Getting Your First Dev Job – How to Gain Valuable Experience as a Student

We’ve all heard the stats, millions of computer science jobs are poised to go unfilled because of a lack of computer science graduates and new developers. And yet, as I talk to students on the ground, what I’m hearing doesn’t seem to reflect the bountiful cornucopia of available jobs. Students don’t feel confident that their education and experience will be enough to get a great job upon graduation. Having been through it recently myself, and now as the leader of the Microsoft Student Partner program in Canada, I know firsthand what hiring managers are looking for when hiring a new grad developer. Here are my top tips for students looking to gain valuable experience before graduation.

Tip #1: Make use of the opportunities available exclusively to students

As an active student, you have access to the biggest pool of opportunities out of any stage of professional life. There are plenty of scholarships, conference funding opportunities, recruitment events, merit-based awards, competitions, and platforms open exclusively to students! Where do you find them? Some will be exclusive to your school or campus, some local or national, and some open worldwide. Take advantage of these opportunities while you have student status, they are a fantastic way to gain experience (and they look great on a resume)! You can find a lot of these opportunities on campus, but here are some good places to look for the wider ones:


Tip #2: Build something for the sake of learning, off campus

I’ve worked with a lot of recruiters, and the number one thing they always look for is proven experience outside of the classroom. The great thing about development is you can gain this experience all on your own! It’s as simple as picking something that interests you, grabbing your favourite IDE, and building it. Why is it important that these projects be outside the classroom? Recruiters love when students develop for fun, because it shows a true passion for technology and an ability to self-motivate. So get out your machine, visit Codecademy to brush up on your skills, and get coding!

Tip #3: Share your work in a public forum

Once you’ve built something, share it online! More often than not, hiring managers will take a look at your GitHub profile to see if you’ve shared your work or contributed code to other dev projects. Contributing to open source is a great way to prove your passion, gain real experience with remote development collaboration, and have your code in public projects early on. There are plenty of open source projects on GitHub – browse them here! Tip – search by languages you’re familiar with to find ones you feel comfortable contributing to, or search for a new language to see examples of how to use it.

Tip #4: Professionalism starts at first contact

You never know when you’ll meet your next employer. I can tell you from experience, 100% of the jobs I’ve held have been secured through people I already knew. Networking isn’t just a habit of successful entrepreneurs, it’s a key element to propelling yourself down the path of your goals. Whether you’re at a CS Club meeting, a recruitment event, or an interview, treat everyone with respect and strive to make a positive impression on everyone you meet. If you struggle to find topics of conversation, ask people about their work – it’s always easier to get someone talking about themselves than to get them talking about you.

Professionalism isn’t something that needs to be separate from your personal life – in fact, I believe the most successful people maintain a certain poise and elegance in their career and personal lives. For that reason I recommend you don’t have separate social media accounts for work and personal uses – instead, maintain personal authenticity and professional decorum across your online presence, and show potential employers how awesome you can be.

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For daily career tips and insights, follow me on Instagram @theTrendyTechie!


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