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Start Me Up

Posted on 10 August 2008

I recently accepted an offer to be a Web Developer for an Internet startup whose clients include E*TRADE and Apple. I will be making a substantial salary along with a good benefits package. How did I land this job? I hope my story is inspirational for other recent graduates who do not possess a computer science degree or any technical skills, but would like to work in the tech industry.

I graduated with a degree in general biology. I never took an Art, Design, Computer, Business or any other useful tech course. Until the beginning of this year, I didn’t even know how to move files from one folder to another.

Armed with a pathetic resume, a useless degree and no sense of direction, I set out to find a job. I had nothing marketable in my “skill set.” So, unsurprisingly, the only job I could find was a low-paying data-entry position. By the third day, I was hating it, and set August 1 as quitting day, whether I had a job lined up or not.

To my credit, two weeks earlier, I had made a resolution to learn about computers and technology. I felt I would never catch up with friends who had been into computers since before the advent of the Internet or be able to compete with all of the computer science and business graduates in the market. It was a dark time.

I requested a catalog from a local community college that offered Web design courses. I read through the catalog, came upon a sample class, and found the writing style of the instructor encouraging in its layman language. So I signed up. Other than my consternation that the “u” in “mark up” was not properly represented in the HTML acronym, I was delighted with my courses. Soon I was attempting to create my own Web pages. I bought the recommended reading books for further study, and registered for a few more classes. Learning something new every night felt good.

I put my resume online, peppering it with keywords such as HTML, CGI, JavaScript, Web, design, code and Paintshop. By then, I had three samples to show.

One day, I received an email from an Internet startup. I called and set up a meeting. They had seen my samples and wanted to see what I was all about, even though I was obviously green. At the interview I was blown away. I had no idea what they were talking about. They wanted somebody who could “translate Photoshop to HTML” – what that meant, I had no idea. I didn’t even have a copy of Photoshop, just seven days left on my evaluation copy of Paintshop Pro 6. Lucky for me, my friend had a copy I could use. I built a new page using graphics I created in my newly acquired copy of Photoshop and redid my “Samples” Web page.

Then I got an email requesting a meeting with the cofounder of a different Web design startup. I nervously did my research and prepared my spiel. These were real designers, real tech people. I had only three-and-a-half months of self-study and four crappy samples under my belt. They expected even more from a new designer than the first firm I interviewed with! So I went home that night and began work on a sample that incorporated information I had gleaned from the interview. I was rewarded with a follow-up interview.

At the next interview, I told them that in one week I would create a site, using every skill they wanted (“Flash 4, too? No problem!”). It took a week. I sent them the URL and received a response the very next day. This time, the email I received asked for references. A few days later I received the call. They told me that though they were looking for somebody with more experience in the field, my enthusiasm and my willingness to tackle new technology had sold them. I was in.

So, five months, four online classes, 11 books and 700-plus dollars later, I have entered the wacky world of startups. Creating something from nothing, I knuckled down and made it in a highly competitive job market. I am proud.

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