American Millenial Expat: I need a job in 12 weeks

Week #0

A bit of background about me. I’m from the US, but I live abroad in China teaching English. I came to China because, after graduating with a Liberal Arts degree, I found the opportunities for me in the US were unsatisfactory. I only teach 10-15 hours/week, so I have a lot of free time.

I started studying JavaScript in the Fall of 2017 because I was using a game-making software written in JavaScript. However, I had no real commitment to learn so my attempts at completing Codecademy’s Intro to JS (or a game, for that matter) went unfinished. I started, stopped, and restarted several times.

In the Spring of 2018, I was planning on coming back to the US at the end of semester. At this point I spent most of my time binge-playing computer games and staying up late doing so. I had tried to start learning JavaScript again, but video games always seemed more tempting. Finally, contemplating my life and what I was doing with it, I deleted all the games off my hard-drive and blazed through Codecademy’s Intro to JavaScript.

That’s when I started FreeCodeCamp’s front-end certificate on the old curriculum. I was on a tear at this point. The only time I wasn’t thinking about coding was literally while in class. That front-end certificate took about 6 weeks. And that’s about the time when I made a difficult decision to stay in China one more year since I got a job offer from a university to teach their General English course.

In the last year I have used a variety of resources. I learned PHP/SQL at one point in order to become a back-end developer. I only used that for 1 project and then learned React from Codecademy. Once I learned React, I made several projects with it before finally coming back to FreeCodeCamp in February and learning SASS followed by the MERN stack.

In 12 weeks I will move back to the US and need to find a web developer job ASAP. My target cities are Denver, CO, Austin, TX, and Las Vegas, NV.

Projects worked on:

Tribute Page
Personal Portfolio Page
Random Quote Machine
Pomodoro Clock
JS Calculator
Local Weather App
Wikipedia Viewer
Tic Tac Toe Game
Simon Game
Personal Portfolio, blog-style, no CMS, self-hosted (old version)
Ab Workout Generator (PHP/SQL)
Pathfinder Wildshape Calculator (React)
D&D Party Manager (React)
Cleric Spell Selector (React)
Story Dice (React)
D&D 5E NPC Generator (React)
Personal Portfolio (React/PHP)
Company Website (React/Router)
Pomodoro Clock (React)
Timestamp Microservice (mongoose/mongodb/express/node)
URL Shortener (MERN)

Things learned:



I have no mentor and haven’t found any sort of foreigner coding community here in China. My girlfriend’s dad is a senior programmer and offers me advice occasionally over video-chat, but he’s super busy with his work and he’s in a band. As such, I don’t know what I don’t know, so to speak.

I have moved back to the US from China once before with the intent to start a business. That plan fell-through due to lack of motivation and follow-through. Next thing I knew I was working minimum-wage at a grocery store and teaching ESL on the side in addition to other odd jobs, missing the laid back life I had in China teaching English. I hope going back to the US this time won’t be a repeat of last time.

The only “professional” job I’ve ever had was doing some financial “advising” aka insurance sales. Outside of that, I’ve never had a successful interview for anything that had a college degree as a job requirement (outside of teaching). Even if I have the skills, maybe I will flounder in interviews and be jobless.


What should I work on from here? I plan to do at least a couple more projects in the MERN stack (personal projects) in addition to the last two projects for the back-end certificate. Then what?

How can I learn things like agile methodology, scrums, working with other developers, best practices, etc. and demonstrate that to employers?


I’ve got 12 weeks to get job-ready. And not just job-ready but interview and application ready. When I land in the US, I need to be either employed or have a good enough online presence to score interviews at a consistent clip.

I plan to update this 1/week. In between updates, I’m happy to answer any questions from those that are where I was a year or so ago, and I would appreciate advice and/or encouragement from anyone that’s ahead of me in this journey.

Personal website:


Hi there,

First, congrats for overcoming your gaming “addiction”. I too like gaming but i always try to have a balance in things. No, about your question, it seems that you have a good understanding in both ends, front and back, so what to do now? Create one or two CRUD apps, so you can show that you’ve worked on all areas of the app.

Agile and scrums you will only need to know the basics, you will learn most of it in the job, as working with other devs. The best practices, you will need to read a book or two about those, but keep in mind that those are general practices, you will learn that it depends on the company. Most of them have their own practices.

