Are you learning how to code? Are you thinking about how to best structure your learning process to maximize your chances of getting your first job in technology? Whether you’re just starting out or whether you’ve been doing it for quite some time, it’s always good to hear advice from people who have done it. So I’ve interviewed three brilliant self-taught programmers on the topic!
Here are these wonderful women:
Nicole – Freelance Designer and Developer
Jenny – Software Developer
Ana – React Developer at Distanceware
All of the women that you will hear from today don’t have a background in computer science. They’ve used online courses, bootcamps and other resources to teach themselves how to code and to get their first job in the industry. So let’s get into the interview!
Masha: How did you start your learning process? Did you have a plan?
So when I first got started learning how to code, I was just going off of my curiosity. I was just allowing what I was learning, kind of lead me into another thing. And just basing it off of what I thought was interesting in the moment. As I got more serious about learning how to code to kind of activate a career shift in my life, I realised that I did need a plan and to set strong goals in order to make it a reality in a reasonable amount of time.
No, I did not have a solid plan. How I started my learning process was: I looked up what is programming and what is software development, how much money they make and a day in the life of a programmer. The kind of freedom they get at this kind of position. I found myself loving it! I was like: this could be me and I want this.
So I started taking classes at a community college in San Jose. There I took C, C++ Java and SQL. I loved it. I loved going to school, but it was going to take me anywhere from five to six years to complete my degree because I was working part time and going to school part time. I didn’t want to wait that long to start making money, programming and have that kind of freedom. So I was looking for alternatives, which I found.
When I first started, I didn’t have a plan. I had been playing around with the idea for about six months before I actually decided to start learning something. But I wasn’t sure. I was looking at syllabus and curriculums from coding bootcamps or online courses to see what languages and what things specifically people were learning in order to become developers. So I had been looking at things here and there, but never actually made the decision.
And in March, 2019 I decided to try it out to see if it was something that I would actually like to do as a career. And I started learning HTML and CSS. I didn’t have a plan as of then, I was just seeing if it was something that I would be into. So about a month into that I realized that it was something I really enjoyed doing. I started building static websites after learning HTML and CSS and I was really enjoying it.
After I decided that I wanted to pursue it as a career, that’s when I came up with a plan. I kept looking at syllabuses from bootcamps, from online courses – specifically the ones that said: this is how to get a job as a web developer. So I was looking up from different sources what were people were learning that were relevant skills in 2019 or 2020 that were helping people get a job – so I could learn those skills from home.
Masha: What worked for you and what didn’t?
I feel like this is a really important question because it took me a year to realize what actually worked for me and what didn’t. I just tried multiple different things. I’m trying to make the most out of my time so I can study the most and have a lot of brainpower to understand these concepts and it took me a lot longer than I wish it had. But what didn’t work for me was studying in the evening.
I thought that getting a job in the morning and then coming home around four or five and studying or building websites up until 10 or 11 PM five days a week was something that could work for me. And I actually got a job and quit the job that I had so I can start doing that. In a week or two weeks in, I realized that that wasn’t working at all.
By the time I came home, I was exhausted. I was mentally exhausted and didn’t have the brain power to study. So what I figured out that worked for me was actually studying in the morning. Setting time aside, waking up early in the morning and doing it first thing in the morning. And then I was working in the evenings for some time. So that was actually what worked the best for me using the lucidity that I have in the morning and the brainpower that I have as soon as I wake up to get right into coding. Because it’s not only about understanding difficult concepts that I had never heard of before, it’s also about finding the willpower to sit down and tackle these challenges that it can be very difficult at times.
Another thing that really hindered my progress was looking at the things that I had to learn as a mountain of things that I didn’t know and that I had to learn before I could get a job instead of looking at them as little challenges in little steps that I could tackle each day. Looking at the things that I didn’t know as a whole, instead of specific things that I had to get better at, just made me feel really anxious and made me feel like it was going to take a really long time to get there and it was going to take so long that why am I even trying for.
I just felt really bad about myself every time I would put things into perspective and even if I learned something new and a small thing today, then I would sit back and remember that even though I know this one thing, there’s so much that I still don’t know and I wouldn’t be celebrating my small accomplishments. So once I switched my mindset and realized that yes, there is a lot to know, but I can take it day by day and learn one thing at a time, it helped me really keep moving forward and celebrating the small little things that I was learning day by day.
Well, college did not work for me. I didn’t have the budget or the patience to finish and get that degree. So the coding bootcamp route worked out perfectly for me. It was a little pricey, but it was all worth at the end for me. I know that after I graduated, and a lot of people I’m sure can relate, is that you feel like an impostor and you have that impostor syndrome. However, even with impostor syndrome, I felt confident enough that if I need to learn new technologies that I would be able to pick that up in no time because I’ve proven to myself that in a very short amount that this is how much I could learn. So coding bootcamp worked for me.
So when I was first getting started was just sitting down whenever I felt like it, learning whatever it was that was right in front of me, not allowing concepts to solidify before moving on to another one. And when I got serious about what I wanted to learn, I knew I needed to sit down and set goals and make a plan. And as I began to do that and try different methods of goal setting and planning ahead of time, that is when I started to see the most progress.
So I definitely would recommend it to those that are thinking about teaching themselves how to code. You definitely need a plan of action and definitely need to have some of the details, like what resources you’re going to use, what times and days you’re going to learn. How long you’re going to learn each day. You need to have some of those things solidified before moving forward in order to see consistent progress in what it is that you’re learning.
