Cooking Up a Career Change: Overcoming Burnout and Finding Your Why with Scrimba Student Jimmy
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🎙 About the episode
Meet Jimmy Johnston 🇺🇸! Jimmy is a sous-chef turned developer who's just landed his first developer job after working in the culinary industry for twenty years! The career change took Jimmy eleven months. It also involved going through burnout, figuring out his "why," as well as hitting a dead-end with job applications and changing the strategy from the ground up! In this interview, Jimmy will let you in on all of these things so that you can learn from his experience.
You'll find out the similarities between cooking and computing, how Jimmy learned to code, and why you shouldn't try to learn too many technologies at once. Jimmy also talks you through his interview process so that you can figure out at what point you are ready to apply for a similar position.
🔗 Connect with Jimmy
- Jimmy was always interested in computing but became a chef instead (02:30)
- The restaurant industry was hit hard by the pandemic, but coding is almost like cooking (02:54)
- How Jimmy learned to code and chose what to focus on (04:59)
- Why you should learn how to learn (07:21)
- Cooking and web development: science or art? (08:37)
- Community break: Your LinkedIn posts, Tweets, and Apple Podcast reviews from the past week (10:41)
- How Jimmy discovered the Scrimba bootcamp (12:58)
- Jimmy needed mentorship and community, and on Scrimba bootcamp, he found all of that and more (14:31)
- If he hadn’t enrolled in a bootcamp, Jimmy would have been back to cooking (19:31)
- Quick-fire questions: brain food, getting old, game development, and learning in silence (21:08)
- How Jimmy dealt with burnout (25:43)
- Jimmy’s job hunting strategy: start with “why” (27:07)
- Jimmy tried the “spray and pray” method before, and it didn’t work - but when he changed his strategy, he saw results immediately (28:51)
- Jimmy’s interview process (30:27)
- What do you need to know to start interviewing for jobs? (33:09)
- Jamie’s first technical interview (34:08)
- How Jimmy got his first developer job (37:48)
- What Jimmy wishes he had known when he was starting to learn to code: Stick to one programming language! (40:38)
🧰 Resources Mentioned
- Scrimba Bootcamp
- Front-end Developer Career Path
- Scrimba's Discord Community
- Book: How to Speak Machine: Computational Thinking for the Rest of Us
- Kevin Powell
- Scrimba Podcast: An Introvert's Guide to Networking (and Becoming Amazing at LinkedIn), with Stephanie Chiu from PayPal
- Scrimba Podcast: Homeschooler, College Dropout, Developer and Master Networker: Crush Your Career with Madison Kanna
⭐️ Leave a Review
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You can also Tweet Alex from Scrimba at @bookercodes or follow him on LinkedIn and tell them what lessons you learned from the episode so that he can thank you personally for tuning in 🙏 Or tell Jan he's butchered your name here.
Jimmy Johnston (00:00):
So my strategy for applying to jobs was looking at a company, not for the company name. But rather the people behind and in charge, they're the ones that set the culture. Targeting my resume and cover letter kind of based on the research that I did to show, hey, not only am I wanting to work for you, but this is the reasoning why I want to work for you.
Alex Booker (00:21):
Hello and welcome to the Scrimba Podcast. This is a weekly show where we alternate between recently hired junior developers and experts like Senior Devs and Recruiters so you can learn how to break into tech from both sides. I'm your host Alex Booker, and today I'm joined by Jimmy Johnston who just got hired as a developer. Before learning to code, Jimmy worked in the culinary industry for 20 years, most recently as a sous chef at the Walt Disney Company. 11 months later, Jimmy just got hired as a junior developer and he is joining us today to tell us his story learning to code, and how he specifically got this first junior dev opportunity.
You're listening to the Scrimba Podcast, so of course I'm going to be asking Jimmy all about his strategy to get a job. Plus the nitty gritty technical and soft skill type of questions he got asked so that you could better evaluate whether you could answer those questions and if you're ready to apply for a job as a developer.
My cheeks were pretty sore from smiling after this one. We had a lot of fun getting into Jimmy's story and making some interesting connections between cooking and computing. Like how an algorithm is like a recipe and how both are just about equal parts creativity, as well as a science. It wasn't all fun and games though because Jimmy definitely had some down moments learning to code and really doubted himself. He wasn't sure if he was ready to apply, he had to take a break. And it wasn't until he really dug in and remembered his reason, why his reason raison d'être, which was his daughter, that he managed to come back stronger than ever, learn to code at that hire-able level and secure his first role.