You seem to be job ready, so did start sending your cv to score some interviews? If not, practice your interview skills until you get one. But never forget, always be 100% real, don’t try to say that you build x or know how to do y if you don’t know. It’s expected that you don’t know everything, you’re still a junior, remember that.


urg, the costing of living in Denver is very high, and many dev jobs underpay here. I work for a company in Austin so I can afford to keep living in Colorado.

Somethings to work on:
Learn Git - you will need to know this if you don’t. Only mentioning because I dont’ see it on there.
Spend some time on algorithms. At least in Denver, many jobs test on them.


If you want to work with other people and practice agile, try applying to Chingu and take the initiative as project manager. If you can organize a team to see a project through from beginning to end, then you have accomplished some thing pretty impressive.

However, it does sound like your greatest enemy is yourself. Following through has been an issue for you in the past. Really be mindful of that and lean on those close to you to keep you on track and motivated.

Beyond that, just apply, apply, apply, craft your resume to suit the job descriptions, get human feedback as often as you can, and be assertive about job search and getting feedback. It’s a process.


I followed a similar path. Lived in Korea for four years teaching English, and spent the last year and a half learning to code. Now work as a front end dev using Angular.

Looking at your portfolio, it is clear that you have solid front end skills. The app is well-presented and professional. But employers will want to know that you are capable of working on large, real world projects.

My advice would be this: stay in China another year, enjoy the food, and learn how to build full stack apps.

After all, what’s the rush?


@RicardoJFN Thanks a lot. I’ve since re-downloaded games, but I still delete one or two off my hard-drive once they get to be too much. Last year I just didn’t really have anything to work towards. Now I’ve got web development (hopefully) on the horizon as well as a couple new, healthier hobbies.

I applied for jobs at the beginning of February. I applied for 21 jobs before publishing my new portfolio of which I got 7 rejections. I applied for 7 more with the new portfolio and got 3 rejections.

Since then I haven’t applied and I’m not 100% sure when I should. I’m contracted through mid-June here, and I also have a couple personal commitments (tabletop game, foreign language department football league) that I’d like to see through. I’m also not sure how much my foreign address/expat status affects my candidacy. I don’t even have a US telephone number at this point.

@Tirjasdyn Good to hear from someone from Denver. It is way expensive and real estate is getting more and more expensive there. But we’ve lived in Colorado before. Las Vegas is our alternative, lower cost-of-living option but their aren’t as many jobs and the average salary is lower.

I’ve learned Git, but I don’t know how much I need to know. Since teaching myself Github in November last year, I always push my projects, and sometimes I pull from Github to my laptop for working away from home. As for algorithms, I don’t want to come off as a masochist, but I really enjoyed FCC’s algorithm challenges. My idea is to start prepping for interviews around May and practicing algorithms as part of that. Some of the algorithms I’ve seen mentioned in junior dev interviews seem really easy. Would love to hear your experience in this regard.

@psychometry Great advice, I have signed up now after reading your post. I’m not sure what the next step is, the application process seems pretty simple and I think at this point I just wait to hear from them? As for applying, as mentioned above I had a quick burst of applications in February. I only catered my resume/cover letter to the specific job for maybe a couple. I’m again not sure when it makes the most sense to apply, and also I need to probably find a way to get US phone number for any potential follow-ups.

@arw2015 That situation is very similar to mine! This summer will be a little more than 1 year of really practicing web development. However, I have no interest in staying another year in China. All of my personal, professional, and financial goals point towards securing higher-paying work in the US as a web developer. Staying in China another year would put me pretty far back on my timeline for several of my goals, as well my girlfriend and I agree that we don’t want to live here anymore beyond the end of our contract. Would love to hear how you handled (sorry if I’m assuming wrongly here, you’re from the US?) moving back to the US and finding a job.

@all I didn’t expect this amount of replies and support so quickly. Thanks so much. I already feel more pressure (a good thing) to work through my next project so that I have progress to show for next week.


Sorry for the very late response. About the rejections, you will get many and it is part of it. Keep applying, you will get the job.

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For sure, I will. I experienced a bit of the “rejection downs” when applying in February, but nothing serious or that I won’t be able to power through. I’m more concerned with when/how to apply while being abroad. And then not having a US phone number / or being in the country and able to accept an offer until mid-June.

My soft-plan is to start applying again around May 1. And maybe get a temporary US-telephone number from something like Skype or Google Voice.

