5 min read

Get out of debt by learning to code

Get out of debt by learning to code

Anthony O'Neill was a designer working at a small company, occasionally touching code. He became more interested in programming and after doing some online courses he snagged a remote developer job, allowing him to get out of debt, work as a digital nomad and make his own indie hacker projects. Anthony today shared his advice for newbie coders in an exclusive interview.

Hey, so can you introduce yourself?

Hey, I’m Anthony O’Neill. I’m from Newcastle, England and I currently do development for my own website and an app agency remotely. My background before development was illustration, design, and some animation. My current location at the time of writing this is Cleveland, Ohio. However, I spend most of my time in Dublin, Ireland.

How has your life improved since becoming a professional programmer?

It has easily been my best decision in my career for two big reasons. Firstly, it has allowed me to live and work remotely without being tied down to a location, so I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to work from many locations around the world in Europe, Asia, and North America.

Secondly, money. I had spent my entire adult life before working as a developer living month to month, with little money left in my bank account by the end of the month. I had spiralled into payday loan debt and didn’t have any savings. It felt like a vicious cycle. I had been hopping metros, not paying bills, and generally just fucking up big time. After a year of working as a developer I was able to pay off all of my debts - it was a special feeling becoming debt free.

How did you learn coding?

Whilst working as a designer I was exposed to some code challenges mostly relating to HTML & CSS in emails. After two years of those challenges the mystique behind what I thought developers did was starting to fade. I began getting ideas for small apps and tools to help internal processes at that company; and luckily my manager was very encouraging and agreed to buy Treehouse memberships for the design staff.

Over the following 6 months I completed several web development courses on Treehouse. It introduces topics in a really user friendly way, as it assumes little to no prior technical knowledge. It also uses gamification features, like scoring and badges, in an engaging way.

After completing several courses and modules I was starting to look for programming work. Slightly further into that journey I began volunteering as a mentor for CoderDojo and as a teacher for Codeclub. This was very rewarding and challenging and it helped me to improve my understanding and communication skills. I’m reminded of a likely misattributed quote of Einstien’s “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

How did you get your first programming job?

I had built a few simple apps related to improving internal processes when I worked as a designer. Then I began to build other tools, and continued to develop my coding skills and understanding. An old colleague and close friend had just got a remote job as a UX designer for a VC backed “direct democracy” platform who needed someone to build a single page web app.I took part in a video interview with the founder who was a software developer - he bluntly identified some blindspots I had, particularly with terminologies and methodologies.

After the interview I felt a bit silly and out of my depth, however I was offered the job and the founder advised me to read two books: Javascript the Good Parts  and Javascript Design Patterns. The prospect of working remotely as a developer and having higher pay was enticing, so I left my design job and started my developer journey.


Did you have any specific people that inspired you to learn coding?

Two developers who I met when learning to code were Paul Barber and Tobias Haar. They helped me a lot when it came to writing modular and tested code. Just having someone there to talk to about code without the worry of seeming like an imposter was wonderful. Online I found Todd Motto and MPJ’s Fun Fun Function series really useful; it regularly inspired me to learn more.

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?

Businesses are looking for reasons to trust in your ability, so don’t be shy about putting your work out in public view. Create a GitHub account to showcase your projects, then you can sign-post potential employers to it. Another option is to  create a blog and write about your work. For example, I made a few small projects that demonstrated my abilities in building web apps, which came in handy during interviews.

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Can you tell us what an average day as a remote developer looks like for you just now?

My average day involves client work which is a mix of developing a UI kit for react.js apps and Wordpress websites. I’m also working on some SaaS product ideas, but these aren’t live at the time of writing this.

Have you ever had imposter syndrome and if so, how have you dealt with it?

Software development is a very broad field with a fascinating history so you’re never going to know it all. But even with that rationalisation there will be times where you’re worried that you’re about to be “found out”.

I think some developers trigger imposter syndrome in others with bikeshedding about other’s code or tooling etc, so encountering that early in your coding journey can be quite off putting. My advice is to be nice, stay calm, and if it helps with your imposter syndrome then dedicate some time into learning about areas that you feel less sure about. I particularly enjoyed learning about the history of computers so as to build a mental narrative of why we’re here with these tools, but it may make you an insufferable person to people who aren’t interested in this.

Additionally, if you’re feeling “stupid” or out of your depth, reflect on how far you’ve come in the last week, month, or year - this can help you to pinpoint areas where you’ve grown your skillset.

What are your coding dreams for the future?

I want to release products and improve my understanding of machine learning and build a tool with it.

Thanks for the interview!

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