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From Studying Chinese To Becoming A JavaScript Developer

mariamodan profile image Maria ・6 min read

Hey there, I’m a JavaScript developer from London who, like many nowadays, followed a non traditional path to get into tech. It took me a little over a year to make the transition and I wanted to share my journey, hoping it helps if you’re also considering making a switch in your career.

First let me give you some background, I wasn’t completely new to programming when I started pursuing a career in tech. During high school we had Computer Science classes where we learned basics such as for loops, if statements and functions. So, even though when I went back to programming I hadn’t done anything technical in over 4 years, I’m pretty sure that having a vague memory of the basics helped shave off months of study time. Funnily enough, when I was in high school I enjoyed that class so much that I considered doing a degree in Computer Science, but ultimately 17 year old me decided that spending all your day typing code on a computer wasn’t the career for her.

Instead, I went on to get a degree in Contemporary Chinese Studies, and, although I really enjoyed my uni experience, I found myself, like many new grads, not really knowing what to do next.

In August 2018, after graduation, I moved out to London and got a job in digital marketing. The job had some repetitive tasks, which I found out you could automate with scripts in JavaScript. Motivated to make my work a bit easier, I took a JavaScript basics course on CodeCademy and that is how programming reentered my life. What followed were three learning stages that landed me where I am today:

1.Dabbling in it (November 2018 - February 2019)

For the next couple of months the most interesting bits of my job were playing around with JavaScript. My skills were quite basic at that point, but nonetheless it was exciting to get the computer to do what I wanted with just some lines of code!

During this time I happened to make a lot of friends who worked as software developers.They helped shatter the belief I held for a long time: that all a developer does is mechanically type code 24/7. I began to understand that a developer’s job is much more creative and engaging than I had previously thought. About 4 months after moving to London I had a job that wasn’t fulfilling, a JavaScript course under my belt, and friends who were really enjoying their jobs as software developers, who got to work on interesting problems, and were also getting paid a lot more than me. The math wasn’t hard to do, I decided to join them and started looking into ways I could learn and enter the industry.

I knew I lacked Computer Science knowledge and wanted to start with the basics, so I enrolled in Harvard’s CS50: Introduction to Computer Science online course. The C practice problems seemed like an impossible mountain to climb and got me questioning life a number of times, but I was able to push through with the help of my CS friends.

At the beginning of 2019 I decided that the best way to get into tech was by doing a masters in Computer Science. After all, what better way to prove to prospective employers that I was a good candidate than to have a degree in the subject? Looking back, my application was quite weak as at that time I still wasn’t sure what I was doing or what my learning trajectory was. Not knowing when I’d hear back from the universities I decided to not waste time and continue studying by myself.

2.Serious study (February-July 2019)

My commitment to daily practice started when I reached the web development section of the CS50 course, finally a subject where code wasn’t looking as cryptic as C! I wanted to get a deeper understanding into this topic and that’s when I turned to FreeCodeCamp. The concepts were broken down into small exercises which made it possible to do little bits at a time, soon I was doing one hour of programming before or after work learning HTML and CSS.

In April I got the amazing opportunity to take part in the Python for Web Development course delivered by Code First: Girls in partnership with Bank of America. Not only did I get to meet some amazing people in the industry, but I also worked in a team for the first time to deliver a project (ours was a quiz which matched the user with a hidden bar in London and it won second place :D)

At this time I was beginning to understand just how many fields there are in tech, and I knew I had to focus on one to structure my studying and maximize my chances of getting a job. I chose to pursue Front-End because it seemed the most straight-forward way to get into the industry for people coming from other disciplines (for example, bootcamps would mostly focus on the Front End) and also the interview process seemed more junior-friendly (usually no whiteboarding interviews).

After the 8 week course ended I continued studying in my free time.I finished the JavaScript section on FreeCodeCamp, started building small projects, and attended coding coaching meet-ups. I was getting more and more committed to this path.

3.All in (July 2019 - November 2019)

Around June I was beginning to suspect that I didn’t get into the CS Master, as I still hadn’t heard anything back. I started to look for other routes that could take me towards my goal and identified 3:

  • Continue studying on the side of my main job
  • Attend a bootcamp
  • Quit work and study full-time by myself

The first option wasn’t attractive at all because I was already frustrated with giving my most productive hours to a job I didn’t enjoy. I was also growing frustrated with the pace at which I was going, I wanted to move faster towards my goal of becoming a software developer.

Next on was the bootcamp option. I’ve heard mixed reviews about bootcamps but one aspect stuck out to me: the price. There is no getting around the fact that they are quite expensive (not as expensive as a master’s but a degree also comes with a university’s prestige). In London the cheapest bootcamp was £8,000 with others running way above that, not to mention the living cost that I’d have to cover while attending the bootcamp and until I’ve found a job.

Considering that most learning resources were available online for free or relatively cheap, I ended up going for the third option. My lease was expiring in July so I handed in my resignation and moved back home to Romania to study full time (I know this option is not available to everyone which is why I am so grateful to my parents for allowing me to move back in and covering my living expenses while I pursued my studies).

I wanted to have structure in my self study (my personal bootcamp as I called it) so I sat down and set some goals with a self-taught developer I met through Code First: Girls looking at what skills I’d need for an entry level job. Then I looked at bootcamp curriculums to make sure my study plan didn’t have any obvious gaps and was good to go!

During the next months I was studying 5-6 hours/day. It was definitely a challenging time, I’d say the hardest part was not having direct access to someone who could answer my questions (where I lived there were no coaching meetups like in London). Twitter proved extremely helpful in this regard, not only did I get to connect with a lot of developers going though the same journey, but it also provided a platform where I could get answers on my coding questions.

In August I finally got my rejection from the universities, but since I was on my own path now I didn’t mind that much.

During these months I:

  • Learned React
  • Completed a full stack development course on Udemy
  • Built my portfolio site (which I’m not sure anyone ever looked at)
  • Built 2 full stack projects with React and Node.js: a card memory game and a task management app

In November I started applying to Front-End roles, even though I was feeling completely unprepared for it. To my surprise, the response was much better than I had expected. I was applying to roles in London, where ,I’m suspecting, because of the high demand for dev roles they were more open to people coming from non-traditional backgrounds. I interviewed at 3 companies (thank God all the technical questions I got were JavaScript and not data structures and algorithms) and got one offer which I accepted!

And there you have it, It was a long process but one that was definitely worth it. I still have a lot to learn but I am sure I am on the right track.

Posted on by:

mariamodan profile

Maria

@mariamodan

Hi! I'm a software developer working in London. My day to day job deals with React, Node.js and Python. Looking to share what I've learned!

Discussion

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Great story! Might reach out over the next few weeks with some questions. Recently took up web dev again at the start of this year. Working on my own projects at the moment while self learning but starting to apply to jobs soon. Based in Berlin. Anyway -great story!

 

Thank you! Good luck on your journey!