Danny Thompson is a developer based in Memphis who is sharing his story today about how he got into web development without a Computer Science degree. Keep reading to learn about his work helping people get hired, giving talks in prisons, his tips for beginners and advice on making a career change into tech by improving your mindset.
Hey, so can you give us a short introduction for people who want to know more about you?
I am a software engineer and the Chapter Founder and Organizer of GDG Memphis, a tech community that provides resources to developers of all skill levels, that provides an inclusive environment for everyone and that works well with the tech communities that currently exist in the City Of Memphis like Memtech and CodeCrew! Memtech is a community of developers that exist to help each other and CodeCrew is a nonprofit coding bootcamp that exists to try and take people and turn them into developers! I am a huge supporter of both of these organizations! I have a huge passion for getting more women into tech and to help more children learn how to code.
How did you get your first programming job?
The very first job I was offered, I turned down. Then I turned down the next one as well. I ended up taking those jobs and helping other people get them. I had a vision of what I wanted and that just wasn’t it. I had a good job and was taking my time. I knew what I wanted and just wouldn’t agree to anything less.
I have a philosophy. Many beginner/junior developers have the same mindset “i just need a company to give me a chance! Please give me a chance!” The problem with that is people only do charity work when they HAVE TO. Instead, the mindset should be “I will be so good that they will NEED me on their time! I will add value to whatever team I will be on!” This changes the dynamic and allows you to be valuable! People want valuable things - they don’t want to take on a burden.
So i maintained that mindset. I made websites on the side while keep my job and just loved everything I was experiencing and just used this time to help others land jobs! I helped 44 people land their first tech jobs last year and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world!
Once I found my current job, it was everything I envisioned in a company. They growth potential, the opportunities, the new advancements in the sector. So I went for it and have been happy ever since!
Can you tell us what an average day looks like for you just now working as a Software Engineer at Frontdoor?
Frontdoor is really an AMAZING company to work for. I start my day at 7:45 usually. I drive to the office. Set up my work area. Open the laptop and get my oatmeal and coffee. I like to eat my breakfast as I read the tickets open on the board. It allows me time to process what they are asking and break down the task in my head. As soon as I am done, I start on my ticket. If i get stuck on a problem, I try to work it out first to see if I can figure it out. But the second I realize I can not solve this. I will ask for a pair of fresh eyes to take a look. I truly work with some of the best people ever.
My team is filled with some geniuses that have no problem helping each other. I think a large portion of the reason why I LOVE my job is the people I am around. Everyone supports each other. Coming from a business background where everyone is trying to outperform each other, it is amazing to walk into this environment. We don’t have set times so I take lunch. Come back. Code some more. Take a small break and maybe play some table tennis to get the blood flowing. Code some more then head home. I come to work early so I can leave a little earlier. That way I can get my son from school. I have almost the perfect balance between work and home.
If you don’t have a CS degree, how did you learn coding? Did you do any particular courses or bootcamps?
I started learning how to code because I was always attracted to technology. So I found out about freecodecamp.org and fell in love. Went to my first meetup where I thought I was hot stuff! At this point I only knew HTML and CSS. I made an application where you can enter the image of the url and it would return with the image and put colors on it, a poor man’s filter. Basically at this point of my life I could cure cancer with code! Lol. I walked in and realized VERY QUICKLY that I knew nothing! I heard Java,C# and SQL. These words meant nothing to me as if they were speaking a foreign language BUT I WAS HOOKED! It was a very humbling but inspiring experience for me because it showed me this wide array of knowledge that I had not even tapped into yet.
After that I heard about LaunchCode. A nonprofit boot camp that was coming to Memphis,TN. I found out very late! I applied and didn’t hear anything back so I freaked out. I couldn’t let this opportunity go! So I created social media platforms, because I didn’t have any. I emailed them, tweeted them, instagram messaged! You name it, I did it! I promised them, if they took me in I would graduate at the top of the class. I promised them if they took me in I would be a student the kind of student they never believed was possible!
LaunchCode took me in and I kept my word. I graduated at the top of the class. I created an entire network of managers and recruiters and last year I was lucky enough to help place 44 people in their first jobs in tech!
