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Your Job Search: Exploration and Research Into Your Interests and Industry

Your Job Search: Exploration and Research Into Your Interests and Industry

In the first Career Series blog post, we set expectations for your job search and how to adapt your mindset for success. We also laid out guidelines to help structure your job search. In this post, we give you the tools you need to find your focus and learn more about your next career and industry. 

Because there are a number of job titles and positions within the broad fields of software engineering and data science, you want to make sure to match your skills and interests with the various job options. If you are missing skills or need a refresher, take courses on SoloLearn to match the requirements of the companies hiring for your desired position. Learn more about your industry, the positions available, and the people that hold similar roles by first conducting research online and, later, by talking to people via informational interviews, which we will cover in a subsequent post.

As a refresher from the previous Career Series blog post, remember that hiring managers look to hire engineers that:

  1. Can do the job (the technical skills and aptitude to learn new skills)
  2. Will do the job (are motivated)
  3. Are a fit (are aligned with company mission, company culture)

Exploration and Research will ensure you meet all three criteria.

The First Step: Exploration

A thorough exploration of your career path will validate your interests. Confirming that you truly want to become, say, a software engineer will be helpful in learning to code and setting career goals going forward. Exploration is a deep dive into what it means to be a software engineer. This Research Resource Sheet contains links to read and research about careers in software engineering and data science. By doing thorough research, you will be able to answer the following questions:

What does a software engineer actually do? 

We know that engineers code on a daily basis, but what are typical types of problems and projects that engineers work on? What does their daily workflow look like? Is there a cadence to their work? Where does their work sit in the product development lifecycle? Are there other tasks that they do along the way, other than code? What is the experience like?

What job variations are there in software engineering? 

Learn the job market landscape so that you can match them to your own interests and skills. Software Engineer is a standard and ubiquitous job title, but there are many other variants, such as software developer. Knowing different job titles when you search job boards using keyword searches will be critical to understanding the subtleties of the various titles and responsibilities of the roles. Each variation likely requires a different set of skills, and you may be performing different tasks within the product life cycle within each role. Your own personal and professional interests will influence where you ideally contribute to product development, so learn the job landscape. To do so, ask yourself these questions, and devote the time to answering them:

What hard skills, tools, and languages do you need to learn?  

Make sure to learn the required hard and soft skills for your target job. Job descriptions are a great place to get a better understanding of the hard skills required for your target job. Making a list of required hard skills (programming languages, tools, etc) will define what courses/lessons you need to take.

What makes a software engineer successful? 

Beyond an ability to code, hiring managers evaluate problem solving skills, self-awareness, the ability to work well with others, good communication, and how you deal with adversity during the job interview process. These are all soft skills and competencies that hiring managers require. Pair programming is often required in the workplace. There is a good chance that your interview process will include pair programming evaluations. You will need to practice this skill when preparing for your job search. Connect with other learners and programmers to engage with others that likely want to practice as well. 

Undoubtedly, you have other questions. Guided exploration will help you find the answers. Begin by making a list of questions -- our Research Resource Sheet has a list of common questions that will help you get started. 

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The Second Step: Research

Hiring companies will often check for motivation by evaluating your industry and company knowledge, in addition to learning about various projects you have worked on. Research the following topics in preparation, as the answers will help you position yourself when positioning your application, and also helps you answer questions effectively during the interview process. 

What is the company’s main product, and what does the company do? 

Not having a clear understanding of what a company’s main product is is a top pet peeve for technical recruiters. What is the customer experience like? Have you (to the best of your ability) used and/or taken the product for a “test drive”? What do you like about the product? What would you change about the product? Who are the company’s biggest competitors? What is the company’s market position in relation to its competitors? 

What is the company’s mission? 

Most companies have a mission statement -- what does the company exist to do? How does the company align its workforce to achieve a common goal? Knowing the company’s mission statement will give you insight into the company’s priorities to evaluate how personally interested you may be in applying, and also help you align your messaging to their priorities. You can typically find mission statements on the company’s website usually in the About tab. Press releases will also often have an intentional section on the company’s priorities. Company values speak to company culture, and are often found on the careers page. This information can give you insights into what it may be like to work at that company. 

What kind of people do they hire? 

Search for company employees on LinkedIn and review their profiles. Do you start to notice any patterns? What do they value when selecting candidates? Review the managers’ and executives’ profiles. Do they belong to specific groups? Do they have any shared interests (professional or personal)? Where do they volunteer their time? What projects do they do outside of work? If they have published works, read through them to gain deeper understanding. Are they active on social media? Follow them and listen to what they are saying. The more you understand management, the more likely you will be able to fine tune your messaging, so that your messages/brand resonates with them. Establishing rapport during the selection/interview process is essential. Research the people at your target company to gain a better understanding on how to approach them. 

The Research Resource Sheet has various links to help you answer questions and learn about  careers in software engineering and data science. After conducting your thorough online research, the next step will be to balance the information that you learned online with the information you glean from having conversations with people in your field of choice. Conducting Informational Interviews is a great way to ask targeted questions to the people that are doing the job you aspire to do. It is also a great way to expand your network in your new career field. The next Career Series post will walk you through what an Informational Interview is, why you need to do several of them, and how to successfully use them to grow your network.


In his over 20 year career, James Van has helped thousands find their next job. James began his career as a technical recruiter in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. After nine years of recruiting, James completed his Masters in Counselor Education at San Jose State University and transitioned into career counseling and coaching. James has supported the career growth of his students at institutions such as UC Berkeley, Hult International Business School, and Galvanize. He recently joined SoloLearn , a self-paced earn-to-code platform providing excellent technical instruction. In his personal hours, James enjoys spending his time with his family, windsurfing, surfing, and cycling.