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Share your story of becoming a self taught developer and getting your first job

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vegasvikk profile image
Vickie Comrie

My first paid web job was about 17 years ago. I was contacted by a family friend to create a website for her business. I hand-coded the HTML 4.0 and CSS 2, and used Flash for buttons and a little pizzazz. It's Arizona Title and Escrow and you can see my process and some examples at my online web portfolio. I did quite a bit of freelance work after that but since my accident I've had a hard time finding work; I know I have a ways to go in getting better with JavaScript and associated frameworks but I have other talents and abilities that I could use on-the-job right now.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I'm not entirely self-taught. I took some CS in college, but I dropped out of that program due to... a lot of things, but a big one was that I had no friends in CS!

Anyway, flash forward a couple years, I graduated with a degree in marketing, and a few experiences pulled me back in.

  1. I had an entrepreneurial streak and I'd tried recruiting some developers to work with me on projects and it never worked out. It's hard to find good developers and I felt like I was always on the wrong side of the negotiating table, even with the most bought in folks.
  2. I got a job working for a tech startup and I learned a lot about what I didn't want to do: Like 200 people applied for a fairly shitty low paying job. I got the job but I couldn't believe how competitive it was. Contrast that against the team's outlook on hiring developers while I was there: That it was hard to find applicants and they made a lot more than me.
  3. Interlude: I really liked to code, even when I was a discouraged CS student. Observing the supply and demand of the industry helped me rationalize the big risk of starting over in code, but I wouldn't have even considered it if I wasn't fascinated by the craft.
  4. The above experiences didn't push me all the way, but I was talking potential entrepreneurial ideas with a friend of mine and he mentioned I should check out Ruby on Rails. To that point most of my coding experience had been Java in school where I had no clue how to build an actual application outside the context of a class assignment and some HTML and CSS where I really couldn't make anything all that interesting. Ruby/Rails was a breath of fresh air. That's when I started learning with speed and confidence.

It was an incredibly bumpy ride from there. I had student loan debt as well as some higher-interest debt that couldn't wait much longer. I was living back home with my also broke mom, not one of these cushy home-when-you-need-it situations. I knew I needed a job but I was hell-bent on that job being software development. So I put months and months of non-stop work in. I was up until about 4am every night. To say it was an unhealthy stretch would be an understatement, so much so that I caught stress-induced shingles. I've never been averse to extremely hard work, though I don't glamorize or encourage it. I love my down time too 😊

I lined up some interviews, took a 30-hour train ride from my home of Halifax, Nova Scotia to New York City (I couldn't afford to fly, and it was only supposed to be about 24 hours but there were delays).

I'll cut the rest of the story short for another time and say I've been writing software in New York ever since.

mraza007 profile image

Inspiring Story Thanks for sharing it

samwsoftware profile image
Sam Williams

I graduated with a Masters degree in Aerospace engineering, having done some mathematical programming on my course. I got a job at a huge engineering company but found that it was very slow paced. It felt as if no-one cared what you were actually doing unless you were working on the same project as your supervisor. I new I needed a change.

I decided that the quickest way to get out was to learn web development. I had considered machine learning, which was much cooler but it looked like it would take at least a year to get good enough to get a job.

Now I knew what I wanted to do, I had to find a way to get there. I used code academy, Youtube videos but finally found FreeCodeCamp. It was brilliant! It provided a structured way to progress whilst feeling like I accomplished something every time I did a new challenge. I worked relentlessly through the challenges in any free time I had (even in my lunch break).

I got to the point where I had completed almost all of the advanced projects and wanted to do more. I did a few other little projects but wanted to continue my learning.

Then I found You Don't Know JS by Kyle Simpson. What a series of books! It hurts your brain but once you get it, you begin to really understand JavaScript, not just be able to use it.

Around this time I was applying for jobs, anything web based that may take me. After a LOT of "You are exactly what we want but we need 1 year commercial experience" I finally got a call from a company who didn't mind that I had no experience. They had been really impressed by the logic I'd used in my JS Calculator (Free Code Camp Project).

I went for an interview and tried to talk up everything that I knew. It somehow worked. They thought I had a really good grasp on the workings of JS and I had received an offer before I got home. It even came with a pay rise, and after having been self taught for free for just 4 months.

mraza007 profile image

Nice !

jfrankcarr profile image
Frank Carr

Although I had been programming on my own for several years, my first tech job was doing technical support for a PC networking product (a really new thing back in the 80's). I had pushed for a couple years to move into software development but the VP in charge of that department wouldn't approve the transfer because my degree was in a social science, not math or engineering. I was able to find a software development job at another company willing to take a chance on me because they needed a junior dev who knew MASM and C really well.

jenbutondevto profile image

I was still in (British) college (16-18 y/o), when I should've been learning my A-Level subjects Biology, Chemistry, Physics in Maths - I took up a very junior job at my brother's web consulting company.

