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The hottest role on Glassdoor’s 2021 list of the “50 best jobs in America” is Java developer. The job-search website, which hosts more than 10,000 job openings for Java developer positions, reported that people in this role make a median base salary of $90,830 and rank it 4.2 out of 5 in job satisfaction.
A popular programming language (listed in the top three last year by Microsoft-owned software company GitHub), Java is used across diverse industries as the backbone of software applications, websites, databases, and more. The object-oriented language was developed by Sun Microsystems, which is now owned by industry titan Oracle.
Chris Bielak, who works with Fortune 500 clients as a senior software engineer at global IT consultancy Saggezza, whose parent company is Cisco Systems, told Insider that since entering the field almost a decade ago, he’s watched the job of Java developer evolve rapidly and permeate various industries.
“Overall, I think the tech giants shaped how programmers were perceived — less as button-down and tie businessmen and more fun,” Bielak said. “Now, financial firms are beginning to dip their toes in, and many highly skilled developers are thriving at banks who offer them this culture.” He added that 2020 became an “unintentional dry run” for what would happen if his entire industry went to work-from-home.
Bielak’s father was a software developer, which inspired a “generational love of coding that I inherited,” he said. He wrote his first program in second grade.
After earning a degree in computer science from Rutgers University, he served as a software developer at a financial firm and became entrenched in the banking industry for the next seven years, landing developer positions at top companies including JP Morgan and Bank of America. He reported having earned more than $130,000 a year in past roles.
“It was difficult, bear in mind, but nothing ever extinguished my love of learning,” Bielak said.
In 2019, he found his way into the tech industry at Saggezza, which offered him not only the laid-back culture he desired but also a coveted opportunity as a senior software engineer.
“I really enjoy my role, and upper management is very passionate about making sure the Java developers are well-tended — planning hackathons, doing mock interviews with high school students to get them interested in coding,” Bielak said. He added that Saggezza even covers the cost of certifications for staff developers.
To help set aspiring Java developers on a similar path to success, Bielak shared with Insider what it takes to dive into this field.
Dig for resources online and practice, practice, practice
If you’re interested in becoming a Java developer but inexperienced in the language, Bielak said there are multiple avenues you can take.
“Sometimes I feel like programming is treated as this impenetrable field, reserved for mathematicians and other experts of the sort, where in reality the only skills you need are the ability to critically think and a desire to learn,” he said.
Begin by watching a few YouTube videos, then looking up a few practice interview problems. He also recommended checking out “Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship” by Robert Martin and online learning platforms such as Coursera and Udemy. Reddit also has a very robust Java developer community that shares ideas and feedback about coding and the profession in general, he said.
“Understand the basics, and try to come up with a small project or goal to motivate yourself,” he said. “If Java feels like it’s too overwhelming, take a look at Python, a very friendly language for someone just starting out.”
He also believes that beginners should spend plenty of time honing their new craft, using websites like HackerRank or coding bootcamps like Skylab Coders Academy or Alchemy Code Lab to practice.
“If you’re serious about getting into software development, it’s very worthwhile to take one,” he said about coding bootcamps.
Talk through your process in interviews
Bielak estimated he’s contributed to the hiring of at least 15 successful candidates over the years.
“My role is to vet candidates and report their coding skills, and if they pass my test, we send them down to the client for further interviewing,” he said.
The senior software engineer said that his favorite candidates — the ones who usually get hired — are the ones who talk.
“This helps more than people think,” he said. “Ever had a moment where you had an issue, and as you explained it to someone else, you figured out the solution? That principle is an absolute when it comes to CoderPads. Not only will the interviewer understand how you’re thinking (and maybe be able to nudge you if you’re going in the wrong direction), but saying things out loud makes them much clearer in your mind.”
Balance coding prowess with adaptability
When vetting applicants, Bielak said he looks for four crucial hard and soft skills — which he calls the “Four Pillars of a Scholarly Developer.”
The first pillar is knowledge.
“Of course, you have to understand the fundamentals of the language you are using,” he said, adding that Oracle pushes out a new version of Java every six months.
“Java 8 is dominant in the industry, but it won’t be forever,” he said. “Teach yourself what each new version of Java brings to the table, and you’ll have a massive advantage when the bulk of the industry finally moves forward.”
Coding prowess is the second pillar.
“Coding is so much more than getting things to just work — it’s getting them to work well and efficiently, and making sure whatever you’re doing will stand the test of time,” he said. He added he looks for developers who consider whether the developer after them would be able to seamlessly pick up on the code they wrote and be able to scale it when hundreds, thousands, or millions of people are simultaneously using it.
The third pillar is kindness.
“You’re going to work in a team, and you’re realistically going to be spending most of your time with the people on that team,” he said. “You need to be amicable, be concise, and most of all, be kind.”
Finally, developers need adaptability. No matter how good you are at your craft, Bielak said, you will eventually encounter some technology or software you’ve never seen before or don’t understand.
“You can search online, you can order a book about the subject, you can find an online course explaining, but most importantly, you must not buckle,” he said.
Consider industries with growing online demand
According to Bielak, Java developers are in high demand across the board — but banks and financial service firms are especially hungry for talent.
“COVID-19 fast-tracked many digital transformation projects, forcing companies in the industry to reevaluate their online presence and infrastructure,” he said. “Likewise, with the rise of online banking, serious pressure is being put on the brick-and-mortar incumbents to rapidly evolve. Sharp Java developers are crucial for survival to ensure these banks will be able to compete in an increasingly digital economy.”
Bielak shared that Saggezza is currently hiring for over 30 developer positions in Dallas. He’s certain that even after these roles are filled more “huge hiring waves” will be on the horizon.
He recommended keeping your LinkedIn profile updated so that recruiters can easily find you. If you want to increase your chances of a job offer, ask about culture when interviewing, he added.
“I never get asked about this, when it’s one of the most crucial aspects of a job,” he said. “Asking someone who already works there is the best way to assess whether you’ll also be happy at that company.”
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