TL; DR I got a job as a Front-end Developer/UI Designer after 8 months of freeCodeCamp.
I was born in Cuba. moved to Ghana when I was a little over five years old and lived there most of my life. I’ve always had an affinity for building things, tinkering and I was immensely inspired by the cartoon Dexter’s Laboratory as a child; He was whom I aspired to become - a scientist.
I was hooked on computers the first day I set my eyes on one especially since I got to play Blasteroids all day and somehow in my young mind I knew that all I wanted to do in life was sit behind a monitor and make things move around on the screen; programming in a nutshell.
I didn’t start following my dream till my first year of high school after I found the book ‘Visual Basic 6: The Complete Reference’ at my school library. My IT teacher back then was kind enough to let me install the VB6 interpreter in the computer lab and leave me to code in there for about an hour a few times a week. I knew it then, as I know now, that I was destined to code.
After high school I had the opportunity to come live in this great country and I came here with one goal: to become a software developer. Reality hit me hard as I realized I had no work experience, no college degree and no marketable skills whatsoever except an intermediate skill level in VB6. I proceeded to do whatever it took to fulfill my lifelong dream and so I applied for financial aid, enrolled in my local community college and began pursuing an associate’s degree in computer science. I took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize I wasn’t really learning much. Sure, CSC101 and 201 taught me important fundamentals in algorithms and data structures that I still use today but I felt like I hadn’t made any real progress and I had had much more fun when I was building UI’s from scratch back in high school. Enter freeCodeCamp.
In pursuit of real-world skills, I found FCC and I was hooked from day one. Despite the curriculum being geared towards web development, as opposed to desktop software programming that I was more accustomed to, I grew in love with the idea of building web apps. I started completing FCC’s lessons and challenges in 2018 on July 15th and in just a few months I had built a small, yet imperfect portfolio that I was proud of nonetheless. There were so many days filled with self-doubt and depression because it took me days to complete some projects (I’m looking at you Intermediate Algorithm Scripting Curriculum). However, I persisted and tried to approach problems from a different perspective on each iteration. The joy of solving an algorithm challenge after hours of writing pseudocode, modifying it, scrapping it and doing it all over again was comparable to soaring amongst the stars; It was a uniquely different kind of happiness and gave me a sense of purpose.
By January 2019 I had decided to make this year the one in which I become what I’ve always dreamed of. I applied on every job portal possible. I had read that networking was crucial to getting a job, so I made efforts to attend meetups but never made it to one because of my work schedule. I tried not to be discouraged when I would apply to a job in the morning and get a rejection letter by noon (many never replied). I would estimate that I had applied to about 400 jobs in January, all requiring experience that I didn’t have. I had one phone interview and I was quickly rushed off the phone once the recruiter found that I had never worked in a development role. The rest were annoying spam emails with titles like “Urgent need!!! - UI Developer with React opportunity !!!” with very bad grammar and company names that resolved to addresses of apartments and parking lots when I looked them up. I still pushed on.
On the 4th of February I received an email inviting me to a phone interview from one of the few companies that I took the time to write a non-copy-pasted-template cover letter for. I visited the company website and I immediately knew this was where I wanted to work. My skills and their requirements were a near perfect match (they listed Vue, but I knew just React) and they were about 30 minutes away from home. I was very excited for the phone interview but was also terribly anxious that I would screw it up. I prepared a long list of possible questions and answers that I might encounter but it was all for nothing because the phone interview turned out to be a very relaxed conversation that I think was just to verify that I wasn’t just making up the things I put on my resume. I was invited to their office for an interview just 20 minutes after the call was over (I had barely finished writing my thank you letter) and I was taken aback by how quickly things were falling into place.
I was given a coding test two days before the interview to write an app that fetches JSON data from a public database in a clean and responsive user interface and it took me about 10 hours from conception to implementation. You can check out the app out here. I spent most of the time sketching prototypes and defining breakpoints to ensure responsiveness. My attempt at responsive design was an exercise in futility (I have a lot to learn still) but I took it to the interview anyway because I knew my perfectionism would only serve to stoke the fires of my anxiety.
I wish all coding interviews were like this because I went in prepared for a strenuous whiteboard interview where I would be reversing binary trees but instead I just had a relaxed conversation with fellow developers that gauged how well my skills and knowledge matched the role. The questions ranged from concepts in CSS like flexbox, grid, pseudo elements to basic JS concepts like closures, delegation and the ‘this’ keyword. There were questions about tools I was familiar with but hadn’t used like webpack and OAuth, but I was honest about what I knew and what I didn’t. Even though I thought I failed the interview because I was unable to answer all their questions I was ready to apply again in a few months if they rejected me. I understood that this was my first ever developer interview out of many to come so I tried not to stress out. I sent each interviewer a thank you letter with some feedback on their interview process and drove back home. That interview gave me a confidence boost and I kept applying for more jobs while working on my final FCC Front end libraries project.
Three days later (yes, they are incredibly quick) I was offered a position as a front-end developer within their research and development team. I’m still in a trance-like state as I write this. How could I, a lowly serf, be granted such a splendorous bounty? Till now, I thought the expression ‘dreams do come true’ only served as a nice saying to put in fables and children’s fairy tales. Yet here I am – a developer.
My journey has only begun and for first time in a long time, I feel rejuvenated and ready to take the world head-on. I’m ready to apply myself and exceed all expectations in my lifelong career. I’m forever grateful to Quincy Larson for creating this great community that fosters learning and skill development, my girlfriend who stood by me through all my struggles and to all my fellow campers, without whom this great community wouldn’t exist. If you’ve made it this far in this long article, thank you for hearing my story and I wish you all the best in all your endeavors.