Third programming gig, no college degree

I want to start this by saying that maybe luck has been a factor in part of my past. I think there are a lot of variables to success. I’m not sure I’m even a successful person. I struggle with Imposter Syndrome like a lot of you. I’m thankful for this community and wish that it existed a long, long time ago.

I had an interest in computers from the time I was young. There was a series put out in the 90’s called The Happy Hacker. In this set of books, I learned about the registry editor in Windows, the existence of different operating systems, the terminal environment and basic commands…and the fact that if I ever wanted to be a real hacker, I had to learn to program.

This set the scene in my mind. I would become a programmer. I didn’t know how long it would take, I still don’t.

Fast forward.

I dropped out of high school, got a GED, screwed around at school figuring out what I wanted to study until finally deciding on Math and Computer Science. I was never a good student. I made good grades at times but nothing ever came easy. I always felt like I needed to spend twice as long studying to get the same amount of work done. I always wanted to know the why of everything.

During my senior year, I moved to be closer to my father who was sick. After he passed, I stayed on for another semester before leaving. I had been playing guitar and singing a lot and making some money doing it. I decided to pursue a career in music and spent the better part of 8 years doing that. The whole time I knew I wanted to figure out a way to have a career in coding. I wanted to be a musician and a programmer.

I learned about my cousin-in-law’s success. He went from washing big tractor trailer trucks to making a good living as a programmer after attending a bootcamp.

I researched the nearest bootcamp and enrolled. Enrolling was a process. I had to be interviewed and later accepted. It wasn’t an easy process. It was also a $10,000 investment. More student debt. This program was a six month full-stack web development program.

I ended up taking a job four months into the program. It was a tough decision but I had enrolled to get a job and didn’t want to say no to one staring me in the face.

I did this job for six months. I really enjoyed the work. There was enough help from my colleagues that it wasn’t too challenging. It was a front end job in one sense but it really entailed more programming than styling or design. The website was already done and so I didn’t touch html or css. I wrote in a language called Dart developed by Google. It is an object-oriented language designed to compete with JavaScript.

We grew restless of the congestion in the city we were in, the commercialization. We had been there for music and once I wasn’t playing for a living anymore–we decided to leave.

I did not want to quit the job I had but alas I did to move. I found another job but a more complicated role. This job held the title of Software Engineer and came with back-end experience of which I did not have. I managed to get the job some how despite the college degree they sought. There was a significant pay bump which was nice and helped ease the transition as we moved states.

We now were living in a really good place with a bustling economy full of competitive jobs. However, my job was really hard. The company was moving quickly with exponential growth. There was a lot of shifting around in the tasking, the teams, etc. I was not in the same environment as my first job where help was easy to find. After nine months of this dance, I do believe I learned a lot. I also learned what I wanted out of a job. As I realized my current job did not align with my goals, I started looking at the messages from recruiters in my inbox on LinkedIn. It is with one of these recruiters that I accepted my next position. Again, a pay bump which was significant and a big factor in my decision to leave.

As it stands now, I have no college degree and am starting my third job in web development.

I really want to stress the fact that you don’t need a college degree to do this. You do not need to be strapped with the debt that so many of us have. You also don’t need to go to a bootcamp. Things are changing so fast and with the wealth of information here on Free Code Camp, with educators like Brad Traversy on YouTube or Code with Mosh…there is no reason to go to school.

My advice to you is to focus on front end first. Learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Start with Free Code Camp’s Responsive Design and JavaScript and Algorithms certs. Do the exercises, do the projects. Utilize all the Brad Traversy videos that are free on YouTube. Pay for his courses if you want (I do). Watch his videos in his self improvement playlist on Imposter Syndrome, Anxiety within this field, etc.

Most importantly: build things.

You’ve got to build things. I have not built enough. I become engrossed with theory and dissecting information, the history, the etymology, etc. I enjoy this but it doesn’t make me a developer. It may make me knowledgable about a subject, but not a developer.

I read a quote somewhere that was attributed to Eric Raymond along the lines of,

“Expecting someone with a Computer Science degree to be an expert programmer is like expecting someone who has studied brushes and pigments to be an expert painter.”

You need to build things. You need to code. You need to start small and incrementally increase the complexity of your applications. Use everything you’ve built as a resource for the next and then publish. Put everything on GitHub. As your projects get larger or more meaningful/professional, put them into a portfolio you’ve built.

I’m sorry this post was so long. I wish you luck!