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How I Went from Management to Freelance Web Developer in 1.5 Years

07/09/2024
7 minutes

Learning to code so that you can land a job in tech can feel daunting. That’s why we’re sharing inspiring stories from Codecademy’s community — to show how people like you (yes, you!) can embark on a learning journey and end up with a totally new career. We hope these stories serve as a reminder that there’s no single path to a more fulfilling work life. 

Today’s story is from Cambria Sullivan, a 36-year-old Freelance Web Developer living in Seattle, Washington. Read more stories from Codecademy learners here — and be sure to share your story here. 

Why I chose to learn to code 

“In early 2023, I was working for a transit agency in a management position, and I felt like I needed a change in life. I had a friend who, like me, went to college for anthropology. He went back to school and got a degree in web design. I reconnected with him, and he got me interested in Codecademy.  

I started using Codecademy, but it wasn’t my first foray into coding. As a kid, I had dabbled in basic Perl and PHP, and I had taken a Python course through the University of Michigan. I started with front-end engineering. I slogged through HTML and CSS because they weren’t very challenging and felt like something you just had to do. But when I got to JavaScript and started writing code that actually did something, it felt magical. I feel like coding is the closest thing we have to magic in the real world — entering these arcane glyphs into a machine to make it think. It felt very powerful.”  

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How I made time to learn 

“Coding became the thing that got me out of bed in the morning. I would go to my job and then come home and learn to code. It really spoke to me on a deep level. As pieces started coming together, I realized it was the first thing I’d ever done where I felt I could stick with it and not be miserable at work. My previous job was very boring; it involved sitting in an office, answering phones, and doing a whole lot of nothing. My mind just couldn’t handle that. 

So, I took a big leap of faith and quit my job. It felt like a freefall. I decided to drain every account I had and put it all into starting my life over, career-wise. I spent several months living in a city called Pullman, where I did the bulk of my learning. My daily life revolved around the Front-End Engineer track, but I would often get sidetracked by interesting projects and build things on my own. I began to develop some actual proficiency and started to feel like maybe this could work out.”  

How I saved up money to switch careers 

“As the end of the year approached, I needed to decide whether to renew my lease. By chance, I reconnected with an old friend on Discord. When I told him I was becoming a software developer, he said, ‘Really? That’s what I do now.’ We started talking a lot and decided to become roommates.  

We moved to Seattle in December. It was a big adjustment — my environment changed, and I still didn’t have a strong sense of security because I was living off savings. Things got tougher because, after finishing the Front-End Engineering career path, I started applying for jobs but got nowhere.”  

How long it took me to land a job 

“Initially, I applied for everything — just throwing my resume out everywhere. I realized I needed to critically examine what was going on. I concluded that I probably didn’t have enough substantial work experience on my resume or projects that could substitute for work experience. I had to admit to myself that the certification alone was probably not enough; I needed to actually build some stuff. I had built a website for a friend’s dad, which was for the Audubon Society, but that still wasn’t enough. 

I feel like coding is the closest thing we have to magic in the real world.

Cambria Sullivan
Freelance Web Developer

It was a very frustrating experience. In Seattle, I met numerous other software engineers who got to know me and saw how passionate I was. They did resume reviews and looked at my code, and more or less unanimously said that I was more than ready for a junior position. However, the hiring situation was such a brick wall that I just couldn’t get through.”  

How I got in the door 

“There were points when I considered giving up because I felt like I had the skills and was confident in my abilities, but I couldn’t get in the front door to convince a single person. I decided I needed something more substantial, so I wrote a JavaScript library. I wanted to kick it up a notch and create something significant. 

I wrote the library, and it actually picked up some steam, with other people contributing to it — Michael from Code Crew even contributed. We published it to NPM, and it has been downloaded more than 200 times now. It was exhilarating to have my work actually being used by other developers; it was really cool. 

Regarding job opportunities, the two times I got closest were both when a friend directly recommended me.”  

How I nailed the interview 

“I continued putting out applications and tried various strategies. I wrote cover letters, used AI to get through the AI filtering, and tried just about everything. Finally, what really made a difference was my roommate, who has been a Full-Stack Developer for a company full-time for three years and also does consultancy work on the side. He kept bringing up to one of the companies he consults for that they should interview me. After three or four times, they finally agreed. 

I finally got the interview. It was funny because all the DSA [data structures and algorithms] stuff and LeetCode problems I had prepared for weren’t even brought up. The interview was very casual and directly with the CTO of the company. He essentially said that they had heard great things about me and wanted to get to know me more. Mentioning that I wrote a JavaScript library seemed to impress him.” 

How I evaluated the offer 

“When I finally got the contract, I realized, Oh, this is real. I’m actually going to write code for a real company that will use it. This is a real position and they are paying me to do the work. They sent me a contract, gave me access to the codebase, and told me what they wanted me to do.  

I did consider how proud I should be because my roommate and friends are kind of the only reason this is happening. But at the same time, if I didn’t know what I was doing, they wouldn’t waste their time.”  

How day one and beyond went 

“So far, we have been setting up the runtime environment, which could be a specialization in and of itself. Coming into a codebase that is a little outdated involves a lot of debugging just to get it to build and run. We are finally at a point where we can start actually working on the codebase. 

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But I was amazed at myself — I can read the code, and it just translates into natural language in my head. I look at it and know what it does; it’s not intimidating. I distinctly remember when I couldn’t even write a function and struggled through the most basic stuff. To get to the point where I can see professional-level production code and feel right at home, especially when it’s backend stuff, is very rewarding. It’s just amazing to see how far I’ve come — it’s surreal, actually.”  

What I wish I knew before I started learning 

“I wish I had known that it would be a very long road, but it would ultimately be very fulfilling and empowering. Tech has always been full of self-motivated people who went against the grain and were considered unusual. I know I fit that mold — I never felt like I fit in many places, but I really feel like I fit in with tech. 

There’s still respect for people who just went off and did it on their own. This is a rare professional field that you can truly get into without a formal education, if you put your mind to it. Unlike nursing or plumbing, where formal education is a must, you can become a Software Developer just by learning to do it, if you’re willing to put in the work.” 

Learn like Cambria

5 courses

Not sure where to start? Check out our personality quiz! We’ll help you find the best programming language to learn based on your strengths and interests. 

Want to share your Codecademy learner story? Drop us a line here. And don’t forget to join the discussions in our community. 

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