Edit: Thank you all for the congratulations and encouraging responses! I went on vacation for a week and was totally overwhelmed by all the emails and PMs that resulted from this post when I returned. There are a lot of questions to see my resume/cover letter; I am by no means an expert but I’ll try to address those questions in a separate post very soon. Thank you all again and I’ll keep you updated on the new job!
So it’s official. Starting October 16th, I will be an official, salaried front-end web developer. ( !) Here’s a look at my coding journey:
- Received my BS in Chemistry in 2014. Loved the problem solving and was really good at the subject but not entirely passionate about it…
- Got accepted to a chemistry Ph.D. program and started in fall 2014.
- Dropped out of the program before Xmas break 2015. I’d enjoyed some aspects like troubleshooting experiments, refining procedures, and teaching, but disliked most organic lab work.
- Got hired for a part-time nanny gig
- I found FCC the week after I dropped out and spent most of my ‘break’ learning.
- Learned on-and-off while nannying and exploring other income possibilities (i.e. marketing, crafting, writing, etc)
- Started the web dev job search around March 2017 while I was still nannying, but had to leave town to take care of my mom so I put the job hunt on hold.
- Returned home in May and continued my nanny gig (I stopped looking for dev jobs since I was so grateful they’d kept my job open while I was gone). That became a full-time commitment.
- Didn’t do anything coding-related for several months, until I found a part-time marketing job with a tech-related nonprofit. Being in a techy workplace inspired me to start coding again.
- About a month ago, had some minor emergencies that made getting a dev job my highest priority.
- After applying to ~5 jobs per day for a couple weeks, I got an email back from a company hiring for a Web Designer/Developer. They wanted to interview me the next day.
How I Prepared for the Interview
The job ad had been vague with no information at all about the company, except that they wanted someone with experience in Bootstrap, front-end development, Adobe design products, and the Wordpress CMS. When I received their info in the interview email, I immediately jumped onto their websites to do pre-interview research. So note: this wasn’t an agency, but a small business looking for someone to fill their sole developer position.
My focus in applying or reaching out to companies is to make myself out to be the problem-solver they’re looking for. The sites this company owned had a lot of issues - fixed-size items in responsive containers, div-itis and divs being used to center things in containers, but totally breaking the layout on mobile… AHH!
To foster a more conversational interview, I made a gigantic list of topics to bring up so that I could position myself as an expert. I brought my laptop and, during the interview, pulled up Chrome developer tools and Pesticide, sang praises about version control and clean code, and so on.
I know women (and in general, everyone facing impostor syndrome) can be wary about coming off as arrogant or advocating for themselves when it comes to things like salary and career advancement. I’m usually the quiet, non-confrontational type and I’ve never been in a situation of negotiating salary so I was caught a little off-guard during the interview.
In the interview, my interviewers let it be known that I was the last person of many being interviewed and that they were shooting for an hourly rate that was just kind of…meh. I wasn’t too thrilled about it, so when they asked about my interest level I backed off somewhat and kept insisting my salary requirements were higher than they were looking for.
Lo and behold, after the weekend, I received an email asking for a second meeting with this company. They started the meeting by saying they talked it through and would meet my salary requirement, and they would be willing to further negotiation in 6 months time.
More Perspective - Where I’m At
I got my job offer ~22 months after starting FCC. There were times when I was coding every day for weeks on end, and then there were times when I didn’t code for months on end.
When I fell off the bandwagon, I just picked up where I left off. Sure, I had to do some backtracking but there was no need to completely start over.
I haven’t even finished Free Code Camp’s front-end certification, so don’t feel like you need to have a piece of (virtual) paper in hand to get a job.
My coding advice
- Get a local development environment up and running as soon as you can. I used parts of The Odin Project to get my computer setup and get started using Git and command line.
- Start a website - it doesn’t matter what it is. Having the experience setting one up is super valuable, and it looks great on your resume.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Hate CSS? Sign up for a challenge that will push you to improve. (I’ve come to realize that hate of a language/process/framework/whatever is just my brain telling me it’s uncomfortable with its lack of understanding.)
- Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and your skills. I love, love, love Free Code Camp and all the free learning materials out there, but there are just some things that wouldn’t click for me until I found the right resources. APIs, I’m talking about you. For example, Treehouse has saved me many times over with their insanely clear big-picture explanations and focus on best practices. That’s not to say you have to go that route - just know what works for you, and foster a learning environment that helps you do your best work.
- Acknowledge how far you’ve come by helping people who are just starting. This can be a huge self-esteem boost when you’re feeling stuck.
- Take breaks when you need to. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten frustrated with a project, taken a week off to not think about it, and had a glorious a-ha moment where everything suddenly makes sense.
Cool job hunting resources
How to Write a Good Resume in 2017: I followed the tips and resume template in this awesome post
How to Write a Cover Letter: Once I started using these tips, I began getting way more responses (even if just to say they appreciated my application and to reapply when I have more experience).