Stack OverflowHow did you get your first programming job?
[+138] [89] Mark Pim
[2009-02-11 08:59:37]
[ career-development jobs professional-experience ]

Did you get lucky and stumble on your ideal job immediately?

Did you find a local small software house and send your CV off? How?

Did you go through graduate recruitment?

Did you start on an internship?

I know this is not programming related and off-topic but it could be an interesting question to those just starting their careers.

This should be a wiki, please make it so. -1 until then. - WolfmanDragon
Sorry, I didn't realise it should have been. Corrected. - Mark Pim
thank you. +1 now - WolfmanDragon
I clicked. Yarrr! - Randell
Stack Overflow is not a career advice site. You might be interested in either or - community_owned
[+425] [2009-02-11 14:13:54] Patrick Cuff [ACCEPTED]

True story:

I was in my first year of college, spring semester, when my older sister calls me to see if I wanted to apply for a summer internship at this company where she just started working. "Yes, please" I said, hoping to avoid another summer of washing dishes.

She called me back a few days later. "Can you come in for an interview?"

"Sure, when?"

"Tomorrow. 9:00am".

Luckily I didn't have any quizzes or tests the next day, so I hopped into my P.O.S. Nissan Sentra and drove 3 1/2 hours home. When I got there, I realized that the only suit I had was a tan corduroy leisure suit I last wore in 9th grade. The mall was closed, so I had to make do. Fortunately I was the same height as I was in 9th grade, but the trousers were a tight squeeze.

The next morning I showed up for the interview. I was there with a few other applicants, all smartly dressed. I looked like a reject from a Leisure Suit Larry game. We were taken into a room to do a "computer aptitude" test. We were given an hour to complete the test, but I was done in 20 minutes. I spent the next 40 minutes double checking my answers, worrying that I F-ed something up (it couldn't be that easy) and sucking in my gut to keep my pants from bursting.

We returned to the waiting area. Eventually I was ushered to an office to meet with an HR person. We shook hands, and as I went to sit down, I heard a loud ripping sound. "What was that?" the HR woman asks. Nervously I look down. The crotch of my pants was ripped wide open. Front to back.

"I think my pants just ripped."

"Oh? Let me see."

"That's OK."

She leans over her desk and can see the extent of the damage. "I think I have some safety pins here" she said, rummaging through her desk drawer. "Yes, here they are."

I stood up and nervously tried to re-attach my pants as best I could. She offered to help, and was giggling the whole time. We proceeded with the interview, which was only about 15 minutes long. I couldn't wait for it to end so I could high tail it out of there. Only I couldn't leave. That was just round 1. I was slated to interview with two managers in the MIS department, and they wanted to take me out to lunch with a few of their team leads afterwards. Great. Back to the waiting area.

A half hour later someone came down to escort me up to MIS. "So, you must be the flasher". We walked from the waiting area to the other side of the building, through the crowded atrium, up two flights of stairs, to the manager's office. It seemed that everyone we passed on the way was giggling and snickering. I was introduced to the manager, and sat down to begin the interview. "RIP!". One of the safety pins just ripped through the fabric. He laughs. I see my application on his desk. At the top, next to my name, is written "Flash".

I go through interview after interview, with managers and leads, for what seemed like hours. Finally, the interviews are over, and I head back to the first manager's office. "So, we'd like to take you out to lunch. What would you like?"

"Thanks, but I'm not really hungry," I said.

"Nonsense, it's the least we can do for all your trouble coming in on such short notice." I could see there was no getting out of it. It seemed like the whole MIS department was congregating in the halls, waiting for us to go to lunch. We piled into a few cars and went to a local restaurant. Everyone was really nice, but I knew they were laughing at me. People tried to make small talk with me, but all I could keep thinking of was to get the hell out of there. After lunch I had to return to HR, again.

"Thanks for coming in today. We'll contact you next week with our decision."

Finally, I could leave! I drove home as fast as I could and changed into clothes that fit. The tan corduroy leisure suit went right in the trash. I drove back to school, throughly exhausted and dejected. There was no way I would get the job. It was looking like another summer of washing dishes.

I got a call in the middle of the next week from the woman in HR. "Congratulations! We'd like to offer you one of our summer intern positions."

"Wow! Really?" I said. "I must have done pretty well on that aptitude test."

"Yes, you did, but we really liked the way you handled yourself under pressure. If that had happened to me, I would have left the interview. You must have been so embarrassed." I accepted the offer, and we agreed I'd start the Monday after the semester ended. "We're looking forward to seeing you again, but you may want to buy a new suit before you start."

(55) Well written story, thanks Patrick. - Simucal
That is a heck of a story. Congrats! - n8wrl
+1 haha, someone linked your story in another forum :… - Andreas Grech
(37) Damn.. In the end, the pants became your greatest asset in gaining the job. ^_^ - DyreSchlock
Great Story! Goes to show that not just technical skills are needed to be a sought after emplpoyee... character and personality as just as important! - Andres
(17) Standing out and being memorable are the hardest parts of any interview process. Looks like you found a novel solution. - outis
(7) Sounds somewhat similar to the job interview scene in "The Pursuit of Happyness" movie, where he has to interview wearing painter's clothes. - Aaron Fi
OMG! Utterless! - Developer Art
Pants make the man. - Epaga
Good HR department. :) - Arnis L.
+1 for the laugh - joeslice
nice read but I do't see why THIS is the answer to the question. Is there really one answer to this question? I did like it though! - fnCzar
Will remind me to wear small pants to my next interview. - IPX Ares
(1) Great read! As I was reading this, I was telling myself "he's going to get it because of how he handled himself in a very embarrassing situation." Forcing you out to lunch with ripped pants was cruel, however. haha! :) - MetalMikester
(2) +1 for the Leisure Suit Larry reference. Long live Sierra On-Line! - Mike Sickler
(3) dude you should write (or do you already?). You write well!!! - P.K
(2) As always, not about the cards you're dealt, but how you play them - Chris Ballance
Oh man, great story. - Mr-sk
"I think my pants just ripped." "Oh? Let me see." WTF - DrDro
LOL I had the exact same thing happen with pants and an interview. Small world! - canadiancreed
[+59] [2009-08-10 21:37:01] community_owned

My mother sent me an ad in the local newspaper (Tuscaloosa, Alabama) asking for applicants for computer programmers at the local steel mill (Tuscaloosa Steel). Without much hope, I applied. Mostly to placate her, truth be told.

I went to the interview dressed in my best suit and brand new, shiny, black shoes. I was met by a youngish looking guy (only two years older than me, it turned out) dressed way less nice than I am who introduced himself as Phil. He took me to a trailer in the middle of the parking lot, apologized for the "gypsy" look (they're all moving buildings), and then gave me what amounted to a "computer knowledge" test. It covered everything from hardware to software, logic problems...the whole gamut. It was harder than some of the final exams I took in my undergraduate courses.

It took what felt like hours to complete the test, and when I was done, Phil came in and went over the test while I was sitting there. Any time there was a question about what I'd written down, he asked me for clarification, and I thought I did a pretty good job of explaining myself verbally where I didn't on the "final exam."

I got something like a 92 on the test. Which is pretty good, I thought, but I had nothing to gauge this opinion by: mine could be the low score.

He then asked me about myself, and the question of "hobbies" came up. Now, I'd been told many things to expect from an interview, and this question almost never came up, and is mostly there just to see what you'll say and how articulate you are. :)

To this day, I have no clue what prompted me to say it, but I mentioned that I liked Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). As of the time of the interview, I hadn't played it in about seven years, but it popped out before I could shut myself up.

"Really?" Phil asked. "Do you have a regular group you play with?"

I said I didn't. And I really hoped he'd just drop it, because I felt like I'd just committed Interview Suicide.

Phil asked, "I have a group that plays every week. Would you like to join us?"

Stunned. That's what I was. I mumbled that, yes, I'd be interested in joining a group, and he gave me directions on how to get there. It was...surreal.

Keep in mind that at this point, I was still interviewing. I had not gotten the job.

We went from the trailer up to one of the offices and he introduced me to his boss and the other guy they hired a few months before me, whose name was Geoff. They asked me some half-hearted questions, which I answered. Everyone I met was in jeans and dirty work shoes. "Well, it is a steel mill," I told myself.

Once the introductions were over, I thought they'd finally let me leave. My right foot was starting to itch quite badly, and the new shoes were killing my feet. The last thing I wanted to do was stay longer.

"So, would you like a tour of the mill?"

Well, how many times in your life do you get to go on a tour of a working steel mill? Of course I said yes.

They gave me a hard hat and safety goggles that fit over my glasses, but there was nothing to be done about the shoes. I should have had steel-toed work boots.

