What a long strange trip its been

What a long strange trip its been
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Hey gang, this post is a little overdue. After hitting the the curriculum at Free Code Camp, I landed a Junior dev position roughly two years ago.

There’s some really incredible stories in this forum, people who had it a lot harder than I did, starting from scratch and in adversity. I’ve had it easy compared to some of you heroes and troopers, but here’s hoping there’s still something valuable to take away from this.

My name is Allan and I live in Sydney, Australia. I first became interested in programming when I was 16, in high school. In high school programming (within computer studies) was my moment of zen, where I could escape from the mad cramming of studies and work on a singular project of my own creative pursuit. Truth be told, I wasn’t good at much in High School up until that point.

I liked the activity of leisurely building a piece of software so much that I decided to pursue study it afterward in university, in a computer engineering degree. Though, after four years of study, between the Java and C that was sprinkled throughout my course, and two six month stints of work experience (one in a tech support role, another as a pre-sales engineer type role), while I really enjoyed building software, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t cut out as a developer.

I felt as though I had come out of my degree as a Jack-Of-All-Trades in the IT world (as many of my fellow students in the degree described it), we’d studied a Smorgasbord of topics as opposed to mastering a particular skill - programming, and among the programming subjects we did do, there were people that absolutely blazed me! At this stage I really thought my path was set, and the chance to become a developer had been and gone, I hadn’t made the cut.

After I graduated subsequently I ended up moving to Melbourne and into a corporate job. My destiny as it seemed was pathed with slick lingo, business cards and boardroom meetings. I lasted six weeks before deciding that was not how I wanted my story to be written. I had to drastically pivot and decided to resigned on one particularly afternoon I was feeling foolhardy. What followed was a pretty turbulent time.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do at this stage. I was weathering a lot of internal and external doubt about my decision to turn down a good, well paid job after graduating. I had noticed almost all software engineering jobs I was excited about involved web languages, yet my course had completely excluded subjects with these languages and technologies - bizarre!

In a chance encounter I met a guy called Gil at a meetup who, while we were waiting for lights to change to cross a road, told me about FreeCodeCamp (It was right here!).

I took that lead and followed it. Shortly after I moved back in with my folks. Over the year that followed (2016, 2017), between odd jobs, I would go to my local library (seriously - Libraries are the bomb diggity) and plug away at the FreeCodeCamp curriculum, week on week, treating it like a full-time job.

Amongst the doubt I was wrestling with, having that curriculum to follow gave me incredible direction and purpose. The projects gave me something tangible to show for my effort - I was making visible progress and had something cool to show for what I was doing. Web Development was my jam! With every line of code I wrote I had visual feedback render into my browser! I could create visually rich interfaces, tools, and functionless (but visually appealing!) gizmos without the insane, unabstracted complexity of all the languages I was working with at university.

I got my foot in the door with first Junior Developer gig about halfway into the FCC React curriculum. I’ve been there for two years and established myself as a web developer. I’ve built up the confidence to start my own business with my partner, who happens to be a designer. We’ve coined the name Little & Big (shameless plug - our website is here).

Developer life isn’t all sunshine and roses, but it’s pretty good. A lot of the time I’m back doing the kind of work I fell in love with in High School - getting into that zen place and building something cool.

I find it very improbable that I would be where I am now if it weren’t for Free Code Camp, so thank you to Quincy, the team of contributors at Free Code Camp, and the you guys on the forum that gave me a community along the way. You’ve all changed my life.

My number one tip for Free Code Camp students:

  1. When building a project, always make the effort to leave your mark on it. Add a little bit of your spice in there. Go beyond building the minimum functionality to finish it. I realise it can feel like a stretch, and sometimes completing a project is exhausting as is, but it makes all the difference - to your morale, professional self esteem, motivation and when you’re showing your work to employers. Get those creative juices flowing!

If I can help you out by answering a question, please post it here and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as humanly possible!

