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Will Johnson
Will Johnson

Posted on • Updated on

How I Switched Careers Into Tech With No Degree In My Mid 30's

When you're 30+ years old, married with kids, it may seem impossible to change careers into tech without getting a degree and potentially taking on a bunch of debt.

That's exactly what I thought. I was stuck working at factory jobs that treated me subhuman and so were all my friends. I remember a time I asked for a day off for my daughter's birthday, and was literally laughed by the supervisor. I wasn't making a lot of money, I had to take care of my wife and 6 kids, and work tons of overtime on 12 hours shifts. Sometimes I was working 2 jobs. I was miserable.

How I Got Started Learning To Code

One day I was said, "This can't be life, I have to figure this money thing out". From then I started several things, from a YouTube Channel, a cleaning service, and selling t-shirts on Shopify. I was constantly looking for the right skills to learn so I could dig myself out of this hole.

I stumbled across a forum post and everyone was talking about buying Colt Steele's Web Development Course. I looked up what web development was and the pay and I told my wife "In a year to a year and a half, I'm going to get us out of this".

My wife was super excited she said she "just felt" like this was the right move for our family. So after working 12 hour days I would come home and code. My wife sacrificed her time so I could put in the work and I appreciate her for that. I know it wasn't easy. We both had our eyes on the prize.

Building A Community

I know that since I didn't have a degree, I was "old", and my job history was mostly manual labor and call center work. My resume wasn't going to have people beating down my door to hire me. I figured a way for me to stand out was to get to know as many people in tech as possible.

After about 2 months of learning, I started to go to meet-ups(if they were on my off day), volunteered to teach kids to code with my local CoderDojo once a month, mentored at a workshop to teach women Angular, attended the biggest developer conference in my city. I even spoke at a few meet-ups before I got a job.

I would meet people and tell them what I was doing, ask them questions about what they were doing, and try to learn as much as possible. During this time I'm still learning to code before work, and on weekends. I was super tired and exhausted and always felt like I wasn't doing enough.

Building An Online Community

I wanted to have as many job prospects as possible. So in addition to being active in my local community, I was super active on Twitter. I would share everything I was learning on Twitter. I shared everything I was doing offline on Twitter as well. I would update my progress and ask questions. I helped other people with their questions who were learning to code.

I built relationships with developers, I reached to be on a podcast before I had a job. I was blogging things I was learning on Medium. I consistently showed up and I think I really proved that I was willing to work hard.

The Hard Times

It wasn't all fun & games. This process was stressful, I was getting forced to work overtime every week at my old job. I was rejected from job after job, even the ones I got referrals to.

Most jobs wouldn't even call me back. At one point I thought maybe this is what I'm meant to be. Honestly, it hurt thinking I was stuck here and couldn't do more after trying so hard.

Going to work putting powder in boxes 400 times a day really seemed like a waste of my time and potential. I wanted to do more and experience more.

When I was studying I stopped doing anything fun, no TV shows, no video games, no sports, and no Netflix. I think I saw two movies(Avengers). It was just work, code, and reading books. If I wasn't with my family.
I wouldn't recommend this, but I felt like I had to go hard
like I was making up for the lost time.

I remember when I went to New York for CodeLand Conf (I got a free ticker off Twitter), I took a flight there and back. I took one day off of work and I only had one day left to miss from work or I would've been terminated(We could only miss 4 days in a year). So it decided to rain like crazy that day. Brooklyn looked like it was flooded on the News and my flight got delayed.

I WAS STRESSED. I ended up making it home at 3 AM and was at work at 7 AM. Before I went I asked could I get an excused absence if my flight was delayed of course it was declined.

Alt Text
Just got off of work before heading to NYC

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

I met with the co-founder of egghead Joel Hooks over zoom after interacting a bit over Twitter. He invited me to do a few things like teach on egghead or review courses. I was too busy at the time because we decided to sell our house and look for a new one. I felt bad because I felt like I was wasting an opportunity.

Over the course of the next few months even though I was in the middle of moving. I kept posting on Twitter, I kept learning, I kept networking. My wife kept supporting me, even though she was getting tired.

