Nov. 23, 2021

Self Taught to Professional Frontend Developer (John's Journey of Learning To Code)


I brought on a successful self-taught developer to share the ups and downs of his journey of learning how to code. He shared so much advice for aspiring developers. If you're a self-taught developer struggling to find confidence or solidify a path to getting that first developer position, this podcast episode is for you.

Host and Guest:
Don Hansen - https://www.linkedin.com/in/donthedeveloper
John Meade - https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-meade-46501985

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Transcript
Don Hansen:

Welcome back to another podcast episode where we help aspiring developers get jobs and junior developers grow. So today we are going to be learning about John's self-taught journey of becoming a developer. I promise you, I do more of these stories and we're gonna go ahead and follow through with that. So, John, would you like to introduce

John Meade:

yourself? Yeah. My name is John meed and I'm a, a web developer based out of Utah, just north of salt lake. And I'm currently. Lead front end engineer for a company that's based out in Seattle. That's focused on improving mental health. All right.

Don Hansen:

Cool. Well, let's just jump into it. Um, what was your job search journey? Like? I mean, not just a job search, but you know, what was the learning like and then the job search as well?

John Meade:

Yeah. Uh, so it started back in 2017. , uh, which is when I made, uh, a life change by moving from Chicago, where I was at at the time out here to Utah, uh, I was in a bit of a unique situation where I didn't need, uh, any other income when I moved here. Um, so I knew I was gonna be able to just focus on making the career change that I had wanted to make. Um, so when I moved out here summer of 2017, um, I started to kind of take stock of, okay, what is available for self learning? I knew I didn't have the, you know, I, I didn't need the income at that moment, but that doesn't mean I had disposable income to go to a bootcamp or something like that. So I knew I needed to do some kind of option that was free, uh, or low cost. And so I started putting together resources. Um, and then it was about in 2018. Beginning of 2018 that I really, really started going full baller at it. You know, I started treating it like a job waking up in the morning, doing learning, going throughout the day, setting the clear goals for myself. Um, and I started working through a lot of the typical resources that a self learner works through. So free code camp, um, in, in multiple different iterations that they went through. Um, code academy, there were other places like, like bento that put together curriculum. Um, yeah, there, um, there's a bunch of other sites. Uh, what bento was again, so bento was basically like, uh, uh, they would pick and, and choose. Are you familiar with the Oden project? Yes. Okay. So it's kind of similar where it's. We're not gonna necessarily put together a full curriculum for you, but we, we know where these resources are. So pick your stack, pick your path, and we'll kind of check box you through. Here's a good resource for that. Here's a good resource for that. So a little different than tree coat camp that just kind of sets everything up for you and you walk through their, their curriculum. So. Started doing those resources and then had another big life change, uh, coming up, uh, as I started going through a divorce and knew that I was gonna be in a situation again, where I was gonna need that, that study income. Um, and so that's what really prompted me to be like, okay, I'm, I'm still feeling a bit like an imposter I'm I'm. Not sure that I'm completely ready for this, but I need to be, so I'm gonna start applying. So I did, um, started applying. I started getting some interest from different companies here in the area. I was just looking here in salt lake. Um, first started getting phone calls back, you know, just asking for more information. And then based on those experiences, I slightly refine my process and refine my resume. Um, and then started getting some in-person interviews. Um, and then after that in 2020, early 20, 20, um, I had two different companies, one that was based here in salt lake, and then the one I work for now, um, who I was able to walk all the way through the interview process. There were a couple before that, that I went to the technicals. Um, you know, went, went through up until the technical and then didn't necessarily get a job offer. Um, but I got an offer from a company here in Utah and then the offer from, from listen to company I'm at right now based in Seattle. And then I started working for listen on April 1st, which is kind of funny, starting a new job April fool's day of the year, the pandemic hit So, and I've been there ever.

Don Hansen:

well, I'm glad it wasn't an April fool's joke. I'm glad you did get the job. me too. Um, okay. So, I mean, it, it sounds like, you know, you, I think you mentioned in the beginning, you. Sounds like you were trying to work out like building habits or like a system, or like a, some sort of like a plan. Um, how did you figure out how to like schedule your day and figure out which direction to go?

John Meade:

Um, so through reading different articles and then looking at where the starting place was for the different free curriculums that were. You know, I, I knew, okay. HTML and CSS. I, I think these might be easier things to start with. So I'm gonna start with those. And I had messed with some HTML way back in the day in like junior high. You know, when you, I think lots of us who are self top, you have these, these memories of just copy and pasting stuff that you find on the internet to try and make your own website. And so I had a little bit of experience. um, so I went back to that and I started with HK L um, and then I found out that there was, you know, not just divs and stuff, there was a semantic way to write HTML. So I adjusted my goal and like, now I wanna know how do I semantically lay, lay a page out? Um, so I, I started there and then I went over to CSS and started find styling. Um, and then I had done a little bit of. language based work, kind of similar to JavaScript, uh, at my previous job where I was just putting together a, a custom tracking form and outlook. And so I was working through some, some calculations and some if then statements and basic control, flow structure, that kind stuff. Um, so I knew once I, I had a grasp of basic HTL, basic CSS that I had to add the Stratos script piece. Um, and so I, I kind of followed that path and I did, every time I learned something new, I just started refining, you know, what, what am I interested in? What came up in this part of their curriculum? That's really, really cool. And I want to deep dive on it and I'd adjust my goal. So.

Don Hansen:

Okay. So you were paying attention to what really caught your interest. You were paying attention to what made you more curious? So let's say you're going through free code camp and you're learning some fundamentals and you learn about a specific concept. You're like, this is really cool. What, what would you do then to further deep dive into that topic? Where would you look? I'd just

John Meade:

start Googling the heck out. You know, you can, you can find so many resource resources just on page one and two of whatever your search is gonna be. So I eventually started venturing into stack overflow, uh, which was an experience as a new developer, uh, asking a question on stack overflow and having it down, voted with no comment, you know, like, wait, what's going on. Um, but that was my process. It was literally okay. Here's my question. Here's how I think you word it. And now I'm just gonna Google and click on everything and see where it leads me. And so based on that, you start to learn what are the things you can count on, right? You learn really quickly about MDN. Okay. I can count on MDN. I know that it's gonna point me in the right direction. You can count on. The docs for different things. Like eventually later when you get into the frameworks, like you can count on their react docs, right? They're good docs. You can look through, not all docs are good, but they're gonna give you, uh, a place that you can, a place that you can go. W is it w three C WC three, that website, you know, that's not gonna point you in the wrong direction. You learn what you can rely on, and then you kind of. Test things against that. So if you're looking at YouTube tutorials or something like that, you can kind of line them up against the, the documents and the resources, you know, to trust. And if they're in alignment, then you're like, okay. Yeah, I think I can go, I, I can learn more from this person. They seem to be following the standards, so,

Don Hansen:

okay. How did you figure out or how, like, I guess what, what did you use to figure out that you were growing as a software engineer? Because that's like a, a huge hurdle that self-taught developers, you know, face. They don't really know if they're heading in the right direction. They don't know if they're growing in the right direction. How did you figure that out?

John Meade:

Yeah, that's a really good question. Um, I think, I think you start to figure it out before you realize you're figuring it. and, and the first key to that is when you're starting in a new resource and you realize you can skip part of it. So you're start, you know, you, you buy a chorus off of, uh, I forgot his name when we were talking earlier about cold steel, uh, you'll buy a gold spill chorus off of you to me and realize you can skip the first three sections of it because you know it. And so that's kind of a realization point. Hey, I know something about what I'm doing, I'm I'm growing. Um, and then as you, as you learn more resources, as you get into, oh, there's this thing called code wars or leap code, and you, you go into the beginner stuff and you realize, Hey, I know how to do this. I know how to think through this. Um, then you, you take each piece of that, um, and process it and realize you have building blocks in place. and that for me, that drove me, you know, as I, as I realized I was learning, I wanted to learn more like, Hey, I can actually make sense of this stuff. This is really cool. Let's keep it up. Hmm. I

Don Hansen:

like that.

John Meade:

So,

Don Hansen:

okay. So I have a lot of questions. I'm just trying to think about the order that I want to ask them in. What was. what was the project that you felt like really caught employers attention or they'd bring it up. You talk about it the most.