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That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing and nice tip! :tada:

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Nice to hear your story and that things are going well. I am still grinding my way through fCC curriculum.

From what I have seemed from other people stories here, is that once you learned and become comfortable with any of the main JavaScript frameworks [React, Vue, Angular] it kind of starts to open doors into junior positions, as it did happen in your case.

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I’d 100% agree with that assessment @fbclh. (Speaking as a bit of a React fanboy) Once you start getting working with React you’re really cooking with gas (in terms of job prospects, in terms of your proficiency as a web developer, and what you’re able to build and how fast - it’s a bit like unlocking a super power).

It feel like there is a bit of a JavaScript renaissance happening at the moment - so if you’ve got the fundamentals down (HTML, JS, CSS - even better if you can extend to SASS), and then you know your way around a modern framework, the basic of Vue, React, or Angular, then you’re golden to any development shop / agency as a junior.

Best of luck with the study!

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Thanks For Sharing… I like the website Design… Little & Big

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Hey, it was a really fascinating read to show that anyone can do it!

I do have one question though, without the designer would you still be able to style your site? I’m not much of a designer and wondered if that’s something that can be picked up

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Hey Jamie,

Really excellent question there. I’ve got a bit of a roundabout way of answering this, but bear with me, I think it’s worth it.

I’ll say this - when you’re building a site or app of substantial size or for a client, it’s a really good idea to have someone create a web design first.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar how this dance goes, so I’ll list it out just in case. In my neck of the woods we generally:

  1. Talk with the person you’re building the site for, figure out the context of their business, what they want out of a website or app. What content is required to deliver the information or function they want to provide their audience with.

  2. You then use all this information to form a rough architecture of the site or app. It takes the form of:

  • A site map that captures the division of content across views / pages, their hierarchy and interconnections.

  • Wireframes that creates a basic scaffold of the layout for each of the views / page (where content will be placed on the page and organised into elements).

  • Possibly a document of ‘requirements’ scoping and defining the functionality.

  1. Finally, the designer uses these wireframes to create high fidelity designs. A graphical representation of exactly how the website should be coded to the pixel. Every designer I’ve met uses a piece of software called Sketch to do this.

As a developer your job is then to take this high fidelity design, cut it up with pixel perfect precision and create the functionality.

TLDR!

So the conclusion based on this verbose introduction is that there is more to building a website than just the code. There’s so many parts to play, and the role of the web designer is an incredibly important one.

The process of the web design allows someone to create a visually stunning site without being bogged in the process of deciding what technologies are required to achieve it and developing the functionality.

The subsequent web development with a web design allows the developer to simply focus completely on the code. You’re not making any hard decisions - how it will be laid out, look and behave has already been planned and decided. Can you imagine how many times you’d have to stop, think, ask other people, and reach an agreement otherwise? Bonkers!

Yes - you can play multiple roles. And some you’ll find some really talented frontend developer that are also web designers.

But, in my opinion, they are very much two separate specialties, practices, arts, worthy of their own professions.

TLDRTLDR;

Yes, you absolutely can learn design. But as a frontend developer, what you should start with is maybe just developing an eye for design. Here’s some resources I can offer from my journey that might help:

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Awesome going, Allan. So glad to hear that you had the courage to call it when you did. Many people do not follow those inner prompts…I am you’ll continue to grow from strength to strength! Best, Manj

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Glad to read your story, Allan!
How many hours a day were you spending learning web development?

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Great tips! Thanks for the information

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Super inspiring! I love your website! Any tips on starting a company like yours? I love the concept! Thank you for sharing your story!

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Thanks for sharing with the community. And congrats on becoming an Entrepreneur and making your own path.

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Glad to read your story, Allan!
How many hours a day were you spending learning web development?

@Andre911 I reckon anywhere between 6-8 hours.

Super inspiring! I love your website! Any tips on starting a company like yours? I love the concept! Thank you for sharing your story!

