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Cover image for Proven advice to secure your first developer job
Scrimba

Proven advice to secure your first developer job

perborgen profile image Per Originally published at blog.scrimba.com ・12 min read

Meet Austėja Kazlauskytė :

austeja

Austėja is a new mom, law graduate, and “mom-and-pop” entrepreneur turned full-time frontend developer 🎉

She managed to get a job despite soul-crushing odds👇

  1. No formal education
  2. No professional coding experience
  3. No portfolio

And as if that wasn't enough, she was also raising a child and facing a worldwide pandemic this whole time 😱

So in this article - and corresponding podcast episode - you will learn how she conquered her fears, took risks, and learned to navigate JavaScript, CSS, React, and eventually nailed the dreaded technical interview.

What you'll learn 👨‍🏫

Here are some of the specific takeaways you'll have from her story:

  • Transitioning careers (law 👉 entrepreneurship 👉 coding)
  • Making time to learn to code as a new mom 👶🏻
  • A winning job-hunting strategy you can copy 🎉
  • Motivation and drive during a pandemic 🦠
  • Smashing the technical interview 👊
  • Salary negotiation 💸

Podcast links 🎧

If you'd like to bring this story with you as you commute, clean your house, or whatever you prefer, just click on one of the links below.

The Interview 👇

If you prefer reading over listening, we have extracted some of the most interesting parts of the interview below. However, if you like this read, I'd recommend you to also listed to the podcast, as you'll get a more in-depth.

And if you'd like to try the online course Austeja used to ramp up her skills, you can check out Scrimba Frontend Developer Career Path..


Welcome to #StoriesByScrimba, Austėja! Could you start by telling us about your background?

Sure 😀

I didn't know what I wanted to do when I was 18. I was good with languages and history and - to be honest - not so good with math. Since my parents worked in pharmacy, they told me it's law or medicine, you know? I chose law.

I did 5 years in law school. I have masters in legal philosophy, and have a little bit of legal experience working with IT law! But I never really enjoyed it 😔 I thought it was so boring. So when I could, I switched to events, then sales, and this is what I did for work after graduation.

Then I married and had a baby 👶🏻 and then - you know - many questions arose around what I want to do in my life because I had time, and I felt I wasn't professionally fulfilled.

After seeing many positive examples of my friends who transitioned from law to testing and development, I chose a testing at first but shortly after, I decided that I wanted to be a developer and I took a full-stack Java course and that I took the Scrimba Frontend Developer Career Path..

I started in September 2019. Today is October 2020. And now I work at a company called DevBridge which was my really dream career choice. It's one of the best companies in Poland and Lithuania.

timeline

When they chose me, I thought it must be something magical ✨ But the technical interview went well. Scrimba helped me a lot there. I'm in my third week right now and my job title is full-stack Junior Software Engineer.

You mentioned you took a Java bootcamp before Scrimba. How did you decide where to begin?

I didn't have any contacts in coding. I didn't have engineer friends who could be my mentors so I Googled the web. Eventually, I found a few schools on-site.

I was so scared of online courses. I thought it was only on-site things that would teach you effectively. I was wrong.

I went to the full-stack Java course. When I signed up, I didn't know what Java was, to be honest 😂

I thought Java was a good choice because it was a very popular. I Googled it well.

The on-site Java course was ~7 months every weekend - like a course. You go to a classroom with 10 other classmates and there was a teacher and you do the tasks. In the end, you have a project which involves basic CRUD operations (EDITOR NOTE: CRUD is an acronym for Create, Read, Update, Delete - four common database operations you must eventually learn).

When I was learning Java, I decided those courses were not enough for me to learn to code so I did a little course on CodeGym.cc - they have really good software for Java.

Eventually, I realised I want to be a really good frontend developer. So I enrolled in Scrimba's Frontend Developer Career Path. 🙌

Screenshot 2020-10-30 at 10.09.33

What would you say to someone who's deciding between frontend or backend development?

I think it doesn't matter because the main struggle I face every day is how to think like a programmer. Syntax doesn't matter.

I could easily switch to C# (EDITOR NOTE: C# is a programming language by Microsoft) one day because if you know how to think like a programmer, you can Google out new syntax fast but it's very hard to Google out logic.

