08 . 31 . 15

From Personal Trainer to Web Developer in 6 Months

Daniel Botta

1:46 PM

There are so many resources today that offer ways to learn various different programming skills. There are thousands of books all focused on different programming skills and languages. There is a large community of developers and programming all very generous to give a hand and help you troubleshoot through your problems. Finally, there are many online resources that offer to teach your how to code. All you have to do is go to a search engine and type “learn to code” in the search bar. So what’s that catch? Is it really that easy to become a developer in the span of 6 months, a year, etc… I’am here to tell you first hand, that it is “not easy” but VERY possible.

My Story

My name is Daniel Botta and I am a web developer. About 6 1/2 years ago I originally attending a college called Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Like most people I wasn’t sure what to major in, so I ended up graduating with a degree in Exercise Science. I don’t know if you know much about an Exercise Science degree, but you are pretty limited as far as pay and opportunities without furthering your education in graduate school. I was fortunate enough to work my way up into a management position within a few years but realized, this is not my passion. I had always had an interest in computers, but in all honesty I didn’t even know anything more than the average user. One day, toward the end of the year, I decided to set a new years resolution to spend a few hours a week teaching myself to code.

Sure enough, January 2013 hit and I started spending a few hours a week learning HTML and CSS through a website called Codeacademy. These are not exactly programming languages and there are not really tons of concepts to pick up with them in order to begin implementing them, so I was able to pick them up fairly quickly. The cool thing about this learning though is that I actually enjoyed it and so instead of spending a few hours a week, it turned into more like 10 hours a week. Eventually, i started to get a little burnt out from the Codeacademy teaching style. They have you read some, then do some, then read some more, and then do some more. This was great at first but i have always been much more of a vocal and visual learner. So I did research and came across a website called Treehouse. I fell in love Treehouse. They have a fun and easy to follow teaching style through videos. They also create projects allowing you use follow along in their interactive text-editor called “workspaces”. If you have a similar visual learning style as I do, I definitely recommend that you check them out.Treehouse Logo At this point I had actually began learning a programming language “JavaScript” which aligned with the HTML and CSS that I had been learning. I began learning that I was headed in a front end developer track. The main issue I began running into at this point was that my learning was not very guided. Treehouse did a great job simply outright teaches me new things but I wasn’t exactly sure where to shift my focus next.

Eventually I stumbled upon another website called Udacity. This was another online coding school that teaches you through videos. What really stood out to me was that offered what they called “nanodegree” programs. Basically these were programs that had a curriculum type of learning style.  These programs were estimated to take on average 6-10 months to complete. Udacity LogoWhat was also really cool is that in these programs you would finish with 6 portfolio ready projects that would be graded and critiqued throughout the program. i decided that this program had the guidance that I needed and would be a good next step if this were something I were really going to take seriously. So I began this program and was spending even more time each week learning with my growing interest this new material and working on these projects. I was now about 25+ hours per week which was about as much as I could while working full time. This program ended up being very challenging for me as I was learning material that may have been somewhat over my head at the time. But with the amount of time I was investing, I was able to push through and graduate through the Udacity Frontend Nanodegree within about 2 months. Along with it, I had 6 projects to display in on online portfolio.

So naturally, my next step was to build a portfolio website. I spent about another month building this site as well as using continuing to use Treehouse and another site I came to like Code School. Code School LogoThis site was a lot like Treehouse with the more energetic and fun learning style. Each course has a fun little jingle to go along with it that I always enjoyed at the beginning of each video. i know it’s a little childish but hey… I enjoyed it. Both Treehouse and Code School has become my go to sites again at this point because I now had more direction and began learning more so what i was interested in.

Finally, when I had completed my first portfolio website, I did not entirely feel I was ready for enter a career of web development, but figured “why not?!” and began applying to jobs in the Washington DC area where I reside. To my surprise, I started hearing back from quite a few employers (and a lot of recruiters). After applying for about a week I had about 4-5 phone interviews. A few of those became second (more technical phone interviews), and finally one company took enough interest in me to bring me in for a third in-person interview. I was asked some technical question but really focused on expressing my desire and passion to work in the web development industry. I expressed to them my willingness to learn and as a result, received a job offer a few days later.

This story began in January of 2013 when I was working as a personal trainer/manager of a fitness facility. I began my new job as a Junior Level Web Developer in June of 2013. 6 Months! I honestly would have never thought I could have done this, let alone in 6 months, but this post is to tell you that with a lot of dedication, interest, and hard work “it is possible!”. If you are also working toward the same thing or have a cool story to share, please feel free to reach out to me and share it with me. I would love to hear it and also am happy to help you along the way.

Good Luck!

Learning Resources

There are so many resources that you can use to learn from. A few of my favorites are Treehouse, Code School, and Udacity. I also Recommend the “Head First” Programming books. They are easy to follow along and I enjoy them. If you are first starting out I recommend getting on a guided learning track to first learn basics and than to branch out from there. Open Source libraries like Angular and Node are awesome but you don’t want to start things like that until you have a good base understand of JavaScript, front end development, or whatever your focus may be.

Learn by Doing

In order to really begin to understand programming, it definitely helps to watch videos and read, but it’s amazing how much you can learn from “doing”. I feel that making small side project why you are learning a particular subject can help you retain the information and understand so much better. It will also cause you to troubleshoot and reach out to additional resources to figure out and solve additional problems that the learning resource may not cover.

Build a Portfolio and your Professional Profile

If you are looking to make that jump into your first development job, you don’t exactly have any experience to show, so you need a portfolio to show employers what you are capable of doing. It’s pretty much a give in that if you are aiming to do front end development that this needs to be in the form of a website. It’s also good to be active on GitHub and to store your projects on it. A lot of employers these days like to view your GitHub and like to see that you are working side projects to enhance your skills and experience. Also keep an up to date and active LinkedIn profile just as another source for employers to see you. This may sounds obvious and very generic, but have your resume put together well. When i was applying for my first job, I had zero development experience, so I listed all of the skills that I had learned and at least worked with on my own projects (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, jQuery, Angular, etc..). In most of the interviews, it seems that these were the most talked about and seemed to have caught their attention the most.

Just Apply

Once you have finally learned the basics, started working with them, and feel comfortable with them, just go apply! What can it hurt? Don’t be intimated by all of the skills and years of experience that employers list as a “requirement”. In most cases, this is not even the case. In most cases they are just trying to attract the very best candidate that they can. A lot of the time you will never need to know of use half of the requirement that they have listed on there. Just go apply! It can’t hurt!

If you are interested, you can also check a blog post that Treehouse wrote about me and my story here.

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