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self taught programmer, becoming more well rounded and earning some money to keep me off the streets

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Hello Gamedev. I know this post is huge but please at least skim through it and offer any help you can, I'm quite desperate. And sorry for the general topic name let me try to specify a little better.

Right now I'm between what I consider the beginner and intermediate skill levels with programming. I only know one language well(Java) and I don't even know it that well, as I'm beginning to realize. I know all the basics pretty well, I know how and when to use as well as understand the implications of things like multidimensional arrays, arraylists, inheritance, polymorphism, interfaces, etc. I can pick up new libraries pretty quickly but right now I'm only proficient in a few(Swing/awt, android(to an extent), and a couple third party libraries, I'm sure I'm forgetting a few also). I don't really know what else I can learn or where to go next, I'm studying for the OCA java programmer test and I find I already know pretty much all the material in a general sense but I'm still picking up some new things as I go through it, mostly just gaining a deeper understanding of all the things I'm decent with now(Sorry that reminds me I have a small detour I have to go off on):

How useful are the OCA/OCP java certs for a first/second year comp sci student at a community college, I'm sure i won't get a regular
programming job with just that but do you think I'll be able to find any job/internship in the IT field once I become certified? Am I wasting
my time? What else can I do to get myself a job working with computers if that isn't enough? It doesn't have to be high paying or glamorous
or anything, right now I'm working at a car shop that I hate making $10 dollars an hour and I just got dropped down to a measly 8 hours a
week because business is so slow, so yah I'll pretty much take anything I can get. I'm 21 btw if that is a relevant factor </tangent>

Anyway, back to the specifying, I told you where I'm at now and I need help finding out where to go and how to get there. I see there are a couple different routes I could take but which one I want to take depends on a few different things. My main goals are to become a more well-rounded programmer and be able to make money from programming. Don't get me wrong I totally enjoy programming and I mostly do it for the enjoyment, but I'm having SERIOUS trouble finding a job even flipping burgers or something because I have a DUI on my record :/ and I'm gonna be homeless soon if I don't find something, I'm starting to consider lying about it on my applications. So yah money is a big factor right now, I spend all my time applying for menial jobs and when I'm not doing that I try to improve my coding skills as programming is my only shot at making enough money to support myself eventually.

One thing I could do is to get some books or find some good tutorials on different libraries that are currently in demand(things like Spring or GWT im guessing, not that I even know what they are I just here a lot about them, what libraries would you suggest if I go this route?) This is something that would definitely be useful to learn at some point, but I'm not really interested in this option unless its feasible for me to get a job where I'd actually use these skills in the near future, I don't really think it is but I'm having trouble researching these types of things, what do you guys think? If I get my certification and learn some good libraries, maybe make a couple apps for a portfolio, do you think I'd have a chance of getting a job?

Another option, which I am currently half pursuing, is to build a good profile on elance or freelancer and start doing work for people there. I think I need to learn more in order to do this because when I look at all the job listings for Java there isn't much that I already know how to do at all, and I'd feel wrong claiming that I can do a job when I don't fully know how to do it yet just so I can get the job, then praying that I'm able to figure it out as I go. The skills requirements for most of these jobs is so random and broad that it's hard to figure out what I should learn if I want to be capable of doing future jobs. Hmmm, as I think about it I'm beginning to realize that the reason I don't feel confident bidding on any of these jobs is because of my lack of complete projects. I've made several completely custom games, from design to implementation of the 'engine' that drives the game, but thats usually where it ends for me. I write the game up to the point where I have all or most of the functionality I want, then once I've convinced myself that I could do it I abandon the project. My getting things done skill is quite low. Also I've never made anything besides games that was bigger than a 1000 lines of code. Anyone have any ideas for preparing myself to do some freelance java work? or ideas for apps I could make that would look good in a portfolio and also teach me to complete a project? Any general advice for a beginner looking to get into freelancing and do you think this is a good route to take in my situation?

