From depressed college student to excited (and employed) web developer
After eating a late dinner at the school cafeteria, I returned to my dorm room to wind down. It was a Friday night and the alcohol was flowing between the dorm rooms as my peers were getting ready for a night on the town. However, I did not have any plans, and settled on finishing some studying then catching some sleep. Some girls came into the building and proceeded to enter one of the rooms, passing me by while I was studying. Behind closed doors, one of the girls asked her friends, “Was that Shady Shane?” In an instant, I flew into a rage and was screaming on the phone to my parents, telling them I was going to transfer to another school. Fighting back tears, I went to bed without any certainty of how I would live my life.
Thanks to self-healing, amazing friends, and hard work, I was able to transform my life within a mere three years. Hey everyone, my name is Shane Harper, and let me tell you my story.
Whenever I hear someone saying that college is the best four years of your life, I remember all the times in college I struggled to make it through another day and think to myself “There’s no way he/she is serious.” Due to my social and mental struggles, I was unable to have the picture-perfect “party-filled/memory-making” college experience. When I started making mistakes that negatively affected my social life, I said to myself “This is not good. I need to fix this.” And as I was trying to fix all of my problems, BAM! I graduated with a degree but with no purpose for the life ahead of me. In addition, I had failed to make any lifelong friends and create lasting memories, whereas most of my peers did. The worst part of all was the fact that I did not have a calling or purpose in life. Instead, I felt a large hole inside of me that I believed nothing could fill.
I decided to take a gap year to teach in the Dominican Republic. Even though I was living in a foreign country, my demons from my past still haunted me and prevented me from making a lot of friends and memories while living abroad. To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Nevertheless, I had not been able to move on with my life. I decided to return to the States after my contract expired to take a position at a local insurance agency as a sales and customer service representative. Although I was with a hard-working team and successful agency, I still was striving for something greater for a fulfilling career.
During this time, I had been communicating with my cousin on how to transition to a rewarding career field, since I felt that neither education nor insurance fit the bill. At the time I considered in going towards international business, but somehow or another he convinced me to look into web & software development. Even though I found that career field interesting, I still had many questions for him. How would I ever be able to be a full-time developer without a Computer Science (CS) degree? What technologies would I need to learn to be job-ready? What resources are available for you to learn coding? Then, after introducing me to Free Code Camp (FCC), I got hooked!
After several FCC lessons,
I decided to join a developers’ meetup at a local coffee shop. When I first arrived and met the other attendees, nearly all of the confidence I had built up through my lessons evaporated. I met full stack developers working on large scale projects, whether writing code for passport verification machines at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport or developing new software for AT&T. And in the midst of these amazing people was me, a young gun with dreams of getting my foot in the door in the tech industry with some HTML and CSS knowledge. Needless to say, I was the greenest person you ever saw in that coffee shop. I asked myself, “How am I supposed to get from where I am to where they are?”
For a time, I viewed these two places as two cliffs separated by a vast expanse with almost no hope of possibly bridging the gap. However, in the midst of confusion, the other attendees greeted me with open arms and were so glad I came. Not only that, they were willing to dedicate some of their time to teach me new concepts in web development, how to start looking for full time work, and more! As I continued attending these meetups, that gap that I described earlier started becoming smaller and smaller.
Not too long after that, I created my blueprint on how I was going to become a full time developer.
I decided that I need to achieve this goal by the end of the calendar year. In addition, I was going to accomplish this goal on my own. My cousin and main mentor said that it is entirely possible and that although I would need to work very hard, it would absolutely pay off. I began taking classes on TreeHouse, a subscription service that has organized tracks for learning web and software development. Despite the challenges ahead of me, I was determined to make this career change.
After a few months learning basic concepts that I felt wouldn’t land me a job, one developer at the meetup encouraged me to apply to a coding bootcamp, an educational organization that teaches the core concepts of web and software development with the goal of getting a job quickly. The programs typically involve 3–4 months of full time coding, and cost more than $10,000. The prospect of getting a job quickly actually convinced me to look into a program, but my cousin reeled me back into the self-taught route. He convinced me I could definitely still get a job with my own hard work, persistence, and determination, without thousands of dollars of debt.
