You’re Not Going Straight to FAANG (And That’s Okay)

I had a student once who told me they were going to work at Google. 

Great, I said, if you put in the effort and work hard, you could end up at Google one day.  I have a friend who went to a bootcamp, and now they work at the Google office in Colorado! 

Oh no, the student assured me.  Not one day–they were going to graduate from bootcamp and get hired directly to Google, and their starting salary was going to be at least $180,000.

(Spoiler alert: this did not happen.)

Look, I don’t want to crush anyone’s dreams–but the likelihood of graduating from a standard four-year degree program, a programming bootcamp, or self-teaching and going directly to a FAANG company is… well, it’s low.  Very low.  As in, you-probably-shouldn’t-count-on-it low. 

There are programs out there that target entry-level, non-traditional-background developers for large tech companies, such as Microsoft Leap and Dropbox IGNITE.  These programs aren’t the most common, they are highly competitive, and there’s only a limited number of spaces available–so while you should definitely apply and give your best effort if you’re interested in one, you need to remember that there’s no such thing as a sure thing.  Even large non-tech companies with entry-level software apprenticeships, such as the JP Morgan Chase ETSE program, can only accept so many candidates. 

It’s really tempting to look at the salaries coming out of FAANG companies, or really any large tech company, and think that those jobs are the be-all, end-all of software development.  Who doesn’t want to make $200,000, $300,000, or even $400,000 a year?!  All of the perks sound too good to be true, and the companies’ names are so widely-recognized and highly-regarded that working for them takes on celebrity status.

I’m always telling new developers to consider tech jobs that are not in the tech industry.  Retail operations, banks, insurance companies, healthcare systems… all places that have their own software divisions, and even though the jobs are “sexy tech jobs”, they are still good jobs!  Someone has to make sure that the logistics software for the trucking company gets groceries to the stores on time, after all.  How convenient is it to be able to file an insurance claim from the side of the road after a fender bender, and upload photos of the crash directly to an agent?  And how many lives have been made easier by the ability to deposit a check via smartphone, without having to go to the bank?

“Big tech” is exciting, sure, but it’s much harder to break into at entry-level than the “small tech” or “non-tech” companies that are likely to be hiding right around the corner from your home.  Is it more important to get your first software job, or to have that first software job be at Meta?  A paycheck from the J.M. Smucker Company (a popular Northeast Ohio “tech” employer, and maker of Smucker’s jams and jellies) will put money in your bank account just as well as one from Netflix, although perhaps in lesser quantities. 

Remember, your first software job is unlikely to also be your last software job.  Get employed first, then work hard, learn all you can, provide value… and keep applying to that FAANG company every so often.  You never know when you might get that interview!

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