How to find your first Rails job

Notes from my job hunt

January 30, 2022 · Felipe Vogel ·

I’ve just landed my first developer job, a U.S.-based (but remote) junior position in fullstack Ruby on Rails 🎉 Here are some reflections on the job hunt, along with tips on finding your first Rails job.

Why Ruby?

There’s a good chance that you pity me for going through the harrowing experience of looking for a junior Rails job. Why did I choose Ruby? Why not a JS stack where junior roles are more common?

For me Ruby was worth the risk of a longer job search because (a) I enjoy it a lot and (b) Rails is great for building up a portfolio quickly. If you’re still skeptical, here’s my post expanding on these two points.

Fortunately, my job search ended up taking only two months. But before that I spent a year and a half studying and practicing part-time, while working full-time in customer support to pay the bills. For details and recommended learning resources, see my ongoing study guide.

I also looked for a junior role specifically. If you’re wondering why, see Appendix: Why a junior role? below.

Where to look for Rails job postings

I found most of my job leads in the Ruby on Rails Link community on Slack, and on Rails Devs. I also found a few on Twitter and on the StimulusReflex community on Discord.

What about LinkedIn? Yes, be sure to have a LinkedIn profile, if only for recruiters to be able to contact you. But I found only a few junior roles on LinkedIn, and none that I applied for. Some other sites that might be worth checking just in case: Indeed, AngelList, Hired, RailsGigs, and the GoRails job board. If you live outside the U.S., be sure to look in local job boards if there are any in your area. (If you’re not sure, try asking in Ruby on Rails Link.)

My job search: a bird’s-eye view

Over two months, I applied to seven companies. Most were startups, and only one of them (thoughtbot) is widely known in the Ruby community. I got an interview at six out of the seven companies. In five of them I moved past the first interview.

(In the one where I didn’t move past the first interview, it was because I asked about the salary range and it was too low—or rather, the interviewer did the classic “Well, what do YOU want to be paid?” and my answer was evidently far beyond what they thought reasonable.)

Speaking of salaries, there’s a huge range in what people think a junior’s salary should be. Among the full-time U.S. junior job postings I came across, not counting internships, the range in advertised salaries was $40k/year to $120k/year.

The application process varied widely between the companies, from the simplest with just two interviews to the most complex with five interviews plus a take-home project. All of them had some sort of technical exercise, whether as part of an interview or as a take-home project.

I’ll describe the technical exercises in more detail, but first let’s back up to the resume and the initial interview.

Resume strategies

To get an initial interview, having an impressive resume is key. To give you some ideas on how to polish your resume, here are things that interviewers said they liked about my resume. By the way, it’s always worth asking in an interview, “What did you like about my resume? And how could it be better?”

Here are efforts that I didn’t get comments on, but I’m sure they didn’t hurt:

What to ask in the initial interview

Once your resume is polished up, you’re more likely to be invited to an interview. We tend to think most about giving good answers in an interview, but asking good questions is just as important—after all, you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. Your goal, besides making a good impression, is to find out whether that company would be a good fit for you. Here are the questions I asked in my initial interviews, along with my motivation for asking some of them.

There are lots of other questions you could ask in the initial interview. Just be sure to ask about anything that will give you a better feel for whether the company will be a good fit.

Technical exercises

Of the five technical exercises that I did, three were take-home, and two were live coding exercises, where an interviewer watched as I wrote code and as I explained what I was doing and why. For the take-home exercises, I explained my thinking in a follow-up interview after I’d finished an exercise.

Side note: If I could have a do-over of my job search, I would be more persistent about finding out the salary before doing a technical exercise, so as not to do so many of them. Remember what I said earlier about asking for the salary range in the first interview? I was a bit lax on that until the last weeks of my job search. At least now you get to learn more about technical exercises…

Here are the five technical exercises that I did, one for each company.

Here are a few skills that I could tell the interviewers were looking for:

If you’re wondering how to build up these skills, take a look at the Ruby and Rails review reading list which I’ve recently been working through. My study guide has a fuller list of resources.

Conclusion

Going into the job search, I had grim expectations for what lay ahead. I hadn’t heard good things about the junior job market in Ruby. But I was pleasantly surprised in a couple of ways:

On the other hand, I see how my job search could easily have taken longer, since most junior positions don’t pay as much as I was looking for.

The most difficult parts of the job search were how much was expected on my resume, how intentionally I had to ask questions in interviews, and how nerve-racking the technical exercises were. If you’re a junior Rails job-seeker yourself, I hope you’ll find some use in my notes above on each of these areas. Good luck on your job search!

Appendix: Why a junior role?

Junior roles are a funny thing. Most people appreciate why they exist, but I’ve also sensed an undercurrent of contempt for them. I’m not saying most developers bash on junior roles. Nine times out of ten, I got helpful replies when I asked people for tips or leads about junior/entry-level jobs.

What I mean is that it’s common to admire developers who skipped being a junior and figured everything out “in the real world.” Some people take this admiration so far that they discount junior roles entirely. I’ve been told that I’m “projecting a position of weakness” by saying that I’m looking for a junior role, and that I should instead build a product and start my own company so that maybe in a year I’ll be the boss hiring people.

( ̄(エ) ̄)ゞ

Let’s set aside the facts that I don’t want to start my own company, I do try to convey competence and not helplessness to potential employers, and I don’t need and am not looking for extra hand-holding on every little thing—I am self-taught, after all.

Those facts aside, here’s why I applied to junior roles almost exclusively:

But one time I did apply for a mid-level position with not-too-daunting qualifications. It didn’t turn out well. I passed the recruiter interview and the technical exercise, only to be shut down a few minutes into an interview with the CEO and lead developer, when they realized I was looking for my first programming job. I’m sure this only happened because of poor preparation on their part, but still I couldn’t help being discouraged from spending more of my limited free time on mid-level applications.

Also, I didn’t apply for just any junior position. I wanted to find a job where I could stay for a good long while, so I ended up not applying for most junior positions that I ran across.

So yes, I looked for a junior position and I’m proud of it!

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