Masha: What is your opinion of bootcamps?
I am a bootcamp grad myself. I do think bootcamps are helpful, however, I do feel like some bootcamps are pricey for the value they offer. And you can find the right bootcamp for you by understanding your learning style, how much you’re willing to spend and the kind of time that you have.
For me, I wanted to do something immersively, so I worked for months to save up for things. It was like three or four months worth of rent, car payments, insurance, food, all of that. So I had a few months of expenses cover saved in my saving account. And then I knew I wanted to be onsite. I didn’t want to do it online because I wanted to do it with other people. And so I think that’s very important for you to know your learning style, your budget and whatever suits your current situation.
I have a very mixed opinion about bootcamps. I think that they can definitely be helpful and I think that the intent behind them is to be helpful and is to jump-start people into a new career in a short amount of time. But I think that as with anything, there can be some red flags or issues that come along with something like that. But overall, I think that if bootcamp route is the route that you are looking to do, then there are tons of benefits. I think the biggest benefit is the community aspect, the learning in a cohort of people and the support that you would get from the staff and teachers that you would have there. Especially when it comes time to looking for a job and you know, learning for an interview. If that’s the route you want to take. I think it’s definitely really crucial to have some type of support system or mentorship and bootcamps offer that obviously.
If you’re interested in a bootcamp and want to find one that works best for you, I would say do extensive research before you commit to one. Look at the ones that are in your local area. Look at the ones that are offered online or in person in different areas that you’re interested in being in and also just look at what it is that you want to do ultimately. Whether it be become a full stack developer or a data scientist and look for programs that offer extensive training in what it is that you want to do.
I think that bootcamps are a great option for people who have the money to go to them and are able to afford to quit their job and study full time. I think that if somebody is feeling very overwhelmed by all the technologies and languages there are to learn and they can afford to go to a bootcamp, I think it’s definitely something to consider.
On the other hand, if you’re not able to drop that kind of money on a bootcamp and you’re not able to quit your job, then it’s not something to worry about. I personally considered going to a bootcamp multiple times because I just felt like it would be the easier way to do it – because I would just show up to class and somebody will tell me what to learn. Whether when teaching yourself, you not only have to teach yourself, but you also have to research what should you learn.
So I thought that bootcamps were just the solution to that issue, which is not true. Bootcamps are very hard on their own. I actually have a video from back in March when I applied to Flatiron school. I decided not to go to a bootcamp and there’s just a bunch of personal reasons why I decided not to go to a bootcamp. The way that people can find the right one for them is something that should be targeted to specifically what you want. For example, I applied to Flatiron school and I got into Flatiron school. But during my interview, I found out that Flatiron school is mostly backend focused and I wanted to become a frontend developer. So that’s one of the reasons why I decided not to go to Flatiron school. I think that people should look at the languages and technologies that they learn in bootcamps and see if that aligns with the kind of developer or the kind of job that you want to have.
Just because a bootcamp says that a 100% of their graduates get a job within three months, it doesn’t mean that you specifically want to learn what they are going to teach you. It also doesn’t mean it’s true. There are definitely multiple options for bootcamps. The ISA income share agreements have been become very popular in the last two years. So that is also an option for people who are not able to afford it. But once again, I don’t think that you absolutely need a bootcamp to become a web developer. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it.
Masha: What would you recommend for people looking to start learning technical skills?
My biggest piece of advice to anyone who is interested in starting to learn is to start now. There’s no better time than the present to start learning hard technical skills. I preach this so much on my personal channels and it’s just that our world is becoming increasingly more digital and if there is something inside of you kind of tugging at you to start learning, the time is now.
You have to start now because things are only going to continue to grow in the tech industry and in the world because the tech industry, to be honest, is intertwined with everything else in the world. So there’s definitely a place for you no matter what it is that you’re interested in doing and just get started now. Just pick up a book, start learning online. There are tons of free resources and get to it.
If you’re looking to learn a technical skill, I feel like a lot of people would say: well, find out what you want to do and then start from there – which is great advice. But maybe some people feel the way that I feel, I need to know if a specific skill or a specific field is something that I could see myself in, before I start planning for what specific job I would like to have. So I would like to give advice for the people who feel more like me rather than people who are able to plan specifically and throw themselves at something and become really good at it. I would just try it out. And by that I mean go online. For example, you can start learning HTML and CSS the same way that I did. There is not only Codecademy, but there’s also free code camp, there’s a lot of information on YouTube and just try it out.
For people who are looking to learn technical skills, I would recommend that you go on YouTube and search for tutorials. Start following those. There are a lot of free great content on YouTube. And also look up articles, blogs, reach out to people on LinkedIn and see if you can ask for their advice, pick their brain and also books you can buy books. Lastly, I would probably do it this last, buy a course on Udemy. It’s more structured so you can have someone guide you in the learning process. But I would first though, do YouTube, try to find free stuff first before you start paying for courses.
Thank you so much, Nicole, Jenny and Anna for sharing your experiences and advice. Make sure that you follow these wonderful ladies on social media because they share so much value on a regular basis:
I hope this was helpful for your learning process and how you approach it. Let me know in the comments what you’re currently learning and watch out for next week’s post where I will be interviewing another three badass self-taught programmers on how they got their first job in technology.