Published: October 27, 2022 • Updated: April 03, 2023 • 4 min read
How do you write a resume that helps you transition to programming?
You have experience in another field. You want to be a programmer. You need a resume that helps you do that.
As a mentor at Code Platoon, I’ve been able to help many people transition into programming. In this post, I’d like to focus on a vital part of that process: crafting your transition resume.
Here’s the main obstacle I see in this process, followed by the path that I’ve seen work for many people.
The most common issue I see with transitioning resumes: too much focus on the past.
A headline that says “Transitioning Chef and Aspiring Web Developer.”
A summary that claims you are dabbling in programming while still running a kitchen.
Bullet points for your previous roles that include the number of employees you managed, dishes you created, and how you handled safety during COVID-19.
Education that lists your coveted programming certificate at the very bottom of the page.
Why is this an issue? Let’s look at your resume from a hiring manager’s perspective.
I believe people want to hire entry-level folks from different professions. It feels good to give somebody an opportunity. And, people from other fields, such as chefs, musicians, military, etc., often become exceptional programmers. Everybody wants to draft the next Tom Brady.
The challenge as a hiring manager is that you have to be the person who drafts Tom Brady, without being able to guarantee it’s a smart choice. It’s expensive and potentially embarrassing to be wrong.
A resume that’s too focused on the past hides your commitment. It can imply “I’m not sure I even want to be a programmer. I might leave the job in six months and go back to the restaurant.” You might be certain that’s not going to happen, but your backward-facing resume isn’t selling you.
When you transition to new field, you need to rethink your resume. It’s not proof of how great you are at one thing. It’s a sales document for why you’re an unstoppable rising engineer who is worth taking a chance on.
What’s the path? Find the story.
Everybody who aspires to program has a story that led them there. It’s never a random choice. You took a computer class that inspired you. You met a programmer who encouraged you. You worked with technology at some point and it made your job easier, or harder.
Find the story. Think back over your experiences to times where you used technology or thought like an engineer.
Change that headline to “Web Developer,” no “transitioning” or “aspiring.” A developer is what you want to be, and you’re already doing it a little bit.
Change the summary to explain why you’re passionate about programming, how you want to express your passion, and how you’re already doing it part-time. You can mention cooking, too.
Change skills to abilities you feel comfortable and are worth talking about in a programming interview. Goodbye, “southern cuisine.” Make sure each skill is something you want to do in your new job because you inevitably will. Took a course on C++ but don’t really like it? Remove it. It isn’t going to help you get the job you want.
Bullet points for previous roles: you can keep the employees, dishes, and safety, but prioritize any technology you touched or anytime you thought like an engineer. Did you implement a digital inventory tracking system? Did you teach your employees how to use a new reservation system? Dig!
Education that includes your programming certificate is a star on your resume; highlight it. If you took a computer or extra STEM classes in high school or college, highlight that too.
Don’t forget projects! List everything you’ve built with code, including a link to the source or deployed instance. Tell us why you build it, what tech you used, what was challenging, what you’d add if you had more time or skills. Feature this prominently.
When you’re done, look at your resume again. Can you see the story? Somebody who doesn’t know you should be able to say the following:
“This person is transitioning to programming… and they’ve already done a lot of it on the side. They seem passionate. I bet they’re going to end up being a great programmer someday.”
Keep editing until you get there.
And be honest. You’re not making stuff up, you’re finding the thread of your story that explains why you chose this field and why you’re going to succeed.
You can keep an old version of your resume saved in case you ever decide you want to be a chef again. I barely recognize the resume I brought to my first programming interview. Standard details on a military resume, like “served as observer-controller for three infantry platoons deploying to Afghanistan” are useful information about you. But to a programming hiring manager, I’m more interested in how you mastered your battle-tracking system or built a simple web application to manage a unit redeployment.
I once had a karate teacher who once asked me how long I’d been training to earn a particular belt. I answered “about a year”, because that’s how long it had been since I’d earned my current belt. He corrected me: “you’ve been training for this belt since you started karate.”
This mindset can be useful for people transitioning to programming. You haven’t been preparing to become a programmer for six months, or a week. You’ve been preparing for it your whole life. Is this a little corny? Maybe. Is it “faking it until you make it”? Sure. But I think it’s a powerful, contagious attitude.
This post is me counting my keystrokes; I’ve delivered this advice to many people over the years and I’m hoping to crystallize it here.
Thank you to Code Platoon for giving me many chances to mentor great new programmers.
What are your thoughts on this? Let me know!
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