Friday, November 28, 2014

Dawoon Choi: Golfer to Programmer

As you know, we at Udacity believe that learning is a lifelong activity and that we all have our own personal mountains to climb, our own personal journeys to walk. But without taking that first step down your own yellow brick road, your dream will always be exactly that. A dream.

Understandably, the first step can be an intimidating threshold to cross.  Today, we’re sharing a story from one of our students who has taken his first step, and many others, on his journey to success.

Meet Dawoon! Dawoon is both a long-time Udacity student and a member of the inaugural Front-End Web Developer nanodegree.  Besides being enrolled in the nanodegree, he has taken and completed fifteen Udacity courses!  When we look at Dawoon’s student profile, we can’t help but cheer for online learning.

Dawoon’s story starts at Yongin University where he had the goal of becoming a professional golfer.  After a while, Dawoon realized, as many university students do, that he did not want to professionally pursue his original choice of study. He dropped out of university, spent time fulfilling his duties in his country’s military, and eventually became an assistant manager at a civil engineering company.


After seeing an article on MOOCs and Udacity, he was intrigued by the Udacity course, How to Build a Startup, but ended up taking his very first course in programming, Intro to Computer Science.  This course opened up an entirely new world for him, and re-energized his quest to continuously learn and better himself.

“Before I learned how to program, I didn’t know our life is surrounded by software. I think there are unlimited posibilities with programming, and I wish I could be a part of big changes or maybe even lead the changes myself. “


Dawoon knew he loved programming, but wasn’t sure where this enthusiasm was going to lead him.  He continued to take courses with Udacity, including Web Development and several introductory courses in a variety of programming languages, but always hoped for more opportunities to learn front-end web development.  For him, our Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree was the perfect fit, and with it, he hopes to find himself a job in this new field he’s so passionate about.


Despite the unknowns, Dawoon has kept pushing forward.  He realizes he’s found something he enjoys.  He’s set a goal for himself to eventually find a job in Silicon Valley, and along the way, continue to increase his learning.  He has quit his current job at the civil engineering company so he can better focus his time and energy on climbing his personal mountain.

"I’m also interested in machine learning, so I’m going to learn about it."

Now that he’s taken the first steps, the steps that follow become a little easier.

To see Dawoon's work through his courses at Udacity and the Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree, head over to his online portfolio, which he created as the first project in the nanodegree curriculum!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Data Analysts: What You'll Make and Where You'll Make It

 Image via 4C Consulting

The Americas. The Wild West. Outer space. Big Data.

Data is the new frontier of the 21st century, ripe for exploration. Data science—obtaining, analyzing, and reporting on data insights ranging from business metrics to user behavior—is an ultra-buzzy field right now. So you might have found your interest piqued if you’re into statistics, languages like Python and SQL, and data-driven problem-solving.

You’ll be happy to know that all the buzz around data science isn’t a bunch of empty hype. Data analyst jobs are extremely abundant, lucrative, and intellectually fulfilling. (Some companies treat the titles of “data scientist” and “data analyst” as synonymous. For the purposes of this article, anything not specifically identified as pertaining to data scientists will refer to data analysts. There's more to come on the distinction between the two.)

Companies are buckling under a deluge of information newly available to them in an incredibly rich variety. Petabytes of data offer detailed intelligence on everything from when, how often, and where customers are using products, to precisely how a process is functioning along a near-infinite quantity of touchpoints. But all that data is useless to a business without someone to organize it, evaluate it, glean actionable insights from it, and communicate those insights visually, verbally, or both.

As Harvard Professor Gary King told Harvard Magazine, “There is a big data revolution. The big data revolution is that now we can do something with the data.”

That’s where you come in.

High Demand for the Highly Skilled

Data analysts are in extremely high demand, but the work itself is equally demanding. Data science sits at the intersection of statistics, business intelligence, sociology, computer science, and communication. You’ve got to be a numbers whiz, but also a strong communicator; you’ve got to be an analytical mastermind who can also think abstractly.