My approach and my tips - and my tips for myself because I'm just starting - would be to concentrate on learning logic. Syntax doesn't matter. You can switch languages fast. And if, for example, you work for an agency like DevBridge you get a client that wants, for example, backend in PHP and frontend in JavaScript... It would be terrible for you to say "I'm not going to learn PHP because I'm a JavaScript developer 😭"

Language doesn't matter. What matters is that you want to learn to think like an engineer and an engineer likes to play with things, mess with things and learn new concepts.

Remember, React didn't exist 10 years ago. Angular angler didn't exist 10 years ago either! So what will happen in five years?

When you decided to learn to code, could you study all day? Maybe your other obligations meant you had to learn on the side.

I couldn't actually.

I was running a little business, but my main focus was my baby 👶🏻. So I was like a full time mom who has like a little business to keep my mind sane.

I remember the things that I bought my baby - I bought a new tricycle that I can navigate with one hand because with my other hand, I was holding my phone and I was reading about Java. It was that extreme 😱

You know, when we're out in the park, I'm always coding. When baby naps, I'm always coding. Late nights, I'm always coding.

If I cannot code late at night, I would wake up at 5.00AM or 4.30AM and I would go 'til 6.00AM because that was the only free time I had.

You must have been very driven. What motivated you?

I thought that it was something I could feel good about myself - that I could establish my roots as a professional because when I was in my twenties, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was pushed towards law because I was good with languages.

What I later realised is that IT is closer to languages than it is to maths or physics. I feel like a linguist, you know? To me, Java/JavaScript feels like English/French.

I feel like I am grounded in my professional roots and that I'm expressing myself as a professional because other parts of my life are well done. I have a family -I'm really happy 😀! But professionally, I didn't know what I wanted to do until I started to code.

From law, to motherhood, to your own business, now code. You're a lifelong learner. Did you have an idea about the way to learn that was most efficient for you?

No, it was so completely different when I was learning law.

In law, I was learning from theory or in discussion mode. For me, coding is closer to fixing the car, sewing, or making something out of clay!

I think that for learning to code, the most important thing is mentorship. That personal mentor doesn't have to be on-site.

My biggest mistake was that I chose on-site courses that were really, really, really expensive and not much of use. I think you'll learn more from Scrimba or online coaching.

On-site courses take a lot, a lot of your time. You are expected to work in the group, but people come from different backgrounds and different motivation.

If I could start everything from scratch, I wouldn't go to on-site courses. I would take online courses and I would look for online mentors.

Take online courses, never go to university - I would never think of going to informatics and pursuing another master's degree or something. That's totally a waste of time.

We remember when you were participating in the Frontend Developer Career Path you joined a study group on Discord and frequently helped others.

I was consciously taking other people's problems to solve on my own because what I lacked was experience. And if somebody asks me, "how would you make this logo fit in something?" I say, "okay, let me think about that". So I would take my time, Googling about that, coming up with a solution and presenting them to people.

Being completely honest with you, it's not about helping them, but it was how I gathered my experience.

When I was participating in my technical interview, I had more stories to tell. Interviewers are interested about stories and about the challenges you've faced and solved. I made an impression that I'd solved more problems than I have for my own projects.

Screenshot 2020-10-30 at 10.43.22

When did you know you were ready to start applying for jobs?

I wasn't ready.... And many times during my day, I'm not feeling ready 😂

I was referred by one of my teachers and someone else from DevBridge. The call from the company was a little bit unexpected because I was thinking of joining their academy that is happening this fall and winter to be "more ready". As it happened, I was referred earlier, before the academy.

I didn't have a chance to think of "being ready" or not being ready. But yeah, many times throughout the day when I am facing tough tasks, I question myself, "am I ready to work here?" And the answer is "no never ready" - still working on it!

I think that for many people, it might sound like a miracle and sometimes it sounds like a miracle for me, myself. But I did lots of research and homework. I Googled a lot about the company, I attended the open day events the company hosted. I prepared a lot - for almost 6 months, I was gathering information about this company and about 2 more companies - they were my plan B and plan C. I was actively researching and trying to understand what technology stack the companies are using when they are hiring (because some companies hire in January or do massive hires or in summer, for example).

When you received the call, were they inviting you to interview?

They invited me to HR inter interview with the HR partner and the squad lead.

We talked about why I wanted to be a programmer and my background. They asked me what tasks have I solved before. It was very soft. It was a mild interview, not a technical interview. And then a week later, they invited me for the technical interview that was conducted by 2 developers 🎉

Would you tell us the story about that day? I bet it was exciting and nerve-racking 😬 How long did it take? What did they ask you? What was the process like?

The process was... All the interviews were conducted online through Zoom because of COVID 🦠. They didn't want to perform interviews on-site.

