by Julie Torres

How to Become a Web Developer Without Losing Your Mind

Becoming a web developer is a path littered with mental traps. Step carefully on the muddy footprints of those who walked before you.

Three and a half years ago, I left my career in banking and started an infinitely more fulfilling career as a web developer. Recently, I compiled my story and the lessons I learned into an ebook called How To Become a Web Developer: The Career Changer’s Guide.

If becoming a developer is your goal, here are some common traps to look out for.

Scattershot Syndrome

You’re going to get a lot of advice from experienced developers. They’ll tell you the best languages to learn, the skills you need, and the tools you absolutely must use. Their advice will be solid — and exactly the opposite of the advice you got yesterday.

Don’t get lost in a sandstorm of good advice.

If you are dabbling in a new language every month, switching text editors frequently, and jumping from resource to resource, STOP! You’re walking in circles.

Language and tool choice feel very important in the moment, but in reality, they’re just details. Any popular language will get you where you need to be. The important thing is consistency.

Pick one language and learn it so well you could write a book about it. Choose one resource and exhaust its usefulness. Download the simplest text editor you can find and marry it.

Whatever you do, don’t waste time dabbling in a million different technologies.

Nobody Here But Us Impostors

Some days you’ll wonder if you’re really cut out for this coding thing.

That feeling is called impostor syndrome, and it’s kryptonite for developers.

Anything can trigger the feeling of being an impostor. It could be that sidelong glance from the guy at the meet-up who can’t believe you don’t know what polymorphism is. It might be the half-finished app that gets more broken every time you touch it. Perhaps your Twitter feed, full of self-congratulations on amazing projects, will knock you back into this state of mind.

The first step to treating Impostor Syndrome is admitting you have a problem. Bonus points if you admit it to another budding developer. An amazing thing happens when you confess to feeling like an impostor. Oftentimes your confessor exclaims, “I thought I was the only one!”

Another key to banishing self-doubt is evidence. Keep a record of both your failures and your accomplishments. Nothing feels better than looking back and realizing, “Hey! That concept I was fighting with three months ago is easy to me now!”

No Developer is an Island

Technical skill is only one ingredient in the recipe for a successful career in software development. The other ingredients are luck, coffee, and other people.

Aspiring developers often think they’re not finding a job because their technical skills aren’t strong enough. In reality, their job search skills are more often to blame.

Imagine there are two developers who start applying for jobs at the same time, in the same city, with the same employment history.

Developer A is a “whiz kid”. She started learning to code at the age of 10, and she can practically fix a bug by looking at it. She throws together a resume and puts in hundreds of online applications.

Developer B is your average newbie. She has a lot of promise, but she hasn’t been doing this for long. She also throws together a resume and then gets feedback on it at the developer meet-up group she attends each week. But she also tells everyone she knows that she’s looking for work and is interested in talking to anyone who works in the field.

Who will find a job first? I’d put my money on Developer B.

Developer A may be some kind of code ninja, but that doesn’t matter if no one knows it. Her resume will sit under a stack of 1,000 other resumes, or worse, get filtered out by an algorithm and never pass before a human’s eyes.

Developer B, on the other hand, has an army of people searching for her next job. Eventually, she’ll talk to someone whose brother or cousin or best friend works at a company that’s hiring. That person will hand-deliver her resume, which has been improved by a team of proofreaders, and she’ll get an interview.

The brother/cousin/best friend will give her the inside scoop on the interview process, so she’ll be very prepared. The interviewer and hiring manager will also know that she came with a personal recommendation. She’ll be halfway to “yes” before she ever walks in the door.

Crossing the Finish Line

Self-taught developers are often unsure when to start job hunting. It’s very difficult to judge your own skill level, and there are no clear guidelines as to what a Junior Developer should know.

How can you tell if you know enough to be taken seriously by employers?

Here’s the big secret: You’re hirable when you can convince someone to hire you.

It sounds obvious, but think about what it really means. It means you could know practically nothing about code, and still get a job because the right person likes you. It also means you could be a walking encyclopedia of software development and still get overlooked.

Learn to mentally separate your technical skill and your ability to get hired.

Technical skill does affect your ability to get hired, but the connection is not as direct as you may think. Employers don’t evaluate you based on your actual skill level. They evaluate you based on their perception of your skill level.

Early impressions of your skill, based on your level of self-assurance, color the rest of the interaction. If you exude confidence, interviewers will assume you know what you’re doing. If you seem unsure of yourself, they’ll suspect the opposite.

The good news is that you can cultivate confidence. Every time you step outside your comfort zone, you prove that you’ve underestimated yourself. Your ego will take notice. Do this regularly and your confidence will naturally rise.

The most important thing is to be conscious of the rippling effects of positive or negative self-talk. It can affect everything from how soon you start looking for a job to how much you end up getting paid.

So, when are you job ready? You’re ready whenever you can convince yourself that you’re ready.

More Information for Budding Developers

If you want to learn more about becoming a web developer, check out my ebook, How To Become a Web Developer: The Career Changer’s Guide. It tells the story of my career change from banker to web developer, and it’s packed with advice on everything from choosing a language to passing a technical interview.