I actually did pretty badly in my exams and my results could barely get me into a university, so I didn't bother applying, which means I had to take a gap year. In my second year of college, I retook all of the exams + did the A2 exams and got really average results (CCC). That September, I applied for university whilst working.

I was working 2 part time jobs in my gap year. 4 Days interning as an iOS developer for a well known investment firm, then the other 3 days doing Web dev (split between my evenings and weekends). Needless to say, I was really, really, extremely overworked.

Combined with my results and experience, I got a place at university which normally would require ABB/AAB. I got an offer to join as a junior iOS dev at the fintech place, as well as an offer elsewhere as a junior fullstack dev which offered more, so I took it. I deferred my university entry to sept. 2018.

So, here I am, writing this reply, and wondering if I should ever go to university now at all or continue developing. It's not a bad situation to be in :^)

mraza007 profile image

Nice I think a lot of people in the tech field are self taught developers

ardennl profile image
Arden de Raaij

I described that in my first post on

mraza007 profile image

Great article

jrock2004 profile image
John Costanzo

Many years ago, I was working for a company as an IT administrator. The web developers at the company were failing behind so I was asked to help out that team in anyway I could. So I started looking online for tutorials on html and css. The application was built in PHP so I also had to learn that. So I went to the book store and bought an html css and php book. I been a developer ever since that time and have never looked back at IT admin work

eschultz profile image
Evan Schultz (he/him)

# Grade School

I had been learning programming for awhile, on and off since grade school.

I've had computers in my life almost as long as I can remember, and always enjoyed playing with them - and trying to understand how they work.

When my family got an expensive for the time IBM Aptiva with Windows 3.1 - they decided to get me a tutor to teach me how to use windows and not break the computer.

During the first lesson - he realizes I didn't need to learn how to use windows, and he gave me a copy of Turbo Pascal on the next lesson, and started to teach me basic programming.

I learned quite a bit from him, and he also gave me a copy some stuff from SourceWare Archive Group - which had a bunch of code on it, examples, apps with source code, etc.

Really had my first 'ah-hah' spark of liking programming when I made my first tool that was actually useful for me.


I'd play around with code on and off during high school.

The highschool I went to had an enriched program that was basically a self study/project and a presentation you had to give at the end, it also had some ok for the time programming courses that taught C++.

For the enriched program - I ended up making an /awful/ email client using MFC/Visual C++ - the teacher didn't know how to grade it, so she sent it to a developer working at the school board to get his opinion on it.

Apparently he liked it enough to request that I do a co-op at the DSBN with him.

For the first C++ class - the first year, the teacher was retiring and kind of 'everyone got an A' no matter what, but I still learned a bit.

For the second C++ class - the teacher was new, and they were only starting to teach themselves C++ a few days before teaching the class. There was a few times in the class when I'd end up taking over teaching something for them, or teaching them a bit first.

During the summer one year before graduating, decided to get a summer job (and by decided, parents probably forced) - and initially the only job I could find was working the night shift for the front desk of a hotel in Niagara Falls.

While it did have "Best View" in the name - there was no view of the falls, much to the disappointment of the busloads of travellers that would arrive in the mornings just near the end of my shift. I didn't have my career goals to be in the hospitality industry, so when a data entry job that was also normal hours, I applied and got the job.

First Programming Job

Initially this job had nothing to do with programming. This was a company that does various marketing campaigns / etc, and lots of "fill in a form and stuff it in this ballot box" type of thing for collecting people's information for various contests / prizes / whatever.

The thing is - when you had thousands of tiny bits of paper with information on it, the best way at the time - was someone had to go and type in all that information.

A recent campaign for Niagara Parks meant an abundance of these bits of paper to be entered into the system. This resulted in a short-term job posting for a few weeks / months over the summer to keep up with the extra surplus.

I type fast - I'd throw on some hard fast music, and speed through piles and piles of these little papers, before moving onto the next pile.

Eventually the pile ended - and quite a few weeks sooner than they had expected. Not sure if I had this in the contract or not, but they said:

Well, we agreed to hire you for X months, do you want to update some web pages?

I said sure.

HTML to Dev - summer before Univ

The sites I was updating at the time were all in Microsoft FrontPage - rather not relive that experience anytime soon.

Most of the changes were pretty easy to make, and did find a few ways to smooth things out when using FrontPage.

But again, I chewed through the work they had given me - and back in the "well, still a few more weeks left, do you know ASP?"

I said no - but then explained good enough at the time "It's like using Visual Basic to build web pages", and I figured why not give it a shot when I got asked to start working on programming tasks.