They led me out into the steel mill in a semi-expensive "Interview Suit," ugly goggles, and a hard hat. And somewhat-less-shiny-than-before dress shoes. I watched them take 30-ton steel slabs out of the furnace. They were glowing bright red and I could feel the heat from 30 feet away. They'd descale the slabs with high-pressure water right out of the furnace, and sparks, steam, and little bits of red-hot iron oxide would fly all around. They led me to each step in the process of making their final product, which was steel coils. I went to the furnace, the machine room, out to the muddy slab yard where they kept the raw materials...we did it all. It must have taken another couple of hours, at least. I peppered them with questions the whole time. The only scary parts were the rickety catwalk over the line (no hot steel underneath at the time), then the 18"-wide passage to the furnace control room.

My shoes and suit were basically destroyed, and I could no longer feel my right foot.

They finally let me leave, and the HR guy told me they'll call me "in a week or two" to let me know something.

I went directly from the interview to a medical clinic, where I discovered that in the course of one hours-long interview, I had manifested a case of athlete's foot worse than anything the doctor had ever seen, or so she said. It covered almost my entire right foot, and took weeks to heal.

Oddly, I didn't feel like ever wearing those shoes again.

Two weeks went by. Nothing. Not a peep.

Meanwhile, I went to D&D at the apartment of one of the other members of the gaming group. I met another two or three guys in the group, and Geoff was also there. I had a lot of fun, and I remembered a lot more than I thought I did.

Another week went by. Still nothing. I just assumed I washed out. My mother harangued me into calling them anyway, which I did, around the end of the third or fourth week.

"Oh, we've been meaning to call you!" the HR guy said. "But we've been so busy moving to our new building that it slipped through the cracks."

To make a long story slightly less long, I got the job.

I found out later that Phil decided to hire me while he was going over my test. He filled out the paperwork when he left me alone briefly after we talked. I had one of only three scores above a 20 on the test. He attempted to hire both of the other two, as well. Geoff accepted, but the other guy basically fled screaming into the night after the mill tour.

Phil had invited me to gaming sure in the knowledge that I would be working for him at the time of the next session, but HR delayed calling me for weeks.

I worked at that company for close to nine years, and Phil, Geoff, and one of the other guys at gaming are still close friends of mine.

And we still game together, 19 years later. In a different city.

(10) +1 nice story, and nice idea for a movie - Tom
[+15] [2009-02-11 09:13:08] Joonas Pulakka

I kind of drifted from undergraduate physics student to an application programmer at a scientific measurement instrument manufacturing company. First my summer jobs at the university's physics lab included just some programming as part of the research process. Already then I liked especially the programming part. My master's thesis included lots of programming in signal processing context.

Later on I sent my CV to the measurement instrument manufacturer. Although I wasn't a "real" programmer, I got the job because they needed somebody who understands the basics of the science in question, and is also able to program. Now I'm constantly learning.

Bottom line: keeping your abilities diverse can help to differentiate yourself form the mass. If you can do just one thing, there's always someone who can do it better. Combine disciplines!

(5) Only 185 more up votes and you could be the top ranked answer... so close... - JerSchneid
[+12] [2009-02-11 11:29:00] Mike

My first job was working for a company that some friends of mine were working at. They had graduated the year before me and they helped get me hired as an intern during my last year in school.

I don't think what your first job is, is nearly as important how you handle it. Almost nobody gets the perfect job on the first try. You should plan on getting some useful experience to build your resume, but more importantly your contacts, so you can move onto something more challenging in 2 - 3 years.

  • It's good to let people know you are smart, so don't ever be afraid to throw in your 2 cents. Just remember that no matter how well you did in school, you will be working with people that have real experience. Lots of time experience teaches us that the technically correct thing isn't always the best solution. This is most often true when discussing efficiency, optimizations, and edge cases.
  • Take on extra tasks and get them done on time. Try to get your manager to give you tasks that really push you to learn and/or demonstrate that you know more than they are currently giving you credit for.
  • Ask questions when you don't know what you are doing, or what people are talking about. They won't think you are nearly as stupid for asking the question as they will if you let them think you understand and they realize a week later that you had no clue.
  • Get involved in the technical conversations that tend to happen in front of certain people's cubes. These are usually the smarter people. Getting involved will show them what you know, and that you are interested in your job. (Note: You have to be able to intelligently participate in these conversations. If you just stand there grinning and never say anything that truly adds to the conversation, people will think you are an annoying idiot, which is the opposite of your goal. ;-)

Overall, you want your first job to help you build a reputation as someone that pays attention and can get things done without a lot of oversight. If you do a good job at this, getting the next, better job should be easier. You might even find contacts you make at that first job helping you for the rest of your life, with references, as reliable coworkers that you each drag from job to job, etc...

[+11] [2009-02-16 03:06:52] bikesandcode

I had a rather boring job that mostly consisted of data entry with a printing company. The company had bought a couple of very expensive systems from different providers to manage a portion of their e-commerce stuff and financial data respectively. Of course, as these enterprise systems were from different manufacturers they did not just nicely plug together and the consultants my company had hired gave some astronomical quote to integrate the two.

So thus it fell to data entry grunts to transfer the data from one system to the other.

Basically System 1 sent out an email with a bunch of relevant information. A human would then manually type in a this information into System 2 navigating through a couple of dozen different screens depending on how some of the data looked. Ultimately there were probably 3 or 4 paths through System 2.

As a Computer Science student at the time I knew there was a better path. I asked around a bunch until I found out who was the administrator of System 2 and talked about my plan to programatically transfer the data. He thought this was a great plan and found the documentation I needed. A ~= 600 page document describing the API in Java and C++ was delivered to me. Haha. No.

A bit of Googling led me to AutoIT [1]. Now we were talking. The setup was actually pretty simple. Outlook rule to move the System 1 emails into a specific folder. AutoIT script to save the email to disk. A PHP script to parse up the email into something more manageable, basically a properties file if I recall correctly. Finally, another AutoIT script to read the properties file, fire up System 2, manually enter the information using the UI and then close down.

I learned later that the initial quote to integrate the systems was in the high six figure range, I had completed effectively the same task in a week's worth of lunches. A nice side benefit of the thing was that the somewhat regular human errors were completely eliminated.

It wasn't perfect, 1-2% of the data was of a class that required human interaction, but ultimately I was able to spend most of my day reading books while my computer did my job for me. This caught the attention of the development department and a few weeks later I was offered a position as a programmer.


-1 toolchain that makes me cry, or is that +1? - erjiang
In hindsight, it makes me cry. I am far from a great programmer and before I spent a few years writing code full time? shudder - bikesandcode
[+11] [2009-07-24 15:23:04] Terry Donaghe

I found out my wife was pregnant. I had a crappy retail sales job and decided that just wouldn't ever make us enough money to have a family.

So, I grabbed a big thick book on Visual Basic 4 and Access and read it cover to cover (this was back in 1996). Then I submitted my resume to every position I could find in the newspaper, etc and landed a job at a tiny computer bureau in Gonzales, Louisiana (population: maybe 1200).

The boss there offered me the same money I was making doing retail sales, but told me that if I turned out useful he'd give me regular raises and also told me that if I worked for him for a year, I'd be able to make at least $30k pretty much anywhere else in the country.

So, that's exactly what I did, and he was a man of his word. Within a couple of months he gave me a $100/month raise and did that again every month or two. After a year I landed a job in North Carolina for $33k.

Very cool.

(15) just adding a comment to say that people that hold true to their words are very rare in this world, two thumbs up for your ex. boss! - thr
[+7] [2009-08-11 15:05:36] Chris Doggett

Technically, it's for my second programming job, since there's no interesting story with the first.

I had been laid off from my first programming job, was weeks away from losing our house, and was desperate to find any job. Along with the desperation was a lot of nervousness and a tendency to forget the answers to easy questions, like "Name as many SQL keywords as you can."

I didn't forget my ability to read upside down, and my future boss had her answer key laid out in front of her across the table, so with my head in my hand like I was in deep thought, I read every keyword off her sheet, upside down, from 7 feet away, in random order.

It turned out I was by far the best candidate, and I probably would've gotten the job had I just said "SELECT," and they learned to cover their answer sheets for future interviews.

+1 for reading upside down! - Benjol
[+6] [2009-02-11 13:38:10] Booji Boy

I had just graduated w/ my CS degree and it was the end of my shift on my last day working at Dairy Mart. The president of our company walked in w/ a Microsoft certified shirt on and I asked him about it. We got talking and it turns out he was looking for another programmer .. and the rest is history, as they say. I still work for the same place - I've been here 10+ years now.

