Anca wanted a change from hospitality. She started to learn to code with Zero to Mastery and was quickly able to become a Software Developer.
I hope you find her first ever interview inspiring!
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
Hi, my name is Anca, I am originally from Romania but have been living in the UK for the past 9 years. At first I lived in Birmingham while studying for my bachelors degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management, and once I finished university I moved to Jersey, Channel Islands. I worked in a prestigious 5 star hotel on the island until I decided to change my career and started learning programming.
Long story short: I completed the Zero to Mastery Web Development course on Udemy in a few months and got hired at a start-up where I’m still working as a Software Developer 3 years later.
I have completed a few other courses in the meantime and got an interest in Blockchain Development and Penetration Testing, I have won a tech award and a Hackathon, I have become a mentor and a programming teacher for 10 year olds and I have recently gotten an offer to study a Master’s degree in Information Security Management. This is my first article ever written, so if it sounds interesting and you would like to know the long story, keep reading…
Why did you learn to code?
I have worked in the hospitality industry for about 5 years, advancing in my career from an internship in a luxurious hotel in Dubai, to Events Supervisor and then Assistant Restaurant Manager in Jersey. I was really enjoying the work environment, learning about different cuisines, wines, customer service, the novelty of each day in events, meeting new people, traveling and making connections.
However, because of the nature of the industry, I was working a lot of hours per week, late nights as well as all the weekends and holidays and I was feeling like there was no work-life balance in my job, as well as receiving very little appreciation for my effort and dedication.
Therefore, I started researching other career options and tried a few different things(including opening an online shop) until I eventually came across the Zero to Mastery course and the article (linked further down) that Andrei, the course tutor, had written about learning to code and getting hired .
That article was life-changing for me; it described a programmer’s career so well, emphasising on industry growth, the high demand for developers in the future, the need to always learn and stay up to date with technologies, as well as the freedom that comes with a job in IT, for example through the ability to choose where you want to live (since you can find a job anywhere in the world, or work remotely).
How did you learn coding with Zero to Mastery?
As soon as I discovered the Zero to Mastery course I dived straight into it. I quit my full-time job and got a couple of part-time jobs as a waitress so I could have more time to learn programming and get ready for a new career so I was allocating around 4 hours daily to the course. I remember getting the hang of HTML and CSS and building my first website - a collection of famous quotes. It felt really empowering, even though it was very basic and looked like a website from the ‘90s, and it was great to see results after just a couple of days of following the course.
Sometimes I felt like I was not good at this at all, like I would never get to understand how a function or a class work and I wouldn’t be able to write any code by myself without following tutorials.
However, I pushed through those moments and continued with the course hoping that it would all make sense in the end, and so I got to the final part of the course: building a webapp in React. Even though I was still just coding along with the course, unable to write much code on my own, I made sure that I understood all the concepts and technologies as best as I could and I completed the course in less than 3 months.
Sure enough, everything I was finding so difficult to understand and memorise back then, feels like second nature now, 3 years later, and I am so grateful for having had such an amazing opportunity to be taught by a passionate and dedicated teacher at the beginning of my journey and for the most awesome and supportive community I have met on Discord.
How has your life changed since learning to code?
I think it’s fair to say my life has changed quite a lot since I’ve started learning coding - for the better. Firstly, the most valuable change in my life has been regarding work-life balance; I am working usual business hours Mon-Fri so I have the evenings and weekends off to focus on personal projects and relationships.
Due to having more time off, I have been able to pursue new interests, follow more online courses, get involved in volunteering and just generally focusing on my personal and professional development.
I have also found that in this industry people are a lot more understanding regarding personal commitments so I can take an extra morning or afternoon off at short notice if I have something important to deal with, which helps me stay motivated and avoid burnout.
Moreover, a great advantage for me in this career is the ability to work remotely or on a hybrid schedule when necessary, partly as a result of the pandemic. This means that I can go home to Romania more often and work from there while being closer to my family, which is very important for me.
