aidas | Feb. 27, 2023
Two years ago I was one of those guys living in a student’s house, taking clothes to the washing machine together with roommates (it’s cheaper) and spending days on the web searching for a job. Starting this journey around Christmas I was almost right expecting to get an offer as a Christmas gift. Turned out, as a next Christmas gift, since it took me some 9 months to finally get an offer. But let’s start from the… start.
That’s me. A 26 years old student of acting from Lithuania, came with Erasmus to Brno, Czech Republic. Fell in love. Wanted to stay. No way back. Now why the hell did a student of acting decide to go for the software/programming/computer stuff anyway? Well, long story short, the student of acting (a.k.a me) had graduated in physics and had prior work experience as an embedded systems tester and IT guy at two schools. Programming seemed like a career honeypot.
As simple isn’t interesting, there were things which spiced the journey up. First of all, I had no direct software engineering experience. I coded at university, in the places I’ve worked and sometimes in my free time, so I already had some knowledge and practical experience, but no direct working experience record. Secondly, I was a student in the middle of a harsh quarantine, hence part-time and remote were almost the only options for me back then. Oh, did I mention I didn’t speak czech? Having all that, I was beginning an adventure I didn’t see back then.
The beginning of the job search was boring as usual: picking a few interesting offers, checking the requirements, sending applications here and there, waiting for the response for a few days, repeat. Weeks were passing like that. With each month I was feeling the close deadline of the end of the Erasmus and the inner push to find something. So I started to be more open-minded and go through a wider range of job offers. What does a data analyst do? Hmm, looks like I could do it, I’m a fast learner. Oh, there’s something with artificial intelligence, let’s try that as well. Right, critical thinker sounds like me. Oh, some company is searching for an employee with physics background for work in a lab - let’s remember the good old times. Like that my search developed into something related to computers or physics, or maths, or juggling, or something I could do remotely, part-time, without czech language or I’ll work for a rohlik… In the beginning I was checking jobs in Czechia and Lithuania, but now even a cold Ocean wasn’t an obstacle. I remember the days when after spending a couple of hours in front of the computer I sat back and thought to myself: okay, I’ve sent some 40-50 applications, maybe enough for today. In total I sent hundreds of emails and almost all of them fell into two categories: rejected and ignored. Fail on the cv stage, fail on email, fail on homework, fail on the interview, fail even before the application was sent, fail fail and fail, while the Erasmus was fearlessly stepping towards the edge.
As they say: if you make the same actions, you get the same results. Something different started to happen around the time I was applying to Red Hat. Maybe I felt I needed to change something, maybe I got more interested, or maybe I simply already had more experience, I’m not sure. But I also remember that I did some things a bit differently than I had done before.
It all started when one person gave me contacts for a guy working at Red Hat. I contacted him and according to my cv, experience and preferences he suggested me a couple of open positions (5 or 6). I had to pick no more than 3. Having such a (lately unusual) limited choice, I thought carefully about what I wanted to do and where I had the best chance. At the same time, I knew that I’ll have at least 3 interviews, so I started to actively prepare for them. I went through the requirements carefully (I still sucked at most of them) and planned the steps to know more about each requirement by priority. And I spent the time I had until the interviews learning the material by browsing the web, learning tutorials, experimenting with the bash shell etc. Also, one cool thing I discovered at that time was reading the interview Q&A (and why I hadn’t done it before?). I felt that the later one gave me a nice boost into understanding new things. After months of frustration, I felt that I’m getting back to the state I was in when I was studying physics…
…let’s imagine a nice flashback animation here…
…when you have a couple of days (or sometimes only a single night) to prepare for something you don’t understand or know very little about. So you start by reading the material, which sounds like an alien language, the graphs and diagrams resemble Pollock’s stuff and you feel lost and miserable. Then you throw away that material and take another one on the same subject hoping that switching helps. Hopeless. You dive into the web hunting for articles, shuffling the tabs until you stumble across a single formula and suddenly whisper to yourself I saw that. Fastly, you open the first material, skim through the pages and - there it is. You found the first relation. You read more around and suddenly things start making more sense. You go through other articles and start noticing the patterns. As if after all the sand pouring into the sea finally an island starts to emerge, slowly but firmly the structure starts to appear from the material you’re learning and confusion drifts away. By the morning you feel you already understand something. By the time of the exam/presentation you feel you can explain things.
Likewise I also felt as if things which I knew very little about started to connect and that I finally understand what I’m doing, that I’m figuring out one requirement after the other with a great satisfaction of learning. Now please don’t get me wrong, it was entry position requirements. I don’t appeal to in-depth understanding here or getting tremendous skills overnight. I was able to connect my past experience with the requirements and with the ways I was using the web, tutorials and interview questions to get to a point where I felt much more comfortable with the stuff than I was in the beginning. Later I could even recognise some bad answers to some of the interview questions on the web. A digression: I don’t really trust interview Q&A, but I think it can be a good tool when starting to learn something new as it enriches the perspective or could explain things in different words, show a concept from different angles.
After a week or two of focused learning I got two job offers out of three applications.
First takeaway is to simply do my thing. After the amount of effort I put into getting what I want, after all the amount of rejection I had, this will first and foremost be a standing example for my future self. Under which circumstances I would have to again face hundreds of rejections lasting for months? Next time I want to do something and feel the fear of failure, I will remember this and fear no more.
Second takeaway is that some applications-rejections gave me good experience, direction or skills. For example, having many interviews I learned much more about the process of hiring and felt much more comfortable with it. I got to know general salary range tendencies in one interview, which I could apply in other applications. I learned new technical skills and gained technical experience while both doing the homework and participating in tech conversations during interviews. After technical interviews or replying to rejection letters I was sometimes asking people which skills I could improve and if they could give me any advice. Some responses were indeed very honest and helpful. So in the end, during the journey I improved a lot and if it wasn’t Red Hat, then with all that new experience I would have even better chances with next applications.
Figure out what you’d really like to do and focus on that single area instead of hunting many diverse opportunities in the fields. With focused learning, overtime I’ll get farther and will have better chances to hunt down particular job positions. In this case it seems to me as knowing a few tools but more in depth is far better, than knowing everything a little but not enough. And only later when I have a good foundation in some area and can’t calm down the beast of learning anymore, then I can widen my abilities.
If the old strategy doesn’t work - change it. As I mentioned, I did some things differently while preparing for Red Hat’s Interviews. I picked up only some of the applications, so I was able to better focus while preparing. I made a preparation plan going through each requirement, identifying what I’m missing, what’s most important for that position and how I’ll learn it. I searched for new ways of learning, for example interview Q&A. Similarly, if one was learning only from tutorials, he/she could go for real life projects; if one did only hands-on practice, then read theory; if one was figuring out everything by himself, then he could ask somebody for advice.
And to finish with, I tend to believe that I end up in the right places. During this journey I had various miscommunications with the possible employers or I felt that the atmosphere sometimes wasn’t good. For example, some people weren’t introducing themselves or the companies when calling, expecting that I should know their phone numbers by heart and they were very upset that I didn't. In the end I may not get an offer, but hey, would I want to work in such a company? If that’s their hiring process, I’m sure I don’t want to see the internals. And that’s why I’m so happy I ended up in Red Hat, which takes care of their employees more than I could ever imagine. And so if sometimes it takes a lot of rejections and months of effort to end up in an amazing place, maybe it’s worth it?