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This self-taught developer is now a VP of Engineering helping charities fundraise

This self-taught developer is now a VP of Engineering helping charities fundraise

Richard O'Reilly contacted me after this website topped Hacker News on its launch. He was enthusiastic about the purpose of No CS Degree and told me was a self-taught developer and had risen to VP Engineering at Charity Network, which was listed as one of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies in 2017. I chatted to Richard about teaching himself code without a CS degree, what he looks for in junior developers and his passion for programming.

Hey, Richard, so can you give some information about yourself and your background for people who want to know more about you?

I’m a full stack developer, dev-op, team lead and tech evangelist. I’ve been tinkering with technology since I was 10 years old when I took apart and subsequently broke my family's first computer. From that point I reverse-engineered how computers work, mainly to fix them, which in turn taught me a lot about the internet, programming and how to solve problems. I currently lead a team of technologists who help make the world a better place through online charity auctions at Charitybuzz and sweepstakes at Prizeo.

So you didn’t do Computer Science at college but you are a VP of Engineering at Charity Network. How did you learn coding then?

I started to teach myself the client side (HTML, CSS, JS) in the early 90s. In middle school I was building the highschool’s website in HTML, CSS, and PHP, and later in highschool I learned languages like Java, Ruby, and a host of other scripting and compiled languages. In college I got super into Flash and Action Script and got my first gig as an intern. The pay as an intern was insane to a kid whose priorities were video games and food; and I was good at it...the decision was easy after that.

Mentors were also extremely important to my growth. At different points in my career I’ve had different Rails, Javascript, and business mentors that nurtured from a safe distance. Allowing me to try, succeed, and most importantly fail. Sometimes I’d fail so hard I’d fall down. Those mentors were the ones that would pick me up and put me back on the path. Today I mentor a few friends/colleagues who are in the web development learning process.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into web development but they don’t have the time or money for a CS degree?

Google is your friend. Stackoverflow is pretty chill too, but don’t go around copy and pasting shit you don’t understand. The world has enough copy and pasters.

TLDR: The Internet is the largest library in the world. There’s no school (institution, or code school) that can compare to the raw unadulterated information out there. Do some smaller programs like General Assembly or Codecademy (there are hundreds) to get a primer on how stuff works. If you want to work in web development I think it’s super important to learn (even at a high level) HTTP. It’s the bells and whistles that make those browsers sparkle and will make terms like backend, frontend, request, response; a lot easier to understand.

Most importantly, find something cool you want to build. Whether that’s an app to calculate tax, or find a date, build a product you’re into. Once you start to get into it, you’ll care more. That will influence the code, and how you write it. You’ll start to care about the vendors you use, the length and legibility of your code, and before you know it, you're doing the damn thing like a pro

Once you have that going, find a way to contribute to open source projects. Get your code reviewed by other developers and learn where you’re strong and where you need progress.

Finally, go get a job using this site’s job board.

How was your first interview for a programming position? Do you have any tips for first timers?

I was shook; but if you’re interviewing somewhere and not nervous, you’re either a cyborg or have become too accustomed to interviewing and might be a cyborg stuck in an infinite loop.

For those junior developers out there, being scared does NOT mean this position is not for you, it just means you’re alive. Be confident. You’re a techie going into speak to a techie, and nerd out. Embrace and prepare for being nervous, for me, that means hydrating correctly so my speech is good and I’m not worrying about sweating.

For me as a hiring manager at Charity Network, definitely ask questions. If a developer has no questions for me about my stack, culture, stock options, it’s a HUGE red flag.

Use the code "NOCS" and get 30% of Algo Expert interview preparation

Has anyone remarked about you being self-taught at work or in an interview or has it not mattered?

Everyone. My family, friends, and colleagues, are all constantly confused by what I do. I think the people that have known me the longest have the hardest time understanding what I do. It’s an important talking point for me though and I’m passionate about spreading the word. If a self-taught kid that was never in AP Science and AP Math, can lead development for a world-class technology company, literally anything is possible.

This self-taught developer is now a VP of Engineering helping charities fundraise

Can you tell us what a typical day looks like for you just now at Charity Network? What are you working on just now?

Sure, we work in two week agile sprint cycles. Every day starts with a 10am standup with ~10 person team (largely on-site, with some remote). We’re made up of Product Designers, Engineers, Data Scientists, and IT. This is where the programming magic happens. Usually magic written in the Ruby, Python, or Javascript variety.

We prefer to keep our roadmap private, but I can give some high level stuff up. We’re modernizing our AI stack with IBM Watson, which we use to help make internal/external data decisions, recommend content, and even pick which image you might see first! All of which at the end of the day help our customers find their very unique bespoke product, and most importantly, raise millions for charity.

How has your life changed since becoming a professional programmer?

If I wasn’t programming for a living I’d come home and do this at night. It’s truly my life’s first passion. Finding what drives you in life, and being able to make a career out of it is something super special.

What are your aiming in terms of your programming career?

I plan on writing code until my fingers no longer move, or however we type later in life and working on whatever I’m passionate about. For the last 10 years that passion has been in the cause space. I plan on staying here until either the world changes, or the world changes my passions.

At the Charity Network I’m aiming to create new products and evolve our sweepstakes and auction platforms to help fuel the future of philanthropy

This self-taught developer is now a VP of Engineering helping charities fundraise

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