Week #1

This was a pretty solid week. I got another project done and posted for feedback in the Project Feedback forum. You can see it here: MERN stack Exercise Tracker API

I also was inspired by a recent post in this forum about someone who got a remote job. It was an internship, to be exact, but I have nothing to lose right now. Since I’m abroad, I don’t know if it makes sense for me to apply for US jobs until I’m closer to going home. However, remote jobs are fair game since I can still accept one while abroad (<10 hour workweek here) and I can keep it when I relocate to the US. Worst case scenario, I will get some experience filling out applications, writing cover letters, perfecting my resume, portfolio, etc. And, maybe, I’ll even get some interviews.

Projects worked on:
Exercise Tracker (MERN)

Things learned:
Using concurrently and nodemon together in development

Nothing any different than last week. This new idea of trying to land a remote job while in China has made me worry a bit less about landing in the US jobless…although that still could be what happens.

I studied SASS on FCC, and I found it pretty simple and useful. However, I didn’t install it because I couldn’t really understand how to. It looked like I need to use Python…I should revisit this, otherwise I need to remove it from my skill list.

I think I should learn Redux, but I’m also not sure if any of my latest projects need it. This last one was a little different than the previous ones. In my latest project, each ‘page’ had its own “parent” component which maintained state for that page. This was different from my previous projects where state was only stored in one top-level component. However, I couldn’t figure a way to make that work for the MERN exercise logger…

It does seem like a pretty short amount of time now that I’m counting down. Only 11 weeks to go!

Goals for the week:
Start & finish the File Metadata Microservice project
Install and use SASS in it
Be consistent with formatting (from feedback thread for my last project)
Be consistent with commenting
Update portfolio with latest project/s and update resume

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Week #2

I wasn’t too productive this week. I mostly tinkered with my resume using feedback from this thread: I also finished the last project for the APIs and Microservices Certificate, but it was very easy. It only took a day, since I was mostly able to cannibalize a lot of the code from my previous projects in this track. I posted it here:

Projects worked on:
File Metadata Microservice (MERN)

Things learned:
Mostly resume feedback
Started the Redux course on here

Mostly resume stuff. There’s so much conflicting information out there. Some guides say less is more, others suggest beefing everything up, summary vs no summary, action verbs, etc.

My next project I want to work on is a pretty big full-stack application. I think it has potential to be something a lot of people would want to use. I know I could handle it on my own, with time (which I’ve a lot of), but I wonder if I should use this as an opportunity to work with others…

In the next 10 weeks, I think I am mostly looking at getting experience using a preprocessor like SASS and learning and getting familiar with Redux.

With some of the shortcomings of React Router, why is React so popular? Are web developer studios mostly just making single page websites? If so, I’m definitely ready for that. It seems most of the major companies out there, though, are not using React Router, given how slow their different web pages load.

Goals for the week:
Finish Redux section on here
Further tweak resume
Tweak portfolio site
Start new project


Week #4

I didn’t post last week since I didn’t get much done and I didn’t feel it was worth spamming the forum to update with nothing to show for it.

Essentially, I was finding it more difficult to focus now that I’m not really working on personal interest projects and instead focusing on learning new things, working through the FCC curriculum, and completing FCC projects. These aren’t as inspiring as personal projects and so distractions are more tempting.

However, when I could have been updating last week, I instead took the time to outline some goals, and eliminate distractions. This paid off big time.

Projects worked on:
Finished developing FCC’s React/Redux message app locally.
Started and nearly finished with the Markdown Previewer using MERN stack, Redux, and SASS

Things learned:
Finished Redux course
Finished Redux with React course
Reviewed SASS notes
Installed SASS and used my first .scss file

Not any, really. I am worried that some jobs look like they want an internet handy-man of sorts that knows not only how to make websites but also maintain their databases and servers, whether that be AWS or Linux. At the same time, I’m seeing more and more job ads which I meet the job requirements 100%.

Goals for the week:
Finish the Markdown Previewer. I have enough to pass the tests. Now I want to make it portfolio worthy.

Taking the time to set my goals and get rid of distractions made a huge difference in my productivity. I’m ahead of schedule with regards to my monthly goal as well. Redux is a struggle, I don’t think FCC’s course is very good in this regard. Luckily I’ve been able to get some help from others on this forum.

