Some time ago, when Compaq portable computers weighed 28 pounds and offered a nine-inch monochrome display, I was interviewed for my first software position. My memory of the details has faded but I remember the primary task was a conversion project. I also remember the legacy code was running on a DEC PDP system, and the new code was intended for an IBM mainframe. The legacy OS was RSTS/E, and I believe the programs were written in a version of BASIC. The new software would be written in CoBOL, with the programs controlled by JCL.
The hiring manager looked at my resume, and pointed out the obvious: I had no experience. I did not know the PDP environment. I did not know the DOS/VSE environment. I did not know JCL. I did not know CICS. I knew CoBOL. And I knew BASIC. I knew a few others as well but they were immaterial to the task at hand. So, after pointing all this out, he asked a logical question: “What makes you certain you can do this job? This is an important project where you’ll be front and center.”
I told him that all of that was true. I told him I had done well academically and become a computer science lab assistant and tutor. I told him I was promoted to the position of “Coordinator of Lab Services” (supervisor of lab assistants) even though I had the least seniority. I told him I’d assisted two of my professors in working out programming assignments for two advanced level programming classes. I told him I believed I could learn what was necessary to complete the project to everyone’s satisfaction. “And if I don’t, you can fire me.”
I was offered the job. The project was completed ahead of time. I still have the small, blue, “crying towel” (in memory of the times something did not go quite as planned) I was given at the wrap-up party.
My point is, if you have the talent, you can learn the skills. The first challenge is getting in for an interview. Then, don’t be afraid to acknowledge you don’t know everything. But don’t hesitate to share what you do know, and how eager you are to learn more.