6 min read

From lawyer to developer without a CS degree

From lawyer to developer without a CS degree

Today I share with you an interview with Guillaume Monnet, a self-taught developer who changed career from law to web development. I hope you enjoy his story. Read on for advice about learning to code and interview tips for that crucial first job.

Hey, so can you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Guillaume, a full-stack developer living in Luxembourg. I currently work in the banking industry after switching careers in 2015. Previously I was a legal advisor specialized in intellectual property law with 6 years of experience.

How did you learn to code?

My passion for coding goes back to high school, where I started programming in C++. I had the crazy idea of creating a highly realistic 3D video game! Long story short, it didn’t work. I had no clue how to create an actual game. But I learned a lot about programming, solving problems, digging into documentation, etc. And I loved it! After this first experience, I never stopped programming during my free time. I started working on basic websites, flash animations, WordPress websites.

After high school, I tried to enter engineering schools to learn computer science. At this time, circa 2002, you had to be good at mathematics to be accepted. It was not the case for me, and I got rejected everywhere. So, I enrolled in the math and computer science curriculum at the university.

In France, university is very cheap, and there is no entrance exam. I thought that being good in coding classes would somehow compensate for all the rest. But what I found out early is that the first year was only mathematics classes, with only one OCaml course. So I struggled there for one year. After that, I decided to study law like most of my family.

I already did some internships in my family law practice, so it was not a strange choice. I enjoyed it and ended up being very good at it. I got my master’s degree in intellectual property law in 2008 and worked for six years as a legal advisor. I advised clients, negotiated contracts, and even did some lobbying (on the light side!) in various companies like Yahoo! Or PricewaterhouseCoopers.

During these 11 years of studying and practicing law, I never stopped coding on bigger and bigger side projects. The last one before switching careers was a failed attempt at creating an Instagram dedicated to pets pictures. I worked on it for two years and did everything by myself, from designing icons to developing mobile apps. I learned a lot, and we even went on regional TV and newspapers. It was a fun time, even if the app never took off. But most of all, I had something big to showcase.

Ultimately, coding was taking most of my free time, evening, nights, and weekends. In 2015, I decided to switch careers. It was a tough decision. You have to put aside your painful years of studies, your work experience and start over. Going back to school wasn't an option, having a family to support. But my side projects helped a lot, and I was able to showcase them and land a good first job.

I can also say that my background helped me be a better developer. Before becoming a legal advisor, I was mostly an introvert. Having to negotiate and explain legalese developed my communication skills and self-confidence. Today, I think I am a decent developer with good soft skills. So, I did not lose everything during the conversion!

Why did you learn to code?

I started tinkering with code at a young age, and I loved it. Being able to write code and immediately see a result was really rewarding. Even in my early days when I was completely lost!

I also learned everything by doing, so it didn’t feel like learning most of the time. During my career switch, I started taking some online courses and dug deeper into some topics. Design patterns, for example. I had to fill the gap of my missing computer science education. I also wanted to be a full-fledged developer and not be missing critical skills. That’s why I also read some books about technical management. Not because I wanted or even could be a manager at this time. But to better understand the industry I would be evolving in.

How did you learn coding?

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