John Meade:

So there were a couple, um, one of them was a project I did with a couple other self taught devs that was called dev. Dev Bev dev Bev, which was like a, uh, a social media site for beverages, basically. Okay. Uh, we all, we all realized as we were getting to know each other, that we all had our preferential drinks and our, our workspace was covered in the cans or whatever, you know? So we thought let's just make this thing where you can, where developers can post their beverage and write it. You know, it, it gave you behind the scenes. It gave you a really good practice on how are you gonna interact with, uh, sharing media and, and database structures and that kind of stuff. And so we knew that that was gonna be good learning for us. Um, but that site I talked about at every single interview was asked about it every single interview, most likely because I had it at the top of my projects and my resume. um, but that gave me a good, that gave me a good platform to talk to employers about how I worked with a community of developers. Also an ability to talk about how do you problem solve when you hit a wall individually and as a team, um, what are things that you think are gonna be easy that aren't, so it's just a good talking piece for that. Um, another one was something I had done. Um, something I had actually designed as a pre-work for an organization called Chingu and it was basically a clone of Google fonts. They've changed it quite a bit since then. Um, but it was a basic clone of, you know, being able to go in search the fonts. Um, when you initially go in, you can search for types of fonts and it's gonna show you whatever. Sample sentences. And it's gonna show you in each font and how can you adjust the fonts and using sliders to adjust font size and that kinda stuff. Um, and so that one really gave me the ability to showcase some kind of knowledge about how do you process user interaction on a site. And it doesn't need to be database driven. It can be a static site, but it's still highly interactive. Um, both of those two projects. Was able to talk about at every single interview that I did. Interesting.

Don Hansen:

Yeah. Cuz I, I think a lot of people, sometimes they overwhelm themselves with thinking about like their, their personal projects, their project they're projects that satisfy or solve a problem. you know, in their life, um, or their, even their old industry, but they think their project it's too immature employers. Aren't gonna care about it. And you know, what you're saying is you kind of built a quirky app that, I mean, that dev or, uh, drink dev what was it called? Dev Bev. Yeah. Dev Bev. Did you ever like gain a user base behind it or anything or was it just for fun?

John Meade:

No. No. I mean, there was the intention, like, Hey, we could do something with. um, but then as luck would have it, we all got jobs so you have a little less time to work on the side project. Um, but yeah, what I, so what I learned, I think through the interview process was, you know, there there's this drive to come up with this one project that defines you, right? Or this expectation of this one project that defines. um, what I talked about most were other than the Debe, which was more original, uh, were things that were copies of what was already online. Cause that was another way that I was testing myself where I'm at, you know, I would go on and I would say, this is a really cool feature of this website. I wonder if I can build it with, without looking at the code. And so I'd open up a code pen and build. and there was a, a timeframe where I would go in and I'd every day, pick out a little bit, you know, like a, a nav bar that had a cool animation, um, something that, an animation that did all of the math automatically to figure out how to spread and to spin and, and using CSS gradients to, I don't have it sitting here, but I had this mini control. uh, I play a lot of music. And so I had this mini controller on my desk one morning and I thought, Hey, can I make this mini controller interface in HTML and CSS? And so I did that and all of those things were building blocks for the conversations that I had during my interviews. So I, I don't think any employer cared that I didn't have this master project. Uh, they cared about. It's little idiosyncrasies, you know, what, what did you learn from this little piece, this little project that will actually apply to the real world. And that's the important part in my experience. I

Don Hansen:

like that. I appreciate you sharing that. What let's see, what do I wanna ask? I, I feel like, so I, I, I kind of wanna sum this up just a little bit, uh, make sure I understand it, but it, it feels. like, it, it feels like you got comfortable with just building projects that might not even matter. Like you said, you, you had this MI D I controller and you just wanted to rebuild it and put it in HTML, which is, you know, like sure. Maybe you could apply it to some applications that you might work at companies, but the goal really was just to see if you could do it. Give yourself that challenge. And so like all these little challenges that you kept giving yourself, you mentioned they're like building blocks to kind of just like you growing as a developer and being able to talk about that growth and that implementation to developers. Um, it, it it's, um, You so you're highlighting something. I really wanna emphasize here though. You're saying that, and this was interesting. You don't need a grand project to be super impressive to employers. You're saying that the employers that you talked to didn't really care about that that's not what they were looking for. They were kind of just looking for your process of growth, the way you implemented certain things, the way you thought about certain things, and you didn't need this like grand masterpiece, which. I'm wondering if that's what's causing a lot of self-taught developers to give up. I feel like a lot of self-taught developers, they have this imposter syndrome. They're never good enough. They're perfectionists. I, I think a lot of self-taught developers, uh, have a hard time getting over that perfectionism. Yeah. And what you're suggesting is stop that like just. Work on these projects that make you curious and allow them to allow you to grow. Because I mean, eventually it's kind of just like trust a process. You're eventually gonna be able to build more complex projects. You're gonna recognize you can skip halfway through tutorials and you just need targeted education to like, solve that specific feature that you're trying to build. And, um, . I mean, maybe that's kind of the key for a lot of self dot developers. It stop overwhelming yourself with trying to develop this perfect project that's gonna make you stand out.

