on March 30, 2020
Thinking about breaking into web development? Unsure if you have sufficient knowledge or if it’s too late for you? Maybe you have a friend struggling with taking the leap. Whatever the case, my story might help.
I studied finance & investments at university for four years, then spent another two years working as an analyst for DBS. Yet when I turned 30, I joined MakersMug—starting my journey as a web developer. As you might guess, the path to get here wasn’t clearcut. The biggest roadblock for a person changing careers is the psychological battle.
Your brain can easily calculate what you’re leaving behind (10 years in finance), but can’t really determine what you might gain. Let’s go over what to ask yourself when making this big life decision, and how to move forward.
Learning what a web developer does is the first piece of the puzzle. Obviously, the ideal situation is to know someone who actually works as a developer, and even better if that someone’s also gone through a career change. If you don’t personally know anyone that fits the bill, you can easily find someone at a local development meetup. You can also read about building a web development career at Freecodecamp or Medium watch relevant Youtube videos or listen to a podcast. I did all of that and found everything equally helpful. Remember: You’re entering a very broad and fast-moving space, so one developer alone cannot provide all the necessary info.
What intrigued me most was the lifestyle (remote work, flexible hours) and an opportunity to constantly develop myself, learn new things and build something people will find useful. If you like learning new things, this industry is for you. There are new programming technologies popping up all the time and while this can get tiring for someone who’s been in the industry for years, those newer to the job find this exciting. This actually gives newbies a great advantage—companies need fresh, flexible minds that are enthusiastic and willing to learn a specific stack of technologies used.
As for having joined MakersMug, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to determine my own hours and, even more than that, it’s incredible to have smart colleagues around, all of whom help me develop my coding skills and provide guidance when trying new technologies.
The learning process for new developers can be split into the categories below. Since we all have a different learning style, I mention both pros and cons for each category. I’d recommend starting with the first category (as though it’s the first step) and going from there—or choosing and combining what works for you.
If you’ve never coded before, you need to start with the basics (data structures, conditionals, loops, functions, etc.). The best way to do that is to use a free interactive coding app, such as Codecademy, Sololearn or freeCodecamp basic courses. They are great because you don’t have to install or set anything up, which can be a demotivating headache for a beginner. Some of them have a mobile app, too.
The apps teach users that writing code has to be precise. For example, it’s not always apparent to new developers that lower and upper case letters matter. Another revelation for beginners is the importance of conditionals, and that showing either ‘login’ or ‘logout’ in a navigation menu is just an if condition based on a user being logged in or not. My advice would be to use these platforms to grasp the basics before they become repetitive and lengthy, then move on to more comprehensive material.
The next step involves taking more comprehensive video courses that teach how to build an app from the ground up. It is closer to reality than interactive platforms and is a good way to check if you actually enjoy the development process. Udemy and YouTube are great inexpensive sources to start with. Finding the right content among the vast amount of videos might be a challenge, but reviews and the number of subscribers/likes are a good guide.
When searching for videos, finding updated content is crucial given that the technologies advance very quickly.
If you use outdated content, you might encounter compatibility issues if the tutor does not specify which version of a library he/she is using.Once you’ve found some good options, observe the teachers and learn from those with a teaching style that suits you best. Among free content with good tutors, I recommend Kevin Powell (html/css), The Net Ninja (frontend) and Traversy Media (various tutorials).
Motivation, Inspiration, Clarity
Following a lengthy tutorial, you often get to a point when it’s useful to step back from coding and consolidate what you’ve learned. Listening to podcasts such as CodeNewbie and Syntax or watching YouTube videos like Web Development in 2020 can complement the learning process, help you keep up with the industry’s new trends and guide you in what to learn next.
Furthermore, reading freeCodeCamp or Medium articles about career changes or development work also keeps you motivated and inspired. Twitter is great for this as well. And if you need more accountability, sign up for the #100DaysOfCode challenge to join a great community of upcoming programmers, who will support you whenever needed.
Content can feel repetitive after some time, especially while you haven’t moved on to advanced topics yet. But personally, I loved this part of the learning process because it’s very easy to consume while commuting or during a lunch break—unlike when you’ve moved on to actual coding and you have to find free time and really focus. With a full-time job, that usually means waking up quite early or staying up late.
Learning coding can be frustrating at times. The biggest lessons often come from failing and fixing your mistakes, meaning you’ll sometimes feel like you’ve hit a wall. And when trying to make a career shift, hitting a wall can be especially demotivating. You may question whether it’s even worth it. Whether it’s too big of a risk. My advice is, just remember why you decided to do it in the first place. And try to make the learning process fun!
Having successfully made the jump, I can now say with absolute certainty—to me, this career, this lifestyle, is worth it. And making a big career change later in life than most people, that in itself is a great feeling.