From being a "loser" ESL Teacher to a web dev in your late 20s/30s?

Hello everyone! It is my first topic on this forum, even though I have been here for a while. I have no idea where to start, so let me write something about my current position.

I am in my very late 20s’ (28 now), Polish citizen, with Automotive Technician degree from high school and English Language and Literature BA degree plus TESOL certificate as I work as an English teacher at a university. Computers and technical stuff were always my cup of tea, but programming not necessarily. I did some simple programming as a kid but quickly lost my hope as I am not very good at Maths. After graduating from high school I did some very low paid jobs for a short time and meanwhile, I have started my BA degree to improve my English. During my university times, I went to Turkey as a part of a students exchange programme and even though this country was never my dream country I somehow settled down here for nearly 8 years so far, I have a quite decent life. I can afford some basic stuff like saving some money, investing a little, having a car, motorcycle, nice apartment with a nice view, holiday 3 times a year, no credits, debts etc. For many people, it is a pure definition of being a “loser ESL teacher abroad”, for others it’s a decent life that I have no right to complain about it.

My job is not bad, I have a lot of time for myself and I even like it but the thing is that I don’t want to do it anymore. After some time, you realise that you basically always talk about the same grammar rules over and over again, people see you as a “loser” who couldn’t find a proper job in his country, and I know that it will only get worse since my salary is not going to be much higher, I have almost no future and possibilities of finding a job in EU countries and I don’t feel satisfied with it.

This feeling started many years ago, since that time I have been constantly thinking what can I do in my life, what kind of skill to acquire, work on it, move back to my country or other EU country and don’t feel like a “loser” anymore. Programming was on my mind for a long time, and this website was one of the places where I have started ( I am about to finish Front-end libraries certificate now). Tried many different courses, and technologies. I have built some Arduino projects, published Android app, created and deployed a few “full-stack” websites and did a lot of other smaller things. Sometimes I feel like I am on a right track, I invest my time into a valuable skill which can grant me a good job in the future, satisfaction and respect from people.

However, on the other hand, time is passing it will be nearly 3 years since I have started learning myself web development, and still, I get stuck at very simple problems here and there. I am almost 30, have no CS degree nor experience, I am definitely not genius and most probably I will never be even a really good programmer, in the best case just get good enough to find a job. Moreover, I also hear about many people who are a bit younger than me, much more disciplined and talented, have great portfolios and still, they struggle to find a job. Current situation made it even worse, just got recovered from coronavirus recently. I was also considering taking a Bootcamp or even trying to find a university that will let me make my MA degree in something related to CS. Maybe I am just chasing a “dream” that is never going to become true?

Programming at first looked like a dream job, you create something from nothing, help others, it seems like it is much easier and logical to teach computers to do something than humans. The more I dive into the topic, the more things appear on the way, it is like never-ending road. There are millions of “success” stories about people who taught themselves how to code within a few months and found a well-paid job, everything in less than a year. I know even one person like that, she used to be an English teacher as an expat here in Turkey like me, took a Bootcamp in Canada and works at a software company right now, as a front-end developer. On the other hand, when I read some post on this forum and listen to some people it seems like winning on a lottery. Moreover, when you are just a self-learner like me, there is no time, money nor environment pressure what makes it even more difficult to get focused.

What I have tried to say is that I have invested quite a lot of time, hoping that it can be a good time maybe even money investment in the future. Something that will make me feel satisfied and give many opportunities in the future. However, truth doesn’t look so inspiring, as there are so many young guys with their CS degrees, and situation on the market is not good neither. Maybe it is time to face the truth and just give it up, or keep it just a fun hobby and nothing else? Are there any other “ESL teachers” who managed to switch their careers to programming or are on their way?

Hi @LachPawel!

Welcome to the forum!

I don’t think you have to be a genius to be a good programmer. You just have to be willing to work hard, persevere through challenges and constantly learn new things.

There are plenty of people who got their first jobs in their 30’s 40’s and 50’s including Quincy Larson.

I am also a beginner without a CS degree and it will be harder to get interviews but not impossible. We just have to focus on the alternatives. When it comes to experience, try freelancing a little bit or contributing to open source projects.

You could do those options but it sounds like you haven’t tried to apply for jobs yet. Why not try putting out some applications and seeing what responses you get. From there you can come up with a game plan on what to work on to improve your chances of getting hired.

Hope that helps!

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Not ESL, but I was a professional musician that changed careers in my late 40s. #ymmv

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Thank you all for your replies, I didn’t expect such a quick response! I am bit tired that is why my message was so messy, thanks for understanding! :slight_smile:

I know there are so many exceptions from this

being very young, talented hardworking, CS degree holder

rule, but still I was so hopefully in the beginning. There were times where I used to sit for a week straight just to solve one single bug in the code during the deployment and times when I just read another articles and didn’t get too much from them. I see so many super disciplined and talented people on the internet, solving difficult problems which I struggle with, and if they cannot find even a Junior position, what is the possibility that such a mediocre like me, will ever find a job in that field? What is your idea, is there going to be a need for people like us (self-learned devs - novice/mids) in this field in the future? Maybe most of the positions are going to be taken by the most talented people with degrees, and rest of the stuff is going to be done by robots? Is it just a pure waste of time and “American dream” of making living out of it?