As some of my colleagues are already working remotely from Manchester, Prague or Malta, I am also able to do my job from anywhere in the world while still being productive and efficient.
Last but not least, my income has been rising since I have changed my career and most importantly I am excited about future prospects.
I am confident that I am in the right industry for the future, that my skills and experience will continue to be relevant for a long time, especially since I am constantly acquiring new knowledge and skills and considering the wide range of career opportunities available in the IT industry.
What does a typical day as a software developer look like for you?
A typical day at work starts at 9 am, whether I’m working from home or from the office. . I usually like to take the first half an hour to plan for the day ahead, reply to any important emails and schedule any meetings that I have to have on the day.
Of course a more unusual day can start even before I get to the office with bugs raised by our users overnight or emails from directors about urgent features, in which case it’s all hands on deck trying to fix issues as early as possible.
At 9:30am we have a “stand-up” meeting which takes place on Teams as half of our devs are remote, during which we can raise any issues that affect others or discuss any tasks that involve other colleagues. After that, no two days are the same;
We are a small team of 10 devs and our main product is a mobile app built in React Native which uses C# with .Net on the server and CosmosDB for the database. I have had the opportunity to work on all areas of the project for the past 3 years, from the front-end to the server as well as on company internal projects using different technologies such as Angular, ASP.NET MVC framework or Wordpress.
I am now mainly working server side, so on a typical day I could be troubleshooting and fixing bugs - one of my favourite things to do - or I could be building a new feature working closely with someone from the front-end team, dev testing someone else’s work, supporting the quality assurance team in their tests, mentoring junior colleagues, or I could be in a meeting planning the future of the company. One thing is for sure: I don’t really have any time to get bored.
I enjoy working here because I have the freedom to work in my own time without being micromanaged, I am empowered to make decisions and solve issues by myself, I am encouraged to learn and develop professionally and I feel appreciated and rewarded for my work.
I love working with smart, talented and hardworking people who motivate me to become better every day. Also, for me nothing beats the amazing feeling of having created something from scratch, that other people can use and interact with and the satisfaction I get when the computer does exactly what I told it to do (eventually...hehe). I can easily say that I love my job and I am so grateful to be able to say that.
What was the interview process like for your first developer job?
How did it all start though? How did I get so lucky to get hired just 3 months after starting my first course? That’s something I’ve asked myself a lot at the start of my career (Impostor Syndrome is real).
To start with, living in such a small place as the island of Jersey was a huge advantage. Jersey markets itself as the perfect sandbox location to develop and test new technologies so this industry is on the rise and with a small population of only 100k people and no universities on the island, it is clear that there is a lack of workers in the IT industry. Therefore, many companies are willing to take in junior devs and teach and develop them to become profitable employees.
Furthermore, having just completed the Zero to Mastery Web Development course before my first(and only) interview, I was able to impress my future employers with the portfolio I had created during the course. At the time of my application, the company was focusing on digital identity solutions, so my Face Recognition app built in React was definitely a strong point.
Just as important for the CEO and CTO with whom I have had the interviews with, was my attitude towards self-teaching and changing my career. There was no technical interview and they were not concerned with the fact that I didn’t have a related degree or experience, they were excited to meet someone who was self-motivated and eager to learn.
Thanks to these, along with transferable skills I had developed in my previous career, such as excellent communication skills, I was offered a position in the company as a Software Developer Trainee. I have been very thankful for this opportunity and worked hard to prove that I deserved it and to become a valuable member of the team.
Do you have tips for people who want to learn to code without doing a degree?
There is a lot of advice out there for people who are just starting to code, no matter if they have a degree or not. Most of these I’ve heard or read when I started this journey myself and I found them to be very valuable and helpful.
