How I Went from Working in the Restaurant Industry to Senior Front-End Engineer

6 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 Bobby Velasco, a 39-year-old Senior Front-End Engineer at the technology consulting company ICF, living in San Diego, California. Read more stories from Codecademy learners here — and be sure to share your story here.

Why I chose to learn to code

“I started off in my coding journey back in the day when Objective-C was used for iOS development. I tried learning to code from a book, and it got hard really quick, so I gave up. In 2014, a friend of mine told me about Codecademy. He said: ‘You should learn web development. You can start slow, work at your own pace, and they have free lessons so you can teach yourself.’

I was working in the restaurant industry at the time and looking for something new to do. I never thought it would be coding because I didn’t think I had the right personality for coding. As soon as I jumped on Codecademy and started learning the basics of web development I realized it’s pretty approachable. One of the biggest challenges at first is sucking and learning how to get yourself unstuck or where to find resources to keep pushing forward.”

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How I made time to learn

“I would do some lessons in the morning when I got up, and then if I wasn’t too tired, I would go back at it after work. With Codecademy, I wanted to have a foundation in order to feel confident enough to start applying to a web development JavaScript bootcamp. Codecademy was there to facilitate that whole process. I really leveraged the JavaScript lessons because you had to have already taught yourself a foundation of the language to apply.

Codecademy used to have something called Codecademy Labs, which was in-person Saturday meetups. I was part of the beta in Los Angeles in 2015, and it was what gave me confidence to keep going. Doing the Codecademy lessons on your own, there’s a community if you get stuck or need help, but meeting people who are like-minded, who are either just curious or want to make a career change, is very positive. I still keep in contact with some of those classmates on LinkedIn who have moved on to bigger and better things and changed their lives because of that program.”

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How I got in the door

“I had been applying to jobs online and trying to leverage my network on LinkedIn. Finally, somebody in my network got me an introduction with the CTO of a startup called Soothe. They needed somebody to come in and help their marketing team and they were willing to take me on as a three-month ‘contract to hire.’ I got hired within two months just because I worked my tail off.

I got a title of Product Marketing Engineer, and I started doing anything I could get my hands on to get more experience. I just kept on learning and more opportunities kept getting thrown at me to do front-end engineering work, and some back-end tasks. I was hungry to get experience, and they allowed me to build the confidence and the skill set. I was there for five years, and when I left, I was in charge of the entire web front end.”

How long it took me to land a job

“After Soothe, I worked for a company called Backer for two years. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to raise funding this past winter, so some people got laid off. It was a pretty crappy thing to get laid off — I wasn’t expecting it. But I told myself: You have to see this as an opportunity. Sulk for a day or whatever but move on because you can make it a positive experience.

I got maybe three or four referrals, but I was on LinkedIn seven days a week. There’d be a job posted an hour ago and it has like 500 applicants. How do you compete with that? I was using every resource possible. I was kind of resistant at the beginning, but now I use AI to search for jobs and to help with my interview prep.

I would just try to tell myself: Everybody starts somewhere, and everybody has knowledge gaps. You have to humble yourself to either ask for help or figure out the way to get over that hurdle.

Bobby Velasco
Senior Front-End Engineer at ICF

Lots of people were in the same boat as me, but it still can be mentally taxing because there’s so much competition in the job market. I’ve had two or three final round interviews and thought I had it — and just it didn’t pan out. I told myself very early on to not get so excited about too many opportunities, because you never know what’s going to happen. You can even get the job and then have it taken away because they lose funding or need to downsize. I try to see it more as a marathon than a sprint.”

Some great news!

In late September, six months after being laid off, Bobby accepted an offer as a Senior Front-End Engineer at ICF.

How I nailed the interview

“The first couple of jobs I applied for when I was starting my career, I was really focusing a lot on learning algorithms and data structures as a first-layer barrier to get to the next interview. Now that I’m more mid-to-senior level, I get asked more architectural and systems designs questions. [Hiring managers] can tell immediately by just talking to you whether you’re competent in what you’re doing just by the way you speak. It’s definitely a relief that I don’t have to sit there and grind on algorithms, because that’s my least favorite part of the whole job hunt.”

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How day one and beyond went

“After getting the written offer and accepting, I didn’t allow myself to celebrate. I was in the middle of interviewing with two other companies. One ended up canceling the final round and halting hiring for the position. I didn’t get to the final round for the other company.

Only at the end of my first week at ICF when I was signing up for benefits did it seem real. I finally let myself relax and celebrate. My wife was a tremendous strength throughout my time on the job hunt! I’m immensely grateful for all of her love and support.”

What I wish I knew before I started learning

“Don’t try to memorize everything; the internet is your resource. My first year on the job, I had tremendous impostor syndrome. I would just try to tell myself: Everybody starts somewhere, and everybody has knowledge gaps. You have to humble yourself to either ask for help or figure out the way to get over that hurdle. You’re never going to know everything because the technologies are always evolving. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Learn like Bobby

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