How this Michigan developer taught himself to code with no degree

How this Michigan developer taught himself to code with no degree

Donovan Brown is a self-taught developer from Michigan. He doesn't have a Computer Science degree but that hasn't stopped him and he even finds time to mentor people that are under-represented in tech. I had a chat with him about his favourite Udemy courses, tips for newbie coders, quitting distractions like Netflix and getting hired as a programmer.

Hey, thanks a lot for doing the interview! Could you give an introduction for coders who want to know more about you?

Hi, I’m Donovan Brown, I am a CompTIA A+ Certified Computer Support Technician turned Self-Taught Developer from Michigan with about five years of developer experience. I am also a Technical Instructor and mentor who volunteers at various training programs and coding groups in my area to teach others how to code from kids, adults, and the underrepresented. My stack is full-stack JavaScript: mostly the MEAN stack with a touch of Mobile Development experience.  

What first got you interested in programming?

Years ago, I saw this very inspiring video on YouTube called “What Most Schools don’t teach.” That video goes over the importance of coding and development and the endless demand for developers in the workforce and how you don’t need to be a genius to code or be good at math (I suck at Math).

You just need the skills to break down problems and learn how to research effectively online or in a book to solve that problem. That video inspired me to switch careers into programming and web development, plus, I was starting to get fatigue from doing help desk so that also helped motivated me.  

How did you learn to code?

I mostly used online courses and the ones that really helped me were Udemy, YouTube, and CodeCademy. I did a bit of but favored Udemy a bit more at that time.

Udemy: I used courses from instructors such as Rob Percival (The Complete Web Developer Course), Traversy Media (Angular Front To Back and Bootstrap Front to Back) Edwin Dias (PHP for Beginners and PHP OOP), and The Net Ninja (Modern JavaScript).

YouTube type courses: it was mostly Traversy Media’s Introduction series in JavaScript and Sass lessons.

CodeCademy: I did their HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP interactive courses.  

A combination of these online course help me gain a great understanding of Front-End Web Development and a bit of a backend from a LAMP stack approach.

Did you ever consider doing a degree in Computer Science and if not, why?

No, it’s the cost basically. In this day and age, online learning costs much less than going the route of an expensive degree.

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Can you talk us through the process of getting your first job as a web developer?

I landed my first dev job through LinkedIn. I had a pretty good profile as a developer looking to get his foot in the door and I had a couple of web development projects I developed on my own while working full-time as a Computer Support Technician.

I would add and improve my LinkedIn profile by doing projects and volunteer teaching web development on my downtime to make up for the lack of developer experience I had at that time.

Eventually, a Technical Recruiter sought me out through my LinkedIn profile and we exchanged messages and phone calls. After an onsite interview, I landed my first role through as a JavaScript/Analytical Developer for a local Digital Agency near my hometown.

How would you encourage someone who thinks coding is too hard?

Speaking only from the self-taught route of learning to code, yes, the first few something times of coding for the first time can be hard. There are ways around this. Working on your coding craft daily whether it’s 30 minutes, an hour, or more, is helpful. It will be even harder if you are not disciplined by sticking to the routine.

You may have to make some sacrifices maybe more time spent on learning code and less time spent on watching Netflix, playing video games and hanging out with friends, etc. As hard as that may be for you, if you are willing to put in the work and make the necessary sacrifices, there is a very sweet reward waiting for you down the road.

Whenever you have finally achieved that sweet reward, maybe you can sit back to reflect on how much you have gained learning to code versus just starting off as a newbie coder. I’ve learned these lessons the hard way which took me longer to realize, understand, and commit to.    

Has your lack of Computer Science degree ever been brought up when looking for jobs?

Not really, my experience and interpersonal skills helped me. In interviews I have been asked questions about the projects I worked, the tools I used or I have answered technical interview questions on the phone or in person. You might be put in a position where you have to code in front of the interviewer. Coding in front of people can be nerve racking but the more you do those types of interviews, the easier it gets.

I personally like take home assignments where the interviewers give you a coding challenge to code a project using any tools or online resources needed to complete it. You turn it in and they review your code and based on the results they may move you forward in the interview process.  


Do you have any tips for people that are looking for their first job in web development?

Apply to as many jobs that you feel qualified. Sign up for LinkedIn and fill out as much information as you can for your profile and try and cater it towards web development. Even if you don’t have any web development experience, you can add classes or courses you are taking online or offline.

Adding your personal web development projects on LinkedIn is valuable. Whenever you are done setting up your profile, put in your profile header “Seeking new opportunities”. Technical Recruiters, whose job it is to find developers for companies, can seek out your LinkedIn profile and try and help to set you up for an interview with a company.  

In most cases, you really don’t have to meet every requirement listed on the job posting. In the job hunting process, be prepared to face rejections and/or no call backs. Just keep applying for jobs and going to interviews and don’t stop until a company officially makes you an offer.        

About the author
Pete Codes

Pete Codes

Hey, I'm Pete and the creator of this site. I am a self-taught web developer and I'm based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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