@mixedbysalas another good question. I would recommend joining an agency / studio and seeing how they do things first. There’s a lot more to providing web development services than just coding, a taste of that is what I described above with what entails a web design process.

I think working in a studio gives you a good idea for a process when engaging in a web project from start to finish. And it also gives you an idea of all the other services surrounding a website build, and their fundamental knowledge set, lingo and tools - like digital marketing (via Social platforms, Google AdWords), and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Other than that, I’d figure out what you uniquely want to offer, and trial delivering your service to your friends and family with businesses or business ideas in your spare time (moonlighting!).

6 to 8 hours daily is a lot of time. I guess one can’t do it while working fulltime.

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Hey mate thanks for sharing your story, resources, and your well thought out answers. I got a lot out of it.

We are on similar paths and it is pretty uncanny how many similarities my story has with yours. For real, what a looong strange trip it has been… but at least I am enjoying the ride. And it sounds like you are too.

I hope to read some updates from you in the near future, keep on truckin’

I agree with this, it is what got my foot in the door.

What is your target audience when trying to secure clients/work?

What tech stack do you use to develop websites for clients?
If possible can you list what tech you use for different kinds of websites, or do you mostly use the same tech stack for all your work?

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Hey really sorry for the late reply, I’ve been away and not been near my code for a while or anything to do with it!

Thanks for the explanation, I find that design has always been one of my bigger flaws and just simply wondered if it was possible to design as well as build and develop applications!

I think the other thing that I’ve started to take more note of is attempting to not use frameworks where possible so that I own all of the work I do etc. That is why I was also asking about the designer stuff because that will add more time to making anything if you’re doing it all from scratch (obviously you can build your own things to reuse but that’s besides the point)

Thank you for the awesome reply! :smiley:

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Another great set of questions.

Target Audience

Since it’s just the two of us, we would preferably would like to target small businesses we can work with in person and intimately with.

We also always want to do our best work, so people willing to spend a little extra coin for a significantly better result.

There’s a lot of reuse in the industry, which makes a lot of sense in terms of making cash, but it’s something we want to avoid doing - we’d like every one of our websites to be completely unique.

Tech Stack

At the moment I’m riding the Gatsby wave (which is a static site builder that sits on top of ReactJS). If you’ll all allow me yet another shameless plug, I recently wrote an article trying to explain why clients should know about Gatsby as a technology.

A great place to start with Gatsby is from a starter kit, or boilerplate. I can recommend LekoArts/ gatsby-starter-prismic

Tech Stack(s)

Yep, spot on - it changes depending on the client and their needs.

For a basic marketing / portfolio site I’ll use Gatsby (React) + Prismic (the headless CMS).

For E-Commerce (online stores) I’ll use Gatsby (React) + Shopify via their API.

For apps, I’ll use React + a Firebase NoSQL Database.

I have worked with PHP for about 35% of my dev time in the last two years (WooCommerce and vanilla WordPress), but I’m trying to distance myself from them with this new business. The developer experience and result in React and Gatsby is light years of difference (In my opinion, I advise you all the same! Make an investment in a modern JavaScript language like React or Vue!)

I hope this helps!

:wink:

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As a fellow Aussie it is refreshing to hear your story. I have a degree in Science but I found the same as you - my knowledge was too general to score the kind of job I actually wanted. I’ve been considering working towards becoming a web developer but I have found it difficult to get an understanding of the job market in Australia. Do you think it is important to get some form of formal qualification in the field to get a job?

@AllanPooley

I have been diving into Gatsby a lot recently.

Do you have suggestions for other headless CMS? I’ve used contentful and I liked it although I am limited to only 2 ‘repos’.

Let me know if you have any other tips/resources for starting with Gatsby!

Thank you.

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Hi there @shimphillip, I am also interested in learning more about headless CMS and Wordpress alternatives.

Have you looked or heard about strapi.io and ghost.org? Also have a look at this as well headlesscms.org

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