(2) +1 I'm always amazed by stories like this. My dad got a similar start; he was off to pickup his last paycheck after being fired, runs into some exec at the company, this exec doesn't realize he'd been fired, offers him a programing job, I follow in dad's footsteps 30 years later! - Outlaw Programmer
(2) What's funny, too, is that my Dad and our President both love too tell that story. - Booji Boy
[+6] [2009-02-11 09:17:37] Treb

My first programming job was for the university Technical Informatics department, while I was still a student. I had been financing myself by working half time as a paramedic, but at some point they decided to throw out all the part timers.

The same evening I went to the party of a friend, where I met one of the research assistants from TI. We knew each other from our sports club, and he told me that they had an open position, and wouldn't I like to get better aquainted with programming? Of course I said yes, and he organised an interview with his boss, and I got the job.

It was one of the best things that ever happended to me, I was working on real software projects, and the overall goal was to enable me to learn new stuff.

Oh yes, and I even got paid for that!

Conclusiuon: It never hurts to know somebody who knows somebody...

[+4] [2009-02-11 12:35:24] Anders Sandvig

With a background in real-time graphics programming and the demoscene as a hobbyist, the natural choice for me was the gaming industry. I did not have any strong opinions on where I wanted to work, I just knew I wanted to program games.

Seeing as there were only a few gaming companies in my area at the time, I applied to them all. I don't remember if either of them actually had any open positions announced, but I did not care. I just sent them e-mails with my resume and background, explaining that I wanted to work with programming games.

Of the four (I think, it's a long time ago...) requests I sent out, two of them got me interviews. The first interview did not result in a job, since they did not have any position suitable for me at the time. The second interview got me a job as a game programmer on an upcoming title. I did get recommended by a friend of mine who already worked there, but I like to believe I also got the job because of my skills and previous experience with graphics programming.

In later years I have also been in charge of hiring new developers (although not in the gaming industry), and I must say that showing a genuine interest in the field and/or company to which you are applying is a great advantage. As an employer I would always prefer the people who applied to our company because they had an interest in what we were doing rather than those you applied just because they wanted a job.

That being said, showing that you have an interest in programming in general is also a plus, even if you don't have any particular interest or experience in a given technical field or business area.

[+3] [2009-02-11 09:52:13] dreamlax

I worked for Toshiba fixing laptops. During this time I developed several bits of report crunching software that turned useless reports into more meaningful reports. Toshiba advertised a position for a software engineer in R&D, and one of my colleagues suggested I apply for it, even though it was in another country.

I applied, and I was interviewed, and despite sucking completely at the interview, I was offered the job. I was offered the job because I was the only person that didn't bullshit my way through the interview. I admitted things I didn't know instead of trying to think up what a good answer would be.

I still work for Toshiba, but instead of fixing laptops in Wellington (New Zealand), I write software in Sydney (Australia).

[+3] [2009-11-25 17:45:07] bish

A more interesting anecdote than how I got my first programming job is how a friend of mine got his first programming job.

Back when Quake 2 was at the height of its popularity, my friend and I were constantly playing on our local ISP's Quake 2 server. One day the CTO happened to be playing on the server as well. He and my friend got to talking and the CTO learned that my friend liked to hack on Linux servers in his spare time. So, the CTO decided to invite him in for an interview. My friend was given a job initially hacking on some Perl code (he was 15 at the time) and he's been working there ever since. It's been almost 13 years now and he pretty much runs the show.

Definitely an interesting way to start a career.

[+2] [2010-01-13 12:45:51] Patrick Karcher

I programmed some with my Commodore 64 in grade school, and loved computers and making them do stuff. But it seemed that computers were something you messed with as a kid, and then you grew up. For that reason, when I was trying to figure out major in college, Computer Science never occurred to me. I even had a friend that showed me his C work, and I thought that was so cool! But I needed a real degree, and grow up and take life seriously, so I majored in Chemistry. Graduated in '93 and washed out of grad school in '94, getting really tired of molecules.

Had a few adventures, got married, moved to Virginia and got deeply involved in a CCG [1], the Middle Earth Collectible Card Game [2] to be precise. I’m at a friend of a friend’s house teaching him the game in 1998. Over wizards and hobbits fighting monsters, I ask him what exactly he does and he said he made software. Over the course of the following conversation it began to dawn on me that a grown-up could make an honest living playing on computers, and why on earth did I not study computer science? I had really blown it.

In his office he shows me Visual Basic 5.0, and I’m getting more and more excited. Then he says his company is looking to hire a junior developer, he liked the way I thought, and why don’t I borrow VB and make a program and impress him. I recognized the opportunity I had and couple days later I had a lame roulette program to show him. It did the trick and I got the job.

What I found out soon after is that my new boss had just let go a Microsoft Certified Developer who could barely code, much less design or debug. He was getting tired to paying a lot of money for people with certifications and degrees who were not productive, and did not believe they had anything to learn. His thinking was that if he hired someone who knew nothing about VB and OOP, then I would listen and learn and maybe be worth a darn after a while. I like to think he was right. I’ve always had the attitude that I was lucky to be doing software development, because I am lucky to be doing software development.


I wish we could star answers like this as favorites! You are blessed! - Noctis Skytower
[+2] [2009-07-24 14:44:56] NateDSaint

I actually got my degree in music, and tried to get into the video game industry as a sound/music guy. A few months of working dead-end jobs to pay the bills and doing lots of application submissions (with demos and so forth) and interviews didn't yield anything, as most companies tend to just contract out music and sound to existing studios for each project, and prefer to use well-known musicians or studios at that. So a friend of mine actually made websites for well-known musicians and actors and got me a contract job doing data entry and basic html/css tasks with their CMS, so I did those on my laptop while working night desk at a dorm at my alma mater. This gave me the chance to get more experience with html/css/javascript to add basic functionality to their dynamic pages, and along the way I learned a lot of PHP to fix things that broke in the CMS.

Night desk mainly involved making sure no one weird came in the building and that I was there in the event of any major emergencies, but from time to time it was basic clerical work. In the process of saving the web-based roster of our students, I discovered that the title of the page was "Roster for $hall on $date," which meant when I saved the file it kept coming out that way. I shot an e-mail out to the developers who wrote the web app and explained to them that they forgot to parse the title of the page, or maybe they were outputting it as a literal, but in either case it wasn't coming out right. They asked my boss "Is that guy smart?" He was one of my best friends while we were both in school, so of course he said "One of the smartest guys I know." And sure enough I got an interview and became a full-time developer, for almost twice what I was making working the desk.

My lesson basically taught me to be patient. I've realized over time that my dream of being the next Jeremy Soule or The Fat Man is probably pretty hard to live up to, but I'm getting computer industry experience in web development, and am slowly moving towards the "core" languages, so who knows, maybe a sound or music programmer job will open up someday and I can combine my love of music, code, and video games. In the meantime, I'm at a web company that's actually growing rather than shrinking right now, so I'm definitely counting myself blessed.

You should consider working on games such as SingStar at Sony - they combine music with code and video games (I used to work there) ( - Tom Leys
[+2] [2009-07-24 15:37:43] Brad

Where to begin...

I had just graduated from university with degrees in philosophy and psychology and writing (major, major, and minor, respectively). I'd started in computer science, but the program at my school was terrible and midway through my second year I jumped ship and never looked back. After graduating though, I was faced with the fact that no one really wants to hire a philosophy and psychology and writing major unless it's to deliver pizza. So, I quickly learned to leave out my areas of study on my resume and simply put that I graduated.

I applied for several jobs, most of which were menial labour and the like, until one day I saw an ad in the local paper that said "PHP programmer needed. Call xxx". Now, where I live there are not too many programming jobs, so I jumped on this one. I phoned them up and was asked to come in for an interview the same day. An hour later, I walked into their offices and was interviewed by the president of the company. He asked me some very general questions, such as what sort of projects I've worked on before (a few sites for fun, but nothing big) and what kind of hobbies I had. No technical questions, no questions about my education, nothing at all that most employers would want to ask.

After a short 15 minute interview, I leave and meet up with another guy they had interviewed previously who, for some reason, was still hanging around outside the building. He was drunk or stoned or, more likely, drunk and stoned. I asked him how his interview went and he just shook his head and said "they're all into that core internet shit. What the fuck is PHP?", of course there was more slurring when he said it. I politely excuse myself and start walking home, only to look back after a few minutes and see this guy is following me. Or maybe he isn't, I think to myself, as he might just be heading in the same direction as I am. To test this theory, I take a random street and, looking back, I see him also take the street. Okay, that's a little strange, but it could still be a coincidence. I take another random street and once again so does he. Finally, at the next intersection, take a fast right and move behind some bushes. I see him come around the corner and look for me. He stands there for several minutes, wondering where I went, until he gives up and leaves.

Okay, that had nothing to do with the job itself, but it was pretty strange and, I think, foreshadowing my time at the company. But I digress...

That night I get a phone call from the president who offers me the job.

"Great," I say with some relife, and I was relived because I really needed the money.

"Can you start tomorrow?" he asks.

