How I Landed A Real-World Dev Job In 6 Months

Tom Raley | May 21, 2019

Hello world! I recently landed my first role as a Web Developer with a local company and I thought it would be useful to share my story.

Burned Out, and Couldn't Take it No More

Early in 2018, I found myself at a bit of a stand still with my career. I was working as a Union Representative, so I was negotiating contracts, handling grievances, etc. I felt a bit stuck in my current role and saw no real way forward, so I sat down and tried to hone in on my real passion. I started researching possible career moves without going back to school and realized that a lot of people seemed to be learning to code and do web development and were getting hired without any Computer Science degree, but just having the skills to do it. I had always been interested in programming and had dabbled in it here and there, but had convinced myself in college that I was no good at math, so I could never possibly learn how to be a real programmer. But, having seen so many success stories of others who had done the same thing I was trying to do, I figured I had nothing to lose. So, in April, I signed up for the Codecademy Build Websites From Scratch Pro Intensive and lo and behold–I loved it!

Father, Husband, and Student--Again

I am married and had a 1-year old son at the time, along with my full-time job, so I found myself mostly up late at night coding and learning everything I could. My wife is in nursing school, so after putting our son to bed, we were both locked in to our laptops, pursuing our goals. I learned HTML, CSS, and dabbled a bit with JavaScript, enough to the point that I could make my own portfolio site! I added in a simple web app, a beer recommendation website that interfaced with the Untappd API and gave users recommendations based on their previous checkins. Nothing crazy, but it showcased my ability to navigate basic JavaScript. From there, I also added in my Codecademy capstone project, and a simple site to showcase my homebrewed beers.

Once I got the portfolio up and running, I redid my resume, listed my past experience as well as my “Freelance Web Developer” work (which I never got paid for, mind you, but listed out everything I had done related to Web Development). I put Codecademy down under my education, as well as some freeCodeCamp certificates I had done while using Codecademy. I started attending a weekly Code and Coffee meetup (since evening meetups were out of the question with my son around), and started networking and became active in the #100DaysOfCode on Twitter. I kept my education going by doing all the courses I possibly could on Codecademy, and also supplementing a bit with freeCodeCamp and Udemy courses.

Now the Hard Part--Actually Finding Employment!

I had read plenty of resources about how to search for jobs, and when to know you’re “ready” and the consensus seemed to be that you’ll never really know when you’re “ready”. All you can do is start applying and potential employers will let you know whether you’re ready or not. So, I started applying! I probably applied to close to 100 jobs and had a couple phone screens, and did one coding challenge that I really didn’t do so well on, but it showed me areas I needed to improve.

Then, I got a call from a company 5 minutes from house saying they wanted to interview me. Mind you, this is not a tech company–it’s a company that sells printing ink and various other coatings, adhesives, etc. I did the phone screen, made it to the next round, and was really able to show off all the soft skills I had learned in my previous job, as well as hold my own talking about various technical projects I had worked on, how I thought through design elements, and what my workflow was like. They really liked my ability to communicate (being a union negotiator/organizer certainly helped with this!) and they decided to bring me on in a sort of hybrid role to do some marketing automation, content creation, as well as help out with the web development for their WordPress site.

Where Am I Now?

I started this job about seven months ago and holy cow–it’s amazing. I never would have dreamed that I’d be able to make a career change in just over 6 months, but it happened! Some nights were really rough (JavaScript algorithms really gave me a run for my money!), but all the hard work, combined with a belief in myself that I could do this, and some good luck and timing, really paid off and got me where I am today.

A Roadmap for Code Newbies

My advice for anyone going down this path is to look at jobs in your area, see what skills are desirable, and learn as much about them as you can. HTML, CSS, and vanilla JavaScript will pay dividends and from there you can pick up almost any other programming language somewhat quickly. The concepts are what matters–syntax is always a Google search away and you can figure it out, but the concepts are what you need to learn to make that happen. Start building projects–any project and learn what you can out of them. Redo your resume, put up a portfolio, and start getting yourself out there. Network, go to meetups, get active in the community, and there’s a wealth of information and people willing to help you out on your journey. And then, start applying! A lot of employers these days are willing to take a chance on someone without a CS degree as long as they show they’re able to learn and take feedback/direction. The worst thing you can get out of applying is a rejection–and then you’re no worse off than you were if you hadn’t applied at all. But eventually, you will find someone ready to take that chance and develop you.

In closing, I hope this was helpful and will inspire folks to keep pushing through and drudging through the drudgery as we say in our household. Happy to answer any questions and happy coding!