Becoming a web developer at 34 without a degree during Covid
Mark Tiddy managed to make a career change during the Covid crisis and become a web developer without a CS degree. Read on for his tips on learning to code, aceing a tech interview, and getting hired as a developer.
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
When I’m not writing code I’m a huge music fan and write/record/produce my own music as well as going to plenty of gigs and also run a YouTube channel reviewing tech.
Why did you learn to code?
Whilst I’d learnt a little bit of coding and web development when I was in Sixth Form I ended up in a career in youth work but always had a passion for tech. This led to having an idea for a Youth Work app to help youth workers and mentors have great conversations with young people so I picked up a Udemy course on iOS development and learnt enough to create app (and a couple of others).
During this process I found that I really enjoyed coding and found myself wanting to spend more and more time doing it which led to exploring how I could make a career change and do it full time!
How has your life changed since learning to code?
For me the biggest change has been going from a job that involved some evenings and weekends and working fairly unpredictable hours (often travelling across the county) to working a 9 to 5(ish) for the first time in my life.
In terms of pay, I was quite high-up in my previous career so I took a pay drop to start web developing but as I continue to learn and grow I’m confident I can make this back up again in the future! However, for me, whilst pay is important to do all the boring things like paying the mortgage, bills etc. doing a job I love and being part of a brilliant team is more important and I find myself looking forward to work every day.
What does a typical day as a web developer look like for you?
A lot of the time we use WordPress because we need to create websites clients can easily update and manage and whilst WordPress gets a lot of hate it’s actually both fun and challenging to develop with. We do a lot of customisation depending on the client which means writing PHP to tap into WordPress’ hooks and functions and even build bespoke plugins. The thing I love about this is that there’s always a chance to learn something new.
I’m also currently being given the chance to learn Magento 2 which is really challenging as it’s quite niche and so there’s not a huge amount of resources out there for learning it but again, I’m loving the challenge!
How did you learn coding?
My journey into code is a bit all over the place! When I was 17 I did quite a lot of computer related courses (hardware & software) at school and was first introduced to PHP and basic web development back then (remember Geocities?) however the programming side just confused me and put me off.
Fast forward 10 or so years to when I started the London App Brewery’s complete iOS development course on Udemy I found that it was explained really clearly with engaging videos and fun projects and this time round coding was something I really enjoyed learning (whilst still being challenging).
From then I worked through some of the freeCodeCamp curriculum and by that point had decided I wanted to try and code as a career which meant (after a lot of research) I signed up to the CareerFoundry Full Stack Web Development remote bootcamp back in October 2019.
For me, this course was ideal as I could do it at my own pace alongside a full-time job but it also had tutors and mentors to look through my code and provide support as I tried to make a career change. I also found having a career mentor and career course at the end incredibly helpful and really valued the support of a career mentor during the process of applying for jobs and having interviews.
What was the interview process like for your web developer job?
During the process of applying for jobs in tech I applied for a lot of jobs, got ignored completely by some, sent generic rejections by others and had a few interviews. Due to the pandemic they were all done via Zoom and all included an informal conversation, a take-home coding challenge and a more formal interview.
None of them ever specifically asked for a portfolio but I made sure it was linked on my CV and changed the projects I highlighted on my CV depending on what the job was looking for. I was lucky enough to have been able to have done some freelance work so I had some client-based work I could showcase as well as hobby projects.
The actual coding tasks focused on the frontend because of the sort of jobs I was applying for but also included things like going over collections of data and (for the job I eventually got) something around PHP classes. When I was rejected for jobs I made sure that I asked for feedback so I could keep learning and keep improving.
The other key thing I was asked a lot was about real-world experience and so I was able to share experience from my career in youth work but also the freelance work I’d done.
Finally, a quick shout-out to Emma Bostian whose book ‘Decoding the Technical Interview Process’ was really helpful in knowing what to expect for interviews and challenges.
Do you have tips for people who want to learn to code without doing a degree?
I think my main tip is to just give it a go. You don’t need a degree or an expensive bootcamp to learn to code, there’s tons of great free stuff on YouTube (Traversy Media and The Net Ninja are still my starting point when learning something new), freeCodeCamp is brilliant and there’s some really good courses on Udemy which can be picked up for less than £15 when they have a sale (which is 95% of the time!) I personally ended up going down the bootcamp route because I wanted the structure, the mentors/tutors and also career-change support and felt that having that personal support was worth paying for.
My second tip is to try and gain some real-world experience. I found lots of potential employers wanted to know about building projects for other people and not just hobby-projects. If you can build a website or app for people you know (whether it’s paid or not) that’s great experience of building for others and often gives you a chance to learn new things because they might want specific features you’ve never done before.
What are your career goals for the future?
I’m quite a driven person and so whilst my main focus at the moment is continuing to give my all to my web developer post in the long-term I want to keep advancing and keep learning.
One of the things I love about coding is that ‘every day’s a school day’ and there’s always opportunities to learn new things both on-the-job and in my spare time. This means at work (and in some spare time) I’m learning Magento 2 (e-commerce) and that I’m also learning more about Nextjs in my spare time as well.
Follow me on Twitter where I post about coding and music. I also make tech reviews on YouTube and even made a more in-depth review of the CareerFoundry bootcamp.