Six ways to stand out when you're starting out in software development | Sandfield

Posted by Matt Weston - 24 April 2018

At Sandfield we get a lot of enquiries from people wondering how they can get a job with us as a Solution Developer. Obviously, the simple first step is “apply online”. But as a student, you’ve probably never been in this position before - and have never had the opportunity to ask a potential employer what they’re actually looking for.

We’ve collected up some of the things our recruitment team look for, as well as some insights and advice that will help you stand out from the crowd, starting with how to approach your time at University. As with all advice - choose which bits to follow, and which to ignore. This is far from a template for success - but these are the kinds of things we look for at Sandfield.

1. BE QUALIFIED AND CONSISTENT

We like to see solid Computer Science or Software Engineering Fundamentals at a Grad level. The papers that form the core of Comp Sci or Software Engineering set you up pretty well no matter what language you're heading towards. (If this isn't the degree you're in - be prepared to explain what's similar about it, and what your point of difference is). Getting good grades helps a lot here! We’re looking for either someone who's been consistently good, or who has a clear upward trend toward their final papers. No amount of extra qualifications is going to make up for middling performance in the core stuff - so focus on getting this right!

2. SHOW YOU CAN DO IT

Beyond the fundamentals, what we're looking for is demonstrated capability. Work that's been done either open source and on GitHub (or similar), or side projects that have been pushed out to the public. People often ask about taking courses online - from our perspective, someone who can demonstrate their ability to "do" is more compelling than someone who can list the courses they’ve taken. So online courses for me are a means to an ends - if you follow a course to create an ASP.NET shopping cart, back it up by building one!

3. ADD TO YOUR SKILLSET

Make maximum use of your minor/general education papers to do something which isn't normally associated with software: Business, marketing, accounting, statistics, something else - and figure out how these things tie together. And be willing to sell the combination. Ultimately, most software is built to solve a business problem: If you can show that you've got some business acumen and knowledge, and an awareness that this is beneficial, you'll stand out. (Author’s note: I went all in on this strategy, and did a double major in Marketing and IT. It's worked great for me, but you really have to love both things to pull it off).

4. BUILD SOMETHING COOL

Take the time now to build something cool. Don't worry about whether it's "built right" or whether it can scale - the best way to learn how to do this is to build something, use it until it breaks, then improve it when it does. Don’t wait around for someone to give you permission to create - you’ve got the skills and the time to do it now. Time is your most valuable resource, and it’s only going to get scarcer.

Make use of your student benefits. You can get hundreds of dollars worth of freebies which will kick start any project you’ve got in mind. Microsoft will give you free access to OS's and software. Amazon will give you free AWS credits. Google Cloud gives out a $300USD credit to everybody. Check out the Github pack - https://education.github.com/pack 

5. SHOWCASE YOUR WORK

Create a personal website to demonstrate this stuff - and when you speak to HR teams, see if they mention it, and if not - lead them to it. When we receive a CV in, we’ll always check out people's GitHub or website if the person has included it. You'd be surprised how few people do! By giving this to an interviewer, they can come in with some specific stuff they’d like to ask you about your project. You'll be "the person with the app that does (x)" - standing out from the crowd. It makes you notable, and it puts you in your own element - you know your own projects inside out, so you can answer questions with authority.

6. BE YOURSELF

In general - these are the things that we look for. But people can stand out in an infinite number of ways - so make sure you bring your own personality and uniqueness with you. And always remember to be selective about which advice you follow! There’s no one answer to any of this, so take the time to figure out which advice applies best to you. Good luck, and we hope to meet you in the future! We’re always looking for great people, check out our Careers page here.

(Author’s note: If you’re looking for some more generic advice - check out this video - it’s far from perfect, in theme with being selective about the advice you follow, there’s stuff in there I don’t agree with, but there are also some gems of wisdom).


Matt Weston has more than 10 years experience working in the IT industry. His sweet spot is in designing and building software systems which require deep attention to detail across a broad range of disciplines and technologies.

When not working, Matt can be found drifting 90’s sports cars online.

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