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Get a job with just an OCA?

 
Grant Robertson
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I am taking a series of courses which are offered for free to veterans through the Austin Community College Continuing Education division. It consists of about eight, relatively short courses. The Texas Veterans Commission is paying about $4000 for this entire series of courses. At the end (some time in September), I will supposedly be ready to pass the OCA exam. On the web page for this program they list the average pay for a programmer as $47 per hour. I have heard from others who are a little farther along in the program that the instructor has told them they will be able to actually get a job with just the OCA 7 certification because, "[They] will then know enough to get started, and the employer will train [them] on the rest."

Considering that almost all of the job ads that I have seen are calling for Sr. developers with at least five years of experience and even Jr. programmers are expected to have at least three years of experience and know some pretty esoteric technologies, I highly doubt that the claims of this program are accurate. Not only do I find it hard to believe that someone who has barely programmed at all in their life can get a job with just the OCA 7 cert, but I also doubt, if one were able to snag one of those rare "apprentice" positions that it would pay anywhere near $47 per hour.

What are your thoughts?
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Grant,
I wouldn't hire someone with *just* an OCA. (You have more than that though - read on). An OCA on its own shows an extremely bare minimum of programming ability. It's certainly better than nothing. For an entry level position, employers generally like to see some experience. It's often a college degree and internship. It could be some practice programs on github though.

The good thing is that you aren't looking for a junior developer job. You are looking for an entry level/trainee job. Which only require (minimal) experience for two reasons:
1) To prove you can hold down a job, are responsible, etc. As a veteran, you've got this part nailed down. Serving our country is certainly a job that proves you are responsible and can work with others!
2) To prove you can code. The cert helps with this. As does posting code online.

Whether you can actually get a job with your experience + OCA + posting a bit of code is going to depend on regional employment patterns. So I can't tell you yes or no. I do think that writing code yourself and posting it online is likely to make a difference. That small portfolio sets you apart from others in the class who just took the test. It will also help you interview better.

Another piece of advice is to go to the local Austin Java User Group. Talking to people in your area who are developers will get you in tune with those regional employment patterns. It also might help with networking/actually finding a job.

One other note: pay tends to increase rapidly for the first few years. So if you can afford a lower paying position for your first programming job, take it. You can change jobs in a year and then have experience to point to for a good sized jump. Getting your foot in the door is a huge first step.
 
Blake Edward
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Grant,

Number one, thanks for serving! It is hard to know what kind of job you will be able to land with just these courses and the certification. But once those are under your belt finding an entry level job might not be that hard. I completely changed careers three years ago by putting myself though a local certificate program and creating a resume that included front end development work. Once I got into the right interview (you can feel it), just telling them that "yes, I can do that", seemed to work, because at the end of the day I knew I would figure it out. After three years I have a great title "Technical Lead" but I still have lots to learn and I still don't make as much money as I should. I work indirectly for a large chip manufacturer here in Oregon. However, the company I work for directly isn't that great with training or mentoring. I got to where I am by just saying "yes" and if I have to go home and figure it out, that's what I do. But it gets done.

This giant company that I work for has several campuses here in the Portland area, and we just moved to a new location. Luck of the draw has me sitting right next to the lead and principal Java developers for the content management system that we use to publish the web site that we manage. Just sitting close to these guys and hearing their conversations lets me know that I have a ways to go. But they are great models for success. I watch them work together and see actual mentoring going on and it makes me wonder how much further along I would be if I had that kind of support within my own company.

So, in many ways I'm lucky to have an IT job, lucky to be "inside" the company I work for, but the initial entry level job has played itself out. I guess after all that I've typed, this is what I'm getting at. I think entry level jobs are pretty easy to get if you have a solid background and some examples of your new skills. It's that next job that's hard to find, especially if you find yourself in a position where you are self taught to a great degree and kind of know that you still aren't ready to apply for that next job that requires a skill set you should have under your belt. So be wary of just being a warm body for someone and try, at all costs, to find an employer that will offer you training and mentorship. Also, don't be afraid to say yes when they ask if you can do something, especially if you get to build it from scratch. Fixing other peoples problems is a whole 'nother thing.

