Zain Syed is a full-time web developer based in Toronto who does not have a Computer Science degree. I chatted to him about his tips for beginners, how to get your first work as a freelancer and much, much more!
Hey, thanks a lot for doing the interview! Could you give an introduction for coders who want to know more about you?
My name is Zain Syed, and I’m a Software Architect working for a consultancy based in Toronto, Canada. I have been working for a major telecom for the past 4 years and am, as a side project, in the process of releasing my own SaaS product into the market for beta testing. My day job consists of managing front-end developer activities, writing solutions, and design documents.
By night, I’m one of the main devs working on my Document Production SaaS product - it’s faster, private, and 100% web-based, ahead of all other competitors in the space. My expertise and interests lay in both frontend and backend, from React and Angular to Node.js, Express, mongo DB, and auth0.
Do you have any tips for people that are bored of tutorials and want to improve their skills?
I think practice and experience is the best of teachers. If you’re bored of tutorials, start hacking projects together, read books (of any genre) for inspiration and downtime, and see if you can mentor people. Oftentimes, trying to explain a technology to someone non-technical reveals how well you understand it.
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Can you talk us through the process of getting your first clients as a web developer?
In both aspects, as a freelancer and a full time employee, the primary way of landing clients/employers is by marketing yourself properly. Focus on the core tech that help drive your passion towards learning and growing in the field, shape your resume around those core things and apply for gigs that will help you exercise those things.
If you’re desperate due to lack of experience: cut out some time in your schedule and put together small pieces of code so you get practice; this also serves as portfolio pieces when your potential employer/contract wants to see what you’re capable of. This is a longer way to get where you want to get to, but it’ll be worth it for you for the long haul, as opposed to being stuck at a job that you hate.
What first got you interested in programming?
I owe a lot of my initial curiousity to my older brother, who was working on web development when I was 12 years old (about 18 years ago). I started web designing and dabbling with HTML/CSS at that point, when it was the age of table-based layouts and flash assets. I quickly moved into WordPress theming, which forced me to learn PHP and MySQL to gain full control over heavier customizations.
Did you ever consider doing a degree in Computer Science and if not, why?
By the time I reached adulthood and it was time to pick a university to attend, I had very little faith in my passion of design and web development, and the web as a whole (silly me), to pursue Computer Science in school. As a consequence, I took the plunge into something secondary that I found interesting, Human Resources Management.
I was fortunate enough to keep working on side web projects all along, and so about 2 years into school I was offered my first job as a frontend developer for a small company. I dropped out of school then and haven’t had to look back since.
Can you tell us what a typical day for you looks like just now?
A typical day for me starts with daily stand-ups with the Agile scrum I belong to. It’s followed by meetings on projects, solutioning sessions, and touchpoints with all the frontend engineers of the team. By the end of the working day, I’m ready to resume work on my side project.
Has your lack of Computer Science degree ever been brought up when looking for jobs?
It did in the beginning of my career, but soon gained irrelevance. Knowledge comes from at least two places, academia and experience. Academia can consist of books you bought yourself, and experience can be either working a job or hacking projects together. In either case, you’ll need to show your experience, either through a portfolio on your website, github, or a binder.
Can you tell us about any side projects you have?
The one I’ve mentioned earlier, the document production SaaS product, is something that’s kept me up since December 2018. Basically, it’ll allow document creators to create templates with dynamic fields, which automatically generates a fillable form based on those dynamic fields. The form may be filled by a user or a public-facing client. Once filled, a document is generated which can then be exported as docx, pdf, and shared via email. If you’d like to sign up as a beta tester, please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.