I’ve been unemployed for more than seven months. Through searching for positions, researching companies and roles, and the process of applying and interviewing I’ve learned much about the state of the job market, particularly in Portland, and come to understand well what I’m looking for in a position. Here I want to present a sort of expanded cover letter in which I reflect on my background, discuss challenges I’ve faced in my job search so far, describe what I’m looking for in a position, and talk about how I’m going to proceed with my search from here.
During high school I decided to study biology. In college I loved it. I enjoyed learning, essentially, how organisms work and how communities of organisms work. I hoped to eventually have a career in molecular biology improving organisms to improve our lives. I wanted to genetically engineer bacteria and yeast to produce useful molecules such as drugs. I wanted to do the same with plants to be more nutritious or to produce higher quality materials such as stronger wood. Throughout my time pursuing my bachelor’s degree, I worked on research projects that would give me the skills to do that work. I went on to earn a master’s degree in molecular and cellular biology.
As a professional I discovered that, unfortunately, about 90% of bioscience PhDs are underemployed. As someone with a master’s degree, the opportunities for me to do more than remedial work were very limited. More importantly, I discovered that although I love learning about the basic sciences, I don’t enjoy doing work in the basic sciences. I wanted to build things, and I wanted to know that if I put in enough effort I would get positive results.
I decided to switch careers. I considered law, architecture, and computer science. Law because I like systems of rules and arguing logically based on rules. Architecture because it exists at the intersection of engineering and art, and computer science because computers and technology have been long standing passions of mine. Ultimately, I decided on computer science. I enrolled in Oregon State University’s second bachelor’s in computer science program. Oregon State’s program was ideal for me because I could take all of my courses online and they offered every course every quarter. I was able to complete the program in only twelve months.
During my studies at Oregon State, I came to realize quickly how much I fundamentally enjoy the entire process of designing software and writing code. Embodied in good code are several of my personal values. I value simplicity and minimalism. I value reliability and extensibility. Those values are shared by the software development community.
I was fortunate to be hired by a startup here in Portland shortly after graduating with my bachelor’s degree in computer science. My job title was “Integration Engineer” and my role at the company was working as part of the team that wrote the software connecting our platform with third-party services, primarily via REST APIs. Although limited in scope, that role was an ideal first position for me because I was able to use skills that I was very comfortable with every day to build high quality integrations while learning progressively more about the architecture of, and technologies used to construct our platform.
Unfortunately, I was laid off along with five other people after only eleven months with the company.
After many applications, a few interviews, and a lot of introspection, I genuinely believe that I am a good candidate for the software engineering roles that I have been applying for, and have interviewed for. Feedback from my interviews has been positive, but the number of interviews has been limited. I’ve come to understand that I’m facing a few major hurdles in my job search:
The job market in Portland has been very saturated with candidates. I was laid off in July of 2016 along with five other people at my company. Around the same time, several other companies in Portland had major layoffs of software engineering staff.
I was laid off with only eleven months of experience. This is a big problem. I feel that my skills are really between the “junior” level and “mid” level, but that I am able and certainly motivated to become a true mid level developer rapidly. Junior level positions are hard to come by because many companies recruit for those roles through universities or hire their interns. I believe that I am outcompeted for mid level positions by people with slightly more experience, including those laid off from other companies in Portland about the same time as me.
A lot of recruiting occurs via social networks. I’m not well connected within the tech community. That is in part because I only recently switched careers, in part because I haven’t been in Portland very long, and in part because I haven’t been as social as I should have been.
I am, and always have been, very focused on improving myself. It is important to me that, wherever my career takes me, I am able to continuously learn. I am seeking a role in which I will be able to continuously learn while innovating. I am seeking a role in which I will be able to use modern tools to build quality products that have a genuine positive impact on the world. I am seeking a role in which I will be able to work as part of a team full of similarly passionate and motivated individuals who believe in what they are building. I have applied for positions and interviewed with companies that build open source software for the public good and to help others realize their own technological goals, companies that build enterprise software the helps people do their jobs more efficiently, and startups working to improve aspects of our lives that we didn’t realize could be improved.
Software engineering is undoubtably the career that I want to pursue. Working with a team building software is something that I truly miss. Steve Jobs said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I love writing software, especially software that has a clear positive impact on the world. It is what I want to do.