Every Web Development job available wants a developer with 5+ years experience. I’ve got bad news for job posters and good news for you. Web Developers with 5+ years experience, more than likely, already have a job. Luckily, you have spent your twilight hours learning Web Development and are ready to jump in. Except for one small caveat, you don’t have any experience. No experience means no job, and no job means no experience, right? Wrong!
Here are ten ways you can overcome the experience hurdle.
1. Build Something You’ll End Up Paying For Anyway
Particularly in the Web Development field, learning comes from doing. Then what should I do, you ask? Build something that will end up costing you money. Are you freelance? Build your self an invoicing application. Not only did you just build a valuable piece of software, you also saved your self money in the long run.
It’s imperative that early Web Developers understand the value of their time. You’ve probably heard the old saying “Time is money”, this statement still applies today. Your time is worth money, so invest it in something that will produce some dividends in the future.
2. Build a clone
If I was interviewing a Junior Web Developer that showed me a rough clone of a popular software, I would be very impressed. With such a robust and growing open source community on the internet, it’s easier then ever to create a “clone” project. Take twitter bootstrap for example. You can literally recreate Twitter, pixel by pixel, and use it as a portfolio piece. I know, rebuilding Twitter is a little ambitious, but even an ongoing project or partial clone of a similar software would resonate with any interviewer you sit in front of.
3. Start an open source project
Starting an open source project is a surefire way to gain experience in the Web Development industry. This can range any where from WordPress Plugins, to html templates, to applications like Reddit and Twitter. It doesn’t have to be big, in fact, something small but useful could net you just as much credit and take up less of your time.
4. Write Blog Articles and/or Tutorials
Writing an article or tutorial on something is an awesome way to not only learn about different topics, but also help others learn along with you. Even if you aren’t interested in writing public articles, you can write privately and use your writing as reference in the future. By writing things out, you are forced to visualize and organize your topic in a meaningful way. It’s the same as writing code versus copy and pasting. You retain more information when you are forced to hash out an idea on paper (or blog).
5. Contribute to an open source project
Contributing to an open source project is probably the most difficult way to obtain experience in Web Development. The pay off, however, is considerably worth the difficulties. Nothing speaks of your love for your profession more than doing it, for free, in your spare time. Contributing to an open source project shows potential employers that you are dedicated to your craft and the type of person that takes initiative. Talk to any one who does Web Developer interviews and I guarantee you they will greatly value open source experience in a developer.
6. Complete large/complicated tutorials
Completing a large tutorial with an end product you can use as a portfolio piece is a great way to add to your experience, as a Web Developer. When looking for these types of tutorials, it’s important to keep in mind that you want tutorials that are start to finish. By this I mean, the tutorial should start from scratch and end with a fully functional product you can show off. Although doing tutorials doesn’t exactly stimulate your own learning process, it’s a nice easy way to fill the gaps in your resume.
7. Build and ship a product for the masses
Why interview, when you can do the interviewing? Build and ship a product or products that generate their own revenue. Even if you decide that you don’t want to continue down this path, a polished and shipped product that generates revenue trumps almost any other kind of experience, when attempting to land a job as a Web Developer.
Check out the Envato Marketplaces. It might be difficult to make any real money but the credit gained would be invaluable to a new Web Developer.
8. Work with a mentor
Finding someone to be your mentor can be difficult, particularly if you don’t have many friends in the Web Development/Software business. If you are lucky enough to find a mentor, working with them is a great way to gain experience for your resume. You’ll get to work on real life projects that will likely be deployed, while still having your hand held.
We’ve all been given the volunteer pitch before in our lives, so I won’t go into great detail. I will say this though, volunteer experience, in Web Development, is no different than any other type of experience. Coding is coding, which means, if you can land a volunteer position to juice up your resume, take it. Websites like http://www.getinvolved.ca are an awesome place to start, if you’re looking to find a volunteer position.
10. Do some pro bono work
This is number 10 for a reason. I’m not a strong advocate of doing work for free, that isn’t considered real volunteer work. Clients that aren’t willing to pay are some of the hardest clients to handle. They want more than a client who is paying $100/hr and will complain twice as much.
With that said, if you know someone who needs some Web Development work done and you think it could add value to your portfolio, it might be a good idea to try this avenue. My advice would be to choose someone you trust and a project that has boundaries. Don’t agree to build the next Facebook for your crazy “entrepreneur” friend.
Gaining experience when you have no experience can be one of the biggest obstacles, when starting out as a Web Developer. It’s important to realize that you have options and to utilize those options, where possible. Remember, it only takes one solid project for people to realize your potential.
If you have any other ideas on ways for new Web Developers to gain experience, let us know in the comments.