"Sure, that's no problem."

He talks for a bit and then, with some trepidation, says "By the way, your starting wage will be $12 an hour." He leaves the sentence hanging in the air until his words fall to the ground and shatter.

Did I hear that right? He couldn't possibly have said $12/hour, could he? An uncomfortable silence builds on the phone and I realize I have to say something, but all I can manage to is to repeat his words, "$12 an hour...".

The president, likely sensing my dismay, pipes up, "Well, that's only during your probationary period. After 60 days, if everything works out, you'll get a raise to $13 an hour."

My mind is still in shock, but the gears turn just enough for me to do some thinking. I know the job offer is terrible, but I also know that unless I get a job soon I won't be able to pay rent. I grudgingly accept his offer, while telling myself that it will only be temporary until I find something better.

There's so much more about this job to say, in fact I could write a very humorous book about it, but long story short, the company went belly up and now, several years later, I'm working for one of the original investors of the company.

(4) I am intrigued. Please tell us more. - Hawker
[+1] [2009-07-24 15:09:41] Smandoli

At the interview, the man said: "I need someone who knows VBA better than I do." I opted for a deeply pessimistic estimate of his skills.

um ... this is true, not making it up ... - Smandoli
[+1] [2009-08-10 22:28:38] blaxter

My first job was in my university, a group of 20 developers (all with degrees) aprox. There was no software process for developing, there were anybody using test, I thought I could learn a lot, but I didn't. I left whenever I got my degree.

Also I was the freak guy that was using linux (it was java developing).

[+1] [2009-08-10 21:54:52] NTDLS

I dropped out of 9th grade (with a waiver from my mother, I was under 18) because all I wanted to do was program (C++ baby!) – My girlfriends Grandpa got me a job working with a fly-by-night seedy little company (two man show) that did I/T work for the company he worked for.

It wasn’t long before the company he worked for hired me on directly and made me their admin (as I already did all the work anyway) – a year later I was hired on by one of their software vendors – which then merged into a much larger company.

After the merger... bankruptcy! Left me with no job for almost 5 days until I finally called back a few of the "done deals" and informed them I was taking an awesome DBA position with a multi-hospital operation company.

10 years in – I still have no regrets – by the time my peers graduated from college I was already making nearly 4 times what they were. Suckers!

Determination, skill and luck, luck, luck, luck!

[+1] [2009-08-10 22:51:27] leed25d

I was in the Army (in 1970) and there was a computer on our base. The programmer rotated home and there was no one to take his place so I got roped in to it. After a few months I decided that I liked it, so I went to school on the GI Bill after I got out of the service. I graduated from college in 1974 and I have been programming ever since except for a wrong turn into management in 1985. By 1987 I was back into programming, this time in a UNIX environment, I do not ever want to do anything else.

[+1] [2009-08-10 23:02:08] kristina

Did you get lucky and stumble on your ideal job immediately?

Yes, my job is awesome. I work for a small startup, which I highly recommend. You have to work your ass off, but (at least in my case) it's self-assigned work and really rewarding. This is my first job out of college and I manage entire sections of our codebase on my own, do user support, write documentation, do outreach-y things, and write tests (ugh... but it's like eating your veggies, it's good for you). Other than the testing, it's so much fun.

Did you find a local small software house and send your CV off? How?

I actually went through a recruiter. I posted my resume on and a zillion dumb recruiters left messages for me about job opportunities where my cell phone was from, not where I was. However, one recruiter left a detailed message and named some interesting companies. I called him back and he set up a bunch of interviews for me.

I ended up getting job offers from a couple different companies. The one that I liked the best was a bit risky, it was a startup and I would be the 2nd "real" (non-founder) employee. I decided to go for it, and I'm so glad I did.

[+1] [2009-08-10 23:27:07] Darren

I got my first programming job nearly 3 years after graduating. I got my degree in 1996, in Chemical Engineering and got a job on the graduate program of an engineering company. About 2 years in I realised that if I had to work in the chemical engineering industry for the next 40 or so years I would probably kill myself long before retirement. This was in 1998, a little before the dot com boom really took off in the UK. I spent the next 6 months scouring the few job websites that existed and sending my CV off to any agent or job opening I could find that was even slightly likely to be interested in recent graduates with little on-paper experience. It helped a bit that I'd built a few automated spreadsheets and access databases using VBA for my first job (which is how I realised I was good at this programming stuff and that I enjoyed it far more than the rest of my job).

I passed EDS's graduate recruitment program but they kept me hanging for weeks with 'we want to hire you but we've oversubscribed our graduate intake' (which I later realised probably meant they were waiting until they could ship me off to some unsuspecting client for an outrageous daily rate while paying me peanuts).

Losing patience with EDS I kept looking until I got a call from an agent who had received my CV and wanted to put me in front of a client that (I found out later) was very difficult to recruit for. The agent was very helpful and met me before putting me forward (again I realised later that this was so they could try and 'prime' me for the interview). They warned me that I would have to make a presentation to about 8 people about a technical subject. I was so happy to have an interview I didn't care (apparently quite a few applicants un-applied after they heard about the presentation part of the interview).

So the interview paperwork arrived and the scenario was 'We've got an application built using Access and we need to scale it up to a global userbase. How should we do it?'. I spent the weekend surfing the internet, discovered Oracle's website (I'd not heard of Oracle before this), did a bunch of reading and put together a presentation about how I'd port the database to Oracle etc etc. The company was a MS/SQL Server shop so naturally one of the questions they asked was 'Why Oracle and not SQL Server?'. I told them that Oracle happened to be the first RDBMS that I found during my research and that I was basically winging the whole thing. Which was obvious from my CV so I had no qualms about stating my lack of experience.

Anyway some combination of honesty, courage and trying to solve the problem got me the job. I was told later that even though my inexperience was very obvious I stood out by simply addressing the problem I was given. Apparently quite a few applicants used it as an opportunity to push their own favourite technology or area of expertise and didn't actually address the requirements, or perhaps tried to read too much into it and be too clever.

I was there for a 12 months, learned tons and had a (mostly) great time. After a year it was time to move on but once I had that first 'proper' software job on my CV it got much easier.

[+1] [2009-08-12 19:46:36] wgl

During my freshman year in engineering, I pestered the professor of the introductory fortran course with questions so throughly that he passed me off to a prof who gave me a summer job. The task was writing an input routine for a program that found eigenvalues and eigenvectors of a 500th order matrix on a machine with about 32 k of memory. Turns out that code still exists in some form all these decades later, and is a teeny part of the system that helped decide where Argonne National Labs would be located. (I didn't discover the longevity of the code until recently, but that was a bit of a thrill.)

[+1] [2009-02-11 12:59:31] Adam Hawes

I started building programs for my dad's company when I was pretty young. It was all simple stuff to handle the lengthy calculations they'd been doing pretty-much by hand. It didn't pay in cash, but experience, access to tools and a few handy reference books later I was on the road to a professional career.

My first real paid programming job was a work experience place as an Electronic Engineer. It's a requirement of all Engineering disciplines here to undertake a 6-month program working in the real world. You're expected to go out and apply to companies off your own back and find a position. No work placement, no degree.

I was hoping to do some DSP-hardware and interfacing stuff but there was a project working with C++ and VisualBASIC (ugh) that they put me on. I had some good mentors and I really made the most of soaking up knowledge while I was there. I learned more in that few months that I think I'd learned for the 3 years prior.

[+1] [2009-02-11 13:09:53] Tomh

My first programming job was pretty basic client side programming. I found it through a messageboard and just wrote the poster a private message. I just started doing my bachelors in computer science back then.

Since then I also started my own company, gained some exposure and after that I found my current job, or better said my current job found me through linkedin :). I would say, networking helps a lot in finding a good job or internship.

[+1] [2009-02-11 12:15:19] José Leal

I got my first job when I entered the first year of CS.

It was at my father's company, working with help desk and overall structure of the network. After 6 months I sent a CV to a building administration company and got the job to work with Delphi/ASP and C#.

After another 6 months I sent a few CV and got a job in a real small local software house, where I learned a lot! Worked there with PHP, C#, Mysql.

Since then I waited more 6 months and started my own business, now I build only web-interface systems by my own, and growing my financial part.

Conclusion: Do not settle down with your regular job. Fools are the ones who are satisfied. Search always for the best. Be the best (to bad that i'm not =/ ).

[+1] [2009-02-11 10:12:31] Shogun

I was offered a job at a very small webdev firm after doing an internship there, basically rolled into it...

[+1] [2009-02-11 09:24:47] Elijah


I was given a paid internship from a friend of a friend who was a team lead at a small software company. I would have never have gotten that opportunity if it were not for the volunteer web development that I did for a non-profit while I was in college because it was there that I met him and he got to know my skill set and work-ethic.

