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Dani Amsalem
Dani Amsalem

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So you finished bootcamp?

Now you're job hunting, or secured your first gig. Here's my story after finishing a full-stack bootcamp

--10 minute reading time--
I'd already held a wide variety of jobs. I'd tried my hand at cold-calling sales, installing tile in kitchens and bathrooms, working as a background actor in Hollywood, and welding studs in various oil refineries across the States.

I'd always wanted to be a developer, but I thought coding was too hard. That was until I learned about a 3 month long full-stack bootcamp. This was September of 2018.

I loved the bootcamp because it offered a promising career. I breezed through my HTML and CSS coursework but then barely grasped anything on my JavaScript and .NET courses.

I began hoping that I’d figure out how to code while on the job. After all, it was bootcamp, not a computer science degree!

Before I graduated, I was already sending out resumes. I started out sending around several high-quality resumes every day. However, I wasn't really generating any interest so I decided to create a simple template to speed up my process. I began sending dozens of resumes out every day.

Spammy resumes

To break up the monotony of job-hunting, I was taking a ReactJS course. As soon as I began, I realized this was too hard. I was trying to work on a project (ReactJS) without grasping the tools (JavaScript) that were required.

It was like trying to build a house without knowing how to use a drill, hammer or level.

I landed several interviews and sounded like a frantic idiot each time.

I remember one interview with a very interesting software company, I hoped I could catch his interest by mentioning that I knew ReactJS 🤦‍♂️

The interviewer, the CTO of the company, asked what my favorite part of React was. I quickly navigated to my course’s sales page and rattled off some of the bullet points.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t get another interview!

To expand my job-hunting activities, I began looking on Google and Yelp for companies in my area that might not be posting on job boards.

I found several agencies and would look for their website’s Careers page. If they didn’t have one, I’d reach out on their Contact page.

Finally, nearly 3 months in, one of those marketing agencies responded.

On a Wednesday, they gave me their coding challenge. It involved building a one-page WordPress page (something I had never done) and turning it in by Monday.

Because it looked like a tough project, I flip-flopped on deciding if completing the challenge was even worth it. I continued blasting out my resume through Friday.

However, that Saturday, I decided to knock the coding challenge out. I spent an hour or two watching a handful of YouTube videos and reading a couple of articles.

There were so many new terms, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at!

I downloaded some program called MAMP and used the same code editor from the bootcamp, Visual Studio Code. 6 hours and a lot of groaning later, I’d produced something I was somewhat proud of.

I turned it in immediately and we escaped from our apartment for a much needed break.

I really, really hoped this was it. But I couldn’t rest on my laurels. What if my little WordPress page was actually garbage?

A day or so later, I got a call that I was to come in for an in-person interview!

Thursday afternoon, I rode the subway, laptop in tow, to meet what might be my future employers for the first time.

The HR lady seated me in a small Upwork cubicle and told me she’d be back with the lead dev (gulp).

They returned and began with some introductory info about the company. Then they asked about me and my interests.

Finally, the lead dev swiveled his laptop towards me and asked me in what directory do I make edits to a WordPress project.

I began sweating…

Sweating profusely

I’d only looked at the WordPress folders for a short while hours that last Saturday!

Um… I think wp-content?

He paused. I dearly wished I'd reviewed my project before coming here! A moment later he confirmed my answer.

Inside I celebrated with fireworks and applause 🎇👏

The rest of the interview breezed by. I think he asked me some questions related to HTML and CSS, perhaps about the Bootstrap framework. I knew those well from the bootcamp.

The following week, the lead dev sent me a text me saying they'd get back to me with a job offer in a day or so! Wow, I jumped around my apartment yelling hurrah to my wife.

A couple days later, the HR lady emailed me the job offer. It was a 3 month long contract (with an option to extend) for a junior web dev role building WordPress templates. Then my eyes rested on the salary.

The offer was for a surprisingly low $48,000 year.

Let me put that in context. I had always hoped for at least $60,000-$65,0000 per year. Being a 28 year old married man with a wife who had gone back to school in NYC, we had been living off of my savings.

Once I was employed, we would continue living off of my single income and unfortunately $48,000 meant we would have to continue dipping into my rapidly dwindling savings.

The 3 month contract meant I could be job hunting all over again if they didn't like me!

Of course, I needed to just get my start and this was the first and only job offer to come in. I had to take it.

My first day on the job I was pretty certain they’d realize I was a faker.

I stepped into the shared workspace of the graphic design and copywriting team. This was where the lead dev and junior dev were working.

Everyone stopped what they were doing to shout greetings at me. I tried to match their enthusiasm but I'm pretty sure I missed the mark.

My energy missing the mark

The HR lady brought me into a small, glass-walled room inside the workspace. She had me sign some paperwork and then brought the lead dev in to get me started.

I'd brought my personal laptop which was good because they said they'd buy me a brand new Macbook Pro soon. Until then, I should set up with their work environment.

I installed their code editor, grabbed a licensed copy of MAMP and was given a link to a Github repository (repo for short).

