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Every week, it seems like I hear about a new code school opening somewhere in the country. As someone who has been a programmer for a long time, it’s very exciting to see these types of programs popping up.

NY and LA are the hot spots for rockstar development, but what about places like Atlanta, Raleigh, Orlando? You wouldn’t think about them, but they are quickly becoming tech hubs and companies are looking for people who can fill those spots.

But the lure of the big markets has pulled away talent and left a void in the industry. At my current workplace, it took us almost 6 months to find someone who could jump on board and start working on projects. We tried looking for an intern this past summer and it was nearly impossible to find someone with enough skill to come aboard.

I got in touch with a local code school called The Iron Yard, mainly to open a line of communication and see what kind of talent was coming out of there. I think they have a pretty great program, and they definitely give their students the skills they need to start in the field of front-end development.

However, one thing that none of these schools can teach is real-world experience. It’s great to have the fundamentals of programming, but with such an intensive program, it’s hard to cover everything and it’s very easy to forget what you have learned. I know that many of these schools have a “final project” which is usually some web-based application that they have built using what they have learned. They are pretty cool, but they aren’t exactly what companies are looking for. It’s a good way to start building your portfolio, but it’s hardly what “real world” development will be like.

Of course, a lot of this can depend on the student. I’ve known some people who were amazing designers or junior developers prior to going through these programs, and I think these are the people who get the most out of it. It’s a great way to brush up on your skills or expand on your current skills, but at the end of the day – most shops aren’t pumping out node.js applications that tie in to the Spotify API. I’m not saying that their aren’t – I’m just saying that *most* places you will end up, you’ll be building site templates, or coding emails, or doing maintenance on existing sites. Grunt work. It’s what pays the bills, and someone has to do it.

Most jobs you will find will fall in this category. There are a slim few who get to work on big brands, but I too was once in the same position as most of these graduates. Spend the time, get some experience. Build websites, even if they aren’t for anyone. Experiment with technologies and build cool things and add it to your portfolio. All of these things show potential employers you know what you’re doing.