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Dan wrote:

Your suggestions for participating in open source projects is excellent!! I did not know stuff like that was open to people with no coding experience.

One thing you will find about the field, and especially open source projects, is that ability is what matters above nearly everything. This is why many places emphasize experience so much; if you have the experience (and don't yet hate the field [more than a couple of days at a time, anyway]), then you likely have at least some ability. You'll also see many practical questions in interviews. Most of my interviews have been that way.

Now, the education or experience can be helpful in getting to the interview, if you want to work at a bigger company anyway. But I can tell you that if you walked into an interview in my company and put down some code from an open source project, said "I wrote this", and could explain it to us, you'd probably already be above 80% of the people we interview.

So far as things to look for in the field, general abilities that help are logic, the ability to comprehend large systems, and an willingness to test assumptions. However, if you really want to stand out, you'll also have good communication skills. The stereotypical IT nerd doesn't, but the people who get stuff done (and get promoted) usually do. It's one thing to be able to solve a problem, but another entirely to be able to concisely describe the problem to management, describe the alternative solutions, and arrange a team of people to solve it.

I recommend following the other advice to find what you enjoy as well. I can honestly say that if I wasn't programming for a living, I'd be doing it in my spare time. It's just too much fun to avoid.

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