There’s an incredible potential, already being fulfilled in industries as varied as medicine and manufacturing, to capitalize on the deep data pool available to change the course of how products are made and marketed, how processes are executed and optimized, and how society at large advances. No pressure or anything.

To situate yourself for success as a data analyst, you should be familiar with five core competencies: programming, statistics, machine learning, data munging, and data visualization.

"You obviously need the technical skills to be able to extract data and run statistical analyses, but there is the more intangible ability of finding patterns or irregularities to report on," said Erik Berger, a Senior Web Technology Manager who's been working in data analysis for 11 years. "To be good at it, you need to fully understand the nature of the business that you're analyzing—just looking at the numbers is only half the story."

If you’ve got what it takes, there are plenty of companies eager to take what you’ve got. The McKinsey Global Institute has predicted that by 2018 the U.S. could face a shortage of between 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills, and a shortage of 1.5 million managers and analysts who know how to leverage data analysis to make effective decisions.

It’s not just the skills needed, it’s also the raw manpower. In a survey by Robert Half Technology of 1,400 U.S.-based CIOs, 53% of the respondents whose companies are actively gathering data said they lacked sufficient staff to access that data and extract insights from it. Translation: you are sorely needed.

What Data Analysts Make

Since the field of data science is still nascent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have any, well, data on data analyst salaries. But according to GlassDoor, the national average salary for data analysts tops more than $62,000.

As the need for data pros amplifies, so does the interconnecting web of data jobs. Data analysts often work closely with data scientists (again, note that you'll find some organizations conflate the two titles), database administrators, data engineers—and probably additional roles as the industry continues to develop.

Here's some financial context for your prospects as a data analyst, according to DataJobs. National salary ranges for the following data jobs:
  • Data analyst (entry level): $50,000-$75,000
  • Data analyst (experienced): $65,000-$110,000
  • Data scientist: $85,000-$170,000
  • Database administrator (entry level): $50,000-$70,000
  • Database administrator (experienced): $70,000-$120,000
  • Data engineer (junior/generalist): $70,000-$115,000
  • Data engineer (domain expert): $100,000-$165,000
Each of these roles contributes critically to obtaining, analyzing, and delivering data. Embarking on a career as a data analyst gives you plenty of options down the road as you hone your skills.

It's important to note that, given the talent crunch and the dynamic state of the data industry, compensation is far from standardized. Right now, salaries are essentially as much as a company is willing to spend to fill their immediate needs.

The bottom line? Your bottom line as a data analyst will be in great shape.

Where the Jobs Are

It's no surprise that data jobs are seriously skewed toward the main tech hubs of the country: San Francisco and New York.

While SF represents just 7% of the jobs posted on Dice, it's home to 24% of the Big Data jobs posted. New York and the nearby Washington, D.C./Baltimore area have the second and third most Big Data job postings.

That said, prime data analyst jobs are available in plenty of other metropolitan areas around the country. Boston and Seattle each claim just 3% of the jobs posted on Dice, but are home to 7% and 6%, respectively, of the data gigs posted, which means they markedly over-index on exactly the roles you'll be looking for. Same goes for Philadelphia and L.A.

This heat map from Payscale displays the geographical spread of of data analyst jobs:

Graph via Payscale

As you can see, you've got plenty of options when it comes to job location. There's more good news: if your desired hometown isn't brimming with data analyst jobs, know that there are more opportunities for contract, freelance, and remote work than ever before. You've got the freedom to determine what works best for your goals, lifestyle, and experience.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re contemplating a career change or just setting off in the professional world, pursuing the path of the data analyst holds serious promise for both your bank account and your brain.

If you liked this article and are interested in learning more about becoming a data analyst, Udacity offers a Data Analyst Nanodegree to help you get started on your journey!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Informational Interviews: How to Find Your Next Job Over Coffee

What's an informational interview? It's a conversation you have with someone in a career you're curious about. You ask them about their path, resources they find helpful in their work, and advice for people like yourself looking to break into that field.

