Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

My Journey to Become a Front-End Developer Without a CS Degree

I am a self-taught developer. I work as a full-time JS developer in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Three years ago, I was a fresh graduate, with a degree in finance and banking. Just like many other students, I had no clue what I was passionate about. I had no idea what kind of jobs suited me, so I sent out my CV to many prospective employers with the title “entry-level.” Within a few months, I got a job as a data analyst.

A year and a half later, I landed a second job as a front-end developer at the same company. A lot of people might wonder how I did that, so I will share with you my story of how I learned to code and become a developer.

Where it all began

When I was still a university student, I thought I was better off learning finance, since I like working with numbers. However, at the back of my mind, I knew something was off.

After I finished my internship and graduated, I realized that working in a bank or anything related to finance would not suit me because I did not feel any sense of joy or satisfaction analyzing financial reports or calculate the cash flow of a company.

I shared the same struggle of many fresh graduates, but I was still in need of a job to support my life, so I looked out for recruiting in any fields that did not require experience. I received some phone calls for interview, and four months later, I became a data analyst for Officience, a French company.

At Officience, I was encouraged to be proactive and have autonomy. While working on my daily tasks using Microsoft Excel, I was introduced to VBA, Excel’s programming language. I was intrigued because I found my daily, repetitive tasks could be automated with VBA. This was my first real-world programming experience. I made some small tools to help automate manual tasks in my projects. They weren’t perfect, but they were helpful.

Nothing more would have happened if I had continued to do what I was doing. A few months after I joined the company, someone on the IT team opened a HTML/CSS course for everyone, even if you were not on the IT team.

You know what? After the course, I got hooked. I decided, “Hey, this is cool. This is what I want to do. This is for me.”

How I transitioned from a data analyst to front-end developer

After the course, I asked the IT guy to be my mentor. I told him that I wanted to become a front-end developer like him and included a bunch of questions and concerns about my decision. Technical speaking aside, he pointed the good and the bad of being a developer. Taking all of that into consideration, I still showed my assertion because I think that everything has two sides. It will always do. It is just how we react to the issues matters.

Fortunately, he agreed to be my mentor. He showed the road-map to become a front-end developer and guided me through some technology I should learn and the skills I needed. Here is what I learned:

· HTML and CSS

· Basic Javascript

· jQuery

· Photoshop: just need some basics skill so as to handle psd files.

· Git

As I learned, I built a small website for every step. For example, I would try to clone a website UI so I could apply the HTML and CSS I had learned. Then I continued to add more behaviours using Javascript as I finished understanding the basics of it.

At the same time, I kept my job as a data analyst. Usually, I studied at night, or I would stay a few hours after work. I had meetings with my mentor on weekends to hear his feedback about my progress.

After six months of constant self-study and mentoring, I began to share my plan with everyone and got involved in small web development projects. I left my data analyst job and officially joined the IT team as a junior position. That was how I got myself into the IT field.

What difficulties I faced while learning to code

Hindrances obviously are inevitable in any learning process, but I think the biggest obstacle was myself, physically and mentally.

Since I had to balance my day job with my learning, I found it tiring sometimes to pick up where I had left off last time I studied. I tried to imagine the goals in my head and told myself: “I can do it. I have to do it.” It fueled my thoughts and pushed me to learn.

In contrast, sometimes when I could not wrap my head around a new concept of programming, I started to feel myself failing. It was devastating. However, I tried not to let this thought overpower me since I understood how negative thoughts can affect one’s outcome. In this case, I would take a break to give my brain time to absorb the new information.

Another obstacle I encountered was social anxiety. To share what I am doing and my plan with one person was already a big deal to me, let alone sharing it with the whole company. To step closer to my goals, I had no choice but to learn to embrace my weakness. (Side note: At Officience, everyone used Google Plus for the company network and everyone was encouraged to speak their minds). Thanks to my other mentor who taught me about the organization and management, I started learning to share my thoughts within the company network and overcome my anxiety.

What do I learn from this journey

The valuable lesson from this experience is that we humans are more capable than we think we are. Sometimes, we are so used to being put in boxes that we are too afraid to step out. The boxes should be lifted, and we should be free to do what makes us happy.

Learning how to code gives me a meaning in my life and more importantly, it taught me how to be persevere in everything. After all, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.

In conclusion

My advice to anyone who wants to learn how to code is to believe in yourself first. Everything else comes later. And remember, “Where there is a will, there is a way”.