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How to Change the World (in Your Underpants): Getting Started in the Tech Community

Everyone wants to change the world, but in order to do so, you have to put on pants. I found a loophole.

That loophole is web development.

Web Development is one of those careers that helps improve lives through innovation and technology. And as if that wasn't amazing enough, it is also one of those careers that you can do from the comfort of your home.

I am excited to share with you the things I learned about how to land your first job in the tech industry.

First, I'd like you to know that I myself just recently started in the Tech Industry. Although I consider myself very lucky to be in the position I am in (Junior Developer at Metal Toad), I was fortunate enough to have mentors guide me through the initial maze. Before being a Junior Dev, I was an accountant for 7 years. Now I am on my way to becoming a Full Stack Developer, all within a year.

This blog post will focus on what you need to know to get started as a developer and the steps to take to land the job.

First Things First

The first thing you need to be aware of is that "tech industry" is a big word that encompasses a lot of different fields. From Developer to Project Manager, there is a wide array of career paths that you can focus on, in a variety of different industries. Some of the career paths include: Web Developer, iOS Developer, Software Developer, Cloud Engineer, UX/UI Developer, QA Engineer, Information Architect, Strategist, and many more. As for the industries, these include Development Agencies, Creative Agencies, Private Corporations, Health Industry, and Education, just to name a few.

One of the most important steps is defining the industry you want to work in. For me, knowing my personality type and how I like to work, I chose to be a Web Developer at an Agency. Agency life is fast paced, at the bleeding edge of technology, collaborative, and creative.

After deciding which industry is best for you, the next step is figuring out which technology most appeals to you. For me it was web development.

Web Development

But what is a web developer? A web developer is a type of programmer that focuses on the development of web applications. Specifically, those that deal with web servers and web browsers, allowing you to choose between the front-end (web browsers) or the back-end (web servers). Those who do both are called full stack web developers.

As someone interested in starting web development, I chose to start on the front-end and work my way up to becoming a full stack developer. I researched the front-end technologies that were most in demand; HTML, CSS, and Javascript. These three languages are the foundation for building your skill set in web development and just the very tip of the iceberg. Luckily, there are many free resources online to learn these foundational languages, as well as the remainder of the iceberg. The most popular resources and the ones I found the most useful were:

Though I talk a lot about web development, these resources will help guide you in finding what technology is the best fit for you.

On top of those resources, the one thing that really propelled me forward was a mentoring program called Thinkful. Since I didn’t have the funds available to jump into a coding school, I needed to find an alternative. Thinkful paired me with an amazing mentor, Ken Stowell, who really pushed me to become the best developer I could be. I never really had developer friends, but if I was to assign one thing that made all the difference, it was surrounding myself with like-minded individuals. I found that these people not only loved what they do, but couldn’t wait to share it with the community. So I started joining meetups regarding web development, hackathons, and started working on my portfolio. Which brings us to how to land a job -- a well-rounded portfolio.

A Skill-Based Career

Web Development is a skill based career, so it only makes sense to be able to display your skill set. Enter your portfolio, the thing you want to put a lot of thought and effort into. A portfolio opens the doors and sets you apart from other developers. It also helps in driving the conversation forward if you get called for an interview. Apart from your skill sets, the things your portfolio will speaks to the most is about your drive and curiosity. It will show how passionate you are, and how much you care about what you do. If there is one thing that employers are looking for, it’s drive, passion, and courage. How far were you willing to go and push yourself. What were the decisions you made and how did you tackle and solve a problem. These are the things you want to convey when talking about and displaying your portfolio.

In my case, my portfolio showcased a landing page for a fake store I created built on Bootstrap (one of the most popular HTML, CSS, and JS frameworks for developing responsive, mobile first projects on the web). I wanted to convey that I knew a little more than just basic HTML and CSS, and also I read on Metal Toad (my then perspective, and highly coveted, employer) site that they were looking for people that knew how to use this framework. I also showcased a simple game built on jQuery (a feature-rich Javascript Library) and added some color with simple CSS to display my abilities of knowing the Native Language, as well as a Library. The project I spent the most time working on, simply because it was a concept that most appealed to me, was a quiz that determines your Myers-Briggs Personality Test. This project showcased my ability to handle logic and various variables simultaneously. Lastly, I needed something that I can wow them with, Ken called it “theater”, something that’s fast and shiny to leave a lasting impression, so I created a Mario Bros-like game and called it Martio. I wanted to convey that I wasn’t afraid of taking chances and stretch myself.