Informational interviews are fantastic ways to learn more about what a particular career looks like, and to discover new opportunities. They're also a great way to build your network as you prepare to venture into a new field. That being said, it does take some research, preparation, and gumption to reach out to people you admire for their time and advice. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Step 1. Clarify what you need

Maybe you want to learn about a career path or what it's like to work for a certain organization. Or, perhaps you want to know whether the skills you're learning are worth investing in. Ask yourself: What am I struggling with? What do I need guidance on?

Step 2. Research

Once you have sense of what you need, you can start doing some research. Great places to start are (in order of most impact):

Current colleagues, alumni, and friends: Always start with who you know. Do your friends know that you're interested in a new career? Tell them! And let them know you're looking for people to talk to. Try this simple email (great for people you know, but aren't especially close with):

Hi Jane,
I hope you're well! It was great running into you at the storytelling conference last month. Did you ever catch up with Meredith? [Remind her of how you know each other and establish a warm contact]
I'm trying to learn more about what it takes to be a front-end web developer and am looking for people to chat with who have experience working in this field. I remembered that you worked at a web company and am wondering if you could recommend someone for me to reach out to. [Specific ask]
If not, no worries! I appreciate your time.

Also, a mutual connection makes it more likely you'll get to meet someone, especially if you went to the same college.

Events: Did you recently hear someone speak? Make a note of it and follow up with them.

LinkedIn: There are two helpful searches you can do to find people. First, you can search by company. Pull up a company page and on the right-hand side you'll see a list of people you might be connected to who work there.

You can also search by job title. Search for "People with title front-end developer." You'll see filters that allow you to identify whether someone is a first, second, or third connection; whether someone is a group member; whether they have the job currently or held it in the past; and where the person is located.

Companies you admire: On the About Us page of most company websites you'll see who works there, bios, and occasionally contact information. No info? Google "email [person's name] [company name]." A little sleuthing can usually get you their email addresses.

Jonathan Worbel, for example, was working for the City of San Francisco as a program analyst when he realized that it was time for something new. To jumpstart his career, he began taking intensive classes in coding. But he also realized he needed to learn more about the careers that might be available to him. "I went on LinkedIn and did some research and saw that I had a second degree connection from a past job. I asked her if she could connect me with someone [where she works] and she put me in touch with the data architect." Worbel then had someone to reach out to, and an introduction through which to do it.

Step 3. Reach out

Once you have some contacts, you can get in touch. Your email (and it should be email) should be short, specific, and warm. Here is a template:

Hi Mike —
My name is Sam and I heard you speak at the Meetup for Android Developers last week. It was great hearing about the cool things your company is doing, especially the volunteer program you're launching! [Establish a warm, mutual connection]
For the past two years, I've been building my skills in data analysis by working on side projects. I am excited about this work and would love to learn more about what it takes to build a career in this space. [Mention where you are in your career]
I'm sure you're busy, but do you have time for a quick cup of coffee or perhaps a short meeting at your office? I was really inspired by your talk and I'd be thrilled to learn more about your work. I'm happy to meet at a time and place most convenient for you. [Make a small, polite ask that emphasizes your flexibility]
Let me know if it's possible for us to meet!

Keep in mind that the higher up the person is, the tighter their schedule is likely to be. Aim for people who are one to two levels above you. This way, they'll have experience in the field, but will also be relatively approachable, with more flexibility in their schedule than someone higher up the ladder.

When Worbel reached out to the architect his LinkedIn connection had pointed him to, the architect agreed to meet him outside the office. Over coffee, Worbel learned more about the organization, the industry, and even received a list of interview questions his interviewee often asked potential hires. Talk about a power meeting.

Step 4. Prepare

To make the most of your meeting, prepare well for it. There are many questions to ask, but DON'T ASK FOR A JOB. It puts the person on the spot and is pushy.