Probably the best advice I got was to not give up in the first couple of months while it feels like climbing “an insurmountable mountain”, to stay strong and keep learning until it all clicks, because it will. If you remember that, you’re half-way there, so here are a few more tips that worked for me, to keep you going:
- Make a plan - spend some time planning what you want to learn and in what order, rather than aimlessly following tutorials or reading books. Find out what are the most relevant technologies that will get you hired and aim to learn those.
If you have a plan, it’s less probable that you will get distracted from your goals or that you will go down a dead end by learning outdated technology. You should start with the basics of how the internet works, how the web integrates with HTML and CSS and reacts to your code, how to use the command line and a suitable text editor, then choose one programming language and stick to it
- Find a mentor or a supporting community, or both - in my opinion, it’s very important to surround yourself with people who have the same goals as you as well as people that you can learn from. Join a coding challenge such as #100daysofcode or Hacktoberfest or a Discord community where you can ask for help, offer help to others, collaborate on projects and many more
- Ask a lot of questions - once you’ve found a mentor and a supportive community, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. I know it sounds like a cliche, but there really isn’t such a thing as a silly question when you are learning to code. Whenever you are stuck on something or there’s something you don’t understand, try to Google it first and if you don’t get an answer to your question, ask your peers
- Be organised! - set some goals for yourself and do your best to achieve them. Give yourself a time-limit to learn HTML and CSS, to build your first website, to complete a module on a course, etc.
- If you have trouble staying focused for a long time, especially when you’re struggling to understand, try using the Pomodoro Technique (you focus on what you’re doing for 25 minutes with no distractions, then take a 5 minutes break and repeat the cycle 4 times before taking a longer break) - this was a massive help for me at the start and I am still using it sometimes when I am learning something new, there are many mobile and web apps for it
- Don’t get stuck on the basics, it will all make sense - when you first learn how to code, you might get stuck trying to memorise basic things such as HTML elements or CSS syntax but you shouldn’t waste your time on these.
- You should build your first basic website within a couple of days and then move on, as you will always be able to find all the keywords and syntax online when you need them.
- When you get to the actual programming language of your choice, make sure you understand the fundamentals such as data types and structures and variables but don’t waste too much time trying to memorise a certain syntax, you can always Google it later
- Build a portfolio - this is very important especially if you don’t have a CS degree or any related work experience, since it’s your opportunity to showcase your work to potential employers, to prove what you can do and to show how you have evolved. Having an active GitHub profile where you contribute often to personal and public projects is also a great advantage when applying for junior or mid developer jobs
- Apply for jobs - if it’s your goal to get hired, start applying for jobs as soon as possible. If you have already 2 or 3 projects in your portfolio, if you have a clear learning path that you are following and if you show that you are motivated to develop further, you might find a company that is willing to take you on and teach/mentor you themselves. Even if you might fail on some interviews, you don’t really have anything to lose, but you will have gained some experience and you know what is expected of you for the next ones. But once you succeed, you will get paid to learn.
- Read this article! - Seriously, it might change your life like it did mine
What are your career goals for the future?
The past three years have flown by and I hadn’t really taken time to reflect back on them until I’ve started writing this article. I can honestly say that I am looking behind at my progress so far with great pride and satisfaction, and I am also gazing towards the future with extraordinary confidence and excitement.
Even though I am the kind of person who lives a lot in the present and usually only makes short term plans, I have some clear goals for my career. I want to continue to learn the latest technologies and choose something to specialise in (so much choice!), to freelance or become a consultant, to build and sell software, so basically to work for myself and become more financially independent.
I am also working as a volunteer for Code Hero, where we are teaching children from poorly developed areas in Romania programming basics in Scratch, planting a seed and hoping that it will grow into a passion or even a career for them. I’ve discovered that I enjoy teaching and I want to continue to develop this skill. I also like to give back to the community and help others, so I am planning to create my own online courses as well as open a coding school for kids. Finally, I am planning to write more articles, if you like this one :)
Thanks for the interview!
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