Anyway, I am surprised at the amount of work it has required of me, and will require of me, to reach that junior java developer level. I'm still not there yet.

Good luck to you. I think joining your local java users group, building small programs - things that make your life easier - and having a GitHub account where you store these things is a great way to start separating yourself from the pack. Also, a hot thing right now is doing back end development for companies that use Adobe's AEM. That is what we use and it is built in java. You might find an entry level job there because there is pretty high demand for skilled coders.

Anyway, sorry to ramble, but I can relate to what you are doing and it can be done.

Blake
 
Grant Robertson
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Jeanne & Blake,

Thank you for your responses. I had originally asked the question because I was a bit incredulous as to the claims of both the community college's web site and the instructor. I will be sure to pass on your advice to the others in the program.

However, since we are on the subject of MY career: perhaps I should give a bit more information about myself.

  • I am probably a bit older than most other veterans in the program. I got out of the Marine Corps in 1988, having gone in when I was 23. So that makes me almost 55 now.
  • I have a long work history since my time in the military. I did avionics in the USMC, electronics for several years, then moved into network management where I was a network manager of a hospital for a while and also had my own business as an independent consultant.
  • I first taught myself to program in BASIC on the Radio Shack Model One back in 1976 but never really did anything with it other than tinker.
  • I went back to school to finish my Bachelor's in 2005 and eventually evolved my degree into a combined degree in computer science and education. I have studied the full gamut from assembler on programmable logic controllers to C++ to Java, with most courses using the latter. Java is also my favorite language. I still have five credits left to finish for that degree but I have a 3.63 overall GPA and a 4.0 in my major.
  • I taught myself XML and XML-Schema so I could devise a standard for distributable educational material, which I called Distributable Educational Material Markup Language (DEMML). I had a web site descrbing it but had to give up the domain name due to financial reasons. Yes, I was too broke to pay the yearly registration fee.
  • My resume looks like crap for the years since I stopped going to school because I had gotten into a relationship with someone who found it necessary to move out of any city we had lived in for more than a few months. This was due to mental health issues on her part, I can understand some of it, and I willingly made those moves because I loved her. But it still left my resume in a shambles.
  • I do plan to finish that last five credits and get my Bachelor's but it will take me a while to save up the money for that.

  • So, now I am trying to pick up the pieces of my life.

    I am a mature, skilled programmer (in that I design what I do rather than hack it together, and I organize my code so others will be able to easily understand it) but I still only know what they teach in college. All of my coding has been homework problems. I have a pretty high IQ and easily understand complex systems and data structures. However, it has been five years since I have done any coding at all. I am now working through the OCA 8 book and will then work through The Java Tutorials while waiting for the OCP 8 book to come out at the end of June. The veterans program I am in won't finish till around (or after) September. I hope to have passed the OCA 8 exam early and actually be ready to take the OCP 8 exam by then.

    Once I have saved up enough money to be able to move to a different city, I will start looking for and applying to jobs almost anywhere in the country. It seems there is just too much competition from very highly skilled people here in Austin. A lot of people are moving here from the SF Bay Area because this is supposed to be a cool town for hipsters with hot job prospects. That is leaving me a bit out in the cold. I NEVER see entry-level/trainee positions listed here.

    I have joined the Austin Java Users Group. However, the job I have requires me to work a lot of evenings and they will not grant time off requests for something like club meetings. So, I can only go to a meeting if I just happen to not be scheduled to work that night.

    Again, thanks for your advice and encouragement.
    Grant
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Grant,
    Having a degree is also helpful. Especially with the 4.0 in your major!

    Grant Robertson wrote:I am probably a bit older than most other veterans in the program. I got out of the Marine Corps in 1988, having gone in when I was 23. So that makes me almost 55 now.

    This might be a challenge as well. Some companies practice age discrimination. Which is sad. And I suspect more likely to happen on an entry level position. The good thing is that you have experience in a number of domains. Which means you have a huge advantage of understanding "the business" in those areas.

    Grant Robertson wrote:while waiting for the OCP 8 book to come out at the end of June.

