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

willjohnsonio profile image Will Johnson Updated on ・5 min read

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

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Discussion

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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!

 

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

 

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

 

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...

 

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

 

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

 

Thanks Sandor, appreciate it :) I hope I can

 

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?

 

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.

 

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.

 

Totally agree. I started at 40!

 

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

 

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.

 

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.

 
 

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!

 

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.

 

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

 

This is amazing. Thanks for for sharing your story.

 

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

 

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.

 

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

 

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.

 

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!

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

 

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! 🏆

 
 

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!

 

Great story! One quibble I have to take: I very much recommend against someone with only 2 months spent learning programming teaching others. Unless you're a savant, you're likely to do them far more harm than good! Which is not to say don't encourage other learners, but make sure you're honest with yourself and others where you are in your own journey. Not to suggest you weren't up front with everyone, just making a general comment.

That said, I'm glad things are working out for you! Once again it shows that it takes hard work to make something of yourself, whether you hammer away in your "free" time or dedicate the bulk of your time to getting a degree. But for those who want to learn, the resources are out there, moreso now than ever! And the programming world is pretty welcoming. If your local meetups aren't welcoming or just don't exist, there are plenty of communities online that love and support learners.

 

Honesty is always the best policy, I let everyone what my status was, and they were very welcoming

 

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!

 

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

 

Thank you so much for sharing your story Will. I cannot image how hard has being for you and how much you had sacrifice during this journey. I started my journey in the beginning of this year, and my first course was with Colt as well on Udemy :) . I wish you all the best and a very successful career. Keep up the good work

 

Great story! For those who want to read another true story I wrote a blog post on my journey from bootcamp grad to senior software engineer medium.com/dev-genius/how-i-went-f...

 

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)

 

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

 

Will this is a beautiful story, I am always trying to get more people to just try and code a little, it’s rewarding, the constant self learning even if the struggle is real at times, in the end you walk away with real added value.

I’m genuinely happy for you, you clearly deserve this first step and so much more. Six kids!? That’s crazy, I have two and it’s hard work.

I sent you a follow. Have a truly great day!

 

Thank you Michael! I want to help more people get into tech as well

 

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!

 

Thanks for sharing Will that is the most powerful career change story I've read so far!
Even though there is market for everyone that turns that path, and even though the work conditions (pay+...) are worth 1-2 years of high effort, I think you are one in a million.
I have to reinforce that the sacrifice is huge for everyone and specially for those with families. Trading evening time on TV/netflix/videogames for learning to code is the very best investment anyone can do. Your time is money and it will be worth a lot more those 2 hours a day investment than putting in 1000$ on stocks (a lot more on short-med term).
Why I think you are one in a million: besides taking the time to learn to code you also
went to meet-ups, you started teaching kids to code and went to conferences!!!
But the most important thing that powers more than 50% of the journey is the family support. To endure 1-2 years through all this is terribly exhausting, you will feel like giving up a 1000 times and you will feel frustrated a lot. If you have your family support it will feel easier. Going to meet-ups, conferences and networking is another mood booster.
Not everyone has what it takes to endure through all of this, but believe me that when you do you'll feel like god and it will always be worth it terribly worth it.
Conclusion: it is hard as hell but it is worth it!!! Always!!!

 

🙏 Thank you! I don't what to say

 

Just the inspiration I needed to continue to push towards my dream. I have a good job with good pay, just isn’t what my passion is. I started freelancing in 2007, but had to stop in 2009 when my son was born. I have a degree, but in business. It has always felt like I gave up on that dream of working in web development. I started doing nearly exactly what you have been doing back in April. My wife is super supportive too.

Since I didn’t started from pure scratch, I’m already decent with React, Typescript, and node. Really just focusing on frontend and pumping out projects to showcase. Doing free work to get those relevant repetitions.

I sincerely appreciate you sharing your story. It gives me a lot of motivation to see this to the end. I am a terrible networker, even though I know the steps to do what I need to do. Any advice on connecting more intimately with the dev crowd?

 

Hey Caleb! Thanks for reading! That's dope you have supportive wife!

It's conversations going on try to get involved and add your input and anything helpful. the key to networking is being helpful. if you're decent with React it's plenty of people who would love to be decent. Blog about what you know

 

Don't ever give up and you gonna be rewarded 🎯🚀💯
Keep in mind the image below 😉

img

 
 
 

Amazing story. Your story is a motivation for me to do more.

 

Glad I that motivated you, as long as you're doing your best!

 

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!

 

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

 

I love your story. Its easily an inspiration to everyone out there trying to break into this world. 👍

 

Thank you Brian! I definitely hope this can’t give people inspiration. Just like so many people gave me

 

Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, this helps me alot

 

I also made that move when I was 30 :) and had two kids. But I started in 2008. It was a different story because there were less online opportunities to learn. But it was an amazing journey.

 

You have a seriously awesome story. Just to say, wow, you earned the heck out of this. Congrats!

 

Thank Michael I appreciate that

 

Thanks for your inspiring story Will.
It was super encouraging, as a fellow husband and father I know that drive to want to improve life for your family.
Glad you took the first step and kept going.

 

Thanks! Appreciate you for reading

 

Also I think your auto spell made a mix up with Ruby on Rails (Rugby). 😊 Reply here once fixed and I will delete this message!

 

This is really inspiring, I am also learning to code at 30 and posts like this give me a hope that it's never too late to code.

 

Thanks for sharing Will. Awesome to see your journey!

 
 

This is so motivating. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your journey — the good and bad!

 

You're welcome! I wanted to keep it real and honest. Thank you for reading!

 

Wow. Best story I have read for ages 👊🏽👊🏽