My Journey from Zero to Developer
I often get asked what caused me to give up being a “Youtube celebrity” and a life of playing video games for a living to go work at IBM.
Well, discussing reasoning behind some of my life decisions could be a conversation of it’s own, but for now I’d love to share the story of my journey from having no idea what I was doing to landing one of the most amazing jobs I could ever ask for.
Table of Contents
I’ll spare you the life story, but I have to start somewhere so I’ll just say that when I made the decision to jump into learning web development…I was at a point where I had no idea what I wanted to do in life.
Why did I make the decision? My sister had begun her CS degree (she is 10 years younger) and I really wanted to help her, so I skimmed a Java book and went through all of her homework projects with her during that first semester.
I was overjoyed with remembering how awesome building things from scratch and solving complex problems can be that I just had a lightbulb moment. I knew what I wanted to be doing with my life going forward.
Research / Exploration phase
I had coded flash games back in 2007, but I knew NOTHING about how the web worked, since all I’ve done since then is play video games.
All I knew is that I wanted to make apps that would be viewable on my phone or the web. For a while, I thought I was going to have to learn Java…until I realized that was only used in extremely outdated enterprise software.
My first month was chaotic learning. I kept seeing information pointing me in 5 different directions. I read an entire book on Java, then switched to Python for a week and read through a book on that.
I signed up for courses to learn “Big Data”, and algorithms, and AI, and all kinds of crap. I really had no idea what I was doing or what I needed to learn.
The one thing I am most grateful for, is that I made the decision to install Linux so that I could learn the Bash command line, and I did some tutorials on using Vim.
After getting tossed around with my learning, I was getting frustrated. I began researching code bootcamps, colleges, and various ways of getting this shit down.
I discovered a local bootcamp teaching PHP, and looked into some colleges. Eventually, after realizing how bad my credit was and the fact that I couldn’t afford to do any of that, I stumbled across The Odin Project.
It was a free self paced online bootcamp stating it could take you from zero knowledge, to landing a job. PERFECT!
I’ve always thrived in self paced conditions, and this is exactly what I needed: A roadmap.
NOTE: For anyone reading this, The Odin Project is a great resource for learning Ruby and Rails, although now days I would VERY HIGHLY recommend using Free Code Camp which has become an amazing project with a huge community backing it.
Now that I had a plan, I decided to take the “burn all of the ships” approach and fully commit to getting a job in web dev.
At this point I sold my gaming PC, all of my Youtube recording equipment, deleted all of my TV shows, and vowed to not play any games or watch TV until I landed a job.
In order to track my progress and stay focused, I wrote out a recap every other day as well as at the end of each week. I kept many of the recaps public as well here - http://colbycheeze.blogspot.com/
The other thing which I’m not 100% about, was I experimented with getting only 5-6 hours of sleep each night so that I could spend more time learning. I probably wouldn’t skip so much sleep based on my recent sleep / learning research but in the end it worked out.
Getting things going, even with the “roadmap” was tough! I definitely got stuck a lot along the way.
The point at which I really accelerated, was when I began joining communities and meeting people that could help me or visa versa.
I began talking with people from the code buddies and code newbie community, and joined various active Slack channels.
Having people to reach out to with questions about whether I was on track or not, while also seeing other newbies with questions I could answer was very encouraging.
Eventually I began to attend as many local meetups as I could, and getting to know other developers.
Having a strong community, and connections to fall back on is probably one of the most important things regardless of career path you take. If this is the only thing you take away from this article, this was a success.
Finally after about 4 months of hardcore learning, I began tweaking my resume and sending out messages to various companies.
I wrote down a general description of myself and sort of an intro “template” so I wouldn’t have to retype things each time, while slowly improving upon it.
While applying at various locations, I was slowly working to improve my personal website and portfolio to give the best first impression to anyone researching me.
All in all, I sent out 80 job applications within about a 6 week period and got turned down or ignored on most. I had a few phone interviews that I was turned down on for “not enough experience”.
This can be the most upsetting part of the journey, but my best advice is to just ask for feedback, and find out what skills people are looking for. Eventually, you will find somewhere that you are a fit if you keep improving yourself, and trying to meet new people.
Got a job!
Eventually I got accepted to an interview at IBM Design and another startup based in Austin around the same time. I went to both, and was offered a spot in either location.
I was very skeptical of being at a big company however I was blown away after the interview, so I turned down the startup’s offer.
Overall, I believe my ability to land a job was in large part due to soft skills. In other words, I was able to demonstrate not only a bit of knowledge, but I showed that I had a ton of passion and would be an enjoyable person to work with.
My best parting advice then would be to work on yourself as a person, not just your ability to code. Hopefully a look back on my journey was insightful. Definitely leave a comment or send me an e-mail if you have questions as I’d love to help anyone out that is treading down my path!