I've saved the best for last, my third option is to create my own indie game and try to make a few bucks off of it. 90% of my programming experience is programming games in Java and it's the one thing I feel confident doing. With enough time I feel like I could handle writing the code for almost any 2d game, and although I haven't done much 3d at all I understand it a bit and could definitely learn as I go on a smaller project. This is obviously the most fun way to do it, but I don't know if it's a good choice because I wouldn't be learning as much as if I made something other than another game and it also seems like a unreliable way to make a few bucks as it's likely my first game will make me 0 dollars - if it gets finished. Also there's the problem of finding an artist or working around the fact that I don't have one :/. I have a few decent ideas for games that I feel confident I could make but I have no idea what the market is like for a lone indie developer. From what I can tell android is getting flooded with amateur games and I'm assuming that it'll be next to impossible to make even a few hundred dollars without some actual marketing, is that true? Is it possible to make a profitable desktop game as a solo developer in Java and if so what do you think the best way to do that would be, should I try making a browser game(do those flash portals still host java applets?) or maybe a facebook game(can you even use java for facebook games? That's something I haven't looked into yet) or possibly a larger normal game for the hardcore indie gaming crowd, I have an idea for a 2d space shooter with a dash of rpg that I really wanna make and that would fit into this category well. Does anyone think this is a viable option and what market do you think I should target? I'm not looking for the MOST profitable but rather the MOST LIKELY to be profitable at all, with a preference for smaller games that I'm more likely to finish in time. Even if I just make $500-1000 that'll buy me enough time to make some more money before I'm out on the streets.

Sorry for the long post, Although I asked about those 3 options specifically feel free to suggest anything at all that you think would be helpful in my situation. I'm kinda desperate and there's really not much I can do besides keep applying for jobs and when I'm done doing that hone my programming skills and become more skilled/well-rounded so I can get a job or do some freelancing or something. Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Oh also do you think it'd be a good idea for me to start building a portfolio now? anyone have examples of good portfolios, suggestions for programs I could make for a portfolio that would also teach me valuable skills to make, or other general tips.

Sorry if this post got a little messy towards the end I'm really tired and I just needed to get it done

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Hi there, I read your entire post and I will give you some of my thoughts. It's important for you to understand that I have no working experience and in programming skills I would place myself at your level - but with C++ and 3D programming. Java and its market is beyond my experience, except for a few small projects in freshman year of my 5 year long education(I'm currently 3 ½ year in).

A few weeks ago we had field trips to some game studios. Like...big ones, who have done work on Farcry 3 and Assassin's Creed. Both these studios said that grades are pretty much useless when it comes looking for work. They don't care. They don't care what you SAY you can do. They care about what you've already done and can show them. This is the only thing they are looking for. I can imagine that the java market might be a bit more flexible when it comes to this since games for smartphones and browsers and whatnot have pretty much exploded these last few years. I still think that your portfolio will be the most important tool you can have when applying for work.

That said, I think you should try to make different kinds of projects - from start to end. Unfinished work is not of use to anyone. Make an app, it can be pretty much anything. It doesn't have to be super unique you only want to show off your skills. And your indie game? That is a great idea, with one flaw; Don't aim to make money off of it. Relying on making money of your indie game when you have no marketing skills( I assume) and none to assist with graphics is too much of a long shot, in my opinion. However, making a playable, interesting game that actually works will be an incredible addition to your portfolio -it will also be a lot of fun.

Another thing I've noticed is that a lot of studios are using, at least when it comes to games, a development method called SCRUM or KANBAN. In fact, a lot of game studios demands that you have read a course in either of them. Not sure how it is in the java world or outside my own country, to be honest. I really think you should look into it, at least read up on it on wikipedia if you don't already know what it's about.

To sum it up: Make projects from start to finish. No matter what kind of projects they are, working projects are always good to present. Try to make a few different projects, like an indie game, an app(maybe for your indie game even) and something else. I'm not really familiar what can be done in java since I only use C++. Build your portfolio, it's a great way to start.

Hopefully I was of assistance and if you need someone to help you with ideas for games or apps or w/e feel free to pm me. And, again, I haven't seen the outside world yet, I'm still in college so I haven't yet applied for work, but every teacher and every developer I know says that grades are useless and that every employer wants to see what you've actually done.