If you're not sure what to ask, consider this short list of questions:
  • How did you get started in this career?
  • What do you love most about this job? What do you find challenging?
  • What do you do on typical day?
  • What skills are needed for this job?
  • What other options are open to someone with those skills?
  • What do you wish you had known before you started this career?
  • How do you recommend I start my search?
  • Is there anyone else you recommend I talk to?
  • Is there anything I can help you with?
Be prepared also simply to talk, as Worbel did. It doesn't all have to be about work.

Step 5. Follow up

Follow up with a thank-you email that mentions what you learned or found most helpful, that says something about how you'll use the info, and that shares a link or resource related to something the interviewee mentioned. That last one is a "gift" of sorts to demonstrate that you were listening, that you're appreciative, and that you want to give as much as you get.

The bottom line

Informational interviews can give you an edge over the competition. They elevate you to the status of acquaintance, to being someone known at the company, possibly even to the reviewer him- or herself. You'll be more than just a face to match to the resume.

For Worbel, the informal, conversational nature of the informational interview helped him to stand out. "You can be a person instead of just an applicant. There's no nervousness and pressure and inherent power dynamic. I was able to ask about life, and connect."

A month and a half after this exchange over coffee, Worbel was approached to do a real interview. He got the job.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Your Top 10 Swift Questions Answered

Swift is a new programming language developed by Apple for iOS and OS X. As we were preparing to create a course on how to use this new language, we asked you what questions you had about Swift, and you responded!


We could make the obvious popular culture joke, but in all seriousness, the language was designed with two goals in mind:

  1. swift to code
  2. swift to execute 

In terms of speed, Swift uses the LLVM compiler, and compiles Swift code to optimized native code depending on target device. In terms of learning curve, the Swift syntax was designed to be clean and easy to read.


Whether you should learn Swift or Objective-C was the basis of a discussion back in September, and the answer has not changed - Swift! Apple has made it clear that Swift is the cornerstone of the future of iOS development. Plus, you can still utilize Objective-C files alongside Swift code, so you won’t miss out on any pre-existing libraries and code.


Swift was designed to be friendly for new programmers, and as a result it is incredibly easy to learn. According to Apple, Swift is the “first industrial-quality systems programming language that is as expressive and enjoyable as a scripting language.” Some have even called Swift the new BASIC.


Apple boasts that Swift is up to 2.6x faster than Objective-C and 8.4x faster than Python 2.7. And why should you care about how quickly code executes? Well, faster running code makes for more efficient and smoother running apps, which makes for a better experience for your user.


Objective-C has been Apple’s primary programming language for app writing since OS X was created. In that time, programming languages and practices changed drastically, especially in mobile development. Rather than adopt a new, already existing language, Apple created a new language tailored specifically for development on their own hardware.


Absolutely! In fact, you were able to as soon as Xcode 6 and iOS 8 launched.


As mention in the answer to question five, after 20 years, Objective-C was starting to show its age. Plus, Objective-C is a difficult language for new programmers to learn, so the barrier to entry is pretty high. Swift provides a modern language tailor-made for Apple hardware.


As with any new language, there is a potential for bugs. While you may encounter some trouble with the Swift language, the majority of issues were addressed before the 1.0 release.

The thing to most look out for is changes to the Swift language during each update. For example, when updating from 1.0 to 1.1, Apple introduced a new feature: failable initializers. You can expect that the language will change as more people use it and give feedback to Apple. Stay apprised of changes using the revision history for The Swift Programming Language.


Swift is probably most similar in look and feel to Ruby or Python. Though you’ll also probably recognize some C syntax.


Swift can be run on iOS 7, but not iOS 6.

We just launched our first course in the iOS Developer Nanodegree, Intro to iOS App Development with Swift. Learn the fundamentals of iOS and create an iPhone app to disguise your voice!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

5 Tips for Landing Consistent Work as a Freelance Front-End Web Developer

Photo by Flickr user Tyler Ingram

No alarm clock. No dress code. No inane watercooler gossip. No boss!

The freelance life is pretty, well, freeing. You get to choose the projects you work on, establish your own schedule, and set your own standards of excellence.

