I recently got contacted by my old university, University of Copenhagen, where I got my master’s degree in Computer Science in the summer of 2014. They contacted me to ask if I would be interested in giving a talk at the university about my “career”. The purpose of the event was to inspire the new master’s students in their studies. I accepted this offer as I thought it sounded interesting, and also because I saw it as a good way to give back to the university. To kickstart the presentation I’m writing this blog post as I believe it will help me get my mind going, but also to share my experience when deciding on a career to any interested reader. Lastly I’ve also wanted to take time off to reflect more about the whole education-to-job-transition and this seemed as a great opportunity.
M.Sc. Computer Science
In the summer of 2014, I came out of that door on the picture below with a master’s degree in Computer Science. My studies included a specialisation in Application Development as well as a semester abroad in San Diego.
At the university, my fields of interests were high-level programming, human-computer interaction and IT/project management. This resulted in me exploring topics as navigation, augmented reality and the iPhone when writing my bachelor’s assignment. I wrote my master’s thesis about big data, machine learning, crowdsourcing and web interfaces. When I was 6 months from getting my degree I started focusing on iOS development (after having done both iPhone and Android development during my studies). So even though I had done high level programming for many years, it was not until at the end of my studies I decided to work with iOS development.
Job related experience
During my studies I had multiple jobs that were related to my studies and to my future field of work. I held different web positions writing PHP and frontend code in the early days of my studies. Then I started freelancing and I also joined a small startup that wanted to do a quiz app. Besides that, I also took part in some external projects that was arranged at the university. Having done some sort of related work within my field gave me some insights, confidence and of course more experience with programming going forward into the labour market. On top of that, having worked with mobile development and user experience ignited my passion and in the end helped me to decide that iOS was the platform I should focus on. Having chosen iOS as my primary platform, it turned out that making Trivia Fight gave me some advantage when I started applying for jobs, as I was capable of doing some iOS development even though I considered myself as a rookie at that time 😊.
My first job as an iOS developer
I applied for a job 6 months before finishing my thesis - around the time where I also decided that I wanted to work with iOS development. I got invited to do the interview process which consisted of multiple steps including interviews with multiple employees at the company, a home assignment (where I was asked to make an app) and an on-site coding session right next to the iOS lead. I was pretty nervous coming into the coding session given that I didn’t have much iOS experience and because of the fact that this was my potential first full-time job. I performed pretty badly and I didn’t get the job due to my lack of experience. It sucked, but at the same time I was glad that I got that experience as I believe it made me more eager to learn and more confident going into any future coding sessions. After that I decided to focus on finishing my master’s thesis and not worrying about applying for jobs.
After 6 months, I turned in my thesis and about 2 weeks after that I got contacted by a recruiter asking me if I would be interested in meeting with a company for an iOS position. Some interviews and a little coding session later I was hired as an iOS developer at Unwire. How do I think I got that position and do I have any recommendations for people trying to land their first iOS developer job? Yes, I have some recommendations based on decisions I have noticed that worked for me. This is not a silver bullet and it might not work for you at all, but I do hope to help or inspire you to figure out how to land the position you want.
Experience experience experience. Although a degree within Computer Science (or the similar) might be sufficient, it does help to have some kind of experience outside of the university. It shows that you have the right motivation for e.g. doing your own side projects or working in a part-time position. You might even be able to get a part-time position at a company you would like to work at full-time afterwards. It will also ease the transition for you when going from studying to holding a full-time position. I personally would have liked to have had more experience with iOS development before ending my studies so that I was more prepared going into my first interviews. You can easily end up competing with other people just graduating, but who has done iOS development for the past years. In that case, it’s up for you to convince the employer about your personality and your solid foundation within computer science and not specific to iOS. On the other hand, I don’t really regret having a bunch of experience within other fields in terms of programming languages and platforms outside of iOS land. It’s a balance.
Having and being aware of one’s online presence can involve different things and can help you being invited into those interviews. Here are three of my personal favourites.
Contributing to open source projects is a really great thing to do. It shows a lot about your character and motivation for what you do. It will also help you to meet other developers which you might also learn from. Also, it might also keep you up to date with trends within your field and you would probably also know about new useful libraries when writing your code. Stars can be useful, but please don’t put too much value in whether you receive a lot of stars or not on your projects.
Writing blog posts is something I’ve tried to do a lot of times, but always found it hard to do consistently. I sense that I’m not the only one experiencing this. It is however a really useful tool for sharing your thoughts, experiences and anything else that a fellow developer might find useful. On top of that I think you learn a lot from writing stuff down in a way that is understandable for others. Don’t stress too much if you’re not blogging every week, instead just take one step at a time and then it might stick in the end. I’m personally still trying to make it stick.
When I meet and talk to developers I sense that setting up a LinkedIn profile and keeping it up to date can seem almost ridiculous and a waste of time. I get that, and I personally couldn’t see the huge benefit when creating my own profile in 2010, however today I see a huge benefit. It is a platform for me to interact with people I have studied with, worked with and people I’ve just met at social events. On top of that it’s a way for me to get in touch with people that are interested in the skillset I possess. That can be everything from people making a startup to recruiters representing different kind of companies and bigger coorporate companies. Yes, it can be annoying to stay up to date on LinkedIn, but the return on investment is high.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get out there and meet people. Even though you might consider yourself as being introvert, people tend to be very welcoming and will most likely be like-minded. After going to a couple of events you will start to learn people in the field and it will probably make you feel more comfortable when attending future events. Check out Meetup to see if there are interesting events near you and make sure to keep an eye out for companies hosting events. Sometimes it’s interesting for the talks and sometimes it’s interesting to visit the companies and talk to the employees.
From student to full-time developer in hindsight
I guess one of the most important questions to answer in relation to this post is to answer what the future-me would have said to myself when I studied.
Keep an open mind
Because I at a very early stage knew that I wanted to do something within web- and mobile development, I think I spent too little energy on courses outside of my field of interest. Actually the very first course I had on my university was about functional programming. I hated it as I didn’t see the relevance, it felt a bit old school and I just wanted to do OOP. Today, I’m very intested in functional programming and I would have loved to pay more attention when attending that course and any similar courses during my time at the university. So, I would like to have had a more open mind towards the courses I followed. You never know how the trends within programming or your interest might change.
Relax and get some experience
When you’re studying you can easily forget the world around you. Everything is about grades, assignments and figuring out what job you want to try and get when your studies ends. It was a very strange feeling to have struggled with a master’s thesis for 6 months and a couple of weeks in your full time position, all of it is almost forgotten. I’ve found the transition from emphasizing good grades and relevant theses to emphasizing experience a bit surprising. It is a balance, but I would have liked to be able to say to myself while studying: “relax and remember to value experience as well”.
iOS developer at Unwire
This post is not about my current work, but more about the transition from studying to getting your first full-time job. I would however like to share one more thing I’ve noticed after working 1,5 years as a full-time iOS developer. You shouldn’t be too much worried about any lack of experience after settling with your first job. If you work hard, you can grow really fast. I feel that I’ve personally learned so much after 1,5 years and today I feel much more confident as an iOS developer.
As mentioned, this is purely my reflection on what has happened during my studies and going into my first full-time job. It should not be considered as the final answer to how to land your first job, but it might instead just inspire you or give you some advice on things that could be worth considering. I wish you all the best in landing your next job 🙏