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neilcummings

 

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After ten months of hard effort, I landed my first developer job at the age of 40.

This is how, at the age of 40, I transitioned my profession to front-end programming, despite having no related experience or degree. While working full-time and spending next to nothing, I relied solely on self-directed education.

I wrote those ecstatic words a few months ago, as I prepared to start my new job for the first time. Come along with me on my adventure to find out how I got here.

Feeling unique

I used to read articles like this one with mistrust when I first started thinking about becoming a developer. I couldn't seem to find anything in the writer's past that distinguished them as "unique." As a result, they were well-suited for this position. Something I didn't have at the time.

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Since then, I've learned that this isn't how it works. To become a developer, there are no "specific" prerequisites. I won't tell you it's simple because it isn't. However, the good news is that all of the prerequisites are within everyone's grasp. You must be willing to put in a lot of effort, learn a lot, and be consistent. When things get rough, you must persevere. When you're feeling desperate and like you're not cut out for this, talk yourself out of it. That's all it takes, and with a little practise, anyone can do it.

I had no prior knowledge of the subject. I didn't have the funds for pricey courses, nor did I have the time in my already hectic schedule, and I was approaching middle age. Everyone's situation is unique, but I've learnt that if you set your mind to it, you can do anything.

Background

I had never done any programming or had any experience with it until the day I typed my first line of code. My first job was in the restaurant industry. Then I acquired a degree in music technology and spent a decade in Spain teaching English as a second language. I wasn't even extremely computer literate. I was constantly enthralled by the latest technological innovations. I used to think of programmers as modern-day superheroes.

But I never considered doing it myself. Partly because I mistook coding for a high-status activity. Something for bright students who have graduated from prestigious (and pricey) universities. While such people do exist, the vast majority of coders aren't the Hollywood hacker type. I had no idea that development was so simple.

The beginning of the storey

It all began with a lively discussion with my partner. She was looking into the reasons for the lack of women in STEM fields, particularly in technology. She resolved to take action by becoming a coder herself. She aspired to be a role model for our family's younger girls. And with that, she began to learn about it.

That soon piqued my interest as well, as we found there are numerous resources available. This wasn't some esoteric expertise; it was a skill that we could learn and master.

Spoiler alert: she also transitioned from HR to development and was hired a month before I was.

As a result, we came across a children's book about programming in a scientific museum one day. We returned home, opened Notepad, typed Hello World, then pasted it into the browser, changing the colour to red. We were giddy with anticipation! What kind of sorcery was that?

I was really sucked in. I wanted to use code to create things, and I wanted computers to do what I said!

My previous position

I had been working with children for 8 years at the time. This will not be the standard section where someone complains about a dead-end job that they despise. Because I appreciated my teaching career, enjoyed working with children, and felt at ease in my surroundings. It was a rewarding and pleasurable experience.

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But, even if you adore something, there are times when you realise it's time to let go. It was the start of a new chapter in my life, and I had new goals and ambitions. Above all, I was looking for a fresh challenge. Something that would force me to step outside of my usual comfort zone.



The one and only way to success

This is certainly not the case. My partner, myself, and a good buddy all started learning to code for a career move around the same time. All three of us are now working in the field, and our approaches are extremely dissimilar. Each one used the materials and methods that were most effective for them. If there's one thing we all have in common, it's that we didn't give up and kept going. We've all put in a lot of effort and perseverance.

So, instead of telling you about the one true way, I'll tell you about mine. It's not the only way, and it's certainly not the best. That's how it worked for me.

Starting at the beginning

To get a sense of where to start, I started reading and watching YouTube videos about programming. Then I began experimenting with HTML and CSS. I built several basic web pages by following tutorials and coding along. This convinced me that it was something I wanted to pursue.

Establishing a Goal

For tips and assistance, I turned to two of my friends who work in the field. Those encouraging and guiding remarks were important in getting me started and focusing my attention on a clear goal.