John Meade:

Yeah. And you think about it once you've gone through the interview process, you know, what gets you one step further in the interview? It's not really the project. um, you know, you go to the technical interview, they're not gonna test you on the technical stuff of your one big project, right? They're gonna give you a very specific problem. Most of the time that relates to something they do in the job. And so it doesn't matter where you got that ability to complete that problem from as long as you can complete it. You're golden. So it's the skill employers are after it's it's. I should say, there's a million ways you can go about getting that skill. Right. But it's the skill that the employers are after. I like that

Don Hansen:

spot on. Yeah. I, I agree with that. That's interesting to think about, about it that way. Um, well, let me ask you this, because the way you described it, it feels like you had this, um, almost like sequential path and you were able to analyze what you previously did, um, and just slowly improve and solidify that path going forward. But did you have any like really frustrating moments or moments where you felt like maybe I can't do this?

John Meade:

Oh, let me try and think of a couple, um, you know, I in free code camp. When I got to this first list of, I don't know, a hundred or whatever, JavaScript algorithms that they have you work through. And I'm just like one after the other one, after the other hours every day, and feeling like, you know, every, everyone is harder, which it, it technically was, you know, as you go down, it gets harder and harder, but feeling that I, I wasn't. Having a simpler time processing it at the start than I did the previous algorithm. That was really frustrating. And those algorithm lists actually led to quite a few times of saying, okay, I'm gonna take a week off. I, I can't do this. This is not mentally sound for me to keep doing right now. Um, so then I'd come back to it. Another one was REDX which still, unless you're using it every. whenever you have to reach for it again, you have to go back and figure it out again. Right? There's some basics that you kind of, you kind of keep in your head, but I remember the first time I, I did a red X challenge and I was like, what, what is the, I, I don't understand this. I don't know what's going on. So those are two examples. And then anytime. So I like men, I'm not very good at it, but I like. . And so when you get to some of those veins of developments that are more like, um, machine learning que or, or data processing, that kind of stuff. And as I'd be stepping through different projects, step by step, there were times when I would catch myself and I'd realize. I'm just doing this because step five says you should do this. I have no understanding of what the heck is happening though. And so those times were really, really frustrating and it was hard for me to learn that I had to stop and go onto something else and come back. And that's just the way my brain handled it. You know, I can't pumble through the, the problem I had to stop. Take a break, go do something else. Maybe go do a different project for a couple days and then come back to it. Um, but those moments were really, really frustrating.

Don Hansen:

I don't think I remember anything about red XX I really don't.

John Meade:

I've learned that one of the first things I had to do when I started the position I'm in right now was do, um, some, some checking for, for file types. in an upload. And you know, if you're writing semantic, HTML, it gives you some controls over that as well. But I started with RegX and I was like, man, I had finally mastered this. I got, I did all the REDX stuff on pre code camp and wherever over here, I got that done. I didn't remember any of it. you're hardly the only one. No, I, I, I wouldn't imagine

Don Hansen:

I like that. Um, cuz a lot of, a lot of developers stress themselves out over trying to remember things. Um, and I think that's a wrong way to think about your growth. Um, I, I like that you emphasized that. so I guess you kind of touched on it a little bit, but a huge challenge is, and the big question is what do I build? What do I build that employers are gonna care about? And how do I figure out what I even enjoy building? Like for those that are just struggling to come up with project ideas, what would your advice be for them?

John Meade:

My advice would be just get on a browser and go to the websites that you. you already know you like the content. There's probably something cool about the design, um, within the context of the content that you already have a connection to, um, and just pick different pieces of that website and build it, build an ad bar, build an image carousel, or, you know, there's some variation of all of that on most sites. Um, You know, the background has some really cool SVG path stuff, do some SVG paths and figure it out. Um, look for what you like to ingest as content and use that. Just build it. And if you feel like riffing on it, riff on it, but use it as your starting point. And pretty soon, at least in, in my case, I found that I was covering each of. Major building blocks of what a website is or what a web application is.

Don Hansen:

What's rift rift on it mean,

John Meade:

uh, if you riff on something, it's like you're taking the original and you're, you're trying to do something unique to it. So like in music, you could, you could, this classic song might be these four chords, but you're gonna riff on it. You're gonna make it your own. You're gonna add a seventh over here to add some texture or something like.

