The overall economy still sucks — I read that this is not just the US, but a global problem. Meanwhile, in my little corner of the world, I run into people everyday who are frustrated that they can’t find good Rails engineers to hire. I’ve written that companies need to hire people who are good engineers and don’t (yet) know Rails. I also talk to a lot of unemployed engineers — people laid off from .NET, java or management and young people who are struggling to find their first (good) job. This blog post is for those folks. There are some key skills that are different and that you can (and need to) start to acquire before you can easily find a job.
I find that most engineers can learn the tech, but think they need a job to demonstrate that they know it. Therein lies the issue. It appears to be a chicken-and-egg problem, but it is in fact a gap in skillset. It is common for me to run into engineers who say they have been learning Ruby and Rails for months or years, but I google their name and don’t see anything they have published –no blog post, no tutorials, answers on mailing lists, bug reports, or patches. If you have tried to learn something, then you must have run into an issue with it. If you have built an app, used a gem — if you live in this world and write any kind of software, you have run into missing documentation, you have worked around an issue or solved a configuration problem. Working in open source, experienced engineers publish or patch issues that they find. If you haven’t documented or fixed issues, a hiring manager has to wonder: did you really build something? did you just follow someone else’s tutorial? are you someone who will push themselves? would you even notice if something wasn’t right? If you don’t participate it undermines your credibility.
The good news is this is easy to remedy. Don’t feel you have to start with a big project. It is better if you start with something small. Just continue to do your own development and whenever you run into an issue, really dig into it. Then publish what you discover. Whether it is a bug or a feature someone else will need the answer you just discovered. If it is a bug, report it. If you think you can fix it, submit a patch or github pull request.
- start hanging out in a Ruby or Rails forum or stack overflow and answer questions that you know or can find the answer to. Provide links to resources, not just answers. Do it in a friendly tone with humility or just give a simple answer. This is will sharpen your skills and start to build a little credibility.
- start a blog, write a short synopsis with a code snippet or reference to github repo with an example whenever you learn something, anything that you can imagine someone else might run into or you want to remember
- add your profile to workingwithrails.com
- show up at your local meetups, introduce yourself to a few people who look like they don’t know anyone
- start a study group
- volunteer for railsbridge (seriously, you could just show up on the mailing list and ask what needs doing, say what your skills are and what you would like to do)
While you are looking for paid work, plan to spend a significant amount of time honing your skills by solving some real problems. In looking for a Rails job, that activity will serve you better than more hours polishing your resume. Focus on being very good at whatever you do know and enjoy doing. Understand the results that you can achieve. Develop your own sense about what is great Ruby code, but be open to not having all the answers. Once you get fairly good at something and have written code for it, consider publishing it as a gem. There are plenty of bugs to be fixed and problems to be solved.