I would recommend to anyone trying to get a break in the field to work for free at first giving your time and skills to charities and community groups. Then you may find opportunity knocking it your door. The contacts you make by being active in the community when you are young are invaluable - otherwise you are stuck knowing only people who are starting their careers like you!

[+1] [2009-02-11 09:30:51] Esko Luontola

I had a friend working in a company, and they had the need for a program to help them do their work. My friend then told them that he knows people who can do it and contacted me, so I ended up creating that program. That was on my second year of studying CS at university.

Actually all work that I've got has been through a friend. Either somebody in the company knew me an invited me, or somebody who knew me and the company introduced me to the company.

[+1] [2009-02-11 09:44:56] Ian Devlin

While I was in my last year at university I started to apply for jobs. I knew I wanted to get out of where I was from and where I went to university (the same place, Limerick, Ireland) so I was applying for other parts of Ireland and also in the UK. I received interest from a company in Cambridge, UK, and went for an interview shortly after finishing university. I was eventually offered the job and I worked there for 6 and a bit years before being made redundant. It was a great company to work for though and I couldn't have asked for a better working environment.

My experience was similar. I checked the graduate program notices at the university and submitted my resume to all the interesting ones. I got a LOT of rejections; so I talked to the careers adviser and they helped me rewrite my resume. Then I tried again got an interview and then a job at Motorola. - mat_geek
[+1] [2009-02-11 09:48:42] Ashutosh Singh

during my masters last semester we were required to do internships so I applied for internship where i got the first job and after compeletion of internship they were happy with my work so they offered me job in the same organisation

[0] [2009-02-11 10:22:44] jeong

I was a student majoring computer science.
someday I found job open for "Dragonball Online"

bang! that was it. I'm a game programmer now.

[0] [2009-02-11 09:55:36] Gilad Naor

I got a student position at a very large corporation after attending a recruitment event they held in campus.

The first job after graduation was through a friend who already worked there.

[0] [2009-02-11 09:18:46] WestDiscGolf

Was a sysadmin and web designer (asp v3) before and during uni, after graduating I got a job as a Technical consultant for a international company implementing custom solutions, decided after a bit of internal politics and 18months that it wasn't technical enough for me and looked for a developer position. Sent off my cv, had a phone interview, went in for a face to face and started a month later ... just clocked up my 2 years still enjoying it and learning lots! :-)

[0] [2009-02-11 09:20:47] Raibaz

I got introduced to my first programming job, a year and a half ago, through the teacher that was tutoring me during my master thesis, then the same teacher suggested i became a freelance and got me a couple of other long-running jobs, including the one i'm currently working for.

do they take a cut? ;-) - WestDiscGolf
[0] [2009-02-11 09:13:24] Canavar

I started with internship. I coded DHTML & Javascript and ASP. Now when I look back, it was very helpful. today with ASP.NET, most developers do not know/want to learn UI design, HTML, Javascript, CSS, .. etc.

[0] [2009-02-11 09:15:21] PoweRoy

My first programming jobs were internships (all needed during college). Worked at 3 different companies:

  • 1st primary school and make programs for kids
  • 2nd was research and programming in a big company(that had only 1 programmer)
  • as last a game development company where i learned the most.

I have no regrets that I did the first 2 internship because I learned a lot of 'non' programmic talking. I used to go in full detail code ;)

[0] [2009-02-11 09:01:37] James Ottaway

I was half-way through my senior year at high school and I was offered a job at the school after I graduated in .NET web development.

That was 3 years ago and it's been a great experience all round. I'm about to leave and move on now that I'm almost finished my Uni degrees.

[0] [2009-02-11 09:01:51] Mark Pim

I applied to a temp agency while I figured out exactly what I wanted to do and they set me up with a small company nearby who do employee management systems.

After a month I approached their head of development and asked if there were any jobs. There weren't but he interviewed me anyway and then a couple of weeks later offered me a job as a software developer.

The rest is history!

[0] [2009-02-11 09:02:12] Paul Whelan

I found a small software house and sent my CV off.

Can I ask you what your background is? I was recently terminated and am looking to switch paradigms a bit, and have been looking to apply to a small shop in my city. I'm not sure if I'm qualified, or if they even have an opening, so I've been hesitant to apply. - AgentConundrum
My advice send in your CV to everywhere you might just get lucky on the day your cv arrives a contract requiring your very skills could of been landed at the company. Let them decide if you are qualified the worst they can do is turn you down, a lot of the time companies won't even reply keep trying. Comapnies always like people who are driven a cover letter always helps outline your background and why you feel you are a fit to their organisation. When I was a graduate most companies like now where not hiring at all, I took a pay cut from another non programming job I had at the time to start. - Paul Whelan
[0] [2009-02-11 09:04:30] Vilx-

My very first jobs was as a sysadmin at some small companies owned by my relatives. After that I got my first programmer job through a recommendation from a friend who was already working at the place. Ever since it's just been the standard career climb.

[0] [2009-02-11 09:06:05] Gamecat

My first job was easy. There where a lot of vacancies. So I wrote all interesting companies in the neighbourhood and chose the best.

The second job I found with a vacancy site. The third thanks to a google search. The fourth through my network and the fifth and last by a recruiting agency.

last? you finally made it big then? - Krakkos
Lol, possibly. But you may never know. - Gamecat
[0] [2009-02-11 09:09:22] WolfmanDragon

DOE internship. It was a whirlwind 10 weeks of learning. I learned more in that 10 weeks than I had in the total of my freshman year of college.

[0] [2009-02-11 09:10:41] community_owned

The people I was working for (in a non-programming capacity) had several computers but no programming capabilities. So I sat down and taught myself programming. That was in the 1970s however - things may be different now!

[0] [2009-02-11 12:26:41] Ries

Internship is the way to go...

[0] [2009-02-11 12:31:56] peacedog

I was in school and in fact preparing to go to a job fair type deal the next day; everyone was required to get an internship efore graduation so that's really what I was looking for.

That night I went out for a beer with friends and bumped into someone from my highschool who was a year older. I'd seen him around campus; he'd been in software development for 5 years and had gone back to school to get a degree to match. He said he would love to have an intern (technically, he had to do his internship as well, and that was kind of absurd, but he had someone else at work sign off on all the paperwork), so we started keeping in touch and the following fall I got signed up. That internship was not paid (the owners of that business were cheap), but eventually I started working their part time (paid 3 days a week, though I was coming in more often, first 4 days a week then 5), then full time, and then when that guy left for greener pastures I took over for him.

[0] [2009-02-11 13:28:31] Maslow

I was browsing the company message boards where I was working phone tech-support, and found a job that was very poorly titled as an operations analyst. The description involved SQL and Rumor has it only about 4 people even applied for the position probably because of the title being too business-y and the position being far more technical.

[0] [2009-02-11 12:57:21] Mark Thalman

For my first career job I went to a job fair in downtown Chicago.

After passing out all of my resumes I talked with somebody from a small company with a hand lettered sign on a sheet of loose leaf paper. This seemed more promising than all of the rest so I went back to a previous company asked for my resume back so I could make a copy. I handed the original to the first company and left. I had no idea where to make a copy so I didn't bother.

That company called me in for an interview and a coding test. I passed both with flying colors and had a job, 75 miles from home, a week later.

[0] [2009-07-24 15:07:25] Manuel Ferreria

I got an intership at my last year in highschool doing some Oracle SQL. Two months later, I got offered a full-time job as a SQL Reports and Java developer. Luckily, it was a really nice place to work before I started college.

[0] [2009-02-11 13:38:30] TWith2Sugars

My first REAL programming job (not including the part time jobs during uni) is the one I'm at now. I got it through my final year project supervisor. He happened to be consulting a small web development (.Net) company and had recommended me to them which I've later been told was impressive to be recommended by him.

The interview was semi-formal and was offered a job pretty much straight away!

[0] [2009-02-11 14:12:54] Think Before Coding

We created our own company with friends called Hypnotizer just at the end of school, we were working on an interactive rich video plugin (think early silverlight).

After the 2001 web crach, we created another company and we created PixVillage, a .Net P2P photo sharing application.

We're still working together for another company now.

[0] [2009-02-11 14:18:34] Hao Wooi Lim

I got my first programming job through a programming contest organized by the company.

[0] [2009-02-11 14:46:31] Jeff O

I left teaching, went to grad school (Not Computer Sci, but computer oriented/learned fortran), took an entry level position non-programming position doing data transfers (through email if you can believe it).

I had a need for some app development, the firm had no programmer and wouldn't hire any, so I wrote it myself. Windows 98 came along and all of my FORTRAN programs crashed. I printed my code, snuck over to a contrac programmer we had working on another project and asked if he could help me convert my FORTRAN code to VB 4.0.

