Landing the Job: How to Break into the DMV Tech Scene

As the Market Leader for Tech Elevator, Washington D.C., I meet with local D.C., Maryland and Virginia (DMV) area students for our Career Strategy one-on-one meetings during week five of the full-time coding bootcamp. We discuss student aspirations for their job search and I introduce them to the DMV tech landscape, as well as a plethora of job hunting resources. For a majority of our students, this is their first foray into tech. My job is to make that transition easier and less stressful. For more on what I’ve learned over the years, keep reading for a few of my insider tips and tricks in this blog post.

1. Networking is key (get out there IRL!).

With the pandemic mostly behind us, in-person events are having their comeback moment in the DMV. Here at Tech Elevator, the students who we see land jobs the fastest are those who have gone out to events or made major inroads in networking. As a self-reported introvert, I can empathize with our students who shudder at the thought of networking or putting yourself out there.

Sound like you? I suggest starting small. For example, attend a panel where you can be more of a passive observer and introduce yourself to one or two people, rather than a large overwhelming event. From there, you can set bigger goals and eventually get to the point where you can walk into a networking event and join a group of strangers mid-conversation.

Events and meet-up groups are vast and varied and there is such a wide variety where you can find your niche group of people. Luckily, the incredible Casey Watts, a leader in the DMV tech community, created a list of all the tech meet-ups. Another great thing about meet-ups is that they are often looking for help, which is a great way to volunteer and build your network.

2. Take advantage of online networking, too.

When you can’t meet IRL, online offers some great options, too. I highly recommend the very active DCTech Slack or Baltimore Tech Slack.There are a wide variety of channels, but I always suggest checking out #meetups-and-events, #career-development, #hiring-discussion, and #jobs to start. These slack groups are a great way to reach out to experienced developers for a coffee chat to get insights on what you could be doing to develop your skills, to connect with hiring managers or recruiters posting jobs or connect with peers also in the job search to share best practices.

3. Side projects are a must.

If you ask any recruiter or experienced developer how to get a job in tech as a career changer, it really comes down to one thing: projects.

Since career changers don’t have that track record of success as a developer, it’s important to demonstrate what you can actually do through side projects. Use this as an opportunity to learn new skills. I always suggest to our students to start with a project in React, since it’s such a popular framework.

There are groups around the DMV that have formed specifically around doing side projects together. I recommend checking out App Development Side Project, and for those who want to lend their skills to the civic sector, try Code for DC or Code for NOVA.

Lastly, Code & Coffees are a great place to get feedback or insights on side projects. There are about 5-6 active Code & Coffees in the region, refer back to the tech meet-ups spreadsheet and they are always posted in both DCTech and Baltimore Slacks.

4. Map the employer landscape.

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, the DMV has increasingly become a major tech hub. Much of that activity is focused in Northern Virginia, especially Fairfax County, where 25% of jobs are in the tech sector. Fairfax County has done a great job to share this, creating resources like this map where you can find all 15,600 technology companies and their offices or their new site,, where you can find a list of all IT jobs from companies hiring in NOVA. This site pulls from all job posting sites across the internet, so I always recommend double checking the company website to ensure it’s still an active listing. The Northern Virginia Tech Council is also a great place to find local companies that shares a list of its members, which includes a lot of mid-sized companies you may not be familiar with.

BuiltIn also has a list of companies across the DMV and the Maryland Tech Council has a job board, as well that lists both tech and life sciences opportunities.

One thing to know about the employer landscape in the DMV is that (not surprisingly) a lot of it centers around the federal government. As of 2017, the federal government was the largest employer in the metro area, accounting for 1 out of every 10 jobs in the region. Federal contractors are also highly dominant. Federal contracts themselves can be highly restrictive – often requiring security clearances, specific educational requirements (like a BS in Computer Science) or specific years of experience in a given field. These can present challenges for career changers and are not often flexible, as is the case with typical job posting requirements.

But fear not, though it’s a large market, there are still plenty of opportunities on the commercial side as well as government contractors open to sponsoring security clearances. We’ve had graduates sponsored for clearances at CSCI Consulting and Slalom Federal. We also have plenty of commercial side hiring partners like Slalom_build, Accenture, Brightspot, iHire and Freddie Mac. For those interested in learning more about the security clearance process, check out Project Scope, an initiative of The Fort Meade Alliance.

Well, there you have it, my beginners guide to navigating the DMV tech scene. If you’re thinking about making the jump into tech, come join us for an Open House to learn more or reach out to me ([email protected]) with specific questions about the DMV.

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Written by Tally Wolf, Tech Elevator’s Washington D.C. Market Leader ([email protected])