How I addressed a gap in my tech skills to land a 6 figure contract

If you are a beginner or been in tech for a few years, this is going to help position your brand better!

Back in fall 2017, while still working on my bioinformatics thesis for my master’s degree, I received multiple interview requests (around 7-8) via LinkedIn. The interviews ranged from various contracts and full-time opportunities at the University of Chicago, Genentech, Monsanto, Cyrus Biotech, Illumina to name a few.

I was over the moon. I felt that I was definitely doing something right and that I had mad skills that everyone wanted.

Bear in mind, I was looking specifically at python programming based bioinformatics engineering jobs-

Fast forward to the interviews: Most of the time I managed a great interview and did sufficiently well at the take-home tasks or multiple grilling technical interview rounds – and just when I was expecting an offer, I was told that I couldn’t be hired for my visa status or just that they were looking for someone with more experience. If either of these sounds too familiar, read on!

I could not do anything about the visa part, nor I could do anything about the experience since I was already stretching myself thin working 7 days a week 2 years straight – at coursework, part-time job, Research assistantship, and writing my thesis. I had only taken a few weeks off for summer to travel and have some leisure time for those 2 years.

The only thing I could do is learn and try and apply as much as I could to the projects that I was already working on. Soon I was preparing for interviews that were fundamentally different from one another- some requiring python, C++, and AWS and Hadoop, or some that focussed on python, machine learning, R, testing, databases, and then some that required python, advanced SQL, stats, machine learning, etc. In a nutshell, extremely different tech stacks for very different job profiles!

It became quite evident to me that no matter how much I was covering, I was almost always falling short of something – in terms of experience or knowledge on top of my very limited option for finding short term contracts.

This meant that I now had to re-strategize my job search and understand what I really needed to focus on. What was clear to me was I had no difficulty securing great interviews for jobs that we willing to pay well. So I took that as the starting point – a reinforced understanding that my skills were in demand although I might have some experience/ knowledge gaps.

This led to changing my approach –

My main focus at this time was to successfully defend my thesis, and get my MS degree was to research the track I wanted to focus on or was being steered towards. After some analysis, I decided to integrate cloud technologies with programming.

This included focusing on Linux, networking, AWS stack, some security, and monitoring along with python (and a bit of C++) programming. I also integrated bits of Continous Integration and Continous Deployment/Delivery (CI/CD) with Jenkins, some Ansible (based on python) for Configuration management, and Docker for containerizing application.

These DevOps tools (Jenkins, Ansible, Docker, Container orchestrating with Kubernetes) can be picked up easily if you are familiar with some Linux, bash, and python programming.

Practicing these while learning them is also not difficult- at most, you will need to get a virtual machine set up to try out the DevOps stuff or get a free account with some credits on AWS or GCP to practice using some features.

Moment of truth-

Finally, with my thesis out of the way and graduating with a GPA of 3.9, I started taking another round of interviews. During this time, I no longer held my part-time job at the IT department at my university but was still employed by my department to train graduate students in bioinformatics while working on some projects and receiving a small monthly stipend. What really got me through the next 2-3 months before I landed my first 6 figure contract, was my business income from my blog and ancillary work. But that’s a topic for another day.

Once again landing the interviews wasn’t the hard part- but this time I was more selective about the track I wanted to work on and accepted 3 interviews and chose the offer that best aligned with my experience and future expectations.

How I approached the interviews was also more defined- I tried gauging what the complexity was while they opened the discussions by describing the project or requirements. I tried my best to position and align my unique experiences and tools I had worked on within a broader scope of application development or DevOps knowledge and skills.

This just goes to show that there are multiple ways you can land a 6 figure tech contract in your twenties without a ton of experience under your belt. You don’t need a CS degree or have to graduate from a boot camp, but might need to be familiar with some specific domains or fields (like biosciences/finance/statistics, etc to name a few), and show great initiative and a way to communicate your skills to the prospective employer. For some 6 figure roles that are very specific, you will definitely require some sort of an advanced degree – may be a Ph.D. or at least a master’s degree in a closely related field – although you could also leverage your economics degree with your coding skills to work in the financial analytics or banking sector as well.

Also, the learning doesn’t stop once you land the contract- you need to be constantly learning and applying yourself in order to keep your job/contact and stay relevant in this rapidly changing environment.

Hope this was helpful. If you want to read about specific topics in tech-based career or small business fields, feel free to reach out!

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