After doing a little tech support for a software company, I took over maintaining one of their applications. I was always programming; now they call me a programmer.

[0] [2009-02-11 15:07:40] Gulzar Nazim

For me, it was a combination of timing plus providing the right answer to one of the questions. The answer was a bit related to enums and to this day, I have a special attachment with enumerated types.

Small shop but the experience I gained from there helped me a lot.

[0] [2009-02-11 15:10:44] Ian Jacobs

Didn't want to work at AOL Tech support.

[0] [2009-02-11 23:44:38] JB King

I think elsewhere on this site I have given these stories though perhaps not about the getting of the job(s) that were my first.

My first experience was with a bank where I worked for a couple of months though I usually omit this from my resume as it was a disaster in terms of how well I did the job but it did give me a few pointers. I got the job through the co-op department at my university where a fellow student had been a "summer student" for a couple of months and I would be taking over what he did. So, I suppose one could view that as stumbling to some extent though this was after already going through one semester of not getting a placement and realizing I needed work reports for 4 of 6 co-op terms, if I didn't get something after the first 2 I would be under the gun to stay in that program which I did change out of after the third one in the summer of 1995 didn't produce any results. After this I had some counselling appointments at my school to help with various emotional issues that were the last straw as I had a bit of a meltdown in the men's room with a VP who was my boss' boss' boss and apparently wasn't happy with me.

My first dot-com job came from the career services of the university I attended. Turns out the CEO is from the same city as me and is home visiting family for Christmas 1998. So 2 days before Christmas I go over to his houseo for the interview which was a bit of a joke in many ways as we talked and joked and really didn't have a regular interview-y feel to it. My father's car that I drove over to his house gets a flat and so I needed some help to fix that which would be my big embarassment. Then came the call from my boss the VP of Technology and I took the job and was off to Seattle.

[0] [2009-02-12 05:14:57] Bratch

In the early 90's I knew a guy who owned a computer store and also sold dial-up Internet access. I had programmed in BASIC and messed with Navy computers for years before and at the time was working on my ASCS. People would come into his store and ask him for software services, like to make changes to MS Access databases, or get some data they had onto a web site. He started asking me if I could do some of these things on a part time basis, and I did, and realized that I could make a bit of side money doing it. I did this off and on until I finished my BSCS and stopped reenlisting in the Navy in 98.

When I left the Navy I looked all over the place for full time software jobs. I responded to a newspaper ad for a position at a place that makes credit union software. They had 2 positions available, a report writer and a systems analyst, so I asked for the more difficult test. They had a bunch of us in one room, one guy flipped through the test, got up, and left. I did something that others here have done, finished rather quickly and spent a good deal of time reviewing my answers. I got hired, but then people I went to college with found me and lured me away to other jobs, usually with a pay raise and more interesting work.

I never did an internship, but all of that part time work, and some other work I did for other students at no cost, really helped. It was only possible because I had my full time job to pay the bills. I found that first job on my own, but every job after that was found through networking.

[0] [2009-08-14 01:00:10] Tyler Menezes

Depends on your definition of job. When I was in high school I co-founded a media company. (Legitimately, that is. We had a few servers servers, were invited to shows, movies, etc.) Some people don't consider that a "real" job, so I'll also offer you this.

Between my junior and senior years of high school I worked at a startup in downtown Bellevue as an web developer / intern. My dad knew the CEO, and I sent them my resume. I went in for an interview one morning and I met with their web development team. They asked me a lot of regex questions and it turned out that the guy I would be working with had started out programming in Perl like I had. So I worked there for the summer.

(I had actually applied for the Microsoft High School Internship program earlier in the year, but they took six months to get back to me and sent me a form-letter rejection which didn't even know which grade I was in, which isn't that hard to write into a letter when the program only accepted two grade levels. As it turned out they didn't actually accept any juniors that year, they only accepted seniors who had worked there the year prior. Still upset about that - good going, Microsoft.)

[0] [2009-08-25 12:01:08] MetalMikester

That was back in '88. I was enrolled in a computer school, and to obtain the diploma, we also had to have a work term of a duration of at least two months (could be more.) We could either let the school find us something, or find something on our own. Back then my sister worked for a large employer, so I asked her if they had summer student jobs (we were in May.) Summer hirings were already over, but there was this one department that had been unable to find a student with the necessary qualifications (or so I was told.)

On the Wednesday I get a call from a woman (that department's LAN admin) and for a few minutes she asks me a few questions (a lot of "do you know this or that", and I remember a good number of answers being "no". :)) I don't remember how long this lasted, but it couldn't have been more than 10 minutes. At some point she said "can you start Monday?", which really took me by surprise. We're Wednesday. I'm in school, in the middle of completing one of the courses. I said I needed to clear this with the school and would call her back.

This job was 3-months and paid, while jobs available through the school were usually NOT paid and 2 months in length, so a good number of my friends were envious. Anyway, I ended up starting on that Monday.

A little over 21 years later I still work for the same employer. See, at the end of my work term, they wouldn't let me leave. lol (The computer school I was in had to close, so I was paperless for a while. Eventually I took a leave without pay and went to university to obtain a B.Sc. in Computer Science.)

[0] [2009-08-25 12:11:40] Kuroki Kaze

I hacked Internet dialup account in my school and used it for about 2 months from home. Then i was caught and paid for this Internet usage. Then my school IT teacher recommended me to his friend in IT company (web-studio) and told this story to her. And she hired me :)

[0] [2009-08-25 13:16:46] community_owned

I got drafted. I was a mainframe console operator in civilian life. When I got drafted and sent to my first duty station (an arsenal in Illinois), they didn't need operators so they sent me to programming school. When I got back from the school, I was placed in a programming pool - my first programming job.

[0] [2009-08-25 13:41:33] greggorob64

I definately don't have any of the interesting stories posted above, but the strategy I used 3 years ago is what I tell everyone else looking for a job.

When I was finishing my senior year, I filled out all my Monster, Dice, Hotjobs, etc profiles very nicely, and got my resume as polished as one can get.

Then I clicked "programming", and applied to EVERYTHING.

*click, ok, click ok, click ok" I probably applied to 2-300 jobs in the span of about 6 weeks. I got probably 10-15 calls a day, and Most of them were completely unrelated and I was unqualified for. A simple apology and a "have a nice day" did the job just fine.

I've been with the job I'm at currently for 2.5 years and love it. If I didn't use the strategy, I never would have gotten it. The HR lady wrote 2-5 years experience on the job request; but in her words, "it was just a suggestion". I'm sure this discouraged a lot of greenhorn programmers and were put off by the requirements.

[0] [2009-08-25 22:04:18] Lurker Indeed

Internship at the Big Redmond machine writing test scripts for Access.

When my mentor told me how much time I had saved him after he reviewed the scripts, it was my first realization that I might actually have a clue now and then on what I was doing.

[0] [2009-09-28 13:35:01] canadiancreed

I got into coding in a bit of a different way then most.

I took a course for learning how to code back when the bubble burst in dotcom, after nearly being laid off at the call centre I was working at. So after graduating from there and finding that no-one was hiring junior developers, I decided to offer my services directly to potential clients and go into business for myself.

After telling this to a friend of mine, and having him sign on as my front end designer, and having his girlfriend's father be our first client, it began a three year business venture that even through a recession, kept us well payed enough to not starve. It was good times. Would probably still be doing that if he hadn't received a promotion with the bank he was working with.

[0] [2009-10-02 10:35:39] sfusion

In the early days I made a voluntary website for my home town. It got featured in the local newspaper, after which I got a phone call from a company with my first programing job. The rest is history!

[0] [2009-10-25 01:20:46] Cape Cod Gunny

I was in the Marine Corps as an Aviation Ground Support Equipment Electrician. I had decided to make a career of the USMC. I had no computer experience (1986) when they introduced a dumb terminal system into our shop for the purpose of keeping track of parts and labor. They old "paper documents" were gone.

I purchased a Tandy 1000SX from Radio Shack and used it to maintain a Preventative Maintenance spreadsheet for our office. I took two college classes at night, "Intro to Computers" and "Basic Computer Programming". I still have the book from that class... Structured BASIC for the IBM PC with Business Applications by James Payne ISBN 0-87150-990-3.

Programming came natural to me. Structured thought, stepwise refinement, logical progression... I think it helped that I was good at Algebra in high school. After BASIC my instructor, Steve Payne, told me I had to move on to a compiled language from an interpreted language. My choices were C++ or Pascal. One look at the source code and I chose Pascal.

I found out that the Marine Corps had programmer jobs and I signed up to take the Electronic Data Processing test. I needed a raw score of 60. The instructor laughed at me... he said he had been giving this test for three years and no one had passed. To his amazement I scored a 68 and three months later (Jan 1987) I was off to COBOL school in Quantico VA. I've been a programmer ever since.

