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8 Tips for Students Looking for a Side Hustle in Tech

09/14/2023
6 minutes

College is back in session. Tuition prices are up, loan forgiveness is down, and inflation is… inflating

All in all, you might be thinking about ways to make a little extra money. Even as a student, you can learn in-demand tech skills and start picking up freelance work. Our Pro Student membership gives you all the resources you need to get a side hustle off the ground, like access to our skill and career paths and professional certifications that verify your skills. Not to mention, adding professional experience to your resume can help make you a better job candidate come graduation. 

Julia Taylor taught herself to code (using Codecademy, among other resources) and kicked off a career as a freelance web developer. Today, she leads GeekPack, a company that helps women develop technical and entrepreneurial skills. Ahead, Julia offers a few tips for college students and new developers that want to start making money ASAP by freelancing in tech.

Learn something new for free

Learn basic web development 

Building websites is a great freelance offering to start with, because people and businesses are always looking for people to make standout sites. HTML and CSS are all you need to start building and designing websites. Check out our skill path Build a Website with HTML, CSS, and GitHub Pages for a step-by-step breakdown of how it’s done. 

Then once you’ve mastered the basics, Julia suggests learning to work with inspect tools, development tools that are built into web browsers, and WordPress websites. Over 43% of websites are built on WordPress (including the Codecademy blog you’re reading!), so there’s a high demand for people that know how to use it. And since WordPress is largely built with PHP, our skill path Learn PHP can be a great start. 

There are also services like search engine optimization (SEO) and dev tools like Flutter that you can use to provide greater value for your clients. When it comes to finding success as a web developer “it doesn’t take a coding bootcamp,” Julia says. “There are things you can learn and implement, offer as a service, and get paid for.” 

Let AI handle your digital marketing 

Freelancing can be a full-time job. Pitching, cold calling, client meetings, and freelance assignments can be a lot to juggle — especially with a full course schedule. The good news: AI tools like ChatGPT are great with generating text content that you can use to flesh out your clients’ websites or create marketing materials to promote your business.  

“Recently, one of my team members did a whole thing on using ChatGPT and Canva to come up with social media posts for a small business,” Julia says. In our free course Prompt Engineering for Marketing, you can learn how to write quality prompts that’ll help large language models create content specifically for your business. AI can help speed up your workflows and outsource the tedious parts of your business, so you can save time for clubs, Greek life, and late-night cram sessions. 

Find your own clients 

Freelancer platforms like Upwork can have thousands of job listings, and many people use them to get their foot in the door, but they come at a cost — literally. Many job boards offer service and platform fees that can take a significant chunk of your earnings. 

That’s why Julia suggests doing your own outreach and finding your own clients. “The sooner you can put yourself forward as your own business, the better, because you get to keep everything you make,” she says. Try starting on campus: Check out a few clubs or research labs and see if they need help maintaining their website or see if a peer needs to build a portfolio website. 

Use your people skills 

A freelancer’s income is almost entirely dependent on their client relationships, so good people skills are a must. And they’re even more important when you consider the AI tools and services that are entering the market en masse. “I make it very clear to my students that they need to make sure they’re differentiating themselves from a computer,” Julia says. “What’s the human element that they bring to the table that a machine cannot?” 

Using your people skills might include breaking down technical concepts and practices into key points that your client can understand or suggesting a new feature that can improve their users’ experience. Responding to emails promptly and offering to hold check-in meetings with your client also can go a long way — and keep your project running smoothly. 

Find your circle 

Learning to code and starting a business can be tough, especially if you’re doing it on your own. In fact, impostor syndrome is one of the most common challenges new developers face. “I was really intimidated because I didn’t have a degree or any of the things you think you’re supposed to have, but really what I didn’t have was a supportive community where I could ask questions without being made fun of,” Julia says. 

You can connect with thousands of other Codecademy community members to ask questions and share your projects in our Forum and Discord server. There are also Codecademy chapters around the world where you can meet other developers face-to-face, and maybe even build group projects. 

Set boundaries with clients 

Clarifying the project’s scope and expected outcome is one of the best things you can do as a freelancer, Julia says. It’s common for new freelancers to take on work that goes beyond the original assignment, but this can often lead to complicated or confusing situations. 

You’ll need good communication skills to navigate client interactions and set boundaries and expectations. Julia notes that a proposal and contract are key to ensure both parties have clear expectations and timelines. For example, you could outline specifically how much time you’ll dedicate per week to the project and note any dates when you’ll be unavailable (like for midterms or finals). “You’re in control; it’s your business,” Julia says. 

Make time to move the needle 

Dedicating a set amount of time to accomplish tasks is one of the best ways to stay consistent. Try blocking out some time on your calendar to focus on freelancing — whether it’s pitching to new clients, working on projects, or learning a new skill that’ll help your business. “I live and die by my Google Calendar; that’s the only way I know where I’m supposed to be,” Julia says. 

Need help finding time? Here are a few tips for making time to learn coding

Know your why 

Freelancing has many perks, but it also comes with unique challenges, and having a clear purpose can help reinforce your discipline and motivation. “Starting your own business is not an easy route, so if you know your why and tie that into working with clients, you’ll have a more positive interaction from the get-go,” Julia says. 

Want more freelance tips? Here’s a list of AI skills for freelancers that are in high demand and some questions to ask yourself before you start applying to jobs. And if you need help building the right skills, just check out our programming courses.

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