Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Unemployed to Full-Time Developer in 6 Months

Here’s how I did it

June 2017

I was unemployed for the second time that year. I’d chosen to leave both of my jobs for various reasons but the second stint of unemployment wasn’t panning out as well as the first. After two months of unsuccessfully trying to find another role as a product manager, I decided it was time to (finally) learn to code. I had the means and the time, all I needed was the discipline.

So following a 7-day trial at the end of May, I went full-steam ahead into Treehouse’s Full Stack JavaScript Techdegree. It provided the structure I felt I needed, as well as ways to affirm my knowledge. Plus, a previous employer of mine used it to get my friends up to speed when they were hired on as entry-level developers.

Where I’d only spent a few hours each day during the free-trial going through the content, I upped it to 7 to 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday. I hand wrote notes and coded along to the tutorials and examples (and wrote many of them out by hand, too). And after failing to understand where to even start when it came time to do the first unit project, I went through Unit 1 all over again (after having a good cry about it).

July 2017

I continued to work through the techdegree as I had in June. By this point, I knew that programming was the hardest thing I’d tried my hand at and convinced myself on multiple occasions I had no business trying to be a programmer. I spent a lot of hours crying. I felt overwhelmed and anxious, like an imposter, and like my future was riding on my ability to learn to code.

But I kept going and ended up successfully completing the Unit 2 project* a few days into the month. By the end of the month, I’d successfully completed the Unit 3 project.

I also got accepted into and started the LaunchCode’s LC101 class. The class met for three hours twice a week and, at first, everything introduced was review for me. I’d already learned the concepts introduced through Treehouse, I just had to make small syntax adjustments since the course didn’t teach JavaScript, it taught Python.

*To this day I still consider that project to be my first program; it was the first time I felt like I had a handle on coding.

August 2017

By this point, the techdegree’s difficulty level (for me) had taken it up a notch. I finished the Unit 4 project a few days into the month but where units 2 and 3 were easier for me to understand and put into practice, Unit 4 reminded me a lot of Unit 1 — i.e. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. There was more crying and anxiety.

In reality that wasn’t the case. The concepts were more advanced and took longer to sink in* but I hadn’t lost any knowledge, it just hadn’t solidified yet.

Unit 5 stepped it up yet again, and I dedicated the majority of the month to covering the material. I was still cruising along in my LaunchCode class and, I’m pretty sure at this point, I’d made a friend in class.

*Even now I’m shaky on some of the concepts learned during that unit (but I’ve gotten significantly better at many of them, too).

September 2017

I finished the project for Unit 5 at the beginning of the month and moved on to Unit 6. And, yet again, the techdegree stepped it up another notch. Or rather, a few notches. It was the first time I was working with Node and, well, it was an adjustment. Not to mention that at this point, I’d begun to lose steam. I wasn’t as disciplined as I had been. But, I wasn’t crying nearly as often, so that was a plus.

LC101 was ramping up too, and the class had just transitioned to the second of three units. As the concepts and projects grew more advanced, I started spending more of what was supposed to be my time on Treehouse on the class work.

October 2017

By October I felt confident in my JavaScript abilities. I wasn’t about to go build any apps but I knew a thing or two about a thing or two. I was comfortable with writing functions, I could now set a variable in one function equal to the returned value of another (this was huge when it happened), and I was pretty damn good with arguments and parameters, yet another thing that I struggled with at the start.

As I worked my way through the Unit 6 material I felt like I was missing something. So I started The Complete Node.js Developer Course that I’d purchased from Udemy at the recommendation of a fellow techdegree-er. This filled in what felt like gaps in my knowledge of Node and helped me complete the Unit 6 project toward the end of the month.

Unit 2 for LC101 was moving ahead at full speed and I spent more and more time working on it during the day. I was introduced to concepts like MVC, persistence, and more. By the end of the month, I had a nice number of Python projects demonstrating the concepts.

November 2017

I was in the midst of Unit 7 when LC101 really kicked it up. We’d moved into Unit 3 and now I was working with C# and it was like starting the learning curve all over again. But I was making it happen. I was pushing through Treehouse, albeit slower than my usual pace, and I was putting in the time and asking for help when I needed it with C#.

And amidst all of that, I got an email one day from AngelList: “[Company name] is interested in you.”

I’d signed up for AngelList in August thinking that when I finished both LC101 and the techdegree program, it would be a good way to get access to local startups. It never occurred to me that a startup would reach out to me.

After doing a little research, I matched with them, and a few hours later, I got an email from one of the co-founders asking if I had time to come in to talk about a software engineer position.

I was shocked. There was no way they were interested in me — someone who’d barely been coding for 5 months (and only coding confidently for, like, 1.5). I thought they’d gotten confused or hadn’t vetted my skills so my immediate reaction was to decline — to take myself out of the running before I’d even entered the race.

But instead of doing that, I ignored the nay-sayer at the back of my mind and agreed to a meeting before I could talk myself out of it.

The meeting went well — I showed enthusiasm, asked questions, explained my previous experience in support, QA, and product and approach to development — and they spent a lot of time going into detail on their approach to development and their vision for the company. Their focus on mentoring new developers stuck out to me so when they told me the next steps were completing a code challenge, I agreed.

I spent my free time the next week coding, emailing the development lead with questions, celebrating small victories, fighting serious bouts of imposter syndrome, and crying. But I completed the project in 8 days, and a few days later I met with them, walked them through what I did and why, and then went home, fully expecting not to get an offer. Not because I was incapable of explaining what I did and why, but because imposter syndrome sucks.

But the next day, an email appeared in my inbox: “[Company name] Offer Letter.”

This is my personal experience and journey. Some parts of this may be transferrable to others, others may not be for numerous reasons such as access to opportunity, financial freedom and stability, and privilege, amongst other things.

List of all resources/things above:

If you’re new to programming, I hope you find this helpful or encouraging. If you’re not new, I hope you at least found this enjoyable or moderately entertaining. If not, well, I tried.  ‍♀️

If you want to know more about my journey and where I am now, I’m on Instagram almost daily talking about my life as a developer. I’m pretty good about responding to DMs and comments there so if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.