Oh, I also had a quick interview with someone in Beijing. They actually reached out to me, I didn’t apply or anything. They don’t use the MERN stack for their back-end, instead they use Django. I’m not so interested in learning that at this point in time, as well it sounds like they really need someone to set up/manage AWS for them, which I have not learned.

Anyways, it was interesting at least to speak with someone regarding my candidacy, but it wasn’t exactly an interview where I was trying to sell myself. It was more casual, and we more or less agreed that we probably weren’t exactly what each other were looking for.


Remember that you don’t have to match the job “requirements” to a T. The job description is the ideal candidate that most employers never find, unless they set the bar really low by their standards. So have confidence in yourself, apply apply apply!

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I will! I’m very focused on working on Redux and SASS right now, since I see those mentioned in nearly every job app that I’m interested in. But I’m slowly applying for jobs in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. I’m making custom cover letters for each application, just to give myself the best chance I can, rather than shotgunning everything out there.

The call from the Beijing company was definitely a confidence booster. As well, these jobs I’m applying for locally seem well within my skill level. It’s not really my plan to stay in China, but, man, if I can get some work experience before moving halfway around the world, that would be super clutch :crossed_fingers:t3::crossed_fingers:t3::crossed_fingers:t3:


Keep going friend, I would like to hear how it goes :slight_smile:

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@john1 Thanks for the support John.

Week #5

I’m on vacation this week, so there isn’t too much going on. I did have an in-person interview. The company is a start-up here in Shenzhen which is founded by 2 foreign-educated Chinese people. This interview was pretty cool since I didn’t feel like a fraud at all and what they were looking for wasn’t outside of my skillset.

There are a lot of pros for me working for them and for them hiring me, but I’ll focus on some of the cons:

  • No developer above me to learn from. One of the founders is also a self-taught developer focusing on data analysis, the other is a marketer. I would be the only developer starting out.
  • Having only recently founded their company, they will need to figure out how to sponsor my work visa.
  • Commits me to China for some time.
  • When the team grows, many of the new hires may not speak English, as well most of the clients probably won’t speak any English, so I’ll have to start studying Chinese again.

A lot of the pros relate to things typical of a startup, so I won’t cover them all. One major pro is that they already have a business pipeline so I will immediately have projects to complete if I started working for them. As well, as foreign-educated Chinese they are looking to develop a more Western-style business culture and are happy to communicate in English.

I see this short-term as an opportunity to essentially get paid for doing what an independent freelancer would do, except I won’t have to go and find business. They’ll let me know their decision in a couple weeks. Obviously, as a 2-person startup looking to hire just 1 employee in a city of more than 12 million people, the competition will probably be pretty fierce.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a WeChat message from my girlfriend’s father, one of my mentors in this field. His company may be hiring junior full-stack developers soon. I haven’t had the chance to talk to him more on this yet, and I’m off the Hong Kong for a 3-day backpacking trip right after I finished this update.

Projects worked on:
Finished React/Redux/SASS Markdown Previewer Frontend

Things learned:

One project the startup would start me on would involve making full-stack e-commerce websites with login/register features.

The startup also is looking to develop WeChat apps which use WXML (like HTML) and WXSS (like CSS). Luckily, beyond that, the platform uses JavaScript.

Goals for the week:
Have a good vacation, get back to work beginning of next week.

Had an interview, heard about a potential job lead, and more or less finished a project. Outside of that, a lot of time was spent on personal stuff like D&D, relaxing (weekend), and preparing for our backpacking trip, so the week felt short and went fast.


@ethanvernon, I was an English teacher in South Korea for six years before getting my first job, so your story really resonates with me. It seems like you’re making great progress on landing a developer job, and I just wanted to cheer you on with everyone else in the comments. Enjoy your backpacking trip and keep us posted!

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You’re making great progress, keep going I know it is tough out there but I know you’ll make it!!!

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@scissorsneedfoodtoo Thanks a lot for the support! It’s great to hear from a fellow (former) expat, and especially awesome that you were able to get a job with the English teaching background.

@john1 Thanks again John, the job search just got pretty wild this week! I’ll update tomorrow. Tonight I’ve got a lot to consider and want to get my thoughts in order (in a good way).

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Hey! I teach in Korea too. I am finishing my 3rd (and final) year-long contract here in August. Been developing for several years, but not a lot of hours per week. However, I’d say I’m at roughly the same level skills-wise as you.

I’m looking to pick up some minimal React Native and/or Python 3 projects for my portfolio before going back. I would be open to staying in Korea, unfortunately, most jobs are conducted in Korean and I am a solid 3-4/10 on that front… Maybe you can empathize, with Mandarin being even harder to get good at!

It was really reassuring to read through your thread though, so I wanted to say thanks. Going home and getting into another field at the same time can seem scary, and that makes it easy to stay just one more year. You helped me remember why I’m not doing that this year.

Looking forward to an update, sounds promising :smile:


@Lewis65 Good luck after this semester. My job hunt abroad so far has been going well enough that it’s giving me hope for back in the US. So hopefully that turns out to be true for both of us. I think, if I were to ever write a “How to become a web developer” guide I would start it with a “Step 1: Move abroad and find a low-hour job teaching English” :laughing:

Week #6
So the backpacking trip was a bit of a bust. It was still super fun and nice, but we ended up getting a late start, had a bit of a goose hunt looking for camping stove fuel in Hong Kong, and got to the trail head after nightfall and in the rain.

We did pretty well on the trail, saw wild cows, hiked about 10 km with some Chinese from Guangzhou, one of which was super talkative (in Chinese), ran into herds of wild cows, took a couple wrong turns, realized the mud I kept stepping in were actually cow patties, and eventually hiked down a cliffside in the dark to the first campground which was a pretty nice little beach.

Exhausted, we set up camp, and somewhere around twilight began to realize that my tent wasn’t exactly water-proof. Anyways, not bad for a first-time backpacking trip. We tried and somewhat succeeded.

I have been applying for jobs in both Hong Kong and Shenzhen. I got an interview request from a company in Shenzhen, but I ended up turning it down since the interview was going to be conducted in Chinese. I can struggle through a conversation with a guy on a trail, but I don’t feel comfortable going out of my way (1 hour or so travel time) to have a professional conversation - I’m not at that level.

I got another interview invitation for a team in Hong Kong. This is pretty much the kind of job I am looking for. Team, high standards, junior role, cats in the office, etc. The first part of the interview is a take home test, and then if you pass that you get invited in for a chat.

My girlfriend’s dad out in Hawaii reached out. His company is hiring junior devs. The only downside to this job would be Hawaii’s quarantine policies regarding importing animals - it’s much more strict and time consuming (time away from pets-wise) than the rest of the US. However, aside from that, it checks a lot of the boxes personally, professionally, and financially. I catered my resume and cover letter as well as I could, and sent that in a couple days ago.

As I was finishing my take-home interview test last night, the guy from last week’s interview e-mailed me a job offer. He also reached out to me on WeChat to make sure I got it. I’ve got until May 13th to decide, but I assume he’d like to hear back sooner. Ultimately, it is a very difficult decision to make what with the pros and cons I outlined before.

Projects worked on:

  • React/Redux/SASS Markdown Previewer (back-end)
  • Take home test which involved 4 questions: find out if an array is a subset of the first argument, what is the computational complexity of your answer to number 1, generate the next fibonacci number for each value in an array, and fixing an issue with some JS which (I think) looked to be a scope issue

Things learned:

  • Using Axios in Redux
  • A smidgen about computational complexity
  • The keys in rootReducer are the keys in the state object (I think) when you pass it as props


  • Making the wrong choice. Passing on a job that isn’t quite what I want and then never getting any leads after that.
  • The computational complexity question was way out of my league. I couldn’t really even find enough information online that explains it in a nice, concise way, and don’t know what they were really looking for on that question.

Goals for the week:

  • Finish the last few API calls in the markdown previewer
  • Start and finish most of next MERN-Redux project
  • Reply to the job offer

It was a short week production-wise because of the Hong Kong backpacking and the vacation week (Labor Day). As well, whenever I get interviews or news on the job search front, I give myself a little break from coding.

I have to decide how to reply to the job offer. I think I’m leaning towards being up front that it isn’t the perfect scenario for me, that I’m willing to commit to the at-will, probationary period for the next month-month and a half, but that it is not, ultimately, where I want to end up. If they still want me with that, then I’m happy to come in and work on a few projects for them, but there’s a good chance that I won’t stay around through the end of the probationary 3 months.

At the same time, I’m a self-taught junior developer, so I’m not sure how appropriate that sort of attitude is.

My general perspective starting applying for jobs here was that best-case scenario I was going to get practice writing my resume and cover letter before going home to look for jobs. Now I have an offer on the table.