Avoid First Tech Gig Horror Stories With These Lessons Learned

Avoid First Tech Gig Horror Stories With These Lessons Learned

January 11, 2022

So, you're considering an exciting new career in tech? We don't blame you. As you're likely aware, you can stand to make quite a bit of money after a coding bootcamp-with average salaries for computer programmers, web developers, software developers, and cybersecurity/IT professionals all surpassing $75,000. It's worth clarifying that these are average salaries-starting salaries come in a little lower.Jobs are plentiful, interesting, and well-paying, yet some people are (understandably) intimidated by the idea of entering the dynamic and highly-competitive tech industry. As long as you know what you're getting into, though, you can avoid becoming another first tech gig horror story. The good news is that others have already lived through the horror, so you can learn from their experiences. In this blog, we'll shed some light on what factors are behind a huge subset of the stories and offer up a few lessons learned and tips for avoiding your own nightmare scenario.

Oh, the Horror(s)!

Take a moment to Google something like  "tech job horror stories." Go ahead...we'll wait...It probably didn't take long for you to discover some common themes. Well-intentioned, intelligent people struggling to adapt to their roles. Naive, idealistic people feeling chewed up and spit out by the machine. Normally-resilient and self-confident people questioning their life choices.If you read enough of these stories, you'll get the point fairly quickly. If you read the same stories we read, there is one theme that seems to underlie most of these harrowing, human tales-a mismatch between reality and expectations. The job isn't what someone thought it would be. The culture feels dysfunctional, like something's just off. Your sense of self goes haywire, doubting everything.At the heart of many of these stories is one general idea: "I didn't know what I was getting into."While some horror stories do revolve around the real-life bogeymen of a toxic company or team somewhere (of course these do exist), the root of most of these  "horror stories" simply comes down to reality not aligning with expectations, leading disillusioned tech newbies to ask themselves questions like:

  • Does this get easier?
  • Is this what the tech world is like?
  • Did I make a mistake getting into tech?

In this blog, we'll explore each of these individually, and then offer some  "lessons learned," so you can avoid becoming a character in your own horror story.

"Does this get easier?"

One subgenre of these stories finds people feeling like strangers in a strange land. Despite their background and training, they find themselves in confusing roles, where they're not sure what success looks like, or how to better contribute to the organization. Maybe the day-to-day experience isn't matching up with the job posting. Maybe the way the company does something is contradictory to best practices just learned in bootcamp. It's very human to wonder if a trying situation will get easier. Rather than letting these worries fester and compound themselves, the subjects of these stories do themselves a disservice with each day that they report to work and struggle to complete assignments, but don't ask (or don't know how to ask) for help or clarity.

"Is this what the tech world is?"

Another archetype we see in these horror stories is culture shock. While this is not limited to the tech industry, it seems especially prominent in tech. This is largely due to the unique nature of startups.When considering working for a startup, there are a number of pros and cons to consider. On the plus side, they are fast-paced and exciting work environments. Because they want to attract and retain top talent, they also offer a wide range of impressive perks, from free snacks, to breakroom ping pong tables, to stock option-loaded compensation plans, and even unlimited PTO. Startups aren't for everyone, though. Introverts can find the dynamic difficult to gel with, and some people are easily thrown off when short-term plans or work assignments change without much notice. When considering job opportunities, think through if you're open to jumping on board with a startup.

"Did I make a mistake?"

When you're asking yourself this question, it can be scary. It's absolutely human nature to second-guess big decisions. Questioning is one thing; falling into a rabbit-hole of existential dread is a different thing altogether. To avoid falling into this chasm of doubt, we can offer one piece of rather universal advice: do your research! When it comes to working in a particular role or for a particular company, the best way to prevent winding up in a situation where you're desperately asking what you may have gotten yourself into is to ask great questions during your interview process.In other words, instead of someday asking  "what did I get myself into?" you're better off asking  "what will I be getting myself into?" Instead of fearing the unknown, confront it. Ask it questions.

Recommendations, Lessons Learned

Few things have proven as scary, to humanity as a whole, across its wide-ranging history, as the unknown. Whether you have nerves about your first tech job in general, or have read tales of toxic cultures and want to run screaming, the best thing you can do is ask questions-to discover potential red flags before it's too late. And it doesn't take a monumental amount of effort or ingenuity to do so. In fact, it's rather straightforward: remember that a job interview is meant to help both the applicant and the employer to determine whether a particular role is a good fit.

The Importance of Dialogue

Job interviews are meant to be dialogues. Questions can-and should-flow both ways. In fact, interviewers want and expect candidates to have questions. You can use this to your advantage by brainstorming interview questions you want to ask potential employers, so that you can find the role (and company) that is going to be the best fit for you.Here are some sample questions to get you thinking:

Role Questions

  • What does a typical day in this role look like?
  • What does success look like, and how will I know if I'm doing well?
  • What skills and qualities are the most important in a candidate?
  • What is [Company]'s leadership/management style?
  • What professional development opportunities are in place to help me succeed and grow?

Culture Questions

  • What makes this company's culture different or special?
  • To fit in, what qualities or values are most important?
  • What do you love about working here?

What else is important to you? Work-life balance? Volunteer/community opportunities? Ask about them!

A Few Final Thoughts

Hopefully this blog has given you some food for thought. Our aim was not to scare you away from a tech career, but to help you avoid the types of  "What did I get myself into?" nightmares that are, unfortunately, all too common. At the root of many dreadful scenarios is our fear of the unknown. But by asking the right questions in interviews, you can take control of your future and identify opportunities where you can thrive, not wither.

Unsure Where To Start?

If you're intrigued by a career in tech...but unsure where to even start, that's OK. If that describes you, then consider enrolling in one of Eleven Fifty Academy's free introductory courses in coding, cyber security or UX/UI design. On completion of one of our full- or part-time programs, you'll have access to our robust career services team. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, we've placed over 90% of bootcamp graduates (who requested Career Services assistance) in securing a new job in technology within 9-12 months.Look no further than some of our recent graduates' testimonials. Then, avoid the nightmares (and start writing your success story) by reaching out to one of our admissions counselors today.

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