Changing careers can be a daunting task for anyone, but when committing to doing so, remember this: There is a massive community of people out there who have done the very same thing and will be happy to be an amazing resource as you forge ahead on the same path.
Who am I? My name is Adrian. I joined the Foster Made team as a Development Apprentice in April of 2017, and I’d like to share with you my experience of becoming a self-taught developer and discovering this supportive and passionate community that extends far beyond screens, walls, and organizations. Hopefully this might provide encouragement to anyone else who’s considering a change like this, and if not it is at least a story. (And who doesn’t love story?).
So, where do we begin? Web development is big. I mean, like seriously… it’s bloody huge! Have you looked at it? All of it? Probably not. I’d be amazed if someone could tell me they’d looked at “all of web development.” It’s just not possible. There are an overwhelming number of decisions to make when trying to get into the field. Just on the surface there’s the question of what language to choose (well, let’s be honest here, that should be plural), what platform to develop on, front end vs. back end, freelancing vs. small company vs. corporation, and the list goes on and on and on
The overwhelming nature of web development was a challenge I faced right away when I took a solo dive into the workings of the world wide web. At the time, I had been working in restaurants for over a decade, from serving to bartending to cooking to managing. It was a fantastic and fun career but also very demanding of my time, and as my wife and I decided to start a family, I found myself very quickly missing out on that family time. That’s when I decided to make a change. I chose web development because it aligned with my lifestyle and interests. It was a challenge I was excited about.
As I mentioned earlier, the transition wasn’t always easy. Working in restaurants meant there were a lot of late nights and exceptionally long hours. Most work days consisted of 10 or more hours a day, five days a week. I knew deciding to branch out of that meant there would be even longer days as I didn’t have the time to attend college and would have to be self taught.
It was a slow start going through various books to learn about opening and closing php tags, variables, constants, functions and methods, classes, object oriented programming, and so on. Fortunately, I discovered nothing rocketed my learning forward faster than when I began to interact with other people who’d already been through what I was doing. I found myself all over the web talking to people from all walks of life about this amazing technology. I would probably best be able to liken it to being enrolled at an open to all university with lectures and instructors all around me at all times. YouTube became my lecture hall, StackOverflow my forum, and IRC my office hours with the instructors.
During that time period, I learned one thing above all: books will only teach you so much. The best way to learn was to just dig in and try, breaking things left and right until something seemed to come together, and – most importantly of all (and I cannot stress this enough) – reach out to the community for guidance, help, and critique.
After two years of teaching myself and learning from my online community, I was curious if I was ready to officially make the change and start a career in web development. I couldn’t know for sure, as I’d done most of my learning through just writing code and putting things into practice. I also hadn’t really thought to build any sort of portfolio, so I looked for companies that were hiring for junior positions and started handing out my resume.
Time and time again, I was politely declined for the position. But there was one constant that ensured I never walked away from an interview disappointed: every single person I spoke to invited me to stay in touch and use them as a resource to continue my learning.
That online community I’d been using to learn? I’d just found it in the real world around me. It was no different. These people with their own careers and obligations did not hesitate for a second to let me know I was always welcome to reach out to them for guidance, advice, and knowledge.
It was a few months into my job application process that I finally reached out to Foster Made. I’d taken a huge chance with this one as their only job posting at the time was for a mid-level developer. Even though I’d been pouring myself into learning more and more, studying the Laravel framework, beginning to dabble in version control through git and so on, I was quite sure I wouldn’t get the position. But I just had to take the chance and see where I stood at this point in my life.
Fortune, it seems, favors the bold.
I was brought back for a number of interviews at Foster Made, from personal to technical evaluations. I felt like I nailed some aspects and totally bombed on others, but yet again, I walked away knowing my direction and next area of focus.
Then, well I think we know how this part of the story ends (or should I say begins?), I was offered an apprenticeship here at Foster Made, and at last the long haul was over. I was no longer struggling to balance learning the skills for a new career and a sea of technologies while starting a family and working full time at an intensive job. I was finally able to work full time in a physical manifestation of the community I had stumbled upon years ago. And the exact same mentality that I’d found before online – people willing and eager to help one another learn and grow – now surrounded me in a very tangible way on a day to day basis.
In my years learning this trade, one thing has always been true and can not be understated: those with a passion for it will find themselves surrounded by and lifted up on the shoulders of others who have come before, sharing that exact same passion. This is an industry driven by its community, a community that is perhaps just as big as “all of web development,” and that is something no one can afford to look past.
It may seem a daunting task: choosing what to learn, understanding if it was the right choice, and knowing where to turn when you hit a wall. But just look to the people around you, both physically and online. Do not take this resource for granted. The development community is without a doubt the best part of this career.
I would also like to add, at the time of writing this post, my apprenticeship has finished, and I am now a full time developer at Foster Made. This was an accomplishment made possible through hard work and a commitment to learn, but most importantly by the involvement of others willing to share and teach. I am now faced with the exciting prospect of continuing to learn and grow, as well as sharing help with others who will perhaps follow in the same journey.
And for my last bit of insight, above all, don’t panic.
Everyday I get to interact with and meet incredible companies and organizations that are finding creative ways to make the world a better place. We enable them to make their ideas become a reality. It’s exciting to be a part of.
- Alex Mejias