5 months later after our first zoom meeting, I was offered to come to egghead to foster the community and learn Ruby on Rails. It was the biggest sigh of relief I've ever had.

I had visions of that day where I would walk out that factory and never come back. Through work, luck, and sacrifice I made it happen.

Now I spend plenty of time with my family because I work remotely. We found our dream home and life has been good for us. Looking back I would've never thought I would be here.

What's Next

Currently, I'm aiming to get better at Ruby on Rails and React and continue to build new relationships and help others build themselves professional networks.

Thank you for reading! If you would like to keep up with what I'm doing next follow me on Twitter

Top comments (120)

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febby profile image
Febby Gunawan

Thanks for sharing Will and very inspiring! I can definitely relate to this. I have 2 kids on my own and I was recently laid off. I'm in the middle of learning node and and brushing my js skills to get a new jobs. I've send my resume everywhere and no callbacks so far. I was about to give up but after reading your story it gives me hope and strength. I hope I can get out of this. Thanks again for sharing Will!

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

You can get out of it! I thought several times that maybe I wouldn't but keep putting yourself out there!

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febby profile image
Febby Gunawan

Thanks Will, I really appreciate your encouragement. I hope I can!

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sandorturanszky profile image
SandorTuranszky

Never give up!!! Show confidence during interviews and do not stop learning. You will get a job for sure!!!

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febby profile image
Febby Gunawan

Thanks Sandor, appreciate it :) I hope I can

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dejikadri profile image
Deji

Hi @febby , I would suggest that you customize your cover letter/ intro email to each role. That brings better results.
Read the below article.
freecodecamp.org/news/what-i-learn...

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febby profile image
Febby Gunawan

Hi @Deji, thank you for the suggestion. I will definitely check that out!

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leewynne profile image
Lee πŸ€–β˜€οΈπŸŒŠπŸ›ΈπŸ‘ΎπŸ‘¨β€πŸ’»

Yeah keep it up Febby, don’t every give up, there is a community here to reach out to at anytime. Have you put a listing on Dev yet?

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febby profile image
Febby Gunawan

Thank you Lee, thanks for the encouragement.
I'm trying so hard not to. but it's just very difficult :(
I haven't checked the listing yet but I will soon.

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mirokole profile image
MiroKoLe

This is indeed inspirational. I'm in a similar situation. 30+ and started learning coding a year ago. I'm still in a learning process. It's hard, often frustrating and challenging. I have a full time job so I'm coding at night while most of the people enjoying in front of TV watching Netflix or something else.
But at the end I strongly believe the result will make the worth all the struggle.

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leewynne profile image
Lee πŸ€–β˜€οΈπŸŒŠπŸ›ΈπŸ‘ΎπŸ‘¨β€πŸ’»

Totally agree. I started at 40!

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

It will definitely be worth it, keep showing up and putting in the work!

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brianmcbride profile image
Brian McBride

The best possible way to learn is to build something YOU want. Going through tutorials, it just doesn't stick the same.

One of my demo projects was building a version of the old Microsoft Minesweeper with explosions and physics. Instead of ending the game when you hit a mine, I "exploded" the nearby area which then changed the map a bit. Simple idea, but complex enough to show problem solving.

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annawijetunga profile image
Anna Wijetunga

I feel so lucky to have gotten to read this! I've been following you on Twitter for a while and heard you on a podcast months ago, but until now, I didn't realize just how much you went through to change your life. And what a beautiful thing you did. You have already inspired and I know you will continue to inspire so many! Keep telling your story.

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

Thank you Anna!

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dgloriaweb profile image
dgloriaweb • Edited on

I am still struggling at 44 after a career change in 2018. I've left my home country to be a developer, and live a better life than the suburbans of a city in a 6m2 room with my husband. I have started in warehouses, and every time a dev job failed I fell back and returned to the hated pick pack work. After losing my last job I'm here again, my bank account empty, and my heart is full of hope. I keep learning, working on side projects, improving my website, my cv, and trying to connect to people like me. However I lost trust in people for letting me down after offering the opportunity to become a full time software developer. I met jelousy thousand times, however there is absolutely no difference among us, it's just that I use the resources I have to improve and I am not willing to spend half of my life in a warehouse doing a job that makes no sense and has no actual value. Wish me luck, I wish you luck too. Keep your head held high and don't tell anyone about your plans. And Will, kudos to the person who hired you, and if you lose your job, just keep going to the next, you might have to do labour during the change, but the next opportunity is always there. Tech is just expanding, and need more and more people, jobs will not decrease in time.