I don’t know what to tell you. Is there a guarantee that there will be lots of dev jobs in 20 years? No one can guarantee that. But that does seem to be where things are going. Sure, they keep scaring us with “AI will take your jobs” but they’ve been threatening that for a long time. The wysiwyg platforms like WordPress just took the low lying fruit, and the expectations of what a page could do went up so developers got better and did that. I expect the same thing with AI.

As far as degrees, some of the best coders I know have no degree. For many companies, degrees don’t matter, just what you know and what you can do. Period. There are even some companies that explicitly don’t want degrees.

Don’t worry about the jobs for which you won’t qualify. You don’t need to get every job, you just need to get one. But yeah, that first job is insanely difficult to get.

Is this a hard path? Yes. Should you do it? Don’t think about money or whatever - Do you enjoy it? That should be the question. If you do, then with some hard work and some time, you have an excellent chance of building a nice career.

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Hello there friend!
I am new to this, you can consider yourself senior to me and my skills. You built a FEW FULLSTACK apps? Deployed them?You are 3 years in it and still rolling strong?And you DOUBT in yourself?? Dude, many of us just started picking up after every new round of JS whoops our maximus gluteuses. You think everyone here is a unique and wonder kid-esque? Wrong, and thats ok. Wonder kids and geniuses are born with it, they change our future. We, and i think it in a best possible way, are army of helpers, lets call it that way. You have the skills and tools, ready to help peoples who do not have those, to solve their problems and have fun by doing so. Enjoy the ride, dont burden yourself.

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Hey Pawel,

nice to meet you!

I think you should check if your current beliefs are correct and what your blind spots are.

Can you come up with reasons why one of these talented people can’t get a job?

Do you think a very complex system like “work” is more than just a small tiny cog named “technical experience”?

How would you describe the difference between self-learned devs and the devs from university?

Can you come up with some opportunity costs? What do the university devs lack?

Can you explain what you mean by talented? Talented in what?

ESL teacher sounds like a cool job, nothing ‘loser’ about it. You’re doing the whole grass is greener thing it’s rarely the case that it is.

“I can afford some basic stuff like saving some money, investing a little, having a car, motorcycle, nice apartment with a nice view, holiday 3 times a year, no credits, debts etc.”

Chill dude you have it fine.

Thank you all for your replies! I really do appreciate it. I want to make some things clear. There are so many people out there in a terrible financial situation and their main focus is money. It is not the case for me, I am OK, I could keep on living as a teacher but simply I just don’t see the point. I am not passionate about it, I am not an English native speaker, it is very monotonous, I can’t even move back to Poland and make living out of it there.

Probably most of us here, have more ambitions, we want to contribute somehow to the society, do something that even tough is difficult, brings us a lot of joy and satisfaction in the end. Don’t get me wrong, most probably you can also scale your business while being “just” an English teacher, reach a lot of people change their lives etc. etc. but those are completely two different things. First one is much more “humanistic”, focused on things that we have been doing for ages and there are already millions of ready solutions, gurus etc. the latter one is about our times, technology and something that is changing nearly every day.

Maybe because of the lack of originality and not having their own projects in their portfolios?

In the second case we talk mainly about very young and ambitious people. who spent at least 4 years of their lives without any distractions focusing on learning everything from the basics, at the same time being guided by their professors. On the other hand, many of these people may have the same thoughts as we do (middle-aged?) people who already got their BAs or even MAs from different fields and would like to do something else in their lives. We have more life experience, and due to the time limits we may have more “practical” knowledge about the current technologies?

Maths, algorithims, physics, logical thinking, tech skills to name a few? I mean it is like learning how to play the instruments. I really love playing the guitar, but let’s be honest even if I spent 12 hours a day playing it, I won’t get even close to some leading talents. Some people are just born with it, and I can be very passionate about music but I know that my skills and voice will probably never make me star or even let me have a decent income from it. Maybe the same maybe applied to programming as well? But of course we need much more programmers than musicians, with the growth in the market there is always a demand for people in that field.

So I have a lot of CS students in my workshops. The folks you describe are like < 1% of the grads. Many students have 1-2 projects in their studies that involve coding.

I also mentor in a “elite” program with 15-20y old folks. Most of them never worked in a group project or know how to do proper communication. And that’s pretty normal, because they are mostly kids.

They also have no other domain knowledge. Most of them probably will become normal employees.

But what is the point of this story?
Yes, there are genius coders who invented great stuff at the age of 8 and will become the CEO at the age of 18.

But I can’t connect the dots what this tells us about the probability to become a decent software engineer who makes a good living.

That’s a classical Selection Bias. Looking at specific groups and making logical causations about other groups.

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