I'm after some advise on how to break into java programming. I have a computer science degree but struggled with programming at university, I told myself it was too hard and I'd never be able to do it. Fast forward 6 years and I've been working on an I.T. Helpdesk for the last 3 years tackling varied problems. I was asked to build a small payroll system with macros and spreadsheets for 40 or so of the wagon drivers we have working for us. I used Open Office Basic for the project and it made me realise I can do programming with a bit more determination so I set about learning java from a book. I am almost finish this book and feel I have a basic grounding in java, I want to take it further and I am contemplating doing the SCJP course from home with the ultimate aim of eventually securing a job as a java programmer.
I would just like to know how best to go about finding a job in the java field. I'm under no illusions of the size of the task facing me, I have an average degree so can't gain employment by grades and I have no experience, there may be some projects coming my way at work but that is by no means guaranteed. I live in the north east of England where there are very few software houses as well. I just know programming's what I enjoy doing most in my job and programming's what I want to do.
I was thinking about working on some projects off my own back and building an online portfolio of applications and games when I become more proficient, would this impress perspective employers? Also where is the best place to look for entry level jobs in the development market? Are the Sun Certification's worth doing? I realise they won't be enough on their own to gain employment but do employers value them? I know this will take a long time but I want to set myself off on the right path early. I can't see how I can fail if I get the right advise and put the work in.
Sorry for being long winded I have alot of questions haha. I would appreciate any help. Thanks.