[0] [2009-08-10 23:46:06] Dylan Lacey

I did it the traditional way.

I've chatted on an online forum for years. It started as the online component of Australia's first performance computing for end users magazine ( Atomic: Maximum Powered Computing [1]) but took on a life of its own... The sort of place where you have someone you've never met ask if they can stay at your house and you say yes based on their online interactions.

I was in my final year of uni, working for a Delicatessan, which was kinda fun, and I kinda hated. I decided that I'd see if there was anywhere that was OK with hiring a part-timer with a schedule liable to change every 6 months. Most of the job ads I saw online and in the paper wanted way more experience then I had. I'd ask regardless, but got totally ignored or polite rejection letters after several months... Apparently places don't believe that people who are at uni have the ability to learn.

So I posted in the General board of thee aforementioned forums, figuring I might be able to work for one of the small business owners there on COD work, or possibly as an IT tech. As it happened, one of the people there worked for a law firm who needed a developer to create precedents for them to use. Their current precedents were all created by secretaries and, needless to say, were a mess.

After the most lighthearted, formal interview I've ever had, my manager asked me to show up next week on Monday. I had no set hours, no minimum work and was paid casual rates. It was exactly what I wanted.

'Course, then the manager forgot to tell anyone I had been employed except my co-worker who set it all up. So that embarassed the HR manager no end.

Interestingly, my current, awesome job came partly because I had experience with precedent development and one of the products we develop was used by that firm.


[0] [2009-08-10 23:49:21] ZeroCool

My interviewer was a cute woman ! With big Heart !

[0] [2009-08-11 00:02:48] community_owned

There are loads of pants stories. My Evil Empire interview began with me arriving, hanging up my black pleated pants, and realizing I'd packed black pleated shorts. Same problem, mall didn't open before interview, so I did it in jeans.

Also heard of a woman whose skirt fell off right in the middle of an interview. She grabbed it and ran out.

[0] [2009-08-11 02:22:13] Ry

A political payoff to my dad. Me: 16 year old BASIC hacker. Job requirements: C, Unix, SQL experience. Alternatively, know someone that wants to score some points with your father. Learned a lot.

[0] [2009-08-11 02:33:46] community_owned

I would say shoot for internships. I interned at JPMorgan, then another bank the next summer that led to a job. You applied for like 20 places and only one responded. You gotta realize even if your qualifications are great somebody has to read them.

Carpet bomb companies with internship applications. You just gotta get that first "real job" and then the experience on your resume will make it 10x easier to get the next one.

[0] [2009-08-11 02:54:33] zimbu668

Does selling TI-85 BASIC programs in high school physics class count? We would collect data the first half of a class and then analyze it the second. Showing all of our work, of course. Well I found it far easier to write a BASIC program that gave answers for all the intermediate steps then actually computing it by hand. I didn't make a habit of it, but on at least one occasion I accepted financial compensation for transfering my program to a friends calculator.

[0] [2009-08-11 08:28:38] Jesper

A job fair was organized at the university I was studying at, about two weeks before I graduated. You could send your CV to the organizers, which would then be sent to the companies who were at the fair. I got invitations from about 12 different companies to come and see them for a short interview at the fair.

At the booth of my future first employer there was a guy who I knew, he was a few years older than me and had been the supervisor for a course that I did in my first year at the university. He recognized me, we had a short conversation, and he invited me to come for a job interview the following week.

At the job interview I got a programming test with questions about programming in C. I made the test, and then the interviewer took my answers and went away for a while. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes later he came back, asking me "Where did you learn C so well?!". I got the job.

Later the interviewer discovered that he left a paper with the answers in the room while I was doing the test. I swear I didn't see that paper while I was doing the test!

The first three or four years I programmed in C and C++, and since about 1999 I've been programming mainly in Java.

I'm no longer at my first employer, I started as an independent consultant in January 2009.

[0] [2009-08-11 10:07:02] community_owned

I graduated with a EE degree in 1994, which wasn't a hot time for hardware engineers (only 3 of 45 classmates had job before graduation). Took a job at Kinko's doing graphic design while looking for an engineering job and moved to Silicon Valley just to be closer to where the job might be.

One day at the mighty Westech job fair in Santa Clara (seriously this was the start of the internet boom and it was packed with employers), I handed my resume in for a small software house, right at the same time that some guy next to me was doing the same thing. The QA manager looked at both of us and said, "Let's just do a 2 for 1 right!" and interviewed both of us simultaneously right there and then! Being a hardware guy interviewing for a software job, I basically got my ass handed to me by the guy on my left.

But then I got the callback and went in for the interview and I was a QA engineer in no time. About three months later, I started programming an automated test framework for the company; the company's only software was developed on NeXTStep which had no off-the-shelf test automation tools.

And that's how I got my first programming job ...

[0] [2009-08-10 23:24:19] Scott

I had studied programming at university, but couldn't find a programming job. After several months I managed to get hired as a draftsman (had some experience from high school) and managed to wiggle my way into a programming job at the same company because they only had one programmer and he was working part-time remotely from the other side of the country while finishing his bachelor's degree.

The job was far from ideal. When I left, it was partly sad to leave certain things unfinished, but glad to be out of there.

[0] [2009-08-10 22:11:41] Steve Wortham

I got my first programming job a week after I graduated high school in 2001. It was primarily a network, server, and computer support company that my brother worked for at the time. They didn't have any programmers, but they had a need for a web developer & designer to come in and start a project with one of their customers.

Although my web development experience was severely lacking, at this point I already had a decent amount of programming experience because it had been a hobby of mine since age 12. So apparently they thought I had some potential and they hired me at $8/hr.

The whole idea for this company to even pursue web development was something of an experiment. And hiring someone as under-qualified as myself as their one and only developer may seem crazy. But then at $8/hr there's not much for them to lose. As far as I was concerned, the pay could've been better but what I was really after was the experience.

At first I primarily stuck to HTML and design work while learning on the job. I picked up ASP, SQL, and later ASP.NET while working on my first big project and learning from contractors. While I worked there the web development "department" eventually grew into a 3-man operation and became a very successful part of their business.

[0] [2009-08-10 22:42:24] community_owned

I started programming a website for a potential client 5 years ago. I knew little of programming (it was procedural php, yuk), but the client was impressed. He paid me well, and I'm still working with him now. Since then, I've worked in several companies as consultant, and today I got a 'lead developer' offering at a rate I couldn't dream of one year ago. I'm finally getting close to the position of 'work 3 months, leisure 9 months'. Harvest time.

By the way: One piece of advice: don't assume it's normal to become a "loan slave". Almost all IT jobs need independent professionals sometimes. It creates confidence, determination, passion, and a lot of free time. Be who you are, take the risk!

[0] [2009-08-10 22:44:14] ראובן

Grumman Aerospace came to my college campus to recruit (1983). It was the first interview I ever had. A week later, I got a letter saying I was hired. The rest, as we say, is history.

I was doing avionic software in AYK-14 assembly language for missile guidance.

[0] [2009-08-10 22:49:04] Alex C Schaefer

I had just graduated with a degree in Creative Writing (Poetry), and was working IT at the university. Granted, I'm not exactly Microsoft's wet dream, but I think I have a talant for this sort of thing (Compsci and I just didn't get along).

Two days after the iPhone was jailbroken, I got fedup with not having an Instant messenger client and decided to take what Cocoa I knew (which was embarrassing, in comparison to what I know now) and wrote ApolloIM, the very first instant messenger for the iPhone. It taught me a lot - more or less everything I missed in the remaining years of my abandoned Compsci major. A few months later, I was bored and looking at Craig's List LA (for no reason at all), and I saw an ad for iPhone developers. They called me up and hired me on 24 hours notice, and it's become the greatest job ever.

The startup life is a hard one - tough hours, unorthodox thinking helps and that's what I'm good at, and very patient coworkers got me feeling like I'm a professional at this point.

While all that is a nice story, I say take it with a grain of salt. Serendipity doesn't happen every day - get an internship, but most importantly, look at open source projects. Get your code out there and get people using it, and that'll get you motivated enough to get a programming job - and maybe if you're good / lucky enough, it'll happen.

[0] [2009-07-24 15:11:44] n8wrl

I was a sophomore in high-school in 1979 and the school district installed Apple II's everywhere, including the Community Education Department. The Community-Ed department wanted to use them to manage enrollment in classes - adult ed, GED, etc. I was taking my 2nd programming class and my teacher recommended me. At the time I was mowing lawns for $2/hr and had a TRS-80 at home. They hired me at $6/hr which was an ocean of money for me.

[0] [2009-08-10 21:52:02] TheDPQ

Got my foot in the door

I was originally hired to burn CDs, Print and Cut CD labels, and put everything together. :D They also wanted me to know a little HTML which lead to getting more involved with the developers. I taught myself ASP and CSS, and was hired full-time as a web developer.