Creative careers of all sorts often include freelancing in some capacity. At some point in your career as a front-end web developer, either on the side or as your full-time pursuit, you’ll likely find yourself in search of freelance work.

As with any endeavor, there are upsides and downsides to self-employment (take a look at this Freelancing vs. Full Time post for a thorough rundown). But there’s one indisputable aspect to freelancing: you want to attract consistent work.

How exactly do you do that? Here are five best practices for situating yourself to attract regular work as a freelancer.


As a freelancer, your portfolio is your number one selling tool. GitHub, Behance, or a beautiful personal website are all strong options for housing your portfolio. Use your collection of work as an opportunity to reflect your personal brand and to cleanly showcase your best stuff.

Not sure what to include? Remember that anyone viewing your portfolio will be making a snap impression, and you want them to get a feel for the spectrum of projects you've done, so feature a curated but wide range of work.

No professional projects to your name yet? If you have something stellar to show from a course, that'll work, but be picky: you're in constant competition against other, more experienced developers. It can also be helpful, once you've got the skills down, to offer to complete some work for free, or for cheap, for friends and acquaintances, in order to flex those freelance muscles and secure some strong work examples.


Twitter can be an extremely powerful professional instrument if you use it to its fullest potential. A few tips:
  • Search relevant phrases and hashtags: Put Twitter’s search engine to work. Regularly search for the latest conversations around industry topics, companies you have your eye on, and developers you respect (you can follow them directly if they’re on Twitter, but searching for them surfaces all the content about them from other Twitter users globally). Drill down for the most targeted results using advanced filters like sentiment, location, and dates; access the advanced search tools by typing in a search string, then clicking Advanced Search on the results page. Search on relevant words and phrases, both with and without hashtags. You can even save searches in Twitter for quick access.
  • Join industry Twitter chats to connect with other developers and potential clients: Chiming in on Twitter chats lets you engage in real time with hyper-relevant contacts, those who offer the most bang for your networking buck. The Frontier Group, for example, hosts a monthly Friday #NewWebFrontier chat from 8 to 9 p.m. EST.
  • Follow lists and form your own: Twitter lists are an underutilized networking tool. As you discover useful or interesting accounts, categorize them into lists to keep track of who you’d like to reach out to or stay in touch with. Lists can be made private (but they're public by default; make sure you toggle the setting to private), so feel free to label them as you see fit. Categories could include “new clients to pitch,” “useful connections of friends,” and the like. You can also follow other Twitter users’ public lists if you think they’re helpful.
  • Browse your followers' followers (and the followers of people you're following): The best way to find the most helpful people to follow on Twitter is to explore who’s following, and being followed by, users you already admire. As you find promising leads, add them to your lists!


When you’re searching for consistent freelance work, LinkedIn is your most valuable tool for rubbing virtual elbows with potential clients, and for impressing past and current clients so they’ll want to hire you again. A few helpful hints:
  • Keep your work history up to date: Just as you should always keep your resume current, you should also keep your LinkedIn profile current. And don’t forget to write a succinct, catchy summary of your background: it’s the first thing people see after your photo and thumbnail sketch of job titles.
  • Upload work examples: Let your work do the talking. Upload files or include links in your Summary or Projects sections that illustrate your experience. The more compelling your profile, the more likely someone is to reach out. Select a few top-notch pieces from your portfolio, and then link to the full site in your summary—don't replicate your entire portfolio.
  • Utilize the site’s social networking component: Post interesting articles, and share, like, or comment on the articles posted by others. It’s a quick and easy way to form new connections, or keep old ones alive. You can even track how many views or likes these posts and shares get, to gauge how much traction your LinkedIn networking is gaining.
  • Join and participate in relevant groups: LinkedIn groups have amazing networking potential. Sharing a group membership with a key contact enables you to message each other even if you're not officially "linked" on the site (don't forget to configure your settings within the group to enable direct messaging). Search for groups that appeal to you, request membership or enlist directly (some are open, some require approval for entry), and then join the conversation to powwow with industry peers and promising leads.
  • Ask (politely) for recommendations: Advocate for yourself by tactfully requesting a recommendation from a former colleague, manager, or client. You can do so formally via LinkedIn, or through an email, phone call, or in-person conversation. You could also take the initiative and recognize a valued connection with a recommendation, tacitly requesting one in return.
  • Examine your connections' connections: A warm introduction to a desired client from someone who knows both of you is far more likely to land you work than a cold call. Browse through the people connected to the people you’re connected to. You never know who you might meet.