    I'm guessing this is about Scott and my book. Amazon lies. I don't know where they got June from because the OCP 8 book was *never* scheduled come out in June. (My best guess is Sept-Oct.) I can tell you there is a zero percent chance of it coming out in June.
     
    Grant Robertson
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    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:... about Scott and my book. Amazon lies. I don't know where they got June from because the OCP 8 book was *never* scheduled come out in June. (My best guess is Sept-Oct.) I can tell you there is a zero percent chance of it coming out in June.


    Thanks for the warning. I'll have to adjust my schedule. Maybe I'll have to just settle for the OCP 7 exam. I'll see.
     
    Roel De Nijs
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    Grant Robertson wrote:Maybe I'll have to just settle for the OCP 7 exam. I'll see.

    Remember it's currently not allowed to combine different version certifications. So if you decide to go for OCP7, you'll have to take (and pass) OCA7 in order to get your OCP certification.
     
    Grant Robertson
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    Roel De Nijs wrote:
    Grant Robertson wrote:Maybe I'll have to just settle for the OCP 7 exam. I'll see.

    Remember it's currently not allowed to combine different version certifications. So if you decide to go for OCP7, you'll have to take (and pass) OCA7 in order to get your OCP certification.


    Yes, I saw that in another post. I think my new strategy will be to go for the OCA & OCP for SE 7, then upgrade to OCP 8 later. That way I will essentially be OCP for both 7 and 8. The OCA/OCP 7 book is already out and when the OCP 8 book comes out, I can use it to study for the upgrade exam.

    For other newbies reading: Don't rely on any one book. Use the OCA and OCP study guides as just that: guides. For each topic mentioned in the guides, go and look that topic up in several other books and make sure you understand the explanations in ALL of them. Then write some code. Write lots of code.
     
    Guillermo Ishi
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    Grant Robertson wrote:
    Considering that almost all of the job ads that I have seen are calling for Sr. developers with at least five years of experience...
    What are your thoughts?


    A couple of years ago I was in Austin job hunting and couldn't even get arrested, as they say. Did not get a single interview. I got one response that I could have followed up on better that could possibly have turned into something.

    If your college will help set you up with someone that's a different thing. If you know someone locally who can set you up that's good too - use your spare time to make connections there. My experience is Austin's reputation as little silicon valley was Texas-sized b.s. I like Austin except for that though.

    Job Services in Austin is very strange. They sit you in front of a computer, if you don't have one and can't do this at home, and you scour ads that the Job Services site has pulled from other sites. The listings you will see are scoured from a site that was scoured from a site that was scoured from an original posting somewhere. And you are competing with recruiters who use those exact same listings, and not only that, those listings are available all over the entire world. And some of those listings are disguised to look like an original listing but are really a recruiter, or even some kind of junk site. Sometimes you can google quoted strings and discover the original posting on a company site. But of course they've gotten fifty million resumes. One guy said Monster worked well there and that employers who didn't want bs used it some. I didn't try that.

    But --- you are doing the right thing. If you enjoy programming and make steady progress just keep plugging away and you will make it. Success is 99% just plugging away until that break comes.

    Also, you will read posts saying the oca just covers the basics and also that it doesn't tell measure how well you program. It covers just the basics, but it is not an easy test. It looks to me like basics is the hardest part of java. Like Basic Training is in the military. And it's true it doesn't measure your programming skills, but it definitely measures how well you know java.

     
    Jayesh A Lalwani
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    Grant,

    Just trying to provide more options to you to think about. Have you thought about going into DevOps. I see you have some IT Ops experience, and you have some Dev training, and are continuing to go through more Dev training. How fresh is your Ops experience?

    DevOps is a function that blends these 2 skills. There is a huge need to automate a lot of IT Ops. Over the past 10 years, IT infrastructure has grown so large that it's becoming impossible for a mid-large size company to manually perform Ops. As a result, they are automating the Ops function. There is a huge shortage of good DevOps engineers right now. A lot of Devs don;t know enough about managing OS to be able to do Ops, and a lot of Ops don't have the programming knowledge to automate their tasks.

