After this site went top of Hacker News I received an email from Ahmad Rusdi saying that he was a 21 year old self-taught web developer working at JPMorgan Chase who had dropped out of high school. After doing a background check (this seemed a story too good to be true!) I had a chat with Ahmad about his extraordinary story. Here he talks dropping out of high school, learning code and getting a great developer job at 21.
Thanks a lot for the interview! Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure, for starters, I am a 21 year old software engineer currently working at JPMorgan Chase & Co. I am a little over a year into my professional programming career, but I've been programming on my own a bit longer than that. I first started off with web development and slowly transitioned to my current role, which is pretty much full stack development.
So you told me over email that you got a 1.4 GPA in high school and dropped out of community college (for Computer Science, no less!) Can you tell us how you picked yourself up and learned to code?
It's a true story! I'll admit, I wasn't a huge fan of school. I spent most of my time staying up all night playing Counter-Strike so it was a bit inconvenient to be waking up so early. It wasn't until after high school that I truly started to learn to program. I remember spending all of my summer days and nights writing code. By the time I enrolled into community college, I was already programming every day. Eventually, I found out that the less time I spent in class or on unrelated coursework, the more time I could spend on programming. So using that logic... I dropped out.
I believe you attended a bootcamp. Which one was it and how did it help you learn programming?
After dropping out, I spent the next few months self-teaching through online courses and books. I was exploring new ways to supplement my learning when I came across a local bootcamp called Zip Code Wilmington. One of the cool things about this bootcamp was that they offered a scholarship to essentially get a full-ride in. After finding out that I qualified for a scholarship, I thought "Why not?". In the end, it was a great experience and I met some very talented folks that I learned a lot from.
You must be really proud of how far you've come! Do you have any advice for other people who have dropped out of high school?
Honestly, I don't find myself thinking about past events that much. Looking back, I'd like to think I've made some solid growth, but there is still a long road ahead - that's what excites me the most. I think the best choice for those thinking to drop out, is *don't*. But for those who already have, then it's best to take advantage of the extra time (that you now have) and continue to learn new things every day.
What advice do you have for someone who does not have a CS degree and wants to get their first job?
Apart from learning CS fundamentals and practising programming, it's also just as important to reach out and network. I know it sounds cliché, but what I really mean is to put yourself out there and don't be afraid to talk to people. It's easy to get lost in your own bubble and seeing what others are doing around you will help keep you on track.
What was the interview process like for your current position?
At the time, I was having a ton of interviews happening all at once. I would say most of them had a fairly standard interview process. Just the typical behavioral/technical questions over the span of a few rounds. However, the interview that landed me in my current position was a bit different. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what made it distinct from the rest. I just *had* to be on this team. I got a phone call a few days later from the recruiter asking me if I would like to accept their offer - the choice was obvious.
Can you tell us about your ambitions for the future?
I'd like to keep learning more - as much as I can. That's probably why I like writing software so much, technology just keeps evolving day by day which always brings something new to learn.