Why I’ve taken a massive pay cut to study Front End design & development
After many months of feeling frustrated with the professional side of my life, I took the bold decision recently to reduce my paid working hours and spend some time ‘levelling up’ my tech & design skills at home.
Today is the first day of that journey…
Feel free to come along on it with me. This installment is longer than the rest will be — it covers my background and reasons behind this change, my learning programme and some tools I’m using to help me along the way.
Are you sick of ‘bodging it’?
To give some background, I’ve been working for several years now in the design department of a fantastic local software company that’s doubled in size since I joined. When I started, I had 7+ years of experience working in communications & PR, and a bit of experience with graphic design, HTML and managing Wordpress websites. (Oh and did I mention I was a ski instructor?!) I didn’t even know what CSS was. So when this company hired me, they had me in mind for a ‘sort of marketing’ / ‘sort of design role’ (as with any small company, I had to ‘wear a lot of hats’).
Instead, I’ve spent the last few years learning as much as I can about front end web development, distancing myself from communications and PR as much as possible, and trying to position myself as full on ‘web designer’.
I think I’m there now, but only just.
I can write HTML and CSS, no problem. I am familiar with different frameworks and all the best practice advice out there. I can code HTML emails and know just about every crazy email rendering bug and hack in existence. I can read other people’s code and get the gist of what’s going on — even some of that jazzy back end engineer stuff (all hail our ASP.NET developers). But as the months roll by and my workload plate is piled ever-higher, the weighty b*tch of ‘imposter syndrome’ only grows heavier on my back.
Because, the thing is — just like with skiing, actually — the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.
Step 1: Carve out some time
At first, I considered leaving my job and going elsewhere. But in reality, that would leave me in exactly the same position after a few months once the initial excitement from change had worn off. (And, let’s not forget, I work for a pretty cool place!)
For me, I couldn’t afford to take a full-time sabbatical for study. I have a mortgage, responsibilities… You may be in a different situation, but I am 33 years old and I have to earn money every month.
I am extremely lucky, however. I have a flexible employer and a supportive partner, so — after writing a proposal to my bosses outlining what I want to achieve — have been allowed to go part time in my current role (front end web designer-developer). Initially, this is on a 3-month probationary period, but may be extended by either party. (Yes, that means it carries a lot of unknowns as to when exactly I will be back working, and earning, full time!)
To be clear, I’m not advocating everyone quits their job or goes part time. I see this as a measured risk that’s worth taking, for me. That means I’ve weighed it ALL up, and if you’re considering this, that;s what you need to do. Do the sums. Although this is going to make funds pretty tight for a while, in the long term, I think this will be really beneficial to me, and beneficial to current and future employers.
Step 2: Make a plan
Right, I’ve got the go ahead. I now have 1.5 days per week available that I didn’t have before —that’s about 10-12 hours. If I’m going to make the most of this, I needed to plan out a learning schedule.
The tech skills I want to focus on are:
- CSS Grid & Flexbox
- UX workflow
To get better at the above, I had to seek out lots of training materials to help me. Most of these turned out to be free (yay!), but a few I’ve shelled out my own money to pay for. Yes, my money. Remember, it’s your education and your career. You can learn a lot using free online resources, but…
There are some really good quality resources out there, and if someone’s worked hard to create them for you, please recognise that they are worth paying for!
NB: I’ll cover more about these courses specifically in later posts.
Organising my learning programme
I am already enrolled on some courses (but haven’t had much time to give to them) and already have access to several relevant books and other resources (but haven’t had much time to read them). So, I used a private Trello board to collate all the courses and resources I wanted to use in one place.
Organising my resources
As well as this, I get daily emails with loads of great articles and links to videos, but rarely have time to follow these up properly. So, I started saving these and collating them in one place too. For this, I use Toby, one of my favourite Chrome extensions, and Pocket to save all these handy links in a useful way, tagged or grouped by their topic. (I also have a Toby session set up to instantly open up the courses I’m doing.)
Organising my time
One downside to part time employment and part time home study (besides the obvious pay cut I’ve already mentioned!) is that my schedule has suddenly become a lot more complicated. I needed a way to manage my work and my study time, and to track exactly what progress I’m making.
I tried out a load of apps and online tools to help with this and have just settled on Timely. The great thing about it is that it includes a tracker on your computer that logs what you’re doing. I can now look back on my day and know instantly how long I spent reading or doing a course, watching a video or — gasp — procrastinating on social media or emails! I love it so far. Let’s see if I still love it in a month or two…
Step 3: Execute plan
This is the fun/scary phase where it all starts!
My daily action plan for the first 4 weeks looks like this (not necessarily in the same order every day):
- Get up normal time, shower, breakfast etc. Be at desk by 9.30am.
- Read articles for 30 minutes–1hour
- Eat lunch and go for a little walk — listen to a podcast once a week
- Spend 1–2 hours per day on other practical front end learning (e.g. studing CSS, web performance or dev tools; writing in code pen, auditing sites for accessibility etc)
- Spend 1 hour documenting what I’ve learnt that day.
Day 1: Office set up day, hurrah!
Today has been my first official full day of home working. And I spent nearly 4 hours of it turning this:
Wish me luck!