    I;m sorry I can't search job boards from work. You might want to explore for jobs that say DevOps, or IT automation, or Operational Automation, or Build Automation. Or google for technologies like Chef and Puppet. I can bet you will find a good number of jobs. Maybe not as many jobs as development jobs, but you will be competing against a smaller pool of candidates

    All in all, don't get hung up on getting a developer job. The field of IT development is going through a renaissance right now, in the sense that a lot more people are trying to use IT to solve IT problems. IT is trying to automate everything from requirements gathering to management of web sites. There are a lot more programming jobs than developer jobs
     
    Roel De Nijs
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    Grant Robertson wrote:I think my new strategy will be to go for the OCA & OCP for SE 7, then upgrade to OCP 8 later. That way I will essentially be OCP for both 7 and 8. The OCA/OCP 7 book is already out and when the OCP 8 book comes out, I can use it to study for the upgrade exam.

    That's definitely a valid strategy to become OCPJP8 certified. And with K&B7 you probably have the best study guide out there.

    Grant Robertson wrote:For other newbies reading: Don't rely on any one book. Use the OCA and OCP study guides as just that: guides. For each topic mentioned in the guides, go and look that topic up in several other books and make sure you understand the explanations in ALL of them.

    You forgot these forums And you have the free online Oracle tutorials as well.

    Grant Robertson wrote:Then write some code. Write lots of code.

    Absolutely! Writing lots of code and experimenting with code snippets is a very important part of your preparation, preferrably using your favourite text editor with javac and java (instead of an IDE).
     
    Grant Robertson
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    Jayesh A Lalwani wrote:Grant,

    Just trying to provide more options to you to think about. Have you thought about going into DevOps. I see you have some IT Ops experience, and you have some Dev training, and are continuing to go through more Dev training. How fresh is your Ops experience?


    Sorry to be so late getting back to you. I don't seem to be getting notifications from these forums.

    I was just a basic network manager. Not a whole lot of scripting of big processes involved. Mostly lots of cabling, switch configuration, and tons of deskside support. Besides, I am primarily interested in UI design. And not your basic Swing stuff. I have ideas for completely new ways to interact with computers and data. I know desktop application development in Java is practically ignored these days but I think great things can be done in that arena that no one else is getting into. Any time one is working in Java EE one is limited to what JavaScript can do in a browser, as far as actual UI goes. I don't like being so limited. So, I know I will be in a small niche. However, if I am very good in that niche, I think I will be able to find plenty of work.
     
    Guillermo Ishi
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    Grant Robertson wrote: I have ideas for completely new ways to interact with computers and data. I know desktop application development in Java is practically ignored these days but I think great things can be done in that arena that no one else is getting into.

    What are the new ideas? I think there are good reasons desktop is increasingly ignored in favor of web applications. So there would have to be some essential reason it had to be a desktop.
     
    chris webster
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    I think Guillermo's right. You don't see much desktop Java development these days, so any niche you try to create for yourself will have to be pretty persuasive if you want people to buy into it. Apart from an IDE and a GUI text editor, pretty much all the tools I use these days run either via the command-line or in the browser.

    You might be better off learning more about JavaScript, CSS, HTML5 etc and maybe see if you can do what you want on a platform most people are comfortable with. I'm not a UI person, but I am frequently amazed at what people can achieve in the browser these days.
     
    Guillermo Ishi
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    I've known several guys with completely new ways to interact with computers and data, or new methods of transportation, what have you. It seems the good stuff is arrived at incrementally and slowly, and hair-brained stuff is like this is cool, I'll do it. Or it's stranger or less sophisticated than its creator thinks it is. The interesting stuff seems to originate more from insiders and the less interesting more from outsiders. Although there is plenty of overlap! First, it has to be useful and it has to have a place in the marketplace. You have to be honest with yourself and allow your ideas to morph over time into something really useful that people will pay for, or you might decide to use some aspect of it in something completely different from the original thing. It's an iterative thing. I guess I would just buckle down and pass the exam and start working as a programmer first as a kind of sanity check, which is something we all can use a lot of, and then take it from there.
     
    Grant Robertson
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    chris webster wrote:I think Guillermo's right. You don't see much desktop Java development these days, so any niche you try to create for yourself will have to be pretty persuasive if you want people to buy into it. Apart from an IDE and a GUI text editor, pretty much all the tools I use these days run either via the command-line or in the browser.

