This digital nomad talks learning to code without a degree
I met Bryce Meyer recently in a cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was programming on his laptop and we got talking about his self-taught background. Bryce is a developer who can work from anywhere and is headed to Georgia (the country) and Spain this month alone. I chatted to him about how he got into programming without a CS degree.
Hey, it’s great to have you on board for an interview. Could you give an introduction for developers who want to know more about you?
Sure! My name is Bryce Meyer. I am from a city called Milwaukee in the US. At the moment I run a little development contracting company called Pomelo Productions, which I have been running for about four to five years. Currently I am permanently located just outside of Barcelona, but I have been travelling around the world for the last three years. In the last three years the longest time I have been in a single area was about six months in Changsha, China.
Can you tell us what your current job involves?
Currently I host about 10 web services for various people. I spend about an hour a month running maintenance on those services, and then when I have a client that wants to make some changes to their app they then contract me to do those changes.
In total, I spend about about 15-20 hours working on client work a week, and I occupy the rest of my time working on my own projects. I enjoy doing the client projects, but the real goal is to be able to work on my own projects. These projects include writing a book, create an educational platform, and creating algorithms to analyze both economic and language development.
Can you talk about how you work while travelling?
Well I have been in about 15 countries in the last couple years, and it always varies based on country. In places where there is a technological culture it is very easy, but in rural areas it is basically impossible to find a nice place to work. I spent a few weeks in Serbia, which is a society with a stong importance placed on education. Every single corner had a cafe filled with people coding, and it was very easy to find a place to work.
We also spent a couple of months in a beach town in Dominican Republic where the only internet access was with a phone hotspot. There we basically only had the ability to work at the house, and even then the whole telephone network would go out at least once a week.
It can be a bit stressful, especially when you are trying to download a large file, or if you are running server maintenance. In those situations you get very good at rationing your internet usage. China was also very similar, because you didn’t know on a day to day basis whether or not the government would simply turn off the network for a bit, or ban another site that you relied on.
How did you first get interested in programming?
I actually started getting interested in it pretty young. When I was a kid I really wanted to make video games, which led me into messing around with Unreal Engine back in the early 2000s. I never really made progress with it, since I could not wrap my head around 3D lighting at the time. After that I kept messing around with the concepts of game design on and off until smartphones started coming around.
Android really started to become popular around 2010, which happened to coincide with my second year at a small community college where I was taking an introduction to Java class. At that point I started taking the code of an open source breakout clone, and porting it to Android. This lead to me spending about 15 hours a day coding, my grades tanked, and I then decided to drop out in order to take care of all of the freelance contracts I was starting to get.
How did you learn to code?
I simply searched google every time I came to something I could not figure out. At the time Stackoverflow was already pretty popular, so I would often end up on that site. Resources like bootcamps and Udemy did not exist at the time, so it ended up being a lot of careful google searches.
Did you ever consider doing a degree in Computer Science and if not, why?
Yep! I wanted to go to Washington state in order to go to a game development school with the goal of making games. I realized one day that I had already achieved that goal with a lot of the projects I was working on, and I decided that it wasn’t worth going to school when I was already doing what I wanted to do.
What is the most fun thing for you about programming?
Being able to simply create whatever I want without having to rely on someone else to do it first.
Can you talk us through the process of getting your first job as a web developer?
Well, I originally started working on small projects on Freelancer. That site was really great for me to simply get something that I could put on a portfolio, and after that I started going through Craigslist to find some entry level jobs. At the time Android development was basically brand new, so there were not too many people with a ton of experience with it. Having quite a few applications that I built on my Nexus One also helped in the interview to show that I could do what I was saying I could do.
How would you encourage someone who wants to change career into web development?
I think that it is important to simply show to someone how much is possible in development as a whole. A lot of people have ideas on projects that they may want to create, and most people simply do not realize how much they can create if they learn how to code.
Has your lack of Computer Science degree ever been brought up when looking for jobs?
Not really. When I was first looking for a full time job nearly a decade ago I remember being asked about school history, but I don’t think anyone has asked me about that for at least 7 years.
Do you have any tips for people that are looking for their first job in web development?
I would just say that they should look in the less common places. People that are looking for entry level positions are probably not going through agencies, so online job postings are definitely a good source.
Can you tell us about any projects you make and plans for the future?
Well, the biggest thing that I am currently excited about is going to either Nigeria, Rwanda, or Namibia to teach software development skills. I spoke with a foundation in London yesterday, and they were very interested in the project. It looks like I may be able to get help with funding the project, and spend a good deal of time working with people to help them gain the skills needed to code self sufficiently.