The catch-22 of getting into this industry is that you need a job to get experience, and you need experience to get a job. I was frustrated with following tutorials and making apps no one would care about or use. Volunteering got me access to real-world experience, with the code of conduct guidelines being the only bar for entry.
“Code for Chicago” is a group of Software Developers, UX/UI Designers, Data Scientists, Project/Product Managers, and Content Writers who build projects for non-profits around the city. They describe themselves as “committed to fostering an inclusive space for civic technologists and community members to collaborate.” I’ve been volunteering for two weeks and I want to share my experience.
The Obvious Benefits
Immediately my network expanded. There were 28 people in the onboarding event I attended. There is also a “happy hour” on the first Thursday of the month at 5. In general, it’s just another group I can reach out to for help. In fact, several teammates gave great feedback on publishing this article.
In addition to expanding my network, I now have an immediate answer to “What have you been working on since school?” A question many hiring managers will ask. My contribution activity on Github has that many more green squares.
The work Code for Chicago takes on builds tools for free, public use and focuses on underrepresented, poverty-stricken, or otherwise marginalized groups in the area. That alone can make it worthwhile. Who wouldn’t want to put some good into the world?
Learn Simple Best Practices Not Taught In School
It’s interesting how much more stressed and inexperienced I feel doing relatively simple tasks when it’s for a team larger than three people, on a project I did not start and am not the lead. Pull requests have more weight and branches become vital to the process. Trello cards are not a suggestion, they inform the whole team at a glance who is working on what part of the project. Changing the padding of the contact form took 5 times longer than if I had simply made the change then pushed the code to the main branch. And that was before suggestions from other team members to refactor.
I am glad I’m doing this in an environment that has no stakes other than disappointing my peers. When I am in a situation where I am getting paid I will feel more sure about what I’m doing.
Help Is Readily Available
Everyone without exception has been kind and patient. I transferred projects within the group and five minutes after it was announced on Slack, one person I messaged one time sent me a direct message saying she heard I was transferring projects and wanted to wish me good luck.
The next evening someone else spent an hour of their free time helping me troubleshoot an error I was getting. She tagged the project lead to be sure we were on the right track and he apologized for not seeing our thread sooner.
If someone is already donating their time for a good cause, they are probably, at heart a good person and want to help you better your skills as a recent Bootcamp grad.
Unexpected Job Support
The co-organizer is frequently posting leads on jobs he finds and is always supportive when a team member has an interview. The team members who currently have jobs give advice and feedback to those seeking employment.
In the first meeting I attended there was a portion of time dedicated to discussing job interview questions, tech assessments, and general support for those who needed it.
It’s announced in slack when someone finds a job and they are congratulated. The group will be a great support system for finding work.
Volunteering Has Made Me Feel Better About Being Unemployed
Volunteering has been the motivation I needed be more active about coding and reminds me how good it feels to contribute during a time when being without work makes it easy to fall into the mindset of feeling worthless and unable to make a difference.
“Code for Chicago” is a brigade of “Code for America”. They likely have a Brigade near you. If you have an abundance of energy and time but no where to focus your passion, I recommend volunteering your skills to Code for America.