So you want to become a web developer! Maybe you took a programming class or two in college. Perhaps you’ve tinkered around with code for a while and now want to get more serious about it. Or, maybe your current job and skill set have absolutely nothing to do with how to build a website, and you have no idea how to get started. Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place!
A bit about me: I started my corporate career in workers’ compensation administration. From there, I moved into B2B enterprise sales in the healthcare/insurance space and did that for a decade or so. Then I spent a couple of years as an artist selling on Etsy. So exactly how did I pivot into tech from there? And what advice would I give someone who is on a similar journey?
Before we jump into that, let me say that the world of tech is huge, and there are many paths you can take. You can specialize in web development, software engineering, dev ops, security, blockchain…the list goes on. And no matter which focus you choose, you will become more familiar with how it all works.
I like to think of it as similar to medicine: you wouldn’t rely on a brain surgeon for your heart transplant or a cardiologist for a shoulder replacement, but they could both probably stitch up a wound in a pinch. Also, just like medicine, new technologies and techniques are coming out every day, so the ability to continuously integrate updated information throughout your tech career is vital.
I pause here for a warning: no matter which specialty you choose, everyone in your family and social circle will call you when they have a computer or phone problem, even if it’s unrelated to what you actually do. 100% guaranteed.
Continuing, here are a few ways to approach the how part of your pivot: you can, of course, get a traditional computer science degree, but that typically takes longer than most people want to spend mid-career. Another option is a boot camp which can range significantly in both time commitment and pricing, as well as what kind of technology focus it has.
A third option is to start combing the internet for tutorials and learning independently. This option is best if you have some experience and know what you’re looking for, but not mandatory. And lastly, if you currently work at a tech company in a different role, talk to your manager about changing positions within the company. After all, devs and engineers can be hard to find, and if your employer already knows you’re a good culture fit there, they may be willing to invest in cross-training you.
My how was a combo of the second and third options. At the time, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and coding boot camps were popping up like Starbucks. I went with a part-time, less intensive boot camp because I was unable to take months off from a job, something required for the more intensive boot camps. It helped me understand the basics and primarily focused on front-end development. Afterward, I continued building my skill set with free and paid tutorials on places like YouTube, Free Code Camp, Udemy, Linkedin Learning, and more.
The benefit of a boot camp was it gave me guidance on what to learn as well as in-person mentorship when I had questions. Keep in mind that I didn’t even know I could download a different browser than the one that came on my laptop when I started, so when I say that I was a beginner, I mean absolute beginner, and the guardrails of a boot camp were invaluable.
The downside is that boot camps are largely unregulated and vary wildly in quality. They also vary in length, content, and of course, price. And there’s always the chance that you won’t actually like programming or possess the innate stubbornness to stick with it when it gets frustrating - which it will. And that feeling never goes away no matter how long you’ve been doing it.
One thing I would change if I could do things over again would be to find a mentor who has worked as a developer or software engineer to coach me on transitioning from a boot camp to that first junior dev role. A lot of times, it’s a case of you don’t know what you don’t know, and I think my journey would have been a bit more linear had I known that was an option.
As it was, my path was full of ups and downs: after I graduated, I was hired to teach at that same boot camp and did so for a year and a half. I then landed a position as a Programmer Analyst, which didn’t involve a whole lot of front-end development, and my dev skills began to atrophy. I’d just about given up on the front-end dev path when COVID hit, and my position was eliminated. I took it as a sign and redoubled my efforts by getting back into learning with online courses to shake off the cobwebs and add to my skill set, and landed a contract with a FAANG company a couple of months later - my first official front-end dev job!
However, I missed working at a smaller company and couldn’t picture leaving my dog alone at home for 8+ hours post-pandemic, so I set my sights on finding a startup or growing company with a distributed team to contribute to.
- The position needed to be 100% remote
- The company had to be actively recruiting for diversity
- There had to be opportunities to learn new skills or at least keep my current skills from aging out…the world of tech moves fast!
Luckily, I was able to find all three components at multiple companies and received two competing offers. I ultimately chose Savas because of the culture, the type of clients it works with, and the people I interviewed with.
To sum up:
- Take an honest look at how you learn best. Do you have the tenacity and self-discipline to learn on your own with free online resources? Or are you so new to it all that a boot camp is worth the investment? Reach out to your network and see if you can connect with someone who has already gone through the process or, even better, is already doing the job you want. Be bold! Offer to take them out for coffee and ask them questions about their experience.
- Read through job postings to get an idea of what direction you’d like to take and which programming languages and technologies you need to learn for them.
- Find a mentor. Even if you need to hire someone, this could save you months, if not years, in your career journey.
- Just like learning a foreign language, you have to practice to become good at it; you can’t sit back and simply parrot what you hear, i.e. stick with tutorial builds. You’ve got to get out and have real conversations, i.e. build something of your own, even if it feels basic to start and you make a lot of errors. You have to suck at something before you’re awesome at it.
- A hard truth: it will be a difficult journey if you are a woman and/or a person of color because the tech industry is still mostly white and male. You may be the only woman in your boot camp cohort. You may be the only person of color on your team. And just like other industries, your ideas may be ignored and your accomplishments unacknowledged. Don’t give up! You deserve a seat at this table!
Utilize those resources which exist to help level the playing field: Women Who Code, Tech Ladies, Code2040, Black Girls Code, Latinas in Tech, Out in Tech, and many others. Some of these organizations have job boards that help you locate companies who are actively diversifying their teams, like Savas Labs!
- Online resources I’ve personally used to further my learning, in no particular order:
- YouTube: this can be very hit or miss, but if you’re willing to watch the first few minutes of a lot of videos, you can find some gems on there. Find an instructor whose teaching style fits your learning style. Also, Udemy instructors will sometimes post partial courses or older courses on YouTube to promote themselves, and you can take advantage of that to score some free info.
- Speaking of Udemy, this can also be hit or miss. There are both free and paid courses available. My advice is to take advantage of the rating system here to find good courses & instructors. And sign up for sale notifications: most courses go on sale for around $10 pretty often, and many of them offer full refunds within 30 days if you aren’t satisfied with your purchase.
- LinkedIn Learning: If you have LinkedIn Premium, this gives you access to a myriad of courses, some of which provide badges and/or opportunities to take skill tests at the end, which you can then display on your LinkedIn profile. This gives you an edge over other candidates when recruiters utilize them to source for positions they are looking to fill.
- FreeCodeCamp.org has full courses available for, well, free.
There are a plethora of other options, as well; online coding tutorials have exploded in the last decade, as have in-person boot camps. Along with more options come more decisions and vetting, so don’t be afraid to ask around, read reviews, and search LinkedIn to see where current devs graduated or procured their education from.
So what are you waiting for? Go for it!