Ask a Recruiter: Rich Jones on how to get a tech job

rich jones
Photo by Eldon Phillips

Rich Jones is Lead Recruiter for a NYC-based startup that develops mobile apps for iPad. He hires for positions in information technology which includes software developers, systems administrators, IT project managers and network engineers. He also hires for business development positions. He previously spent two years as a tech recruiter for a staffing agency.

How hard is it to break into the IT industry from another career track?
It is very difficult to make a leap from non-IT to IT without having some strong technological experience or knowledge in your background. Jump back a couple steps. Be prepared to come in at an entry level. You may be in a project coordinator role as opposed to project manager and work your way up. IT project management is much more functional in nature that relies on soft skills whereas with development roles its all about the technologies.

Soft skills like project management, and customer service are always transferable, especially if you’re a freelance developer doing client work. Soft skills are also analysis and problem solving, fairly complex calculations like Excel, solid communication skills, understanding technical language that can be put into plain speak. With project management I’d say there’s a lot more leeway, but as far as IT goes a lot of it really comes down to the specific technologies that you’ve worked with via taking a course or participating in a hackathon or an internship, paid or unpaid.

What are the typical salaries like?
For entry level software engineers most will see 60-75K. For entry-level network engineers most will see 60-75K with the caveat they’ve probably worked way up from desktop/help desk support. Entry-level desktop support most will see 45-60K. For entry-level help desk support most will see 35-50K.

These ranges could be higher or lower depending on the organization. Some offer a range of perks that sweeten the pot (catered lunch daily, 100% of healthcare, etc.).

So it’s easy to say that being a network engineer can be lucrative, but would it hypothetically allow me to have racks on racks on top of racks or is that another career track?
Lucrative is relative. I know network engineers making 80K gwap, and I know network engineers making 125K. The biggest difference? Years of experience and type of environment worked in (i.e. financial services v. nonprofit). That’s gonna be the case across engineering fields.

Let’s say I double majored in Art History and Philosophy, basically bupkis. Now I want to learn coding. How do I do that in the least painful and embarrassing way?
There’s nothing embarrassing about bettering yourself. You could start with something really basic like or one of the many free online tutorials. You could also pony up the money and take a course at a local college or reputable program. Google is your friend. Do your research. Let the truth set you free. By the way, I’ve seen developers with the most random majors knocking it out the park. Biology, anthropology, Squirrelology. I’ve seen it all. When you’re a strong developer with proven ability, majors mean nothing.

Where’s the best place to learn coding? Online? In New York?
See answers above. I can’t get into recommending specific programs and colleges. People really need to do research on what’s out there and make use of the free tools available.

So is self-taught on par with more traditional ways?
Self-taught works more for entry level or more junior roles. With self-taught, more often than not we’re going to ask for a code sample or ask to view this person’s portfolio. You need to provide proof that you have the knowledge and the skills that you say you have.

Where are the jobs right now?
There are certain technologies that are becoming hotter. Skills become obsolete very quickly. Right now you might see a lot of talk about big data, jobs in software as a service and cloud based solutions. Mobile like iOS and Android developers are really highly sought after skills across the board. Mobile is where it’s at. Front end developers and back end developers, those are positions that are always in demand as well.

Picking a technology, becoming an expert in it, but also staying abreast of other technology is the way to go instead of being a jack of all trades and a master of none.

How do you know if you’re up to the standards the company’s looking for?
Look at the company’s website. Look at the code. If your design doesn’t look as good as the company’s website, if your code isn’t written as cleanly as the company’s website then you may be facing an uphill battle. Look up people who currently work their and see their portfolio.

Where are the jobs going to be in ten years technology wise?
Network engineers, because it’s a growing field. As companies grow, they’ll need to scale up their infrastructure. We’re hiring our first full-time network engineer now. Software developers will continue to be necessity as well — particularly in mobile with technologies like Android and iOs, and roles involving significant data management and cloud computing. Cloud computing and Big Data are the talk of the town, so those looking to jump into IT should keep their eyes on those areas. I’m unable to speak on what it will look like across sectors. However, I can say that many companies are popping up offering Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions.

How important is it for a person to have a web presence?
I think it’s good in general to have a personal website. Even if it’s just your It doesn’t need to be updated everyday or even every week but it needs to be an established web presence that tells a consistent story with the rest of your social media profiles.

How do you find candidates?
Most developers have their own web presence as their name. For front end developers or user experience designers, recruiters are going to expect a clear sense of architecture, a clean layout, whether or not it’s easy to navigate and if the code behind the site adheres to standard best practices.

It is helpful to see work that’s done for actual clients rather than personal projects done just for fun. Work done for a project that you were paid for carries a lot more weight than something you just did in your spare time. I would definitely encourage someone to make use of the LinkedIn groups pertaining to the technologies you’re looking to be hired for.

What’s it really like working at a startup? Do all offices serve Stumptown coffee and play beer pong on Friday afternoons?
The perks like free lunches, beers on Friday and rocking casual clothes daily are cool. I vowed to never wear a suit to work again, and now that I’m in the startup world, I don’t see that changing. But it’s also hard work. You’re helping build a company. I don’t even think that was easy for Zuckerberg. There’s a lot of ambiguity and things change quickly. The decisions you make and the stuff you [mess] up matter even more. Working at a startup can be stressful and frustrating. The beer and ping pong are just outlets for that frustration. The woosah.

What are some mistakes to avoid when applying for jobs or starting in the field?
Applicants often make the mistake of not tailoring their resume for the specific opportunity. Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that they have the skills and technologies necessary to succeed in the role. Applicants should also avoid failing to adequately research the company they’re applying to. They should be able to articulate what the company does in an interview. You’d be surprised at how many people can’t answer that question or “why do you want to work for us?”

Lastly, when starting in the field, don’t be afraid to ask questions. That can mean informational interviews or picking seasoned professional’s brains about what it takes to make it in the field. Or, if already working, how to do something rather than figuring it out on your own and taking 3X the time to get it done.

Rich offers a range of career services  on his website The Freedom Chase and can be found tweeting about Scandal, and more career advice at @iamrichjones.


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