by Robert Cooper

Landing My First Full Stack Web Developer Job

This is the story of the steps I took to get my first job as a full stack web developer. I think it’s valuable to share these developer journeys to help others learn about how they can also land their first job as a web developer. I myself drew inspiration from listening to stories of how others got their developer positions. It helped give me ideas on what I should do myself.

Why Web Development?

After high school, I decided to study engineering at university because I was good at math and science. I took a couple programming courses in high school. I liked them and briefly considered working towards a computer science degree in university. But I convinced myself to do otherwise since I didn’t think I had done enough work with computers to be able to succeed in such a program.

I didn’t particularly enjoy my university education experience (as I wrote about here). But I did go through the entire program and ended up getting my engineering degree.

Before my last year of university studies, I was finishing a terribly boring co-op placement. I started looking for alternatives to a post-graduation engineering career. I decided to try and pick up web development since I enjoyed the programming courses I took in university. I was very much interested in the “fun” and “non-traditional” workplaces that are associated with top performing tech companies (e.g. Google, Twitter, Shopify, etc).

I took this photo at the Google office in Toronto, Canada. Their offices blew me away with the number of office perks that are available to employees.

Shift In Focus

The last 2 years of my engineering degree, I did things that would help position me for a web development role after graduation. I actually considered not completing my final year of studies, but decided to finish since the finish line was in sight. Here is the timeline of the key actions I took:

January 2016

I started taking some online web development courses, of which there are no shortage of resources on the internet. I built a website for myself and then decided that I wanted to build websites for others so I could get more practice.

April 2016

I ended up participating in a government program that gave funding to students to start their own business. I started my own web development business during a summer and had 5 clients total. I learned a lot about web development as well as what it takes to run a small business. I was building websites using WordPress and Shopify.

My business was called “Quark Designs”. The business name was inspired by the elementary particles called “quarks”, which is a physics-related thing.

September 2016

During my last year at university, I had a lot of stuff going on. I shut down my web development business and opted to work as a developer for a business consulting startup. I was responsible for the development of client websites. I was using the same platform to build websites as I had used for my own business (WordPress and Shopify).

I applied to participate in the organizing committee of a large student-run technology conference. I ended up with the position of director of technology. I was responsible for building out the conference’s website along with another student developer. The website was built with basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript

I also joined my university’s engineering society IT team. I got to work on a project that used a lot more JavaScript than anything else I had previously worked with. The team dynamic wasn’t very good. But I learned a lot about working with others through the process. I carry those lessons learned with me when working on any sort of collaborative project.

Furthermore, I volunteered as a mentor for multiple workshops run by two local organizations. These organizations provided workshops to teach members of the community how to learn to code. I volunteered at around half a dozen workshops in the span of a year starting in September. Mentoring not only gave me the opportunity to help others. It also gave me confidence in the web development knowledge I had along as well as further reinforcing of web development concepts.

December 2016

Though not necessarily developer related, I became the chair of a young professional networking organization. This helped me make a lot of connections in the community and also made me more comfortable speaking to new people. Some of the skills I picked up from this experience have helped me during job interviews.

One of the many local networking events I attended.

April 2017

I graduated from university with a Mechanical Engineering degree. I then transitioned to working full-time at the same business consulting startup I started working with in September.

July 2017

I got let go from my job. I wasn’t given any reason for the decision which was a bummer, since I always want to learn from my mistakes. However, this ended up being good for me since the kind of developer work I was doing wasn’t what I ultimately wanted to be doing. I was doing simple WordPress and Shopify websites which weren’t challenging me as a developer. What I really wanted to be doing was create unique web applications that solved specific client needs.

Being let go also ignited a fire in me. While working full-time, I wasn’t prioritizing learning. So I wasn’t positioning myself to land a developer job that worked on solving interesting problems using flexible tech stacks. The week after I was let go, I doubled down in my learning efforts. I started working away on lots of side projects. I was writing blog articles, reading/watching tutorials, and participating in developer meetups. I also started giving talks to groups of developers on web development technologies.

You can see that my Github contributions spiked shortly after the end of my full-time job.I was working away on lots of open source side projects.

Job Hunt

The hunt for a web developer job that I truly desired lasted from August 2017 to December 2017 (5 months). I was applying to many different web development companies that were located in large cities. I wanted to move to a larger city since I wanted to be part of a more vibrant tech community. Also I believe there are more opportunities for career growth in larger cities.

Not sure how many applications I ended up sending up, but I ended up with 5 interviews. I had one interview that went extremely well. The company’s HR person had me convinced I had the job, but then something happened and I was told the company went into a “hiring freeze.”

This sucked since I had already told a bunch of people that it looked like I was likely going to work for the company. This experience taught me to keep my mouth shut about all future interviews. I reserved making any sort of announcements before I had received a formal job offer and signed some official paperwork.

I had another interview with for a job that would have been in Amsterdam. I was really excited about since I had visited the city the previous summer and really liked it. Unfortunately, I kind of bombed the coding challenge, which I described here

Job Offer

I was working a lot on side projects involving React since it was part of a lot of job posting requirements. One company I applied for sent me a coding challenge that had me build out a small login and user dashboard application using React. I was given around a week to complete the challenge and I went ALL OUT. I was spending 6–8 hours a day working on the challenge and had a friend of mine do a code review where he suggested improvements to my app.

After submitting my solution to the coding challenge, I was asked to participate in a video interview with some of the team members at the company. I would call my interview more of a conversation since it was really me talking about my past experience. It was also a chance for their team to get a sense of my personality and interests. I had a good vibe from the experience, but I am also a terrible judge of how my interviews turn out. The interview was on a Tuesday and I received an offer for employment at the end of the day on Friday for a position as a full stack web developer at Osedea. Of course, I accepted the offer

Full Stack Web Developer baby!

I’ve been at my newest job for a little over a month now and couldn’t be happier with where I am. I’m learning a ton by working on projects that use React, React Native, and Laravel. The company encourages everyone to take time to stay up to date with latest technology trends. I’m being exposed to a bunch of new stuff on a daily basis and I’m growing as a web developer at an extremely fast pace.

I hope this article helps inspire some people to pursue a web development career. It may also provide some ideas on how best to approach getting a job as a web developer. Feel free to reach out for any more details or advice!

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