Xoel is a self-taught software developer. In this interview he gives advice on getting an entry level software engineer job remotely.
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
Hey, glad to be here! I’m Xoel López, a 26-year-old dev from Galicia, a region in northwest Spain. I’m living in my hometown now, and I’ve lived in places like Canada or Brazil in the past. I started working as a Data Scientist about 2 years ago at Zara.
After a few months, I started working remotely for Narrativa, a Natural Language Generation startup. I worked for them for almost 1.5 years, until COVID-19 came and they had to cut costs. Since them, I’ve focused on growing NoiceJobs.com, a side project which is having great traction.
I studied Aerospace Engineering in college. I started realizing that coding was gonna be much more likely to give me the life I wanted than planes. The aerospace industry is the opposite of bootstrapped businesses. It is hierarchical, there are big regulations, small margins, lots of competition. I’d say it’s not the kind of industry where you can “make a startup in your garage” and succeed.
Reading Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week and people like Pieter Levels was very inspiring. It opened my eyes to a world where you could live a free, fulfilling life by building software. I would be in a different place if I hadn’t had all those good influences in my life.
How did you get your first job as a self-taught software engineer?
After graduating from college I took a 3-month trip to SE Asia. I was mostly surfing and making a small side project that ended up failing as a business idea. It taught me my first lessons in web development. There, I met Dani, a Spanish software engineer who had worked in Silicon Valley and was working remotely. I didn’t know very well what to do with my life, but he got me an interview through a friend of his with a startup from Lisbon. I did well in the interview and I got an offer, but I definitely wasn’t ready to say yes or no within a week.
Around that time, I also went to NOS Day, a startup conference full of good people. I heard that Zara was looking for Data people and I applied. I also got an offer and said yes. I didn’t have a portfolio, internships or any relevant experience. I have to say that I’ll be forever grateful to the people that saw something in me and gave me an opportunity!
What advice do you have for getting an entry level software engineer job?
I’d suggest to work on something they feel curious about. You’ll only get good at something if you’re interested enough. So that you can keep motivated to work on it and learn more. No one wants to work with you if you’re not excited about what you do. and I think that if you care about something it’s more likely that you’ll be excited about it.
If your problem is money, software is probably the best field in the world to be a beginner. You can get a world-class education pretty much for free. Just go to YouTube and watch Wes Bos videos; go to FreeCodeCamp and take their great free courses.
Even Harvard, MIT and some of the best universities in the world have uploaded a lot of their courses for free! The knowledge out there is almost unlimited. The biggest challenge is being able to tell what’s good and bad and not getting distracted. If you’re able to put in 3-4 focused hours every day long enough, you’ll eventually succeed, whatever it means to you.
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What does a typical day as a software engineer look like for you?
It varies a lot! When I launched the product I’m working on now (NoiceJobs.com), it was far from being ready. So in its early days, I spent most of my time coding and fixing all the bugs and problems I’d see. There are still things I like to improve and features I’d like to build. Projects I built in the past failed because I’d spend time building features and no time at all talking to customers or doing marketing or sales.
Thinking about it now I see that as some form of procrastination. We developers love the idea that “if you build it, they will come”. It almost never happens that way. I’ve been forcing myself lately to do things I normally don’t feel as comfortable doing, like marketing. Also, as a solo founder, I have no other option. It’s either I do those things that I may not like so much but are important, or whatever I build will fail.
There are days and periods when I’m super productive and others when I’m not productive at all. Sometimes the ideas of “not having a fixed schedule”, “not having to wake up to an alarm” sound sexy. But I do think that having some sort of a schedule helps a lot - and I’m still working on this. I’m also trying to do better is separating work-time from no-work-time better. In the past, it would be common for me to be working on weekends. It’s easy to do it if you feel you’re not tired. If you keep doing it, in the long run, you’ll burn out. It’s hard to recover from that and keep the motivation as high as it was before.
How did you learn coding?
Courses are good when you start at zero because they guide you through some best-practices. That initial hand-holding helps you get a feeling of progress. But it’s hard to make a good one--size-fits-all. Nothing will teach you better than figuring out how to solve real-life problems on your own.
Most of the MOOCs I took were from Udacity. I also did the Data Engineering Nanodegree from them when I saw they were giving 1-month trials away. There is some outdated content in it and not everything worked, but I definitely learned some useful stuff.
Fast.ai also taught me a lot in the data science/ML world. I think it’s one of the best resources out there, and completely free. I’m not affiliated at all, but I think Jeremy and Rachel do an amazing job. I hope I can give back to the community as much as they have someday!
Have you ever had imposter syndrome ?
All the time!! And I feel like the more you know, the more aware you are of all the people out there that know much more than you. If you’re in a traffic jam in an 8-lane highway, chances are that at any given time, yours is not the fastest one. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others, and my CS education has a lot of holes. But instead of trying to fix all of them at once, I think it’s better to learn what I need at each time when I need it. Focus on getting a bit better every day.
Paralysis by analysis is also somewhat related to this. I was in the past stuck with different options that all looked good but I didn’t work towards any of them. As someone told me a while ago, it’s like you’re in the middle of a lake and it seems like there’s good things on the shore. You need to start rowing in a direction, and you can always correct the course later.
And I also ask for help a lot. I think that Twitter the ability it brings us to connect with people much smarter than us is amazing. And I’m lucky enough that there are people I admire and respect a lot that always answer my questions when I ask them. So thank you all too if you’re reading this!
Can you tell us about your work as an indie hacker?
Yes! It’s a tool to help people find jobs that works especially well for senior remote roles. It works via email and Telegram, and now there are 50+ Telegram channels. I share senior remote jobs about software engineering, design and marketing.
It started as a simple automation running on Integromat. It would look for Data Scientist jobs on Twitter and email me the results every morning.
I tweeted about it and some people seemed interested. So in a couple days I made an MVP that would let people also get job alerts about other jobs as well. It grew to the point where I wanted to do more complex stuff than what Integromat would let me do. I moved it to a real Python app running on Heroku. With this, I could then get more info about each job, sort the jobs better and delete duplicated ones.
I don’t have a big Twitter audience or any previous email list. I though it was a good idea to focus on distribution and not only on building the product. I created a lot of Telegram channels where I’d post jobs every day. I did some marketing and it went well, growing from 0 subscribers to more than 2000 in one month. Pretty happy about that!
What are your career goals?
Great question! I’d like to be able to make a profitable business out of NoiceJobs or some other projects I start in the future. I want to keep learning, living a happy life, and tinkering with stuff I’m curious about. I’d also like to work with more people in the future. Sometimes I miss being part of a team and think that the “faster alone, further together” saying is quite true. Anyway, I’m excited for the future!