Wes Bos talks how he learned to code
Did you ever think you would be teaching when you started programming?
So no, I did not think I would ever be teaching. I sort of just fell into it when somebody asked me to lead a workshop on a weekend and I just liked it. People said "the way you explain things is so fun! I love the way you explain things!" So I was like, maybe there's a space for someone who can just explain things like a normal human being instead of the boring stuff that I had learned in school.
What were your original aims with programming?
My original aim with programming was to just build websites and build cool stuff on the Internet. I really liked the idea of working for myself so it was a pretty good option for myself and I've always just loved technology.
When did you write your first line of code and how did you learn programming?
I have been making websites since I was in Grade 6 and then in university I had been doing that all the way through. I was on MySpace for a long time. So I basically started to learn to code very, very, early but I got serious about it when I hit university because I was actually making money and I was doing sort of the freelance type of thing.
Then I learned that I didn't necessarily like the whole business culture of consulting which lots of people in my program went into. That's not a really good life. Consulting pays well but it's not something that was really attractive to me. So I thought that I would sort of just go full tilt into learning web development and I've been loving it.
Can you tell us about your first experiences programming during your early contracting time with startups and how you improved your skills?
Yeah. So basically I went to these Tweet Ups or meet ups from Twitter. And I met up with a lot of like early-on people like Satish and Vern who had this company called Jet Cooper. They got bought up by Shopify and now they are major players at Shopify.
Basically I would just take on these projects and learn as I went and I would have great feedback from the people who I worked with. They tell me like "hey, maybe do this" because I was also working for agencies who knew that I was like sort of young and new in this. So they would give me really good feedback and basically I just hit hard problems, tried to figure out how to solve them and then also I reached out to friends and what not that were good at this type of thing and could help me through any sort of bumps that I had.
What were the steps you took to gain clients and grow his business?”
So the big ones for me were basically just meeting as many people as possible as I could. So I would go up to any meetup that was happening in the city. I would go and meet everybody and then I would also just like ask people "Hey! I'm a freelancer. Do you need any work ?"
And once you do that two or three times and someone has a really dependable solid person to refer to then your name starts spreading like wildfire. Even now it's so hard to find someone who is good at what they do but also dependable, who will pick up the phone and has good communication skills and things like that. So honestly, if you're good at both of those things, the people skills as well as the development skills, you're gonna do just fine.
Someone on Twitter asked "When did you realize you could teach?"
Six hours into my first workshop. Maybe that's not entirely true because I had been writing blog posts before then. I had liked it but like none of those blog posts really were a runaway hit. They all just kind of had a few readers and people were interested in them. But it was after I did a couple workshops and I felt great after them. And people liked them so that was it really. It was probably seven or eight years ago when I did my first workshop.
You see a lot of people kind of dive in too deep, too quickly. And I did that myself. I dived right into jQuery when I started trying to build things . The correct answer is you should learn the fundamentals first but in reality a lot of people are not doing that. So I don't know if that's necessarily wrong but it's definitely the hard mode, haha, diving straight into React, not really knowing the syntax and all of the API and all of the gotchas that you have.
Have you ever had imposter syndrome as somebody without a CS degree?
Yeah, I interviewed at Google maybe seven or eight years ago and I was just diving into tree sorting and all of these computer science terms that I thought I had to know and the reality is that the Google interview had none of those things.
Man, I can't even remember all of them but the success stories that I love the most are people who get a $30,000 raise or who switch from one career to a totally different career and those are the best because that's actually affecting somebody's life, that actually has a real tangible effect on their family and possibly their health and like all kinds of stuff like that.
How do you advise people not to burnout when learning to code and have a programming job?
It's a good question because you want to go like the whole hog and then learn as much as you possibly can and at a certain point in someone's life I think that's totally fine. I've been there and I remember just looking at my phone and trying to read forum posts just like on the subway just because like I'm a sponge right now, I'm so excited about learning this stuff. I'll spend every single waking moment of my life learning this thing and I think that's totally fine.
But I think there are other points in your life where you have other interests and doing this too much can lead to burnout. So just sort of be aware of that feeling of "this is not making me excited about it anymore." That's probably the time when you need to take a break and making sure that you're not neglecting family, health or other things that are in your life. It is just having a good balance and also I think just having what I call JOMO. I didn't invent that but it's the joy of missing out.
So knowing that when something is changing and something is new in our industry or there's something that you don't know, it's being okay with that and just being like "Whatever, I can learn that later, you know." Don't sweat it so much because that FOMO is what will lead to burnout. It's what's gonna really eat away at you.
(Wes has since released the course he describes below)
What I'm going to do is show you how to read the docs, the things that are important and hard concepts like closures and design patterns. And then we will build tons of little examples that will hopefully get you in a spot where you start to feel really comfortable with the base language and then that will reflect into whatever framework you decide to build with.
I have some updates on my React courses coming up and I really want to do a Gatsby course as well because I'm pretty stoked on that. Thanks so much for the interview.
Thanks again, Wes!
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Some of the past No CS Degree interviewees who have taken his courses include Tae'lur Alexis, Anne-Laure Le Cunff, Harry Dry and Sander Visser.