    You might be better off learning more about JavaScript, CSS, HTML5 etc and maybe see if you can do what you want on a platform most people are comfortable with. I'm not a UI person, but I am frequently amazed at what people can achieve in the browser these days.


    While I appreciate your concern, this thread is not the right place to discuss my ideas or my career direction choices. What I will say is that I do not expect to change the way "everyone" works with computers. But there are some niche areas where different or additional user interface elements would be really handy. Just a few years ago if someone said that gestures would be a big thing, most people would have told them they were crazy and that they needed to focus on mouse-click and drag-n-drop event handlers. Now we have VR helmets with Leap Motion controllers attached. Somebody has got to write code for those things. Somebody has got to see past what everyone else can see as an immediate marketing opportunity. Besides, if Java is going to be relegated to just pulling data out of databases and sending it to JavaScript front ends running in browsers, then why would anyone want to continue in Java at all? I think amazing thing can be done with Java on the front end. Far more amazing than what can be done with JavaScript in a browser.

    To sum up: I plan to get my OCA 7 and OCP 7 certifications then upgrade to OCP 8. I plan to get a regular programming job, focusing on the desktop client end if I can. Lots of businesses still do that stuff, though perhaps not the most Slashdot worthy startups. I will continue to work on my ideas on my own time and try to get positions where I can do what I am most interested in. I also hope to go to grad school where I can work on my ideas in a greater capacity.
     
    Roel De Nijs
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    Grant Robertson wrote:I think amazing thing can be done with Java on the front end. Far more amazing than what can be done with JavaScript in a browser.

    True! And I think Oracle agrees with you as well based on their effort on JavaFX which has support for both desktop computers and web browsers and is intended to replace the beloved Swing framework. I believe 2 years ago (or maybe last year) I saw this very cool demo of container terminal monitoring with 3D JavaFX


    Grant Robertson wrote:To sum up: I plan to get my OCA 7 and OCP 7 certifications then upgrade to OCP 8. I plan to get a regular programming job, focusing on the desktop client end if I can. Lots of businesses still do that stuff, though perhaps not the most Slashdot worthy startups. I will continue to work on my ideas on my own time and try to get positions where I can do what I am most interested in. I also hope to go to grad school where I can work on my ideas in a greater capacity.

    Sounds like a very solid and realistic career path. Best of luck! Already looking forward to your doubts/questions you might have when studying for the OCA 7
     
    Grant Robertson
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    Roel De Nijs wrote:
    Sounds like a very solid and realistic career path. Best of luck! Already looking forward to your doubts/questions you might have when studying for the OCA 7


    Thanks
     
    Guillermo Ishi
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    I've just seen what I think I'm seeing so many times. And you not being willing to discuss it is part of it. With the background you have at this point, it has been done or rejected if it was worth considering. There are other really, really, smart people out there, astoundingly smart people, not just you.

    And the more revolutionary something is, the longer you'll have to wait. If you have live videos of a container yard and you can click on a container and a truck driver goes and gets it, cool and groovy, but you will run into trouble if you expect people to buy it for that reason, because they're already doing just fine. All the new gadgets appearing "out of nowhere" have been in development for twenty years. If you to code the stuff, fine, I like that too. If you want to innovate too, fine, but make sure you're keepin it real.

     
    Colton Bryant
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    I just read your reponse to Grant the veteran wondering if OCA is enough to get a job. I am in a kinda similar circumstance and need some helpful advice. I am a graduate from Villanova University this past year. I originally started to pursue a degree in CSC and could not finish around mid way due to being on the D1 soccer team. It got to a point where I couldn't find the time to finish labs and debugging code and was consistently asking for extenstions for my professors. I had a scholarship so was kinda at the mercy of my coach on my priorties. I was very interested in CSC but had to drop the major and just got the concentration in CSC. I am trying to pick up where I left off.