Job listing hubs like Guru,,, Behance’s job search, Stack Overflow, GitHub Jobs, and the Jobs section on Craigslist can be reliable resources for finding steady freelance work. Be sure to present yourself professionally when you apply for gigs (no typos!), and apply only to jobs you are well-qualified for.

One major caveat: use job boards mainly as a complement to other tools for locking down freelance work. There's a lot of chaff to wade through to get to the wheat, and you're always more likely to find high-quality opportunities when they're coming directly from people you know.


Most important of all, once you've landed the work, deliver. The best business is return business. Repeat clients are more likely to increase your rate; to refer others to you; and to be enjoyable to work for, since you have a higher likelihood of establishing a rapport.

How to attract repeat clients? In addition to the hard skills, nurture your soft skills. That means being a strong communicator, being detail-oriented, and being adaptable and efficient. Always deliver your work on time and, of course, make sure that the finished product aligns closely with client expectations. You want to complete a project with the feeling that both you and the client would consider it ideal to work together again.


In 2014, 34% of the workforce freelances. That prevalence suggests that you’re more likely than not to be in search of work by contract at some point in your career, and more likely than not to find it when you want it.

There’s no time like the present to start setting yourself up for freelance success.

Friday, November 14, 2014

4 Soft Skills That Will Get You The Job - And Keep You There

Image via ComNetwork

Picture this.
You’re fluent in HTML and CSS. You sling Javascript or wrangle data with the best of them. You can optimize the bejeezus out of any website, or program in Python like nobody’s business.

Sound like your fantasy future as a kick-butt front-end web developer or data analyst?

It’s within your reach. But as you sharpen your technical abilities, it’s just as important to nurture your soft skills. Often, the differentiating factor in landing a job isn’t how clean your code is—it’s your interpersonal competence.

In a recent CareerBuilder survey, 77% of employers said soft skills are as important as hard skills in getting the job offer. One in five said soft skills are more important.

"We look to find individuals who excel in the necessary skills for their roles, and are additionally focused on more than just the job," said Alexis Lamster, in People Operations at software giant Palantir Technologies. "Those with soft skills — a willingness to teach, strong EQ [emotional intelligence], affability — [are] focused on not only creating great work, but working well with the people around them."

Want a lift in landing work over your competitors? Here are four soft skills that will set you apart when you use them in your current work (remember, practice makes perfect, and references speak volumes) and demonstrate them in your interviews.


You may communicate handily in HTML, but if you don’t speak the same social language as your manager, your peers, and your clients, you’ll be at a loss.

Communication is crucial, too, for data analysts, whose ultimate goal is to tell a data-based story to technical and nontechnical audiences alike.

Communication with your manager: Different managers have different expectations for frequency of progress reports. Once you establish your boss’s preference, be diligent about delivering updates so there are no surprises. Outside of regular check-ins, make sure you’re openly communicative about any blocks you experience. Also convey high-level progress on a project’s deadlines, so your manager can feel confident you’re on top of the work. Be open to feedback and industrious in applying it.

Communication with your peers/reports: Tactful communication is key among your cohort as well. You want to provide your peers and direct reports with the right information, in the right way, at the right time, just as you do with your end users. Web development and data science are team sports. If you respect your peers, and communicate nonjudgmentally with them, together you’ll hit it out of the park.