It took some time to filter through all of the possibilities and set realistic goals that I could achieve. I needed to make a quick job move. I didn't have any source of money, so I had to keep working until I could make the transfer.

Front-end development seemed to be the most accessible and in-demand alternative. I reduced it down even more by focusing on the talents required for a startup position rather than the freelance option.

Then I set a deadline for myself. I didn't want my goal to end up on a to-do list that I never looked at again. It was the spring of 2017, and I had made a vow to myself that the next school course would be my last as a teacher. So I had to be working in the field by September 2018, a little over a year later.

It would be naïve to think that everything was crystal clear and under control at this point. I didn't do it. While making such a dangerous professional transition, certainty is not a luxury you can afford. There were numerous doubts at that time, as well as during the process. Persistence was crucial in this case. I was determined to take this route regardless of where it led once I made the decision.



Learning

I understood that studying for it was the only way to go. Waiting till “I had time” was never an option for me because I worked full-time. I had to do it while working, or I wouldn't be able to do it at all. I was fortunate in that my girlfriend was studying at the same time as me. This made it easier for us to plan our days so that we could get the most out of our learning time. We used to undertake what we called "weekend boot camps," in which we would code for the entire weekend. This was a regular day for me:

Then my summer vacation arrived, and I took advantage of it by converting my "weekend boot camp" into a "daily boot camp." Despite the urge to relax and enjoy the summer, I stuck to my programme religiously.

September rolled along, and I was back at work. I had made the conscious decision to work fewer hours. I accepted the fact that I would earn less money in return for more study time. It was also another step toward solidifying my resolve to a career transition.

It's tough to express how difficult it was to be separated from my code. All I wanted to do was return to my computer and complete this problem or correct that layout. But then it's back to reality. The beginning of a school year always necessitates a significant amount of planning and organisation. As any teacher will tell you, it also consumes a significant amount of personal time.

My objective could have been thwarted at that point. Despite my best efforts, I was finding it increasingly difficult to code. I began to lose my stride. I tried to keep up, but there were times when I just didn't have the time. Life may complicate things even with the best of intentions and enthusiasm.



In October, my GitHub activity showed a decrease.

I kept trying, as you can see from my GitHub activity image. Even if it was an hour, I maintained putting in the time, even if it was only reading an article. I did everything I could to avoid being completely demotivated. When you leave anything unattended for a long time, it becomes more difficult to return to with each passing day.

Then, as December arrived and the new year loomed ahead of me, I rallied once more and got organised. I began to press on, putting in those hours regardless of how exhausted I was or how little time I had. I would sometimes get up early to code, and other times I would stay up late.

This meant that my life was essentially restricted to working to pay the bills and studying. And that's about it. And I pretty much kept up that pace until the day I started packing to relocate to Madrid. That happened in the spring of 2018, well ahead of my deadline.



Resources and tools

I engaged myself in everything code-related for the ten months leading up to my job offer. On Twitter, the most common question I get is about the materials I used. I've prepared another essay that goes into greater detail on this topic. Here's a quick rundown of the most crucial tools and resources.

Courses

freeCodeCamp.org

Udemy courses by Cassidy Williams and Colt Steele

JavaScript 30 and other courses by Wes Bos

Traversy Media, LevelUpTuts, Traversy Media, Traversy Media, Traversy Media, Traversy Media, Tra

Lynda.com classes by Christina Truong

Udacity Nanodegree in Front-End Programming (a paid course, but I got a scholarship from Google)

Because courses can only take you so far, I supplemented them with other resources to aid my learning and job search.

Twitter has been a huge part of my life. Especially the #100DaysOfCode community, which has been tremendously kind and welcoming.

GitHub is a valuable learning tool, and it's where I hosted all of my projects for free. Employers frequently look there first to see your work.

Portfolio: Building it and other self-initiated initiatives taught me the most important growth skills.

You can also look at the GitHub repository for My Learning Tracker. It is a comprehensive overview of the materials and paths I followed during the first 10 months.

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