I’ve found that code samples are more something you’ll see with web
design and UI shops, less often with backend jobs.
A BS in Comp Sci is handy. As for certs, I have two certifications and
they’ve basically been useless in terms of finding work, but very
useful if you only give yourself one chance to take the test, because
then you’ll really study your brains out. (So to speak.) There’s a
huge difference between being able to use a technology and actually
learning that technology inside out, which is why I’d kind of like to
get more certifications even though I don’t expect them to do me any
good on any pure business level. I never really realized how bad JSP
was until I looked into the certification exam. They basically make
you go through the entire history of the technology like an
archaeologist and when you do, you uncover an entire series of hacks
and mistakes. Bit of a marketing mistake on Sun’s part, really.
They’ve got skeletons in their closet and they’re like, here, memorize
every bone. Good experience, though, if you’re going to be working
with web app frameworks and you want some kind of benchmark to measure
their level of quality (hint hint).
Realistically, though, your central question is how to make a career
change, and it isn’t a huge lateral jump, like nuclear physicist to
pro football player, but it’s still an interesting question. I don’t
really have the answer. I have made lots of similar small shifts,
though, and the way you do those small shifts is really easy, you just
find lots of little jobs and have each one be gradually more and more
different from what you were doing before, til eventually you’re
somewhere entirely different from where you started. If you do a lot
of freelance and contract work, you’ll be able to see a lot more
variety in the work you do. I went from designing presentations in
Powerpoint and Photoshop for broadcast TV ad sales to maintaining
gigantic stock-trading web apps in Perl – but that was during the
dot-com boom, so who the hell knows. I come from the days of
selling pet food on the Internet, so take anything I say about career
management with a grain of salt.
Personally I’m trying to do something similar with music, which is
just insanely impossible, but my strategy is basically centered on
“just do it,” i.e., just press some records and see what happens. The
app dev version of that philosophy is obvious. If you want to get into
application design and development, the best way to do it is to design
and develop an application. It’s a lot easier to get hired for
something you’re already doing, and that’s true even when you’re doing
it for free.