    In school before I dropped CSC I was in the medium range classes of the CSC major. I am a good coder and know Java, Python, CSS and HTML from my Villanova classes. I taught myself C++ after I graduated last summer but I am still trying to become proficient in that. Most recently I am currently in a course that is teaching Oracle 11g SQL and is said be put me ontrack to be a DBA and it is a 14 week class every Saturday 9-5pm and gets me the Certification at the end (OCA OCP). I have found the same course (my teacher has literally said some of the same things as the videos) on Youtube and it is free and then I could just take the $150 and $250 test afterwards through the Oracle site. Money is tight right now and I am wondering if this was my smartest investment. I see that Oracle has a certification in Java which I am more proficient in and I would assume a couple of weeks of relearning could possibly have me ready for the Oracle certification and a fraction of the price and time. Would you hire me with my creditials right now for an entry level or am in for a 3 or 4 year process of more school and test?

    Obviously I wasn't an english major hopefully you can cypher this.
    Here is the course I found online (is this sufficient? in training for the certificate?): https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLL_LQvNX4xKwbz1aJe0RofbT9YeJH9huQ

    TL;DR Made it half-way though CSC major because of being a D1 student-Athlete. Am I an idoit for investing $5000 in a brand new language since i already know Java and C++ just for the Oracle certification?

     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Colton,
    Welcome to CodeRanch!

    You have a few things going for you:
  • a college degree (a degree in "anything" is a leg up over someone without a degree
  • a certification (forward looking statement)
  • a concentration in computers
  • knowledge of a bunch of languages


  • What you don't have:
  • experience


  • Which means you should focus on things that can get you evidence that you know how to code. Writing code for fun and putting it on github helps with that. I think you are fine for an entry level job with the exception of experience. You need to focus on that to show you can code.

    Paying for DBA class/certification is like taking another class. It's not a waste of money, but it might not be necessary. What it does help you with is to apply for different types of jobs. I recommend you create two resumes/CVs. One focusing on "I want to be a programmer" and one focusing on "I want to work with databases". I think it would have been a better investment of time/money to take the Java OCA since you have way more experience in that area. But you've already started the DBA course. Also, SQL is an important skill as a developer so it isn't like you are worse off.
     
    Blake Edward
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    Is an OCA enough? Maybe with some terrific work to show along with it. I have been padding my resume with technical skills for four years. I have a BFA, a Digital Design certificate from a local college, and various things I have built: Android app, Java app, all sorts of front end dev work that employs javascript and jQuery. I manage a SQL database at work and just finished writing a complete app in Java that uses a MySQL DB, all of which I coded and set up myself. I still lack the OCA and a certain amount of confidence in my skills. But honestly, I would be a good hire at many places.

    However, the real world situation is this. There are lots of really smart, young developers out there that can code circles around me. Also, most Fortune 500 companies have a hiring criteria which means you graduated from a certain university (they have a short list of American, European, Indian, Chinese Uni's) with a certain GPA and a specific degree. If you don't have this then it's over real quick. I work within one of these companies right now (contingent worker status), but not for them. I will never be able to work for them. The real point here and the best advice I could ever give to a graduate that still has most of their twenties in front of them is simply do what you love. Even if you graduated with a concentration in CSC and what you really want to do is write screenplays, then go write screenplays. Do the thing that you naturally think about all the time, that keeps you up at night, not the thing that you think you should be doing. If what you want to do is developing/coding then go for it. Don't be afraid to travel and relocate to do what you want.
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Blake,
    That's a good point. Smaller companies are often "less picky". Even there, experience/showing one can code matters!
     
    Colton Bryant
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    Thanks for the advice both of you! I will keep both of your points in mind as I start this post-college job hunt.
     
    Naziru Gelajo
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    I'm in the age group of 28 - 34, is there any hope for me? I'm trying to finish CS schooling, get a cert in OCA Java, but I don't have much experience. Most jobs where I live look for a lot of exp. in addition to Bachelors or even Masters in CS. I will eventually have those things by the time I'm in my late 30s I should be where I want to be from an educational PoV (Masters or Ph.D.) but I'm worried no one would want to hire me even if I get at the minimum a Masters in CS. Am I doomed?
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    It isn't typically easier to get an entry level job with a Masters than a Bachelors. I think you should focus on gaining some experience. Code for fun, volunteer, do an internship, etc
     
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