I desperately tried to remember some basic git commands. Struggling, I Googled it and got the project on my computer.

The lead dev sat down with me and had me add a semicolon to a CSS file and push it up to the repo. I saw my changes and was all smiles. This wasn't so hard!

Then he sent me a link to a live WordPress project and gave me the credentials to log in. My instructions were to change some content in the WordPress editor.

I'd already built a WordPress website years before becoming a developer so I knew my way around. This was easy!

My first few days continued like that, making simple edits to existing WordPress sites through the WordPress dashboard and getting oriented to the environment.

I made small talk with my colleagues and began to slowly unwind.

A couple of days later, I was given a new Github repo and told to edit an existing page in my code editor.

I struggled to find the applicable page so I asked the other junior dev. He shared that he was the one who actually built this page and so he was well-acquainted with the project.

It took me well into the afternoon to figure out how the HTML was structured, how the CSS related to it and how to make some simple changes.

I would constantly Google things like CSS selectors and HTML main tag.

Later, the lead dev showed me a couple of tricks to make this sort of work easier.

The days passed and I continued learning and struggling.

My first major task was to build out a new template based on a mockup we received from graphic design.

I looked at existing pages built by one of the other two devs and then I'd Google the terms and tools that I'd encounter.

The other junior dev mentioned something called "CSS flexbox" and "CSS grid". I studied the online documentation for both during work hours. I'd also found some online educational games and would play them when I'd get home from work.

I'd spend many of my evenings reading WordPress documentation, exploring CSS guides, and Googling things I'd encountered but didn't understand.

I was determined to get an offer to continue working here.

In fact, I'd been talking to some of my colleagues and I learned that everyone gets an initial 3 month provisional job offer. Then they're offered a second and final 3 month extension before they're either let go or brought on as full time.

3 months in and I was interviewed by HR, the CEO and the creative director.

Suffice it to say, I'd been anxious about this meeting.

We went through the pleasantries and then they asked about my experience so far. I tried to provide a lot of positive feedback. I also brought up the fact that I really needed and wanted a higher salary (ideally $65,000) just so we could survive.

I explained that I knew that wasn't their problem, but I really wanted to continue working here and this was a major requirement.

They provided some positive feedback about my work-performance and explained that they would consider my request and get back to me.

Two weeks later I had a follow up meeting.

I had come prepared. I had noted down various ways I had gone above and beyond the typical expectations. I'd been recording down my day to day activities and organized it into a write-up of my role. I figured that would help them onboard future developers and make the experience easier for everyone involved.

I also provided some statistics of my improving performance.

Their feedback was again positive but tempered with an honest but slightly negative comment about my lack of experience.

At last they proposed a full-time job offer with a raise to $52,000 year salary!

It was a full time role with slightly better pay and I figured I'd have future opportunities for better pay. I'd also be able to skip that second 3 months of provisional work.

I happily accepted.

My mood

Moving on to better, brighter future.

I'd now been with the same company for nearly a year and a half and had gotten another raise to $58,000 (with a one-time year-end bonus of $5,000).

I was leaving for another company. The new job was for $75,000 with an opportunity for a raise to $80,000 after 3 months. I didn't get the raise after 3 months, but worked my butt off and an additional 3 months later got the raise.

I've since switched to another company and am making nearly 6-figures. For the first few weeks at this company, I was getting paid handsomely to study a variety of courses on the tools and languages we're using.

How amazing is that? Just a couple of years prior, I'd spent thousands to attend a bootcamp. Now I was getting paid thousands to study courses!

I'm loving my job, my company and my team. It's fun and challenging and has a great work environment. Plus we get excellent benefits.

Wrapping it all up.

My point in sharing this long, personal story is that becoming a developer is not binary. You don't just turn the corner and become an expert. It's a gradual process that may require a lot of busy nights and weekends.

It took me 3 months to find a job after applying at over 500 companies, primarily in New York City.

You may be faced with the choice of what language to study or whether to go for back-end or front-end. Do your research and begin whittling down your options discarding those topics and interests you're uncertain about in favor of those you have more certainty for.

Eventually, you'll pursue a route and it will be the best one you could have chosen, with the data you had at the time. Don't worry, you can always shift within the dev space.

Shifts are made easier by studying and practicing outside of work hours.

Who has time?

My studies never finished at the bootcamp. I continued studying while job hunting and later while on the job and at home.

I'm continuing to study nearly 3.5 years after finishing the bootcamp.

While the pay as a dev can be excellent, initial roles may start off with lower pay. Fortunately, your future is bright and full of possibilities.

Lastly, everyone experiences imposter syndrome.

The funny thing is, everyone pretends. We pretend to know what we're talking about until we do.

Some folks go hard in the pursuit of excellence while others achieve passable levels and then become satisfied. Those who pursue excellence and have ambition have virtually no ceiling.

Did you hear that Amazon recently raised the max salary to $350,000/year?

Congratulations on finishing your bootcamp! Now get after it.

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