Good luck! Edited by PwFClockWise

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I personally think that you should try applying in different lines of programming. There is simply a much higher demand for application programmers than for game programmers. And Java really excels with applications that do not need sheer computing power.
I have also found out that (at least here, in Central Europe) small programming businesses around 10-30 people are the ideal way to get into the field. They do not expect miracles or brilliant CV, do not have strict policies and agile development methods. All that matters is that you can write functioning code and communicate with your boss and co-workers. Learn C# a bit (it's almost the same as Java) and search for those small businesses in your vicinity. You could be pleasantly surprised.
Good luck!

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If you don't have a degree and you don't have professional experience, then don't depend upon programming jobs for income.

Apply for everything you can do, and a bunch of stuff you can probably do. Make some money and work on programming. Go to user-group meetings, code camps... anything to do personal networking. Getting a job (especially without experience) depends on who you know, not what you know.

[edit: care to elaborate downvoter?]

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Unless you have a solid game or a degree, you won't get hired.

Try to do some contract work (Elance or Odesk). Apply for all jobs, even if they don't involve programming. You need to stay off the streets and with access to a computer no matter what so you can build your portfolio. Here are some tips for getting a job:

Your Resume:

My mother, who is also in her 60's, went through a similar situation recently. I can share some of the job hunting advice I gave to her, as well as what I observed from her experience.

The age issue

Your mother is in a complicated situation. Being an older professional entails having some characteristics that many employers want to avoid. My mom told me that there were several instances when a prospective employer found out how old she was and immediately (but tactfully) stopped the hiring process. This was mostly with companies she was called in to interview with, which means that they reviewed her resumé, liked what they saw on paper, but slammed on the brakes once they found out how old she was.

I think most employers will consider the following when an older professional applies for an position:

  • Flight risk. A person in his / her 60's is expected to be 1-5 years away from retirement. Why hire someone who may be around for only a year when you could hire someone younger who will likely be around longer?

    • Cost. Someone with decades of experience will, more likely than not, expect a higher salary than someone just starting off in their career. Why hire someone expecting $50,000+ annually when you can hire someone fresh out of college for $30,000 - $50,000?

      • Adaptability. Someone who has worked for the same company for decades is expected to be more set in their ways. The loyalty they showed to that 1 company may prove to be a detriment when applying for a new job with a different organization.

        Despite the apparent age roadblock, my mom had a few key things working in her favor.

        • She's an accountant with decades of experience, which means that her skill set is usually in demand regardless of the industry and regardless of economic conditions.
        • She did not need to find a new job for primarily financial reasons. She was at retirement age at the time, and she simply wanted something to keep her occupied while having the added bonus of providing extra spending money.

          • She was open to part-time work.

            Between her in-demand skill set and her relatively relaxed job parameters, she was able to find something acceptable within 6 months, which isn't too bad. I think that she would have found something considerably sooner if not for the age issue.

            If you also have these advantages working in your favor, then excellent. If not, then it will make an already difficult situation that much more challenging.

            Resume and Cover Letter tips

            Now that I gave you a warning of the roadblocks you will likely encounter as well, here are the resume tips that you actually asked for:

            • First and foremost, know that resume writing is one of those things that doesn't have a single right answer. Different employers / hiring managers / HR professionals will have different criteria for applications they review. Some like 2+ page resumes, while many others won't consider anything that doesn't hook them in in the 1st page. Many want resumes to have traditional formats, while others might be impressed by more novel approaches (I read about this guy who wrote his resume on a beach ball). Some don't care about social media, while others require applicants to provide URLs to Linkedin profiles, or maybe even Facebook profiles.

              • Anyway, with a resume, expect the need to try several different approaches. There is no "one size fits all" approach to writing a resume. Anyone who tells you that there is is either a genius at resume-writing, or they're full of crap.

                • Custom-tailor a resume and cover letter to each job

                  • Doing your homework on any company you apply for can increase your chances of landing a job. Carefully read each job posting and identify what the employer is looking for (they usually lay all of it out right in front of you, in bullet points under "job responsibilities" and "employee requirements").

