"You Belong in Tech" — Book Review and Summary

"You Belong in Tech" — Book Review and Summary

Anna McDougall's book is an asset for anyone starting out as a software developer


5 min read

A career in technology can be amazing. And right now, there's no shortage of opportunity to enter the field, but competition can be fierce, and the complexity of going from "I've never written a Hello World program" to "I got my first full-time position as a software developer" is incredibly daunting.

I have experience going through both sides of this process — applying for and interviewing for positions, as well as interviewing candidates for web developer roles. Thus, I can confidently say that if you're trying to break into the software development profession, Anna McDougall's new book "You Belong in Tech" has you well-covered.

The book is particularly focused on those who wish to become web developers, making it a good fit for the readers of this blog. That said, most of its advice will be relevant to job-seekers in related technical professions. As the cover suggests, it will walks you through the whole process of learning software development, looking for jobs, and applying and interviewing.

The first section on developing your technical skills covers:

  • Technologies and skills you'll need to learn
  • Resources you can use to learn (both free and paid)
  • Creating a learning plan
  • Choosing an IDE for programming
  • What mentorship is and how to find a mentor

Anna goes beyond just listing languages you ought to know, like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, or you know, PHP. She also covers other critical skills for developers like using git and GitHub, Agile methodologies and Scrum, and briefly covers other IT disciplines beyond programming.

Areas the book goes into more depth than expected are personal branding, integrating yourself into a community, and using blogging and social media (Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.) to connect with others in the field, promote yourself, and bolster your own expertise. It has often been said that you become like the people you spend the most time with, so the importance of this cannot be overlooked, particularly if you're making a career transition. There are great guidelines in the book for setting up your social media profiles and activity to help you integrate into a programming/developer community and leveraging this to make yourself more attractive to recruiters and potential employers.

Something that may not be obvious to someone on the job market is the concept of creating and curating a "personal brand" which the book covers extensively. By going through the exercises within, you will set yourself up to look significantly more professional and accelerate your learning. This is also a way to help compensate for a lack of real-world job experience.

I think readers will get considerable value from the section on applying and interviewing for jobs, as this can be daunting and, frankly, most people just do this poorly. When my organization gets job applications, we probably screen out 90%–95% of them immediately. Many people use a "spray and pray" approach to applications, which does not work. It's so easy to see through these sorts of bulk submissions.

"You Belong in Tech" spends considerable time discussing

  • Where to look for jobs
  • Crafting an excellent résumé/CV using "Quotes, Names, and Numbers" to instill confidence in the reader
  • Compensating for a lack of job experience in the field you're applying for
  • Types of interviews to expect for technical positions
  • Preparing for interviews
  • Answering common interview questions
  • Following up after the interview

One of the most useful pieces of advice in the whole book is probably this:

If you meet 50% of the requirements for a job that you want, apply.

After all, you'll never get a job you don't apply for, and most companies post a list of requirements they'd like, knowing full well that they are unlikely to find a candidate that actually starts with all those skills and and knowledge on their first day. In fact, if you do handily meet every single requirement, you likely are overqualified and some companies are wary of hiring candidates who are overqualified. (This is primarily because they won't usually stay for long, wasting everyone's time.)

Interviewing in particular is a nerve-wracking and stressful experience, and one surprise insight that the Anna has is that of using her experience as a singer and performer to advise on how to deal with nervousness and anxiety around the process. There are some great tips in the book. One of these is this:

Don't deny you feel nervous. Instead, recognize your nerves and prepare coping mechanisms in advance. Rather than thinking 'This is fine. I'll be fine. There's no need to be nervous', tell yourself something like 'I'm feeling nervous now. When I notice that, I'll clasp my hands together on my lap'. If you freeze up you can take a slow sip of water to allow yourself time to think.

The book also covers how to deal with rejection, how to weigh actual job offers that you do receive, and how to take your first steps when you start and begin to experience the dreaded "imposter syndrome".

If this is an adventure you are about to embark on, particularly if you are starting out or are still very junior, I highly recommend reading this book to give you great insight into the entire process of preparing to launch or improve your career as a software developer.

If you think you'll benefit from reading "You Belong in Tech", you can find it on Amazon.

Thanks for reading! If you like this type of content or enjoy learning about web development, follow me on Twitter @jdlien.