How can a self-educated programmer, lacking professional experience, market themselves as a qualified applicant seeking their first full-time job opportunity?

If you do not think you have work experience quit waiting for somebody else to give it to you. Go create your own experience; open your eyes & realize you have more experience than you think.

Get involved on [Github](
Build software better, together) if you are not already and publish some of your own projects on there. Don't waste your time trying to come up with a good project, just think of it as a free online storage facility for any little projects you may have written..

Its far easier to gain momentum by moving than waiting

Try getting
a few contributions to other people's projects as well. Again, screw trying to come up with a new feature to contribute. If you wait around while you think of the next great idea you'll never do anything, it'll take forever, or if it's someone else's project you're trying to contribute to your merge request will more than likely be rejected regardless of how spectacular it may be because just like all the employers who are rejecting you for having no experience, so will everyone else until you prove yourself.

Look up some popular projects your already familiar with (have you ever heard of any of these projects: Bootstrap, jQuery, D3, Backbone.. They're all on Github just waiting for your help) and check out bugs which other people have reported. If you can't find a project to contribute to there are sites dedicated to helping you find stuff to do, one example is

Resolving bugs (issues) is a major responsibility of any developers life. I can't speak for other people but every developer I know works intimately within a ticketing system (Redmine is my personal favorite, Jira my least, there are countless others) and a significant part of every day is maintenance and bug fixes. So if you're fixing bugs on Github it's not much of a stretch to correlate that experience into real-world experience. Resume entry: "open source contributor - resolved X issues on projects Y and Z"

Also, don't undervalue the social aspect; follow some interesting people and tag your favorite projects with a star. Star my projects, maybe I'll notice and check out your projects in return. I can't count how many times I've heard employers or recruiters interested in none other than seeing that you follow some interesting people and projects. Validation by association .. I guess :/

[You can follow me, I don't mind 😉 and I have a few projects that you'd likely find simple to contribute to.. By all means.](

Dedicate some time building up your Github account so it looks active
(fake it); in the process of doing so, the next thing you know, you have become an actively involved member of the open source community (make it).

Having that experience will make you more valuable as a candidate in the eyes of employers, and in reality, than the majority of junior candidates with 3-5 years of professional work experience but no real code to show a potential employer. What's more, it will tell any employer worth working for that you are passionate about your skillset and constantly striving to be an expert in your profession.

If you have a desire to build a website for yourself you can do that on Github too. Check out Jekyll and Github Pages.

As far as having
a degree.. just be glad you didn't waste your money or time on college! In my experience no one has ever thought twice or cared in the least about whether or not I had a degree (I never went to college either.. Well actually I went to film school like a dipshit). People only care about your code. I think of it as any other foreign language. Would you rather hire an interpreter who has a degree in French or someone who grew up in France?

Personally.. If I were in a position to hire a developer I would be more inclined to hire a good coder with no college education over another candidate with similar skill level and a degree because the guy who never went to school but is able to demonstrate the same competency as someone who had to pay $50k+ to learn it has proven, as soon as they walk in the door, they are a hard worker, dedicated to their craft, and they must love their profession to have taught themselves so much and they are likely to be more capable of thinking out side the box, and coming up with innovative solutions to complex problems because college teaches us rules, limits, and how to pass tests. Rules are meant to be broken, limits stretched, and tests written not answered.

Nowhere is this truer than web development because to be a competent developer you must continue your education every day for the remainder of your professional career to keep up with changing technologies.. Web development is one of the only professions I know of where you can find an entire culture of people doing what we get paid to do just for the enjoyment of it. The guy who had to go to college to become an expert .. Maybe he is a developer because he figured he'd get a good job and make lots of money or perhaps it just sounded better than being a lawyer. Is he going to keep his education up to date? Is he going to be the guy who gets excited about the really difficult projects? Is he going to have the passion for doing not just mediocre work but the drive to actually CREATE something rather than merely regurgitate the same crap as every other shmuck? I'm not sure.. but my money is on the kid who stayed up late to teach themselves a new programming language before they could drive a car.

If you're not already; get involved on [StackOverflow](
Stack Overflow) as well. Points are addictive, trust.. The term is gamification and it's been proven. Login and answer at least 1 question per day day for at least a month and you'll build up some activity. By then you'll also build up an addiction and will never not have it open in the background. Don't be a dick after you get a few thousand points (remeber.. every question is stupid to someone) and DO NOT ask a question until you have at least 2000 points. That amount of points took me about 6 months .. Maybe a year. I can't remember. Why shouldn't you ask a question on a Q/A website? Because your question has most likely already been answered or because you need to first learn how to ask a question because we're not in college where there are no stupid questions. Here every question is stupid to somebody. StackOverflow does not exist to do your hard work for you. Ultimately it exists as a collaboration and reference. If you can't intelligently ask a question with details of your efforts then you didn't try hard enough or it's just plain too far over year head and you should do something simpler. I imagine if I asked somebody how to do heart surgery they could tell me how but I wouldn't have learned anything because I don't even know how to get started.

The secret to winning at StackOverflow... Don't tell anybody I told you.. Most answers can be found by searching old questions; or Google. Shh..

On your resume, write:

**Company:** Contract Opportunities or Independent
**Start Date:** whenever you started learning
**End Date:** Ongoing.

Keep that on your resume forever or at least until you have filled up a 2-page resume. Contemplate all the personal projects you've done, all the favor projects for friends, school, whatever.. What's the difference between that and work? The only difference is you did it in exchange for an IOU or a 'Thanks' or for the education you gained why doing the exercise.. all of which are more valuable that $. So put them on your resume! Put that Guthub stuff on your resume. Put that StackOverflow stuff on your resume. Heck I had Wikimedia on my resume for being a contributor to Wikipedia for a while only recently removed it to make room for other experience.

And last but not least. Remember this...

"Fake it 'till you make it".

Oh, and shameless self-promotion doesn't hurt. 😉

If after all that, you still can't get a job.. well I guess you should have been a lawyer.

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