Don Hansen:

okay. I like that. Yeah. I really like that. I hope I, I feel like some, a lot of developers just need to just need to build stuff. I feel like they don't need to build the perfect thing. They just need to build a thing. Yes. They need to build another thing and another thing, and I feel like. I feel like for me, it just kind of, I got more comfortable with coming up with ideas of what I wanted to build. Cause I knew what I enjoyed. And then I started figuring out, man, I really loved the front end. So that's where my focus went and it, but. You can't know that stuff. Cuz so many people are like trying to build the perfect path before they even get started. And it, with the self-taught it just feels like it has to be solidified along the way. And you have to analyze that you have to figure out what you do. You have to kind of listen to yourself and get curious and pay attention to what really has your attention. Um, you know, I, I guess I'm really just trying to dig into this because so many self-talk developers give. why do you think that is?

John Meade:

It is a massive world. Web development is huge. Uh, you can, you can specialize in one tiny little piece of it and have a great career. Um, but I think, and this is me included when I started, I was like, I have to ingest everything. You know, I have to build something. I. I've gotten to the point where I've decided I wanna do front end. Okay. I have to learn to react like the back of my hand, I have to learn angular. I have to do a project in view. I, you know, what I do right now is none of those three, I work in kind of a home rolled framework that is pure JavaScript. And so knowing those three things in my case didn't even necessarily pay off while it in the future, most like. But the fact that I have the foundational skills of what those frameworks are built on, or those libraries are built on that's what's gonna pay off for me in the end. And that's one of the reasons I got the position that I'm in right now. And so I think the sooner a self taught developer can figure out that they don't need to learn everything. They just need to figure out what their interest is and dive deep into that. and somewhere, especially now, as we're hopefully coming up on the end of the pandemic, um, when stuff has really, really shifted to remote work, and I think it will remain that way. You're not bound by your community anymore. You can really, and this is really true of tech, you know, pandemic or not. Um, but you are not bound by your community and what's available to. um, if you want to specialize in web sockets, then there's a company who is going to hire you for web sockets. And that doesn't mean you're gonna do that your entire life. You might find something else at that company that you like and grow into it. And somewhere down the road, you will, might be managing and not writing any code. You'll just be managing code. uh, and that's completely fine, but the sooner you can learn as a self-taught person, that you don't need to know everything. I think you free yourself up from being pulled in a million different directions. Cause if you allow yourself to be pulled in those million different directions, you you're gonna drown. Right. You're gonna burn out. You're gonna start again. You're gonna burn out again and it won't go anywhere.

Don Hansen:

I think you nailed it with. I feel like a lot of self-talk developers do feel like they're overwhelmed because they are pulled in all these different directions. Yeah. I like that. Yeah. It's good advice. Well, I feel like I've or we've gotten a good feel of your story. I do. Um, I guess I'm just gonna ask this one last question. Um, if you had to give one final piece for aspiring developers, what would it.

John Meade:

I think it would be a, a take on what I just said, you know, it's a wide, wide world in development. So find what you like and pursue that because just like any other job, if you get into something that you're not passionate about, even within the realm of front end or back end or whatever, uh, it's gonna burn you out and you're not gonna enjoy it. You know, give yourself enough credit and give yourself enough self love to realize you can figure out what you like. And, and you can go after that. Uh, and let that be your passion.

Don Hansen:

I like that. Give yourself enough credit and self love. I've never heard that before. I like it. That you can. all right. Well, yeah, this is really good advice. I feel like, um, I, I feel like you're someone that does a really good job of, of analyzing your past and learning from it. And, um, that's really, I, I think part of the success of being a self-taught developer and what's gonna get you through, so yeah, you did a really good job of just like really elaborating on all this. So we're at the end of the podcast. If people wanted to reach out to. Where could they reach you?

John Meade:

The best place to reach me is on LinkedIn. Um, I'm not very active on the other socials at the moment, so you can find. John Mead. The company is listen IO on LinkedIn.

Don Hansen:

Okay. All right. Well, John, I really appreciate you coming on. Um, we're gonna end the podcast in a second, but I forgot to tell you afterwards, stick around, but, um, yeah. Uh, for everyone watching, if you wanna see more of these interviews, like I said, I wanna bring up more self dot developers. They're all unique. They're all interesting. Um, and I feel like. We could really start honing in on some common patterns that really gets everyone through because a lot of self-taught developers struggle with that. Their journey is so unique. They don't really know what stories should resonate with them, what they should look for in those stories that they can adapt into their own. Personal style or how to analyze themselves. So let's keep digging into these, but, uh, John, like I said, stick around for a couple minutes, but thanks so much for

John Meade:

coming up. Everything we.