Communication with your clients: There’s nothing clients hate more than the silent treatment. Don’t leave your client in the dark: keep him/her/them apprised of your progress at preestablished intervals. Also remember that your clients may or may not be familiar with technical concepts. When you communicate with them, translate the industry jargon into English. When they communicate with you, be patient in transcribing their requests into your lexicon.


The most technically capable developers and analysts wouldn’t be where they were in their careers without powerful problem-solving skills. Let’s get more specific.

Troubleshoot by breaking down larger problems into smaller, more easily solved pieces: Turn the mountain into multiple molehills and you’ll not only be able to see the snag more clearly, you’ll be able to communicate it (see above) with your client and team more effectively. The best solution is often the simplest.

Figure out the question behind the question: One of the most challenging parts of working with clients can be detecting exactly what they're looking for. Sometimes they don't know how to direct you to achieve their vision. For example, when a client says, "Can you make this button do [something specific]?" what they’re really saying is, "I'm looking for a solution to a specific problem, and I think the solution is the button...”. It’s your job to hear the implicit “...but maybe it’s not,” then go back to the client to get a little more information. Eventually, together, you'll figure out the right way to arrive at solving the problem.

Understand the end result: Consider the larger picture in every move you make on a project. Avoid the tunnel vision of zeroing in only on your role, which can blind you to pain points or potential gems that are only peripherally related to your work but still crucial. As you work on a given component, question how it will affect your teammates working on the same project. It can also help to make an ultra-detailed list of what you need to accomplish, explicitly contextualizing each item based on the desired end result ("this step matters because").


If you’re not obsessed with it, why are you doing it?

If you’ve read this far, you’re obviously pretty into this whole career-in-tech thing. Keep that passion alive, and you’ll be an asset to your client and your crew.

Dedication also gives you a leg up in the interview process. For example, front-end developers can earn bonus points by proactively mentioning tools they use to test code performance, even before the interviewer has the chance to ask the question. Similarly, data analysts can demonstrate their stats, multivariable calculus, or linear algebra skills before an interviewer requests it by offering up an insight related to the topic at hand.

Stay plugged-in, knowledgeable, and curious: There’s never an end to learning in the tech industry. It’s a rapidly changing field, with trends and tools and best practices shifting constantly. Don’t ever stop investigating, exploring, asking questions. The same curious, passionate spirit goes for the still-nascent field of data science. Stay plugged in to the work and hungry for insights.

Maintain side projects: Use your free time to fiddle around with side work. It’s the best way to perfect your skills without the perils of screwing up a high-profile project. Proud of something you’ve been tinkering with? Share it on GitHub.


The top tier in any field is composed of self-starters. Particularly in a freelance or startup environment, it’s crucial to be able to rev your own engine. But regardless of the work setting, no one’s going to hold your hand.

Take the initiative to ask questions—the right questions—then digest the answers and act: What are the right questions? To figure out, do your research on the subject at hand (the client, the client’s industry, the platform, the browser, the language). Then picture how someone you’ve encountered in your career who you admire would pose a question about that topic. Once you have your answers in hand, dive in.

Embrace risk: You never know until you try. Explore new ideas and push your own boundaries. That said, there’s a difference between risky and reckless. Don’t launch something that was a lightbulb earlier that day: give it time to gestate.

Never give up: Self-starters are tenacious. Don’t be discouraged when you hit roadblocks. Spend time probing the issue, take a breather to get some perspective, or turn to a trusted colleague or mentor. Persistence will serve you well in hunting down solutions to problems (there’s that problem-solving again).


If you focus on cultivating these four soft skills, your career prospects in the tech industry will only brighten. "Identifying people with strong soft skills is incredibly desirable," said Lamster, of Palantir Technologies. "We want people who are willing to mentor and teach, to share their experiences, and to function well within a team."

By devoting as much energy to nurturing your interpersonal strengths as your technical skills, you’ll stay ahead in the rapidly evolving tech landscape.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

One Simple Way to Prepare for a Career Change

Image via Shutterstock

So you've decided to make a career change, and web development is calling your name. You know some of the basics—some HTML, maybe even a little CSS—but where do you go from there? What should you learn? What skills are in demand? When it comes to a career in web development, there's so much variety, so much to know. But don't worry: there's an easy way to figure out which skills you'll need to land the job you want.

