan. And I was like, okay, I'm gonna try to absorb all this. And he was like, oh, by the way, make sure you have access to Okta JIRA. you know, all these other things. And I was like, Okay.

Don Hansen:

did it feel a little overwhelming on your first day?

Jessica Chen:

Um, I think that's normal onboarding stuff. Um, but it did almost feel overwhelming because it was like, I knew I had to dive into the code base at some point, and I think that was really scary. Like I think when I first took a look at the good base on my first ticket, my, my first pair to ticket, I. Thank God I'm pair with somebody

Don Hansen:

okay. So they did pairing initially. Um, yeah. Yep. What was your, what is your official title?

Jessica Chen:

I am a software engineer, one software

Don Hansen:

engineer one. Okay. All right. Really cool. You had mentioned, um, I don't know if you mentioned it on the episode, but I know before that your cohort played a big role mm-hmm yeah. Can you elaborate on.

Jessica Chen:

Yeah, of course. So, um, after we finished the bootcamp, um, we, my cohort. You know, we're we decided to all be very supportive of each other during our job search, cuz it's brutal. um, and so we all decided to do self-led um, weekly check-ins, uh, we did leak code practices. Um, In the early stages, we would do like behavioral interviews with each other, just to like kind of refine, talking about our experience, talking about ourselves. And then, um, I also met with somebody to do technical interviewing because I had bombed a technical interview so bad. I was like, I need your help, please. Please help me with this technical interview. Like throw the book at me, ask me all of the JavaScript trivia questions. I think that really helps. Like it helps having that support network of everybody else is struggling. And you, I hate, I hate to see you struggle, but it's also nice to see that I'm not the only one struggle with

Don Hansen:

Right? Yeah. You kind of feel a little guilty. You're like, oh wait, just, I'm glad you're struggling, but I'm struggling too. We're doing it together, but it gives you, at least for me, I felt a little guilty about it when I would see someone like, man, I didn't get that position. You know, that sucked, I really wanted this. And part of me is like, I really hope you get it. And part of me is like, okay, I'm not the only one, you know, it was kind of a relief. So I felt a little guilt for that, but it's relatable right. In everyone struggles in that job search. Yeah.

Jessica Chen:

Yeah, for sure. And just being able to like. Practice with them really helped too. You know, like the lead co practice, the, the interview practice or the behavioral interview practice, the technical practice, like all of that I think really helped me. Um, you know, cuz I talked about myself a lot. It and practiced a lot. Cause after I bombed that first one, I was like, I need a practice talking about myself. um, yeah, so I, if you can try, I, this is my advice is. if you're a new developer, definitely try to tap in and get a, a support network. I think that's super, super helpful. . Don Hansen: Yeah. And you know, a lot of people don't have money for coding, boot camps. Mm-hmm and you can still get that support network. I mean, you being proactive on LinkedIn, I hope more people choose to, you know, put themselves out there like that because that's how you build it. Right. You like build that network on LinkedIn, go to meetups, you know, do hackathons, just do join developer communities. There's there's so much out there. And I think people push it off. But I'm glad you really emphasized this because I, I feel like the developers that do have the support usually are the ones that don't give up when you do get that. Yeah. Yeah. Um, there was a. Dev community that I joined towards the end of my bootcamp and the lady who runs it is she's amazing. She does like workshops a lot and she has weekly, uh, you know, calendar meetups where you just go in and just be like, oh man, I didn't do so well. Or Hey, you know, what can I do to improve? Or, you know, it just having that community, like, it's totally like the, can I say the theme? Okay. I wasn't sure. Um, it's called year one. Um, yeah, and it, I thought that was just so helpful to have, and I was able to practice my technical skills with the, the person who runs the, uh, program and, um, You know, she, she, she just hosts a lot of events and I definitely go to them. You're definitely gonna meet other people who are in the same boat as you.

Don Hansen:

Okay. Well, shout out to them. That's really cool. I like hearing about communities like that. You all right? I think I, I think I gotta feel for your experience and I hope it's helpful to people, but you know, really what I got out of it was sport networks are incredibly helpful. Um, And I I've said this statistic before, but I used to host a, uh, mentorship meetup in Chicago and 85 to 90% of people that would come to my meetup. They would make a little progress, but they would eventually give up and I feel like. A lot of developers give up, but I, I did have a lot of self-taught developers that came my way. Mm. Um, so it's, I think more self-taught developers than anything give up, but I, I think it's so crucial to get that support network and just a community that vibes like don't get discouraged. Like if you join a community, if you connect with people on LinkedIn, you're like this, I distant help me at all. Or I don't really vibe with this community. Like there are so many others out there, like keep trying and find the community that's right. For. but that's happening. Well, congratulations on the new position. I wanna ask you one more question. Sure. So if you had to give one final piece of advice for aspiring developers, what would it be? And you can't reuse what you said last time.

Jessica Chen:

Oh no. I was just gonna reuse it.

Don Hansen:

Nope. I don't even remember what it was, but you can't reuse it. Um,

Jessica Chen:

I think the best advice I can give is, you know, tap into your network. I know, like I know that worked for me and I know. and don't be afraid to tap into your network. We're always going to be happy to talk. Like some of the people that I reached out to, they were like, oh my gosh, Hey, I haven't heard from you in like two years. That's so great to see you doing the engineering. How can I help? Like, people are gonna be way more friendly than you think they might. And, you know, I just definitely reach out to your network. You can reach out to me.

Don Hansen:

perfect. Well, That's a good segue into our outro. If people wanted to reach out to you, where could they reach you?

Jessica Chen:

Yes, I am on LinkedIn um, and I'll, I'll give Don the link and you can put it in your description.

Don Hansen:

okay. I'll do that. Well, Jessica, thank you so much for giving me your time again. I hope this is helpful for people, but, um, yeah. Thanks for coming on.

Jessica Chen:

Awesome. Thank you so much.