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How I became a frontend developer

Can you learn how to code in three months? Are bootcamps worth it? Is development more fun than design? I am Leslie and here’s my story!

Me, coding on my laptop

Hi, I am Leslie and I will tell you my story of how I became a frontend developer after working as a designer for several years. Maybe you are thinking about a career switch as well, then this might be an interesting read for you.

Nowadays there are many Bootcamps teaching you how to code in all kind of languages. And there are also a couple really big online platforms that teach how to code in a playful way. But the big question is: does it work?
Bootcamps are usually quite short, about 3 months long. Learning how to code in this short amount of time can seem — impossible!

Well, I went to a bootcamp and I will share my personal experience with you.

Before I decided to join a bootcamp, I was working as a graphic designer for several years. I was designing books, flyers, stationaries etc. but also websites. For the last years I have taught myself some CSS and HTML and the very basics of JavaScript. I found myself playing with code from time to time, building some small static websites or adjusting some Wordpress themes. It was super fun and I enjoyed it a lot! I thought, “If I could code like a real developer, this would be so cool”. But I had little trust in myself that I could be a real coder. “This is way too complicated”, “I will never catch up”, “It’s too late anyways”, “But I am a designer, that’s what I wanted to be all my life. I can’t switch industries now!” (At the time I thought I would need to throw away my design skills if I became a dev, silly me…)

Time passed, but the thought stayed.

I started to watch some coding tutorials and then another one, and another one… I signed up for all kinds of online teaching platforms. I started to dig into all kinds of languages and documentations of frameworks and CMSs. I didn’t know what to learn, which language I should choose. PHP? JavaScript? Ruby? What’s the difference? Should I just use Wordpress? Or should I use some newer NoSQL CMS (what is that even?)?

I found myself getting up at 5 o’clock in the mornings to learn to code before I started my day-job. I was also at a point in my designer career where I was unhappy with my current situation: I felt like I am stuck and I got more and more frustrated. I knew… the time had come to make a decision. I realised I wanted to attend some sort of class, where I can ask a teacher questions and have an environment to really only focus on coding.
One day a friend asked me to join her for a meet-up “JavaScript for Beginners”. It was hosted by a bootcamp. It caught my interest… “learn to code in 3 months?” I was very skeptical. Three months is really a short time to learn how to code. And also, bootcamps are crazy expensive!

I did some research and found several bootcamps focusing on different languages. I found one which taught JavaScript. I felt this language suited me well. I went there, had a chat with the organisers, attended a trial class and liked it. I was like “I want to try this! But I am not sure if this is a good idea… 3 months… so much money…” I went to the job center and applied for financial support. I got rejected. So, what do you do when you are stuck and need some good advice? Of course, you talk to your parents!

Me: “Mom, Dad, I want to become a developer. And I found this bootcamp, where they teach you how to code… but it’s so expensive and I don’t know if it is worth it… I really want to try, but I am not sure…”
My parents: “Of course! Do this! You can never be wrong investing in yourself and your education.” (best parents ❤️)

The bootcamp was really intense. Of course! There are a lot of fundamentals and concepts to cover within only three months. It was a time of constant learning. The pattern was: one week of learning a new topic every morning, followed by an exercise in the afternoon. Then one week of working on a project which included all previously learned topics. This repeated for 12 weeks.

It began with “what is a variable” and setting up a GitHub account. git init and git push — wow, I can use this mysterious terminal! Data types, scopes, semantic markup, objects and arrays. The first two weeks were ok for me, since I knew some basic JavaScript and CSS before. But others were clearly struggling already.

A screenshot of my connect four game I built with jQuery
I built the game connect four with jQuery at the end of week 3 (Friday + weekend). The game is not really mobile friendly, I would say it looks best on desktop around 1230 x 639. ✌️And I added this feature where the dots randomly reassign colours after the timer has ended. 😜

But the pace was high! We built a slideshow and the game “connect four” with jQuery (jQuery… now I can chuckle about it). Quickly we started to play around with the Twitter API and authentication. We learned about promises, csurf, SQL and many more things. One day we looked at filesystems, the next one we learned about Express on node. When I had the feeling I finally understood a little bit of one thing we moved on to the next thing and everything was new and different again. I remember feeling almost confident writing routes in node and using handlebars as a templating language, then we moved on to Vue.js the following week and I was so lost. And after that we looked at, of course — React. The stress level was really high. There weren’t many breaks — little sleep (and when I slept I dreamt of functions and variables).

We built a website for a petition (topic of our own choice) in week 7 and 8. It includes: signature in canvas, forms and csurf. The users can create an account to sign the petition. All the data is added to a database (SQL / Postgres) and in the end we deployed the app on heroku. And because I had no other hobbies during that time I built these pigs in CSS only. Here is the Link: FREE WILLI 🐽

Then, in the last week, everyone had the opportunity to work on their own project to include the newly learned skills. It was just incredible how much we all learned. I think after the bootcamp and I almost certainly speak for everyone who has attended, I slept through the whole upcoming week.
At this point I also have to mention that we had really good tutors who were always there to help. There was one tutor I felt I could really trust. I could ask him everything and he always had an in-depth answer, since he had so much experience. He was like a walking reference book.

After some time I started to prepare my CV and cover letters and started applying at companies. There was this one company I had my eyes on for a while already… I applied for a junior frontend position, had an interview and got the job! Thanks diesdas.digital for taking me aboard! 🙂

Now I’ve worked in the industry for about one and a half years. I worked on small and big websites, I learned a new language (Elm) and I developed a small game.

If you asked me now “can one learn how to code in 3 months?” I would say: Well, let’s be clear, you probably won’t be the best coder after that time and it will take way more time to deeply understand the different concepts of coding and to understand what makes code good. But! If you really hang in there, it will give you certainly the basic understanding to build stuff and to apply for jobs. However, this is no guarantee. Some people found out along the way, that coding was not their thing after all and went back to their old jobs afterwards. Some never found a job in the industry for whatever reason.

I, personally, would totally do everything again, and it was worth every single cent. I am still super motivated to keep on learning, gaining more confidence every day.

A little comment from diesdas: Today Leslie is one of our best frontend developers — she has worked in a variety of tech stacks, she taught the rest of the team how to use CSS Grid, she is meticulous about turning designs into code, her design background makes her an even stronger developer and everyone loves working with her. 💪

diesdas.digital is a studio for strategy, design and code in Berlin, featuring a multidisciplinary team of designers, developers and strategists. We create tailor-made digital solutions with an agile mindset and a smile on our faces. Let’s work together!

Curious to learn more? We’re also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and we highly recommend our Tumblr. You could also subscribe to this publication to get notified when new posts are published! That’s all. Over & out! 🛰




Thoughts, observations and learnings from Berlin-based digital studio diesdas.digital.

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Leslie Büttel

Leslie Büttel

Hi, I am Leslie. I am a Coder and Designer.

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