Together Is Better

The beauty of all of this is that you are not doing it alone. You are not alone in your exploration of all these technologies. Though starting out can seem daunting and isolating, all along your career path, you will look around you and find people that are at the same level as you. This is why I love Open Source Development and the Community that surrounds it. These are people who want to help you succeed at an incredibly large scale. You will start noticing that if you ever have a question (and you will), you will ask it and someone has already had the same problem and has answered it, helping you overcome obstacles as a community. With all that help and love, it only reinforces in you the need to give back. There is nothing like the respect for someone who has solved something and shares it with all of us. This is why open source and companies that focus on it are awe-inspiring.

Fears

This might sound like a lot of information, but don’t let it throw you off. Once you start learning one thing and become good at it, you will wonder what else you are capable of. And in that wondering, a couple of fears surfaced for me. Here are a couple of the fears I hear most often:

  1. Am I too late to start on web development?

    Never. Web Development is always changing, so if you think you are learning something new, guess what? We all are. Constantly.

  2. Am I crazy for doing this?

    The answer is yes, and that's why we need you. We need bold people that are curious and care about their work, improving the lives of those around them. Luckily, with the internet, your reach can be big.

  3. Can I do this?

    Hell yeah you can! And once you are here, we'll do it together. Join us. We have beer.

  4. How long will it take me?

    It will take you about a year to become a rookie. It took me 4 months to learn the basics, and 4 months to build my portfolio with the help of my mentor and with a lot of drive. It’s up to you and the effort you put into it. A little secret that helped me was loving every second of it.

  5. Why is my girlfriend so beautiful?

    (She made me write this).

Next Steps

What do I do now?

Jump in and try it out!

Even when you are finishing a code school program (or are an accountant of 7 years and haven’t coded a single html page), you won’t know what the future entails. So my response remains the same:

Do it!

As mentioned earlier, there are many options out there to help you start your web development journey. I personally chose to enroll in Team Treehouse for the Front End courses, Code School for deep diving into a particular language, Codecademy to actually learn and understand the syntax and application of the language, and StackOverflow every time I got lost (which was a lot, and an integral part of being a web developer). I would highly suggest finding yourself a mentor. As I mentioned before, this part was crucial to my success.

If you are lucky enough to live in Portland, we currently have Mentorship Saturdays at Metal Toad. We really care and love that you are pursuing your passion and will help you succeed in anyway we can. Third, join a community (Meetup is a great place to start to find like-minded individuals) and work towards a common goal. These will not only look good on you résumé, but will also help you understand all the little soft skills that are needed when collaborating on a creative space and how to handle projects as a group.

I could only imagine that reading all this for the first time would fill your head with questions so please feel free to reach out to me through Twitter or Email to answer them, or to just say hi. We are all on the same boat, working towards the same goal of helping people, sharing knowledge, being curious, and making this world a better place, together.

- Cesar

Comments

Hello Cesar,
I really enjoyed reading your article. I recently joined Code Oregon and excited to see what I will be learning. You mentioned Metal Toad offers Mentor Saturdays? Where can i find more info to become involved? I hope you have a great week.
Thank you!

Lucy

Hi Lucy!

Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) So yes, there are Mentorship Saturdays at Metal Toad every Saturday from 10am to about 2pm.  There are mentors and other fellow developers working on projects, asking questions and pair programming.   Here is the link to the meetup page (http://www.meetup.com/Mentorship-Saturdays/) and here is a link to a blog post that explain a little more about it (http://www.metaltoad.com/metaltoad-mentorship-saturdays). You can also send me a message at my twittter @cesar_r_jimenez or email (cesar.jimenez@metaltoad.com). Please feel free to shoot me a message and let me know if you have any questions. I hope I get to see you there!

Hey Cesar, I just finally ran across this piece that you wrote and find it full of great information. Being new to the Portland area I have noticed that it seems to be a close knit community, when it comes to certain fields, including design, SEO and Web Development. I am approaching the precipice of a career change and have all sorts of anxieties about making the leap. Your insights have been helpful, I think. I'll let you know how the future pans out.

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