Dev Memories: The Hotel Reservation System is Almost Ready

One day I got a request from my boss at the time, and asked if I could build something that was "like a calendar hooked up to a database so we can store and edit things for a date"

Off I went figuring out how to build it - but in a little while I did have a little ASP application going that had a calendar, ability to add entries to dates, update them, delete them.

Later that day, or maybe week - I hear him in a phone conversation saying "Yeah, the hotel reservation system is almost ready".

No it was not.

I still built a cool thing, and did lots more dev work on this after - but never 100% sure if it actually got deployed.

But there is a very big gap in having 'pretty dumb calendar, that lets you do some CRUD on items for a given date' and a full scale hotel reservation system.

Dev Memories: Building a JavaScript game that was like Jeopardy, but for a beer store

This one was fun - got to make a training game for a local beer company. I think this may have had a bit of ASP driving it - as had to save the scores, and retrieve some other data.

But users would see a Jeopardy style board - pick a subject / prize amount - and need to answer correctly from a multi-choice answer to.

Clicking on boards to show the cards, keeping track of questions + multiple answers.

I think that was my first real programming job - and that was around the last year of high school for me.

ozzyaaron profile image
Aaron Todd

I starting a CS & B.Eng double degree but a couple of years before the end realised CS was pretty easy and the B.Eng was way harder. I dropped CS to get out early and then then first bubble burst.

Yeah I graduated the year a lot of large tech companies shut down offices in my town :P

So I took a job in retail and eventually worked reception and then managed a few stores.

Whilst there I self taught myself web development and used my retail knowledge to build a bespoke e-commerce site. I'm sure a year after I made it would've been scared to think about how bad it was but it made sales and people were happy to use it.

Eventually the CTO of a company we supplied found out that I'd made the site and offered me a job as a junior developer. Most of the team I joined were self taught developers - I think I was the only one with a somewhat related degree - and I learned most of what I knew in the first part of my career from someone that did 1 semester of a biology degree :P

After that I guess I combined my work ethic, experiences and a bit of a leadership streak to end up at the top of most development teams I joined. I've been in teams where others were definitely more technically skilled but were lacking some other talents I guess I had.

My experience really solidified for me that being the 'best' developer is a term that encompasses a wide variety of skills and talents. Being a developer and focussing on keeping my skills up and having a strong work ethic has given me so many opportunities I would never have had otherwise. It is an incredibly portable skill :)

usama_baig8 profile image
Usama Baig

I am a student of Computer Science. It was my 4th semester at that time. A friend of mine offered me internship in web development in a company he was working in at that time. I hated writing code but I had a lot of free time after my classes so I accepted and started internship.

First two months were pretty hard, I even thought of leaving the internship so that I can pursue something that don't involve code like networking or something. But thankfully I didn't leave the internship because I didn't have some other opportunity (Thank God).

After three months my internship ended and I started understanding the code (Finally :-P). Same company where i was intern, offered me a job as junior dev.

It's been one and half year, here I am working in web dev, learning new things every day and I simply love what I do.
That's all that matters in the end. :)

evanoman profile image
Evan Oman • Edited

I got my first software job (a web-dev internship) after 2 years of a math degree and only an introductory course in C#. I got this position almost entirely because of a recommendation from a non-technical job.

My first full-time paid job was as a summer general laborer / CNC machinist at a small local workshop (based out of my employer's garage). There was no reason for me to get this job but I worked really hard at it and was able to take on a wide range of responsibilities by the end of the summer.

My employer that summer was extremely pleased with my work and, unprompted, wrote me an absolutely glowing recommendation letter.

Fast forward to the next summer when I was applying for all sorts of math/CS related internships. I happened across another small company (this time based out of a basement) who interviewed and hired me almost entirely due to that recommendation letter. Both of those employers were enterprising entrepreneurs so I am sure that the recommendation carried extra weight from one small business owner to another.

Based on the dev experience I gained at that first internship I was able to secure two more software internships while taking only Math coursework and doing CS projects on the side. I took several graduate level CS courses when I got my Masters degree in Math but it was mostly the on the job and self learning that landed me the software position I have today.

So I guess the moral of the story is to never write-off a work experience that you don't see yourself doing long term. Establishing yourself as hardworking, curious, and responsible in any field can help you secure a job that you love.

I guess I should also say that, as much as I would like to believe otherwise, I am aware of the role white male privilege has played in my success so far. Nonetheless I think the general lesson still stands, even if I was given a very rare set of opportunities.

v6 profile image
πŸ¦„N BπŸ›‘

I am aware of the role white male privilege has played in my success so far.

There are those who would weight this higher than what you've already mentioned.