How and why did you get started with coding?
I got started with code because of the job market in the legal industry. About a year and a half after I left law, I started work in Quality Assurance at an ad agency that produced websites. All that was required for that job was attention to detail and some working knowledge of basics with the browsers. I just told the developers what was wrong on the site or if there were spelling mistakes. There, I was introduced to the process of software development, and to the developers themselves. I was impressed by the good salaries my friends were making and the fun they were having at work.
Building or making something was a part of it, too. I never really considered this important for me until I tried my hand at woodworking. The moment I sold my first piece, I knew I had to keep making things in life. The first code I typed was through the console on Codecademy.
What were your goals when starting to code and how did you keep motivated?
My goal was to become an iOS developer. One of my co-workers showed me some really cool resources, and I joined him in learning. What kept me motivated was knowing that I would eventually turn a leaf and reconcile leaving law. Leaving law was difficult in that being a lawyer was my identity for a substantial part of my professional life, and I often struggled in thinking that I made a mistake.
Looking back at it now, having a law degree in the technology industry is quite the asset. A lot of the thinking and attention to detail in software development is honed in law school and law practice. I often like to compare coding to something like motion writing - instead of writing for a judge in natural language, you’re writing for the computer. There are a set of rules, and you can help determine the outcome by what you write/code.
What was the most challenging part of learning how to code, and how did you rise above those challenges?
The most challenging part is simply learning the foreign looking syntax and understanding the purpose of doing certain things. For example, when studying object-oriented programming, it took me months before it finally clicked. There’s simply no way around it but to put in the hours. It may seem difficult for a beginner to believe, but by the time you put in your 600th hour coding, a lot of things will just make sense in your mind, and muscle memory will kick in.
What advice would you have for folks who are just starting out or thinking of getting started?
Work through HTML, CSS, JS, and either Python or Ruby, then decide on the type of development you want to do. If you’re a fanatic about Android, for example, start learning it, and stick to it until your 1000 hours is up.
A mistake that I started having was thinking that perhaps a specific framework or platform wasn’t suited for me, and that X might be better. The moment you start acting on this, the longer it will take for you to learn and get a job doing it. If you want to be an iOS developer, or Rails developer, make the commitment, and work through the resources online until you get it. The fundamentals of programming are all the same regardless of language.
You should also seek out other developers in meetups for the community you’re in. Get close to your designer friends, and start working on projects that they have in mind. Having someone else work with you keeps you accountable, and your product will be more polished in the end. Once you go pro, you’ll see that design and code is very much hand and hand - like peas and carrots.
How did you get to where you are now? What did you do after Codecademy?
After Codecademy, I used some resources from Ray Wenderlich. They put out a lot of great iOS development guides and tutorials. The guide I did work through was the iOS Apprentice which goes over the development of four different iOS apps, from the trivial such as working with the basics of drag and drop UI to the more complex like working with APIs and persistent storage.
During this time period, I built four apps, and won a team Hackathon. I started applying to see what the job market was like, and next thing I knew I was getting callbacks and interviews.
Which steps would you recommend for folks who want to find jobs after Codecademy?
Seek out a position in manual QA at any development house, agency, or company. Despite the requirements they may have on their listing, all these jobs require are good communication skills (to talk to both the developers and the business folks) and attention to detail. I believe web QA in general has the lowest barrier to entry (compared to hardware QA). Complete the HTML, CSS, JS and one OOP language on Codecademy, then create your own website such as a resume/bio site, then go shopping for employers.
Once you’re there, soak up the knowledge from the developers and business folks. Then plan your exit as you sharpen your programming skills. An employer will feel much more comfortable hiring you if you’ve had experience in a software development environment.
How did you feel about switching your career, and what can you say to others who want to make such a change?
I feel great, and I feel like I made the right choice. The power of the software industry is undeniable.
Lastly, it all comes down to your personality type, and what defines your essence. If making and creating value as opposed to shuffling paper around resonates with you, then your choice should be clear.