Starting in September,
I decided that I was ready to start applying for jobs. I made a simple spreadsheet on Google Sheets and tracked who I applied to. I looked just about everywhere to find open positions — Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter, Glassdoor, etc. Most of the companies I applied for shared several requirements: a few years of front end knowledge with frameworks and a Computer Science degree. I asked my friends at the meetups what their thoughts were and they all said the same thing: don’t worry about not having a CS degree because all they want is someone who can do the work well. In fact, I knew several people that had a full-time software job without a degree, so why shouldn’t I accomplish the same thing? With that in mind, I kept updating my resume and cover letter and dedicated myself to keep applying.
Throughout this time, I accepted a freelance developer position for a friend’s startup. Even though we did a few sites for small businesses around town, I realized that I needed to leverage my position to show that I had the experience necessary to be a full-time developer. After applying to a few jobs, I started getting discouraged because I never heard back from anyone and even got one or two no’s. However, as time progressed, I started preferring rejections because so many companies never reached out to me! For a period of time I felt convinced that I may not be truly ready to be a full-time developer since companies were not reaching out to me. Nevertheless, my close friends at the meetups kept encouraging me to stay the course.
I started to receive few interview requests from companies! I was so thrilled I didn’t know what to think! Someone actually took the time to review my application and felt that I could be the right fit for them! However, as time went on, I had to mark each one off of my list as after a first-round interview, they either never responded or said no. In fact, I had been invited to a social event for a large company only for them to turn me down prior to the event. Nevertheless, I attended the event as per their advice, and l actually learned a lot of valuable information from them and still appreciate their time and consideration.
As I kept applying and not hearing back or getting rejected, I finally had an interview request from a private company in Baltimore. I did what I had always done, kept professional with the interviewer and followed up on the recruiting process. During this process, the recruiter recommended that I apply for another affiliate company. Although I had been turned down for the first company, I went through round after round with this new company! Finally, after much anticipation, I had been called for an in-person interview in Baltimore!
I was very nervous yet excited for this interview. As I drove to the airport, I did not know what to expect. When I finally met with the recruiter, I had calmed down enough to feel comfortable meeting the development teamas well as my interviewer. The office space was very open and I was able to meet several employees. As I had lunch with the lead developer and operations manager, I knew that I was very close to the actual interview. Although nervous, I was prepared because I had been spending the last year and a half preparing for this moment. I walked in with confidence, shook their hands, and did my best interview with them as I knew how.
After the interview, they told me that I would hear back within a week. With that in mind, I returned to the airport, asking myself how I could have done the interview better or if I made any mistakes. All of this was swarming my mind, when, an hour after arriving, I got a call from the recruiter. With much joy in her voice, she announced to me that they had extended me an offer!!! In that very moment, I realized that all of my hard work had paid off. I was no longer a lonely college graduate with no plans for the future, but a full time web developer!
I can confidently say that I do not work at all, rather, do what I love. I wake up in the morning with anticipation to get back on that computer and code. I am also working with an amazing development team that has proven itself by tackling some of the more challenging projects that our company has ever faced. On top of that, I am learning new technologies to level up my coding skills and help me progress in the tech industry! And I can trace all of these accomplishments to a decision I made to change my life in the summer of 2017.
I am writing this extensive article to let you know that if you have a dream of making a career change, whether it is to be a developer or not, I want you to know to never give up! The journey may seem difficult at times, but always remember the pain of regret is worse than the pain of putting in the blood, sweat and tears to strive towards your goals. You are able to accomplish more than you ever thought possible if you just put your mind to it. Looking back on the past year and a half, I am extremely thankful that I carried on despite all of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in my way. When I was at my lowest, I remembered my time in college and said to myself “You are going to do whatever it takes to never live like that again.” And, just like a boxer that suffered from what looked like a knock-out blow, I got right back up, refusing to give up.