When Gaslight asked me back in November if I’d like to write a post about my experience becoming a developer, I was clueless about how to begin. I find writing to be difficult, and it can sometimes be a tough yak to shave, but here’s my attempt.
Breaking the Pattern
I used to roll my eyes at New Year’s resolutions because I was usually too unmotivated to keep any of them and hated being reminded of my failure. But after a year of intermittently learning web development, I decided that Q4 of 2013 was a good time to become more dedicated to pursuing a full-time career. Was I certain that kickstarting a new career in less than a year was achievable? Not completely, but the possibility seemed plausible as long as I could survive a sea of self doubt.
My exposure to web development began during my mid twenties when I took an interest in Flash. This mostly stemmed from a love for interactive transitions, a somewhat usable graphic user interface and what could be achieved with a small amount of ActionScript know-how. There was also decent money in it. I bought a book and started working as a freelancer with a friend for nearly two years on various client projects. The experience was rewarding, but the need for a constant inflow of business income and project management was something neither of us handled very well. I burned out and pursued a general technical job with a steady paycheck. I walked away from building for the web and eventually landed myself in a cube farm where I became terribly disappointed.
I discovered Gaslight in January of 2014 due to my growing interest in a Ruby career. I emailed them about a developer opening on their team, and they invited me to their office to talk and pair with some of their developers. Despite that fact that I lacked a proficient skill set at that time, the new relationship with Gaslight opened the door to mentorship and several friendships that have helped empower my journey and personal growth efforts to this day.
Gaslight sponsored an introductory Ruby on Rails course in the spring of 2014, and I enrolled. The course consisted of a 12-week class on Saturdays. It was taught by two experienced developers who aimed to teach novices the basics of building and deploying Rails applications. We learned about core MVC concepts, development practices, utilizing APIs, Ruby gems, industry standard tools (Github, Heroku, etc.) and pairing with other developers. Everything I learned provided substantial momentum to push ahead with a more curious drive to strengthen my foundation in Ruby and Rails. Since the course concluded, I’ve continued on my personal learning path, networked with more businesses and developers, and publicly demonstrated some web-based side projects in the Cincinnati area. I’ve had a blast.
An Unexpected Surprise
I took a break from job searching in October to narrow my focus on learning because my schedule was starting to assault my sanity. One evening I received an email from a city official/new friend (thanks to a recent connection made by Gaslight) that introduced me to the social media director of a global logistics company based in Wilmington, Ohio, that wanted to hire an additional web developer. After some meetings, I accepted an offer to join their team. I never expected my full-time web career to kick off as a front-end developer, but the experience of working with designers and other developers in a professional capacity is teaching me a ton. It sets me on a better path as I continue my Ruby-centered personal study.
For What It’s Worth
I can’t say everything that worked for me is an adequate formula for becoming a web developer, but here are a few things that helped me:
- Identify your goals - Find out what area of expertise interests you, break it down and start off by tackling one small step at a time.
- Time management - Shut off the distractions to productivity and set aside a daily time for study and/or project work.
- Connect - This was a huge challenge for a socially awkward introvert like myself. Attending Meetups and meeting people was insanely terrifying for me at first. Now it’s more fun but still nerve-racking at times. Find developers in your area and connect regularly. I’ve even been offered Rails freelance work as a result of networking. Break out of your shell if you have one.
- Build things - Every project is a learning experience whether the idea of it initially seems stupid or not. Eventually, you might end up with a portfolio to show potential employers and clients, which can help them gain confidence in your skill level, wherever it may be.
- Deliver talks/demos - Show stuff you’re working on to others. This will help connect you with people and build confidence.
- Stay curious
- Never stop asking questions - Stuck or confused? Ask developers, forums, Stack Overflow, friends, etc.
- Get on Github - Commit and push code often.
- Listen - Criticism, feedback, code reviews. Consider them and sweat off inclinations for knee jerk reactions. This will help to provoke thought and build character.
- Communicate - Nobody is perfect, but make clear, compelling and consistent communication a personal growth goal.
- Embrace challenge - You will hit walls of confusion, as well as mental and psychological fatigue, but keep going. Each victory is rewarding no matter how small.
- Do something - Don’t have a local developer community? Start one. Start a monthly Meetup. Tune into the pulse of your local business and tech community. Invest in people and grow something productive.
- Blog about it - If you do, avoid services like WordPress and Tumblr. Build your own blog platform and start writing. Logging your efforts in public view will help you stay accountable to your goals and will stretch you beyond belief.
If you’re reading this and have business or personal technology goals, contact Gaslight. Their passion to build people, empower businesses and drive community engagement are unlike anything I’ve seen. They are on the leading edge of technology and an extremely valuable resource to anyone who connects with them. Try stopping by Gaslight Coffee at 8 a.m on just about any Friday morning to find out for yourself.