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

Thank you for your kind word! I hope that you get the job you’re looking for so you can be at peace

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madza profile image
Madza

Don't ever give up and you gonna be rewarded πŸŽ―πŸš€πŸ’―
Keep in mind the image below πŸ˜‰

img

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

Love this image!

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leewynne profile image
Lee πŸ€–β˜€οΈπŸŒŠπŸ›ΈπŸ‘ΎπŸ‘¨β€πŸ’»

Brilliant

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pmkoom profile image
Patrick Coombe

very inspiring story! I try to tell people in their 30s, 40s, and beyond that it is possible to get into tech. There are so many possibilities from running communities, affiliate marketing, developement, servers so much!

keep up the good work and anything you need feel free to reach out!

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sokirill profile image
Kirill

Indeed, I would love to more people consider tech sales. It pays well, requires some tech knowledge and well is on the opposite spectrum of "client-facing", but can be super fun for the right personality. Same for other tech GTM jobs.

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ashimb profile image
A5h1m • Edited on

That's what I m doing right now. And one need to be serious about tht.

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jsjoeio profile image
Joe Previte (he/him)

Man, I never knew your story till now. I am so amazed, Will. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us. I can only imagine all the people you've already inspired to keep pushing. Keeping do the great work that you do! πŸ†

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

Thanks Joe!!!!

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ibrokemycomputer profile image
Josh Martens

It's always fantastic hearing another person's story who also was able to get into this field with nothing but hard work and dedication. I too do not have a degree, but after ~6 years of freelancing doing super cheap basic "brochure sites" I decided to step it up and try to get a job in the tech field after being at an auto shop for 4 years. I landed my first "real job" as a front end dev 3 1/2 years ago. Still at that same company and have grown WORLDS more than I ever would have on my own freelancing. Keep with it!

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

Thank you!!

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cat profile image
Cat

Will!!! Your story really resonated with me-- I just want to have a fulfilling career that will definitely take care of the SO, kids, and bills. I started when I was 25, pivoted to attempting to get a UX role (failed), and then made a pivot back to coding at 30. You give me so much hope. Thank you for sharing your journey!

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

Thank you for reading! I know you’re working Cat! Can’t wait to read your β€œsuccess” story soon

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brianmcbride profile image
Brian McBride

I know someone who was in their 40s. Never had a software development job in their life, but worked in tech in a side-verticle.

When he lost his job, he looked up popular programming languages and picked one up and built a small app for a resume. Then he studied interview questions around that tech stack, not just the answers, but took the time to learn "why" each answer was what it was.

He ended up getting hired as a senior developer. The crazy thing is, he kept up that work ethic and constantly studied everything. He would drill me with questions spending his evenings researching how to solve his JIRA tickets for the next day. And although his code was likely not super great - it was accepted as production ready AND he got promoted to engineering manager within a year and has continued to grow in software development.

The interesting point about modern software development is:

  1. If you are focused on the more hyped stacks (Typescript, Node, GoLang, Rust, Serverless, NoSQL, Mobile development, etc...), you will find that they are changing rapidly. So much so that EVERYONE has to constantly learn. As long as you are dedicated to learning, it is possible to quickly rank up.

  2. Soft skills and management skills are in desperate need in software development. If you can lead people or you can communicate with a client in a professional way - there are great opportunities. I'm sorry to say that I've personally interviewed so many engineers over the years who clearly don't link appearance, hygene and affect with success. When you can bridge tech with sales and management, you'll get your VP and CTO's attention way faster.

