The Code Is Not Enough

The Code Is Not Enough
Written by
Alexandra Macias
April 20, 2022
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Why do junior developer job postings require years of experience, and how can recent graduates bypass them? It’s time to recognize the importance of practical experience.

Fueled by decades of rapid expansion in demand for its wares, the high-tech industry is seemingly always in a state of crisis when it comes to employment. Even with specialized bootcamps supplementing university and college degrees, it sure seems like there are a lot of vacancies. 

Some of it can be explained by the unprecedented growth in funding, and then there’s the increased job mobility in a post-Covid world—but that’s not all. Even with the demand outstripping supply, many companies are still quite selective about who they hire, especially in terms of experience. 

While there are numerous benefits to hiring juniors—they don’t need to unlearn previous practices and can be taught company processes more efficiently—the amount of time and energy required to train junior staff comes at the expense of execution speed. Big companies with established training programs can afford to train and execute in parallel. For SMBs, especially start-ups with ambitious product delivery timelines, juniors are often too costly. 

The apparent issue with this situation is the chicken-and-egg problem: gaining enough experience to be an attractive recruitment target requires getting hired in the first place. In my conversations with recent graduates of academic programs and bootcamps, it comes up time after time—finding your first job is a difficult task unless you already have practical experience. 

But what about the academic programs those juniors graduated from? They primarily focus on teaching core concepts and tools, not the real-life skills that coders need to succeed. And while many programs include internships, interns’ ability to gain experience is closely tied to the willingness of their supervisor to give them meaningful tasks.

And so, here we are. More and more junior developer positions have a ridiculous “3+ years of experience” requirement, while many juniors struggle to get their feet in the door of the industry. And even with the curriculums continuously updated based on current trends, the experience gap is much more challenging. 

There are several things students and recent graduates can do to get ahead of this issue. And while I understand that studying is hard in itself, if you have even a bit of time to expand on a real-life experience component, it’s going to be worth it. How? There are several ways, in addition to internships: each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Personal projects are a great way to put your newly acquired knowledge to the test. Find a thing you’re passionate about, don’t go overboard with its scope, and build it in your free time. You can, and should, read more about the importance of such projects from Wilco’s CTO, Shem Magnezi. The main advantage of a personal project is that you set the pace, and there aren’t any deadlines. That said, you’ll be working alone, and some of the skills developers need are all about teamwork. 

Group projects can provide you with both development and teamwork, in addition to things like experiencing a production environment and having to work with other people’s code. There’s no shortage of open-source projects which are friendly to juniors. Find something you’d like to improve in one of them, join the community, and go ahead. That said, when people are relying on you, the commitment is similar to a job—just one you’re not getting paid for.  

While there’s not much we can say about Wilco right now, one of its purposes is to help students and new graduates gain practical experience. And we’re already seeing some promising results in our beta. So if you represent an academic program that trains developers or a professional bootcamp, let’s talk. And if you’re a student, our waitlist is already open.