Might be hard to want to take that sort of crappy job after getting a CS degree but I was still in HS at the time so I thought it was pretty amazing. ;)

A little bit later I did something similar with my current job. I got hired on as an internship, learn .NET, got hired as a full-time web developer, and now I'm have a nice contracting job with them doing .NET stuff.

Took some college classes but never got a degree. I think the first job they just wanted someone cheap and the 2nd one they just wanted someone to help the webmaster. The fact that i was willing, and able, to learn on the job was probably the biggest plus for them.

[0] [2009-08-10 19:46:37] markerikson

Graduated with a CS degree in 2004, but then spent four years teaching English in China. I worked on a number of personal programming projects during that time, both for fun and to keep my skills up. Before I got back, I did some looking on job sites and contacted a few companies. I also asked one of my former profs to check with some of his contacts. After he passed my resume to an older graduate working at a major defense contractor, they contacted me about an interview, and we scheduled it for about a week after I got back to the US.

The interview was actually way easier than I imagined. I was expecting in-depth questioning, Microsoft-style logic puzzles, and various coding exercises. Instead, it turned out to mostly be some basic questions about my CS background, my time in China, and me gleefully discussing my personal projects. They described some of the major products they have, and asked me which one sounded most interesting. The interview lasted about an hour, and a week later they gave me an offer.

I talked with my boss about it a couple months later, and he said their main concern was finding someone who had initiative and ability to learn - specific skills could be taught on the job.

[0] [2009-08-10 21:23:29] jemminger

I was working customer service for an insurance company. Hadn't had much exposure to computers prior to that aside from Atari Basic in 6th grade. My supervisor was impressed with how I developed some Word macros to make logging our calls easier and recommended I apply for the Systems department. I did and was hired, and worked on the Help Desk for about a year, when they promoted me to Supervisor. As the supervisor one of my responsibilities was to provide a weekly report of the Help Desk calls. We currently tracked them in Outlook tasks, so generating the report was a day-long affair. During the past year or so I had been teaching myself HTML to maintain my band's web page, along the way getting more into javascript and then server-side technologies to keep up with my desire to make more complicated things possible. I decided to write a ticket-tracking application to make my life easier. Fortunately I had a supportive boss that bought in to me doing so, and later even approved rolling the app to the whole company to use instead of emailing their issues in. This led to me moving to our web development department, and I've been soaking up various languages and frameworks ever since!

TL;DR: Self motivated, self taught, got my first 'official' development position after about three years of study and practice.

[0] [2009-08-10 21:35:04] sal

When I took Programming in C the TA put an example on the board


And then wrote some code to meant to evaluate logical expressions. This was to teach the concept of precedence order I think.

I asked if it might be a better idea to set TRUE to 0xFFFF so you can reuse the bitwise operators in C and not have to write our own.

He liked my question enough to get me an interview for a student programming position at one of the schools labs.

[0] [2010-01-13 16:18:17] pho3nix

I started programming in a GIS company like ESRI, in Portugal, your name is Municipia. And developing maps and software for GIS clients. Next i changed company and always scaling up, and for note i have a College degree.

[0] [2010-11-23 15:18:13] TheFallibleFiend

First part-time job was through a friend who needed help. We were both in college and he needed to get some help on something. He had gone out of town and needed someone to fix a problem for one of his customers. That was only a few hours of work on one day.

First full-time job was an internship which was recommended to me by a second friend. Three semesters - really learned a crapload of stuff about work environments. It's not just about programming, but about working with other people and figuring out what the company needs. Sounds obvious, but it's not so clear when you're starting out.

First job after school was with a long-distance carrier working with the same friend in the first paragraph who had moved on.

Currently in a job that was created for me by an acquaintance. (Seriously, he invented a position for me, then tracked me down and convinced the company to make me an offer.) This was an odd situation, because I barely knew this fellow. He used to call me all the time asking for help. He started cussing at me once on the phone and I threatened to hang up on him. I hardly heard from him again, but after I went to another company, he tracked me down.

I've also turned down other positions with friends and acquaintances. I've only had two jobs that I didn't get through people I knew.

A strong recommendation from a well-connected prof is like gold, but more than your professors, your peers - friends, fellow students, other colleagues - realize who's doing what on projects. And when they find themselves in need of help, they'll remember.

[0] [2009-12-24 07:11:54] Michael Sandler

I did a 3 year CS degree, worked for just over a year, and then left it all and went to a Rabbinical seminary for about 8 or 9 years. I thought I would never got back to programming, and got a full-time job teaching when I got married. Within a few months I was clearly and definitely forced to acknowledge that I was not a good teacher, even if I loved the material and knew it well.

My new wife and I went into panic mode when we decided I should quit at the end of the year, although the principal was relieved, and I started looking for work in computers again having been out of the industry entirely for 10 full years. I didn't think that being a white male in South Africa helped, either.

I sent out my CV to various likely placement companies and answered some job ads directly, but the job I eventually got came through my step-dad who sings in a choir with my eventual boss. He heard that my boss was looking for a replacement for a retiring colleague, and I got an interview after I sent in my CV.

There were some programming questions, some general knowledge questions and some strategic questions about how to approach various geological problems (it was a mapping company). I answered to the best of my ability and was impressed by the intelligence of the people I met.

When they offered me a job I was pathetically grateful, and will always be, and I wasn’t about to turn it down whatever the salary. I would be earning more than my teaching job (which wasn’t hard), so it was a good deal all round.

A few months later, when I was feeling particularly sensitive to how long it was taking me to get up to speed in the programming skills and specialist knowledge I needed to work in the company, I asked my boss straight out, ‘Why did you hire me?’

He answered that they liked the answers I gave in the interview, even the wrong ones, because I was able to reason properly, and they thought I would be able to quickly learn what was required. He said that most of the candidates were simply unable to answer intelligently or couldn’t get past the questions in domains they had never seen before. This ability to reason I developed while studying to be Rabbi!

Subsequently I moved to a software company where code is their core business and not just a support arm, but my re-entry into IT was because someone knew someone who knew someone looking for a programmer who valued potential more than experience.

[0] [2009-12-24 07:18:58] fastcodejava

I tried to look for a programming job in 1995. I could not get any because I didn't comp sci major and I did not fudge the resume. I lived in a guest house of a recruiting company for four months. Still nothing came I almost gave up. I went to India and got a call after a month. I got the job!

[0] [2009-08-11 15:37:15] Chris Cameron-Mills

Did you start with internships?

Apart from some basic SQL queries (picked up from my limited MySQL experience at the time) I ran to help my manager at an electronics store estimate profit gain from merging stock my first programming job was an internship. Well - it was my industrial placement year that was an optional part of my BSc between the 2nd and final years but it was paid (and the highest paid placement available).

Did you get lucky and stumble on your ideal job immediately?

I don't like to put it down to luck only. The placement was with a British governmental department and was renowned as one of the best placements available, particularly for someone interested in programming. To ensure they got good students every year they were usually one of the first to hire since it gives them the best choice.

I went along for the interview in front of 3 people who asked questions ranging from business to technical. I sat an hour-long technical test which included questions on some technology that was not expected of a student to know but I later found out I scored the highest anyone had ever scored on the test (it was basically to filter out those who were clearly not programming inclined, I saw some awful answers when I marked the exams the following year).

Did you find a local small software house and send your CV off? How?

Did you go through graduate recruitment?

During my placement year with the government I met and worked with a group of guys who had recently formed their own start-up. I guess I must have done something right during my year because they offered me work during my final year of University and I came back as an employee shortly after I graduated. I have been happily working there since (1-2 years now) and would also thoroughly recommend working for a start-up for someone beginning their career. It can be quite hard work but you definitely feel like you are contributing and it's exciting to see the company grow.

[0] [2009-08-11 16:19:01] Leprechaun

I started computing quite late by most standards. My parents got a computer for their business in the early nineties, but I only played Ultima and X-Wing commander. When I was 15, my parents thought it was a good idea to get me a computer to do my homework, oddly enough, as I was barely passing most subjects. I didn't do anymore homework than I did and eventually flunked out of the private highschool I was at. I did eventually get bored of playing counter-strike, and started doing something somewhat productive. I started playing around with Linux and programming. When my dad realized that I had a server rack in my closet (router, firewall, dns, smtp, http etc) he made a few phone calls, and got me an internship. I started out writing a bugtracker for this company in ASP (VBS) with Access, then jumped onto working on ad-hoc tools for the application they were developing. It came to an abrupt end when they got me working on crystal reports and were starting to hesitate to pay me, I bailed. I got screwed money wise, but I got 4 months of experience, had great coworkers to harasss and ask questions ranging from the inane to existential and knew I wanted to stick to programming. I have, and i'm happy about it :)