Dan Comand is a Canadian self-taught web developer who made the switch from working in sales and marketing to coding after attending a bootcamp. Dan has also launched the VoiceJobs website due to the rise in popularity of tools like Alexa. Here Dan gives tips to developers without Computer Science degrees on how to get a job in web development.
Hey, thanks a lot for doing the interview! Could you give an introduction for coders who want to know more about you?
I’m Dan Comand, a software developer based in Toronto, Canada. I work primarily with Ruby on Rails, and for the last couple of years I’ve been very interested in voice platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Home. I’m the founder of VoiceJobs, a job site dedicated to jobs in the voice industry. We feature jobs for voice developers, voice user experience and conversational designers. I also have a software development agency called Plan A, where I build web and voice products for clients across different industries.
What first got you interested in programming?
Ever since I was a kid I was interested in computers and technology. A lot of my time as a kid was spent playing PC games, downloading random stuff from the Internet, and looking up the source code on my favorite websites to see how they worked. As I got into my early twenties, I became very interested in tech startups and the technology industry. I worked a few jobs at tech companies, mostly in sales and marketing roles.
I realized while working at those companies that I was much more interested in the programming side of things, and not the sales and marketing work. I realized that I wanted to build my own tech products, and that not knowing how to code was a barrier to that. So when I was 25, I decided to change my career path and join a coding bootcamp in Toronto.
Can you tell me about your experience at the bootcamp?
In my opinion, having a community of like-minded people around is really important to learning anything, especially programming. Learning in a collaborative environment and being able to ask questions face-to-face with the instructors offers something you can’t really find when learning with online tutorials. Don’t get me wrong, I think learning to code with online tutorials works for a lot of people and is a great place to start, but I don’t think it can be compared to my experience at Bitmaker Labs.
Did you ever consider doing a degree in Computer Science and if not, why?
I thought about going back to school to get a Computer Science degree in my mid-twenties, after I had already finished getting a degree in a totally unrelated field. I did research on universities and the programs they offered, and I even began the preparations to apply to Computer Science programs.
While getting my applications ready, I realized I didn’t want to make the time commitment or the financial commitment of getting another Undergraduate degree. A four year degree was way too time consuming, and obviously very expensive, so I started looking at other options. I did some research on the different coding school here in Toronto, and ultimately settled on Bitmaker Labs.
Can you talk us through the process of getting your first job as a web developer?
At the end of the web development course, Bitmaker Labs set up an interview day and meet and greet with a bunch of different tech companies in Toronto. This was really helpful for me because it got me infront of companies that are hiring developers and gave me a sense of what I could expect from the interview process. I also started applying to Junior Developer jobs as soon as I finished the course and went on a few interviews.
I ended up finding a developer job at a real estate technology company in Toronto and spent about a year there before leaving that job to work for myself as a full-time developer. The process of getting my first developer job seemed like it took a long time, but it only took a couple weeks before I was employed full-time as a developer.
My advice to anyone looking for their first developer job is to keep learning and practicing everyday, go to events in your city, and keep building products that you can show to potential employers.
Has your lack of Computer Science degree ever been brought up when looking for jobs?
My lack of a Computer Science degree has never really come up when I was looking for a job. Even if a job description says a degree in Computer Science is required, I tend to apply anyway most of the time. I’ve often found that employers are much more interested in what you can show them rather than if you went to university for computer science.
That’s why I encourage programmers to have projects you can show companies when you’re in the middle of the interview process. If you can prove to companies that you have the skills for the job, your lack of Computer Science degree becomes much less important.
Can you tell us what a typical day for you looks like just now?
A typical day for me involves checking on my client projects first thing in the morning and getting started on any client work that needs to be done soon. Depending on how much client work I have, I might spend all day on client projects, but if not, I usually make time for my side projects in the afternoon.
I’ll work on the latest features for VoiceJobs and put that week’s newsletter together and make sure it’s ready to be sent out. I also make time to explore programming topics that I’m interested in, so I’ll make sure to spend some time working with APIs I think are cool. Amazon and Google offer great APIs for things like text-to-speech, computer vision, and machine learning, so in the afternoons I’m usually reading the documentation for those APIs and building small Ruby apps to try them out. At the end of most days, I’m preparing what needs to be done tomorrow for my clients and making sure I can wake up and get started quickly and without distraction.
Do you have any tips for people that are looking for their first job in web development?
My advice for people who are looking for their first job in web development is to keep learning and keep building. In terms of keep learning, I always try to be learning about something new, whether it’s a new language, framework, or platform. Always be on the lookout for new APIs and the interesting products you can build with them.
If you’re always learning something new about programming, you’ll get better faster and you’ll want to learn more and more. Another piece of advice for people looking for their first job is to keep building. Always be building a side project that can showcase your coding skills to potential employers. The great thing about programming is that you get to show off your skills instead of just talking about them, so make sure you have a few projects you can show to companies when looking for your first job in web development.
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What’s the most fun thing about your career switch to coding?
The most fun thing about learning to code is that you can build just about anything that comes to your mind. If you come up with a cool idea for an app or product, you can start building it in a matter of minutes. It’s incredibly encouraging and rewarding to be able to get a prototype of an idea you had up and running so quickly. Also, learning coding allowed me to work for myself as a freelance software developer, which has always been a dream of mine. Being able to be self-employed lets me have the freedom of working when, where, and how I want, which usually isn’t really possible when working for a company.
Can you tell us about any side projects you have?
Definitely, I have a few side projects on the go. First, I have VoiceJobs, a job board featuring positions for voice developers, conversation designers, etc. It’s updated every day with new jobs, and I’ll be launching a blog soon. I’m also working an a text-to-speech platform called Polly (it’s still a work in progress, but you can check out the landing page here). Polly lets anyone convert text-to-speech that sounds human and lifelike. You can then download the piece of audio content, or embed an audio player in your website with a code snippet that Polly provides. You can also check out some of my client work on my website for my software development agency, Plan A. I have a few other side projects as well, but it’s a little early in the process to share them.