I had about two and a half hours alone in a car last week while I was driving home from CSS Dev Conference and about a million things going through my head. I had just met a ton of the people that I have been learning from for a few years now, and it got me to thinking about how far I’ve come.
On the radio were news reports about people protesting their wages at fast food restaurants. I understand where they’re coming from (to some extent), but I’ve always felt that anyone with a cheap computer and a diligent plan can make some money in this world.
I’m seeing a lot of new developers join my Meetup and they remind me of myself just a few short years ago. These people will absolutely make it in this world. They’ll make it because they’re spending their valuable Saturday mornings learning to write code. They saved up enough money to buy a laptop and they’re on their way. They’ll never work the protest line at a fast food restaurant.
So here are some specific things that you can do to become a Front-end Developer. Follow these steps and repeat them over and over and over again. Eventually someone will notice you and give you a shot. Don’t complain. Don’t whine. Hustle. Write code everyday.
Build, build, build
You must build every day. This is a must. You’ll never make it unless you have a few sites under your belt and can prove that you know what you’re doing. Find things that interest you and build sites for those things. If you can’t find any specific interest(?), build a site to share things on (blog, video tutorial site).
Need some site recomendations on where to learn to write code? There’s a million places. It’s the internet. I like the tutorials here, here and here. But don’t spend too much time watching tutorials. Let what you’re building at the moment guide you to where you need to learn.
Use a Timer
I personally need this. This method keeps me on task and lets me know how long it takes me to get things done. I learn a minimum of 20 hours/wk after my day job. On the clock 20 hours. If I stop to check Twitter or the news or whatever, then I stop the timer. It’s easy to get distracted by other things that aren’t your focus. Your focus is on web development, everything else is noise. Here’s a free timer.
Start a Meetup
Want to learn to code and live in a moderately-sized metro area? Start a Meetup. I found
81 95 500+(!) people who wanted to learn JS with me on Saturday mornings. A study group will keep you motivated and involved. Plus you’ll meet a ton of people in your same exact shoes. Don’t sit on the sidelines waiting for someone else to start one.
When I first started down my path to becoming a developer I was learning everything under the sun: Node, SASS, Ruby, JS, CMS’s…it was too much. There’s a ton of acronyms out there in web development and I wanted to know them all. I was becoming a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. Focus on the essentials. Front-end: HTML, CSS, JS and pick a CMS.
If you can’t design, just pick up something from Themeforest. If you’re not a designer, don’t waste time trying to become one. Know how to create a multipage website, make some of it interactive and put it into a CMS. Repeat until the day you get a job.
Have a site
Kind of a ‘duh’ bullet point here. You need a blog and examples of work. Build your own. Seriously: no WP templates. In addition to your personal site, create a ‘hire-me’ site. You need to stand out from the crowd. This is the perfect place to show your personal side. There are 20,000 white guys out there named Matt with a beard and glasses. But what makes me different? What helps me stand out so that the next time I come across somebody’s social media stream or whatever they say ‘Ohhh, THAT Matt!’. Find a way to stand apart from the crowd.
Know the Locals
Attend Meetups (and start one). Shake hands. These are the people that you’ll be seeing for the rest of your career. Hang out with the people you want to be like. Hang out with people that are smarter than you.
Go beyond the locals
Talk to people on Twitter and post comments on blogs. Most people will ignore you, but that’s ok. Screw ’em. Unfollow. Move on. You’ll find a few that are willing to chat and that’s all that matters. Any conferences you like? Go to them, and for Gods sake, don’t stand alone during lunch. Find some ice breaker questions to ask people. Most people are awkward, weird and nervous just like you. People love to talk about themselves, so just have a few questions in your pocket to get things going and then shut up. Don’t interrupt. Listen. Tech meet ups and conferences are full of the most interesting people.
You must be teaching others what you’re learning. A blog is one way, but think beyond that. No one will read your blog. No one reads my blog. That’s not the point. You need to document what you’re learning for your own good.
I started a video tutorial site and that gave me two things: a site to build and a new medium to talk to people with. No one will know who you are and what you know unless you tell them. Teaching others may be the best way I’ve ever learned anything.
Target Specific Companies
Identify companies that you want to work for and go after them. I’ve built websites as a cover letters for companies I wanted to work for. It’ll take a weekend away from you, but whether you get the job or not, it’s 100% worth it. I wasn’t qualified (and I knew that I wasn’t), but it got me to the interview stage and with it, great feedback about what steps to take going forward. The person that gets the job will likely be more qualified than you. These are your lumps. Take them. Repeat.
I got my current job by jumping on it as soon as it was posted on Authentic Jobs. I asked for the earliest interview. The early bird gets the worm. Be ready.
I promise you that if you follow these steps and keep repeating them over and over and over again, someone will eventually take a chance on you. It’ll just be a chance, nothing more, but that’s all you’ll need because of all the sites you’ve been building.
You better know how to code, but also toughen up on the soft skills, too. People hire people, so be personable, let them know that you’re a developer for hire and that you know what you’re doing. Keep hustling and don’t ever become the person protesting their minimum wage job.
P.s. If you’re looking for more info on specific steps it takes to become a developer, I highly recommend “No Degree, No Problem” by Josh Kemp. He comes from the backend developer point of view, but it’s absolutely a great roadmap for any type of developer to follow.