Start by analyzing job descriptions for the roles that appeal to you most. 

A version of this exercise by New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service can help you pinpoint today's most in-demand skills.

How It Works

The first step is to look at several job postings. Sites like StackOverflow, LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed will have plenty—after all, employers are always looking for skilled devs.  While every job description is different, almost all contain two core elements: skills (the knowledge you need to do the job) and responsibilities (what you'll actually be doing once you get the job). The items in each category are usually listed in order of importance.

Let's look at two postings from Both are for junior front-end devs, and both were posted by enterprise technology companies, but note the differences.

Job A

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In this posting, the required skills include:
  • Exceptional competence with HTML/CSS
  • Ability to use a web inspector, such as Chrome Developer Tools, to manipulate a web page
  • Continually learning. Ability to learn more important than years of experience
The responsibilities listed include:
  • Create, customize, and debug survey themes for clients
  • Resolve clients’ technical issues with custom surveys

Job B

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Here, the required skills include:
  • Solid understanding of the fundamentals : JavaScript, JQuery, Ajax, HTML, CSS3
  • 1-2+ years Application development experience using JavaScript MVC frameworks, preferably AngularJs
The responsibilities listed include:
  • Collaborate with other members of the front-end team to design and develop new product features from concept to production using modern front-end technologies in order to solve complex user interface problems.
  • Create advanced and attractive interactive data visualizations using the D3 JavaScript library.

Ask Yourself Three Questions

Before you start comparing job postings, take a moment to ask yourself the following:

When looking at job descriptions, what are three common skills that I both notice and am interested in?

With our sample descriptions, you probably noticed that front-end web development looks a little different at each company. One job description emphasizes HTML/CSS, while the other focuses on a suite of fundamentals and AngularJS. It may be challenging, but look for common threads. Focus on the in-demand skills that you're most interested in learning. This will help you plan the educational growth you'll need in order to change careers.

What's one skill I can start strengthening right now?

After making your list of three skills that are in high demand, pick one that you can begin honing immediately. For example, maybe your knowledge of HTML is solid, but you need to learn more about JavaScript. Focusing on one desirable skill will give you an achievable goal and make the process of building your professional brand much more manageable.

What can I create to gain experience and demonstrate my mastery of this skill?

It's one thing to tell a prospective employer that you have a particular skill—it's quite another to be able to prove it. But the ability to prove it may be just the thing that makes you stand out from other applicants. Once you've identified an area of focus, determine what you can create to show what you've learned. Maybe it's a personal website whose usability and usefulness you've improved via your new skill set. Maybe it's a sample app you created in an online class.

Once you've determined the skills you want to focus on, build a portfolio of work that demonstrates those skills to prospective employers. That's a savvy way to position yourself squarely in line for a great new job.

You Don't Have to Know Everything

When looking at so many job ads, it's easy to get discouraged by just how much there is to learn. But the truth about a career in development is that no one knows everything, and everyone's always learning. Scott Kensell, a Udacity graduate who's currently an iOS developer at Prezi, noted that learning new skills is fundamental to success as a developer.

"When I started at Prezi, I knew there was so much that I didn't know." Kensell said. But he added that Prezi, like so many technology companies, understands that no dev is ever going to know everything. "They've got a really mature understanding of how engineers work and learn. On my first day, they handed me a stack of books to read so I could add to my skills," he said. "Just because you see a [programming] language listed on a job posting, don't assume it means that you'll never get the job without it."

The Bottom Line

There's a lot to learn when planning for a career in web development. Start by identifying the skills that are in demand for the kind of jobs you want. Then, make a plan to learn them at a reasonable, achievable pace. Remember that you don't have to know everything there is to know in order to launch your new career—you just need to be willing to keep learning.

Give this activity a shot. Let us know what you learned in the comments section below. We'd love to hear from you!