I was nervous and the worst part: the interview was scheduled for 3:00 PM so I had the whole day to feel nervous 😬. If the interview was at 9.00 AM, you just get up and you do it 😂. I was nervous throughout the whole day and the week before because there were 7 days between the soft and technical interview.

During those 7 days, I was studying like mad! That week reminded me of the weeks before legal exams when you don't count the pages you have to read, but you count the centimeters, you know, the inches of the papers!

I Googled out maybe 200, maybe more interview questions for frontend developers from junior to senior level.

I Googled out the answers from various places. I rehearsed myself explaining the concepts - like explaining BEM (EDITOR NOTE: BEM is an acronym for Block, Element, Modifier and is an advanced naming convention for classes in HTML and CSS). I practiced explaining CSS - what a selector does, how preprocessors work, and more.

Of those 200 interview questions you practiced, how many came up?

All of them. Not 200! But all the questions that I received, I was more or less familiar with.

Many concepts I couldn't explain thoroughly because I didn't have any hands-on experience but I knew it from theory.

There wasn't a question that I couldn't say a sentence about. There were some questions I could talk about for 10 minutes (I didn't have that much time 😂) but for other questions, I could only talk a little - I could explain the concepts in like 2 or 3 sentences, but I was showing that I can understand what they're asking me. What, in general, the concept is, but how many questions in numbers? I don't remember, but the interview lasted for about an hour.

Sounds like you prepared really well. You must have been feeling pretty confident, right 😏?

No, I thought they wouldn't take me!

I was expecting that DevBridge would instead invite me to join the academy because I know that they don't typically hire juniors without experience unless they finish that of 3-4 months. In the academy, they teach you the stack and they evaluate if you can work in a large team because the projects this company is working on are HUGE.

I thought that they wouldn't hire me. I thought they would offer me to, to take part in the internship courses (the academy).

But they did hire you! How did they present the job offer to you?

The interview was Friday at 3:00 PM and the squad leader called me Monday during the first part of the day. I only had to wait for a couple of days 😌

They said that it's normal to be contacted in 2 weeks so I was expecting that I will have like 2 weeks of doing Scrimba 😂, But they called me earlier. I was really, really happy about that. And the onboarding process was really quick, really fast. They know what they're doing. They have systems. So far, it's been very smooth.

Did you attempt to negotiate your salary?

I received such a good offer that went beyond my financial expectations for a Junior Software Engineer and so I was just like.. "okay 🙌!!". I didn't negotiate.

I was out of my mind! And I am aware of the benefits system here - it is very transparent.

Once I can be confident about my performance and see that I'm bringing value to the company.... Because right now I'm in a position to learn from other colleagues and I understand how much time are they spending on me - explaining the concepts, how the projects are structured... I know that I will have to negotiate one day, but one step at a time.

Well, when you're the lead developer in a few months (or even sooner) we can chat about it then 😉 What was your first day at DevBridge like? Were you excited?

Oh, yes! I was excited 🎉!

It was so very well organized. It was me and 2 other people who were joining the company that same day. So we had a tour in the office and we both received a T-shirt and backpack with cool stuff inside.

We were taught how to set up the computer. We received clear instructions via email about how to do that. And I just started setting up and my new colleagues helped me out. It was really stress-free and everyone was unintrusive. They gave me time to unpack then little by little, they came in to ask about me, to talk about me. They asked me out for lunch, we had coffee with new people, so it was smooth, but it was intense! I didn't have time to check my phone or something.

To close us out, can you summarise why you succeeded?

I was thinking about that myself because I received many positive messages. I think it's related to that Scrimba posted something about me and people were asking me, "how did you get a job?" It made me think myself...

I think that it was the preparation and the efforts I put forth.

I wasn't only learning to code, but I tried to get familiar with the industry, find friends in the tech world, attend the events, read the blogs, follow the bloggers.

I tried to understand the technology world and the rules of this new game I'm entering.

I worked a little bit with myself with marketing. I had a LinkedIn page that was always up to date. I optimised my LinkedIn for SEO so that the HR team could find me more easily - this is what they did I was thinking "if nobody could find me, I will never be offered anything", so I worked on that.

austeja linkedin

Also, learning every day. I used to code every day. I still code every day, no matter if I'm tired or if it's a bad day. Every day, I open my laptop. Sometimes for five minutes, sometimes five hours, but it has to be every day.


I hope you enojoyed the read! 😁

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