How I Became a Developer in 8 Months

So you want to become a developer but don’t know where to begin. Changing careers or finding an entry-level job can be a daunting task (trust me, I know). That’s why I’d like to give you some thorough advice on what it takes to get out of the stink-hole you might currently find yourself in, and onto greener pastures.

A bit of background: Ever since the 5th grade I thought I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. At the tender age of ten, I participated as a lead anchor in PBS’ Super School News — a television segment that showcased various schools in Colorado — one of them being mine. From that moment on I was sold on the glamour of, “lights, camera, action!”

Flash forward to college: I enrolled at East Carolina University (ECU) pursuing a broadcast journalism degree, go figure. So far it was going well, until I landed an internship at WSOCTV in Charlotte. Their internship program was extremely thorough — they really showed us interns the ins-and-outs of what it takes to become a news anchor. In fact, their program was so thorough, it completely shattered my idealism of broadcast journalism. Turns out it wasn’t my passion, nor would it ever be. But hey, that’s what internships are for right?

I ended up graduating ECU in 2014 with a degree in Public Relations (talk about your typical college experience). I had zero-clue what I wanted to do now that I was in the ‘real world’. I went to a couple of college fairs and landed in the profession of Technical Recruiting.

The job of a technical recruiter is to be able to identify/screen/qualify candidates for IT positions; the recruiter also reviews, reformats and presents resumes to hiring managers.*

I was living in Charlotte, working uptown, and enjoying this post-college transition. However, as time went by, my work slowly became monotonous. This wasn’t something I saw a future in long-term…so what exactly did I want to do? It was time to do some inward reflecting.

The harder it was for me to recruit people in IT, the more I realized how low the supply and high the demand was for programmers in the US. In addition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women held just 25% of professional computing occupations in 2015. And more than 90% of those women were white. Just 5% were Asian, 3% African American and 1% Hispanic. These results astounded me.

Out of all the roles I had recruited for, front end developers (FEDs) seemed to be the most interesting. Being a FED meant that I could create web pages and applications utilizing color, creativity, icons and fonts, user interactions, and more — pretty neat. From my time recruiting I also knew that most managers didn’t really care if you had a degree in Computer Science. Sure, it was always preferred, but they’d take any type of college degree as long as you had a programming background. Heck, even if you didn’t have a college degree and you were a baller programmer, managers would still consider hiring you. With all of this data in front of me, my decision to become a front end developer was made.

In the famous words of NAS:

“I know I can
Be what I wanna be
If I work hard at it
I’ll be where I wanna be.”

So, how’d I become a developer within eight months? I’m glad you asked.

First things first, trying to learn a new skill-set is HARD. With any type of programming, you’re learning a new language — it’s like Spanish class all over again. In my case, I was dead-set on front end development. This meant learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (while still working a full-time role as a recruiter). Trust me if I can do it, so can you.

A typical work/study day:

  • 8:30am to 5:30pm— Work,work,work,work,work (sing it Rhi-rhi!)
  • 6pm — Dinner
  • 7pm to 10pm — Study all things front end related
  • 10pm — Sleep
  • Repeat

I gave myself this schedule for two reasons. First, I wanted to make sure I even liked coding. Was it something I’d truly enjoy, or make me want to rip my hair out? Second, I wanted to exhaust all of the free resources on the internet before giving away the little funds I had to a code bootcamp or university.

Free resources:

  • Codecademy — Step by step development courses. This was my go-to.
  • W3Schools — Development courses and examples optimized for learning, testing, and training.
  • Codepen — Showcase of advanced techniques with editable source code.
  • Udacity — Learn to code from free courses and Nanodegree programs.
  • YouTube — Endless free programming videos out there to get you started.

This is a small list to get you started, try to find what works best for you. After work I would get on these sites, complete a couple of modules each night, then start the process all over again.

I did this for six consecutive months.

I know, it seems gruesome, but that time flew by pretty quickly because I actually enjoyed what I was doing. After the first month I knew I was on the right track. After six months of self-training, I looked into how I could further my education by taking a paid course.

Paid courses:

  • Tech Talent South(TTS) — Offers a wide range of courses from full-time to part-time training, weeks varied.
  • UNC Charlotte Coding Bootcamp — A part-time, 24-week, full stack development course.
  • Honorable Mention: The Iron Yard (TIY) — New to the Charlotte community. A 12-week, full-time development course. Offers front end and back end classes.
  • Honorable Mention: Coder Foundry — New to the Charlotte community. 12-week and 18-week courses in Full-Stack Web Development.

Out of all the paid courses I looked into, whether that be online or face-to-face, my final choice was TTS’ Intro to Web Design and Creation course. It was a part-time, affordable class that I went to every Monday for two months. After the first class was over, I was extremely thankful I had studied front end prior to joining. This bootcamp style course worked at a fast pace. If you didn’t actively participate and ask questions, you could easily get lost in the technical jargon of it all.

I think it’s very important to mention that throughout this time of learning, I was actively going to Meetups — meetup.com is a networking platform to explore and discover groups in your area. In my case, I was going to Meetups for anything front end related. At these meetings I would learn new technologies, network with individuals, and occasionally nom on some tasty food. My favorites included: Girl Develop It (shameless plug), Charlotte Front End Developers, Charlotte User Experience, Skookum Tech Talks, and CharlotteJS.

After eight months of networking, studying, and going to a coding school, I had built a respectable portfolio that I could showcase to employers. I was finally ready to walk on greener pastures! While I was applying for entry-level positions through company websites in Charlotte and elsewhere, I was also utilizing TTS’ online job portal — I applied to any place that’d take me.

In the end I landed two job offers. One through a company called Cardinal Solutions (found through the TTS job portal & Meetup acquaintance), and another from Bank of America. After going through each interview process, I chose Cardinal Solutions for their work-life balance, mentorship, and growth opportunities.

Nearly two years later I continue to build beautiful, responsive websites for Cardinal Solutions, I’m a chapter leader for Charlotte’s Girl Develop It, and an advocate for women in IT…and all it took was a bit of will-power and determination. So what are you waiting for? The opportunities are out there. If you’re ready for a career change, and you have the means to help yourself, then do something about it!

“Once you have commitment, you need the discipline and hard work to get you there.”– Haile Gebrselassie

I hope this post was able to provide you with useful information on what it takes to land your first programming job. If you know of anyone curious about programming, please share this with them and feel free to comment with your thoughts below.

~Cristina Veale, 2017

P.S. Here’s a few helpful tips I learned along the way:

  • Try free classes first to see if programming is right for you.
  • If you take a part-time course, studying the language beforehand is critical so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
  • Find a mentor! I found one early on and went to them for any technical questions I needed further explanation on.
  • Ask schools and coding bootcamps about their scholarship opportunities!
  • Don’t leave a Meetup without introducing yourself to the organizers — tell them you’re on the market and looking.
  • Make business cards for yourself and include your portfolio site.
  • Network, network, network! This played a big role in getting me an interview with Cardinal Solutions.