                    • The cover letter / cover e-mail should briefly explain why your mom fits the key requirements explained by the job posting. And the resume should also be written in such a way that it highlights what the job posting is asking for.

                      Key words

                      I once spoke with a veteran Human Resources professional who briefly explained how "resume scanners" work. These are programs that companies - especially the ones who may get 1,000+ application per each job posting - use to quickly scan through the digital resumes they're bombarded with and quickly whittle down the selection to a more manageable number.

                      What these programs do is scan each resume for certain key words. Only the resumes that have the required key words get through to actual, human eyes. The rest never get reviewed by a person.

                      This ties in to the importance of doing your homework, and why cover letters & resumes should be custom-written for each job posting. These keywords can often be found in the job posting. If, for example, the phrase "accounts receivable" or "project management experience" appears multiple times in a posting, it would be a good idea to include that phrase in both the cover letter and resume.

                      If a sentence says something like, "the ideal candidate would have X, Y, Z", then figuring out a way to incorporate X, Y, and Z into the cover letter and resume would be advisable.

                      Online resources

                      There is way too much resume advice to give in a single comment. I highly recommend you do a web search for "resume writing help", "effective resumes", "resume examples", and also do the same searches for "cover letter".[/quote]

                      And if you end up on the streets:

                      I spent the last 3-4 months living out of a motorcycle. It's really not that bad. Eventually, the lifestyle becomes almost comforting. (Quick shoutout to /r/Minimalism)

                      Food? Kabobs, man. Invest $4 in skewers, and learn how to build a fire (The US Army Survival Guide is excellent and free.) Go to a grocery store after 7PM, and you'll find all sorts of meat and veggies heavily discounted. You can eat pretty f'ing awesome for like $2/day. Stock up on dented cans of soup and chili when you find ones you like. Rice&beans is healthy, and dirt cheap (~$0.30/serving). Protein powder is really nice for something healthy, cheap, portable, and zero cooking. Those MIO water 'enhancers' are pretty awesome (personally, I think the walmart Great Value versions taste better).

                      Hygiene? Get a gym membership. Seriously, do it. Spend an hour there every day working out, and shower/shave/etc. too. Not only is that a good solution for staying clean, you'll be healthier. And seriously, keeping your hygiene up is damn important. Shave every day. Keep your breath nice. Keep your hair neatly trimmed. Keep your clothes clean. This is pretty much the difference between "hobo" and "down on your luck."

                      Social Life? Start going to church. Don't care if you're athiest. You can usually find one with free breakfast/lunch + other events with food. People are usually overly nice in church, and might be able to give you some place to stay. Lots of networking happens at church, probably your best chance at scoring a better job.

                      'Other' ? I don't know a damn thing about you... but if you're doing drugs, drinking, smoking... you already know you need to cut that out. I'm not one to really talk... but it still warrants being said.

                      Assistance? There's plenty of it out there for you. Specifically, for health care and food. Check with your state, I bet you qualify for a lot. Maybe housing, too.

                      Are you going to die? Fuck no.
                      Are you going to be miserable? Only if you want to be.

                      I'm rambling. If you, or anyone else, has any questions... reply, or PM me.

                      Keep trying and most of all, don't give up! Edited by superman3275

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Like what one of the other guys said, I've been told it's entirely down to what you have in your portfolio; most companies won't care for what you SAY you can do.

I found a good article the other day and shared it with my coursemates. It was appreciated by them, maybe it can help you too :)

As for any make-money-fast schemes, you'll struggle. That's why we're encouraged during our 3-year course to ALWAYS be adding to our portfolio :/ It's not something you can do over night, it takes a fair amount of time to get a solid portfolio up that'll earn you the jobs you want.

Saying that, if you're really that desperate to make money and you're relatively confident in your abiltiies, why not give this site a look at?

Again, you may need to show some previous work (portfolio, portfolio, portfolio!) in order to be taken seriously but if you want it that bad this could be a good place to start.

Good luck mate and hope your situation improves soon!

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