LaunchCode gave me the tools but it is on the DEVELOPER to utilize them and create their future. After LaunchCode I continued to learn and grow.
How has your life changed since becoming a professional programmer?
My life has changed significantly actually. More time for my family. But something changed in me. I realized I have an opportunity to create positive change in my city!
So I run a group called GDG Memphis. We host meetups and provide resources to developers in our city and around us to help them grow. We have some pretty phenomenal meetups and I realized Positive impact CREATES positive impact. So now the meetups aren’t the goal but the tool to help facilitate the growth of our city.
I believe Memphis,TN can be a tech hub and I want to do everything within my power to help make that happen, to make sure our developers are ready and can be valuable in this situation! But I also want to focus on our low income areas. We have a couple. Where the average household income is 18k a year. But if I can help 1 person land a job making 100k a year, they are generating the income of 5 and a half households. If i can get 20 people from that area in a job like that, then I just changed the neighborhood!
I pushed them into a new tax bracket, so now the schools will get more resources, we can deter gang violence and drug use. The trickle effect to this is so huge! But it doesn’t even have to coorelate directly to getting jobs in tech!
I gave a speech to a room of prisoners learning how to code. That could be a long talk by itself, but I told them. Even if you do not land a job in tech, you have learned a very calculated way to look at, identify and break down problems! Learning how to code is learning how to address problems that can help you IN ANY FIELD!
Like construrction, let’s say your task is to break a wall. Most people would grab a sledgehammer and just start breaking it down. Now that you are analytical, you will observe the wall, maybe see a side that is load bearing and hit there first to see if it will break the wall in an easier way! Coding can solve so many things besides actual code!
What advice do you have for someone who wants to get their first programming job but they don’t have the time or money for a CS degree?
I don’t have a degree. I am not saying that should be the prefered way, but I am saying that I did not get one. I know plenty of developers without one. But the thing that has to separate you from degree holders is that you want it that much more! You have to bring value! You have to be hungry and want it!
So many developers looking for their first job always say “I just need a chance! Give me a chance! I want a chance!” instead, they need to CHANGE their mindset and say “I am going to be valuable on a team and add value! I am going to be so good that they HAVE to have me there! They will need me!” That change will bring opportunity. That change will push you to learn more and produce more. This is what companies are looking for. They aren’t looking for the bare minimum, they are looking for the developers that can help and grow with a company.
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Have you ever had imposter syndrome and if so, how have you dealt with it?
Who hasn’t?! Imposter syndrome hits the best of us. I am always doubting if I am doing the right thing or on the right path. But you have to trust the process! You have to trust that you are working so hard and becoming greater and greater! We are our own worst critics. If we were our own judges we would never get jobs!
But understand how great you really are! You are beyond phenomenal and are on a life long journey! You will never know it all and you will always forget things you have studied countless times! That is life! Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just focus on being the best version of yourself and you will reach where you need to reach.
Can you tell us about the mentoring that you’ve been involved with?
I am the Chapter founder and Organizer for GDG Memphis. We host some pretty great meetups but provide resources to developers from all over. The reason why I got involved with meetups in the beginning was when I would ask people “How do you get the first job in tech?” I heard more times than I can count “Oh man, getting the first job is the HARDEST part! Can’t help you there! But find the first job and the rest will follow!”
That is such a terrible answer. Imagine if it were someone else being told that. That doesn’t motivate me to grow but demotivates me! There was no road map! So i created a network of managers, hiring managers and developers. I leveraged this network to start getting people jobs. I realized in tech we have a lot of introverts. So i said I will be the extrovert for the introvert! I will be their megaphone! I will do everything in my power to try and introduce them to people to try and get them in front of decision makers!
So i used the meetups as a tool to get them comfortable, to give them resources to help get them better, to bring speakers to expand their knowledge but an environment where they can talk to recruiters and managers if they want! We give a relaxing area to try and help fight off burnout and you are getting to meet a ton of local developers and make new friends that are like minded!
I want to help bring positive change to this amazing city. I am always willing to help a developer.
Reach out to me on twitter @DThompsonDev if you need some motivation or inspiration. I am always here trying to help people.