  3. We keep building the same thing over and over. Literally. I can go into why I think that, but the point is that almost every "new" hyped library in any stack has already been invented in some similar way elsewhere. Take Redux and immutable data. This pattern was not some Facebook invention. Immuatble data structures were invented in the 70s I think and immuatble state has existed in other language stacks. It's just all those 20-something developers in Facebook had never run across it - nor did they bother to do a lot of research on what might have existed (it seems anyway)

  4. ML and Data Science is a really new field. This is another area to drop into easier. Quite honestly, it is a lot of data denormalizing more than anything from my limited experience. Like 90% getting tons of data in the DBs in the right format, then 10% writing some ML scripts for something like TenserFlow. Maybe even more like 95%/5%. Because of this, real world experience can help in creating useful data structures.

  5. AND although I firmly believe that the software development space is easy to get into, there are many areas you need years of experience. You probably won't be a great UI/UX designer to start. You won't be building any game engines or low level chip firmware for sure. Any area that needs really high-performant code (which is suprisily not often) won't be a good fit.

  6. Finally, none of this works if you are not willing to learn on the job. By that, I mean, everything you didn't understand that day or week you learn by the next day or week. You don't need to be an expert, but you should know the why of the problem and how to find/implement a solution.

This is probably sloppy. I don't have time to do a lot of edits. I'll end with, don't move into software development because you think it might be easy or "good money". Bad developers, uncommited developers, fail like any professional does in any industry. Try it out and if you like it, then dive in. Within a few years on the job you'll be considered the expert (as long as you keep learning)

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

People do whatever makes you happy because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. No one is gonna be on there death bed wishing they understood compilers better

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bdougieyo profile image
Brian Douglas

This is amazing. Thanks for for sharing your story.

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

Thank you for reading Brian. It was a wild ride for sure lol

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bscott profile image
Brian Scott

Actually you will be surprised most companies don't require or care about degrees. I have been in tech for 28 years, I manage a large team of 14 engineers at a F500 Company and we rather have folks who have passion and some experience over degrees.

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

You're right most companies didn't care if you didn't have a degree if you had the experience, I had neither. I was getting rejections left and right lol

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sandorturanszky profile image
SandorTuranszky • Edited on

It's ok! Consider it as an experience. I was rejected a few times when I was already experienced with production projects built. It's not always your fault so just keep on going and learning. You will find people who can see beyond common useless interview questions and will see your potential.

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bscott profile image
Brian Scott

I'm sorry you went thru that, I thrive on hiring Jr engineers on my team and help them with goals. Your story is inspiring, hope you post more!

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

It's all good I landed at a great company that supports my growth. I couldn't be any happier

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bscott profile image
Brian Scott

Thats awesome

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amandamboydrn profile image
amandamboydrn

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I'm a nurse with 21 years experience in healthcare. I've been working to transition to the technology field for a couple years but, I always end up back in the healthcare field mainly due to feelings of inadequacy in the field. I also have five teens ages 19 yrs, 17 yrs, 17 yrs, 15 yrs, and 12 yrs old. So my life is pretty busy if you can imagine. Once again thank you!

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dgloriaweb profile image
dgloriaweb

Hi, please look up imposter syndrome, best video is this: youtube.com/watch?v=sard25VQ2HU

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

You’re welcome Amanda, don’t feel inadequate i know it’s hard to shake but you’re worthy

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pclemins profile image
Patrick Clemins

Inspiring story Will! I feel compelled to point out how important your multi-pronged approach was... learning not just the technical skills, but also building your network in the industry. It's not enough to just learn the technology and then send out hundreds of resumes proclaiming your brilliance. You also need to be part of the community and you have some great tips for doing so! Sure, if you're one of the top 1% absolutely brilliant programmers who hermits in their basement all day, you'll probably get hired for your skill, but that's not most of us. It's important to get out there not only to network, but to also show that you have highly developed EQ (Emotional Quotient) and personal skills, which, let's be honest, will give you a leg up on many other candidates in our software industry.

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tera15 profile image
Tera15

I'm in the middle of a career transition myself at 30 yrs old; no kids yet so I could only imagine the added pressure from that. It was really inspiring reading this as I come from a similar work background. Thanks!

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willjohnsonio profile image
Will Johnson Author

Thank you you got this! I hope to see you win

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