Chris is a self-taught programmer who won a 55% pay rise after becoming a developer. In this interview Chris talks about how he learned programming without a Computer Science degree and his tips on getting your first Software Developer job.
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
Hey, I’m Chris. I live in Buckinghamshire, UK which is about 45 minutes outside of London. I’m currently a Front End Developer for a large British supermarket having joined the company a couple of months ago after leaving my first developer role where I was for a little over a year.
Why did you learn to code?
I came across programming in the summer of 2020, a few months after the pandemic started. I was working in corporate travel at the time so for obvious reasons I was looking for a new career path which I could transition to without a qualification as I knew I didn’t want to go back to college or University.
My role in the travel business actually started as a Junior Sales Executive after I graduated with a Geography degree but quickly progressed to a more technical/product focussed role.
Whilst I had ‘technology’ in my job title, I didn’t really have any technical skills so that was another reason why I ended up pursuing learning to code as I was always interested in how the tech we used in the travel business actually worked and came across No CS Degree and YouTube videos which showed other people’s successes in learning to code without traditional education.
How did you learn coding?
As I was still working or on furlough for 2020 and early 2021 whilst I was learning to code, I decided to go down the self-taught route. I have actually recorded every course and tutorial I’ve ever taken!
I’m so glad I did this as it’s a great way to track your progress with different technologies. Without typing the whole list out I can summarize how I started to learn front-end web technologies as I think a lot of people who are learning to code will benefit from this same track.
I started with the first three certificates on freeCodeCamp. I found the platform and whole concept behind them being a non-profit, open-source education company was really inspiring. I know they have a new Responsive Web Design certificate and are constantly adding new tracks to the curriculum.
Whilst I mainly focussed on freeCodeCamp, I also utilized a number of other sites such as the free tiers on Codecademy and Scrimba as well as numerous YouTube videos (The best channels I found for beginners were Traversy Media and The Net Ninja).
How has your life changed since learning to code?
My career prospects have massively changed if I think back to 2020 when I was 6 and a half years into a career within the travel industry at the same company. Whilst it was a great experience, I now have technical skills which are way more transferable across other companies and industries, not just the niche of business travel. This is most evident with the numerous LinkedIn connection requests and job openings from recruiters.
In terms of finances, I actually took a pay cut to transition out of my travel industry career into that of a developer. I did this because I knew I was still learning and could see how many roles there were out there. So I stayed there for just over a year and made the move to my current company.
I can’t talk about absolute numbers but I secured a 55% pay increase and being at a larger company there are so many more opportunities which was another reason why I accepted the offer. I was also more strategic with my job search the second time around and applied directly to companies I wanted to work at rather than everything which was available on LinkedIn and UK tech job boards.
What does a typical day as a software developer look like for you?
A typical day for me currently is that we have a stand up at the same time each morning to discuss our progress on tickets and if there are any blockers. Both my current and previous company follow Scrum project management methodology and work in two week sprints where the team have two weeks to complete a myriad of work, which could be new features, bug fixes, technical debt or Spikes to scope out upcoming work.
After stand-up I then get deep into working on my ticket(s) for the day. That said, interspersed throughout the day are often meetings with other front-end developers across the business or with the team to discuss requirements and refine ticket sizing for upcoming sprints so there can be a lot of context switching on those days which are meeting heavy.
Generally most companies and other developers I’ve spoken to follow some sort of agile project management for development teams. I actually like the structure of agile/scrum and it seems to work well if you have the right Project Manager and/or Delivery Lead steering the ship as I do at my current company.
How did you get your first developer job?
I got my first developer job about 14 months after starting to learn to code. By that point I had started to learn React, Next.js and Node and had a portfolio site with some projects on and a good commit history on GitHub.
I was actually called by a recruiter who found my CV online which I had posted a month prior which included my mobile number. I’ve since taken it off as I now prefer to speak via email or LinkedIn but it’s a good tip to remove that barrier if you are looking for your first role.
So anyway, he called me during a lunch break whilst I was working at the travel company and it turned out a company local to me was looking to hire a couple of Junior Full-Stack Developers.
I went on to work mostly in the front-end as the other developer who joined around the same time and most of the existing team were full-stack developers but most preferred the back-end.
That gave me a great opportunity to be the front-end lead on a few projects working with two back-end developers. I can safely say I learned a lot in just a few months as commercial programming/software is very different from the hobby and tutorial projects I had on my portfolio!
Once those projects finished I joined a larger team where there were a few front-end devs to continue to learn from and that is a similar situation at my new company.
What are your career goals for the future?
Currently I’m excited to go into 2023 and continue building upon my newfound technical skills, possibly learning more back-end/full-stack technologies. I’m also keen to give back to the web dev community which I learned so much from, particularly others who are going through freeCodeCamp or also considering or have started going down the self-taught route.
For this I’ve started to post videos on my YouTube channel (linked below) and enjoy meeting other freeCodeCampers at the London meetup. I’ve only been twice since they’ve started the in-person events again but I’m looking forward to getting more involved in the web dev community.
Other than that, I’m always keen to connect and chat with aspiring or junior developers on LinkedIn since I’m not active on Twitter: