Since accepting my first developer job I keep hearing one question from others making a career switch or learning development…how did you do it?
A little background
I’m a “career changer” with no background in technology or development. I have a degree in finance from the University of Central Florida and have worked for a wealth management firm since college, eventually becoming the Director of Operations and a registered Financial Advisor. I chose Bloc’s Part-Time Web Development course to help navigate the transition from financial services into software development. Last month, about 68% through the course, I accepted an offer for a Full Stack Developer position and turned down 2 others.
Started Applying: August 10, 2017
Bloc % Completed: 64%
Positions Applied For: 55
Initial Interviews: 9
Technical Interviews/Projects: 6
Follow-up Interviews: 5
Offer Accepted: September 6, 2017
Bloc % completed: 68%
So how did I do it? I used PENS, lots of PENS!!!
Patience, Effort, Networking and Searching.
Patience sucks. We can go ahead and get that out of the way now. Patience sucks and it’s not one of my strengths, but it was so important. I had to dig deep during the course and during my job search to lean on patience as much as I could. I guess it’s not just patience though, patience is one of those things that involves other components too, like trust. I was patient and I trusted Bloc’s process.
I was patient with myself while learning. I didn’t master the things I was learning, hell sometimes I was barely getting by, but I was patient and trusted the process.
I was patient when waiting to hear back from my mentor when I was stuck and couldn’t figure something out. I trusted in myself, I trusted that I would get it figured out, maybe with help from my mentor, maybe after a walk or a few days, but I would eventually get it.
I was patient when I was waiting to hear back after an interview. I trusted that if this job didn’t pan out, there would be another job that would.
I didn’t just put in the effort to get the coursework done, I put in the effort to stand out and land a job as a developer. I did all the required coursework, built a custom portfolio, started blogging, wrote case studies, created README files, custom designed my top projects, completed outside courses and custom built my company’s new website.
Of course I did the required coursework. I didn’t feel like a master coder, most of the time I was just getting by and trying to understand as much as I could. But I kept going, I got stuck and kept going, I got wins and kept going, I took some time off and kept going, I felt lost and kept going.
One of Bloc’s checkpoints involves creating a portfolio with a Jekyll theme but I chose to custom build my own portfolio website. The experience and confidence this gave me in my skillset was well worth the time it took. It was also fun, it was fun to build something that reflected me, my skills and my personality. I didn’t realize how much this would payoff in my job search until almost every time I heard back from a company they mentioned that my portfolio is what got their attention. Another unexpected outcome of creating my own portfolio was the feedback and compliments I got on my design skills. I didn’t even know I had design skills.
Bloc suggests blogging. I hated this recommendation but I decided to put in the effort and give it a try. I started writing about my experiences, the places I got stuck and the things I was learning. At first it felt like grasping at straws but over time I found it fun to write about things I was proud of, like when I figured out how to add my Medium articles to my website. Then at Meetup events I started hearing over and over about how technical writing matters so much more than pretty project images. Eventually I was asked by a few different sites to feature some of my articles. I was thankful I took the risk and started blogging.
The only thing I hated more than the blogging recommendation was the advice to write case studies and README files for my projects. I made the old “I’ll do it later” mistake and I paid for it when I spent a week writing case studies for my featured projects. It sucked but was well worth the effort. The technical writing increased my confidence in speaking about what I was building, that was something that carried over well into my interviews.
My final project in the back-end section of Bloc’s course is where everything really started coming together for me, I felt like a developer. But I couldn’t get excited about the project’s generic design, so I created a custom design that I could get excited about. It made me feel proud of what I had built. Then it started to catch people’s attention and I was asked to showcase the project at a local Meetup event with a few hundred attendees. It taught me an important lesson, if I wanted to stand out I needed to give people something to talk about.
Outside of the Bloc course I also completed Codecademy’s Freelance Web Development course. This deepened my knowledge and made me more comfortable with HTML, CSS, jQuery and Flexbox. Learning Flexbox really helped me see websites differently. I also custom built the website for my full-time job, this gave me more experience and confidence in my skills. Then I won a three month course to the online coding school Skillcrush at one of the Meetup events I attended, this course went in-depth into building responsive websites which helped with my projects and my company’s website.
TI put a lot of extra effort in above and beyond what is required in Bloc, let alone working full-time, training for a marathon and raising a puppy. It was a lot of effort but well worth it!
Bloc suggests using Meetup.com to get involved in the local tech community and build new relationships. I was skeptical at first but once I attended a few Meetup events I was impressed with how welcoming and supportive the Orlando developer community turned out to be.
In regards to networking I went for the “make friends not connections” approach and was honest about being a beginner. I tried to attend Meetups I was interested in so I could always show genuine enthusiasm and interest in the topics being discussed. When I met new interesting people I kept conversations going by asking questions about them but I made sure it was always genuine. Being humble and honest with my coding level almost always lead to “let me know if I can help you out in any way”. If it was someone I admired or thought I could learn from then I asked for an informational interview, per another Bloc recommendation. People were really receptive to these informational interviews and seemed to enjoy them as much as I did.
Once I had my portfolio and resume created I asked my new friends if they would look them over and give me feedback. One person said they were to busy but about 8–10 others gave me great feedback and were impressed with my work. I started hearing things like “if I was hiring, you’d have the job”. My new friends did NOT lead to a job, I wound up taking a job out of town but the confidence I gained from their support and feedback CANNOT BE UNDERSTATED. I would never have applied for the job I landed or the 2 others I turned down if it weren’t for the feedback and support from those new friends.
I searched my ass off. It was like another full-time job. I heard horror stories from other’s getting into development who applied to hundreds of jobs before hearing back or getting interviews. I was prepared for the long haul and made a commitment to stay positive and consistent in my search. This perspective was a life saver when I felt exhausted from applying or insecure from not hearing back from a company I really wanted to.
At the beginning I felt all over the place, like I was going for anything. I kept hearing that when it comes to your first job, just land a job and in that pursuit I was throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick. I felt scattered and stressed out at many moments and turned to my mentor who assured me that’s how he felt getting his first developer job too.
An unexpected result came after some initial technical interviews and projects were I was reminded of how much I enjoyed front-end development. Previously I was focusing more on the back-end but after doing a few interview projects and having companies seek me out for my “design skills”, it reignited a passion for front-end development in me. I adjusted the focus of my search with each new experience and the feedback I got, eventually feeling more honed in on jobs I’d actually enjoy doing.
To keep track of my job search I went with Bloc’s idea and created an excel spreadsheet to track job boards, job opportunities I was interested in and positions I had applied for. The most successful source of responses for me was the Stack Overflow Job Board, including the job I landed. I also got good responses from focusing on local companies within the industry I chose in one of Bloc’s career checkpoints and the Remote Junior website.
When I set out to make a career change at the end of last year, accepting an offer seemed like a far off dream and now it feels like a dream that’s come true. I hope to be writing a similar in a year about how I survived my first year as a developer, it’ll probably include more patience, lots of effort, continued networking and searching the web!