Very heartwarming, very inspiring. I'm sure you're going to enjoy this episode. And if you do find yourself enjoying it, please take a moment to share this episode with someone else you know learning to code in your community, your friends list, or even on social media. Word of mouth is the best way to support a podcast that you like. So thank you in advance for supporting the Scrimba Podcast, enabling us to come into your feed every week with a new and inspiring story. Without any further ado, you are listening to the Scrimba Podcast. Let's get into it.
Jimmy Johnston (02:30):
I've always been interested in tech starting off having an Apple IIGS as a kid and a Newton, writing my first video game, which was not good at all in basic. Yeah, no, that's pretty basic. But then I went kind of a different route. Went to culinary school, CIA over in New York. Working my way up from there, I worked nearly every position, front of house, heart of house, cook to chef, and my most recent position was actually as a sous chef at Walt Disney World.
Alex Booker (02:54):
Jimmy Johnston (02:54):
During the pandemic, the industry was hit hard. I went from managing two locations to about 30 people to eight locations with about 200 people. And my fiance of four years at the time, and I also decided to start a family. We already had a dog, we had a house, we had cats, so why not add a little one to the mix? With this, I had to really personally reflect and I started to look at different programming languages because some YouTube algorithm hit me up like they do. And it really hit home. It was like artistically designing a recipe but for a computer to follow and not a person.
Alex Booker (03:31):
Oh my God, I love that. Because oftentimes when you learn about algorithms, the way people teach it, they say, hey, an algorithm is just a recipe for a computer. Like a set of instructions, right?
Jimmy Johnston (03:42):
Yeah, a hundred percent. It also allowed me to build things that can reach out to more people than a menu ever could. With the birth of my daughter, I wanted to change my schedule to be with her and the family a lot more. So I was done working nights, holidays and weekends. 14 months ago, almost to the day, I left my job with the support of my amazing fiance and I hit the books.
Alex Booker (04:06):
Incredible. I mean maybe I'm romanticizing it a little bit, having never worked in the industry. But I can see so many incredible things about working in the food industry from the camaraderie of the team, the dynamism of the kitchens and all the exciting foods you get to cook and serve. But I am also aware that from a hours and hard work point of view, it can be incredibly grueling, can't it?
Jimmy Johnston (04:29):
Certainly. Roughly around 80 hours a week, just hard work. But I mean, you work as a team and that translates so incredibly well into tech. Every person is like a cog in that wheel.
Alex Booker (04:42):
I think from this interview there's going to be a few similarities from instructions and algorithms to the camaraderie in a kitchen and teamwork. I'm sure we'll get into it as we talk about your application process and interviewing your companies and things like that. How did you actually learn to code? Because you taught yourself, as far as I can tell.
Jimmy Johnston (04:59):
Yes. Starting off, I did. Obviously through some books that I picked up, CSS, HTML. Honestly at first, I didn't know which direction I wanted to go. Did I want to go gaming? So I picked up like a book on Unity. I picked up a book on C++, didn't understand a bit of it. And I really didn't know which route I was going to go. And then I was looking, okay, what are different alternative methods to learn? And that's when I picked up freeCodeCamp, which like many do. And that's kind of where I started really my journey of going, okay, I'm going to go this route.
Because during the pandemic when I came back to Disney, we kind of had different meetings with different groups of people on how's the new structure layout is going? And everything else, yada, yada, yada. But through that, I actually met a gentleman who was one of the lead programmers for Disney and he designed the new Star Wars ride. They created that entire new Star Wars ride digitally, so you could actually virtually walk through every single bell, whistle, button, works and you could write on this thing and he showed me a demonstration on what they did and how they did it and the room. And that just thrilled me to no end. Plus I'm a Star Wars nerd, this was great. And I definitely wanted to get into that world.
Alex Booker (06:12):
So, how did you decide then which to specifically focus on? Because that sounds maybe a little bit like game development, I guess, or immersive 3D experiences or something. Obviously you've gone down the web development side of things. Is it because you happen to stumble upon freeCodeCamp and later Scrimba, and that was just a good resource so you stuck with it? I would point out at this point that it doesn't necessarily matter where you start, you can always pivot. It's most important that you start with something and stick with something in order to build that foundation. How did you think about it at the time? And what are your feelings looking back?
Jimmy Johnston (06:47):
Alex Booker (07:37):
Really cool. I think that's just the biggest thing about learning to code and teaching yourself to code. I'm not quite ready to put a percentage attribution, although I'll try. I'm just thinking that it's like 50% learning how to learn and then 50% actually learning the specific thing. But because you had that ability to teach yourself already, I feel like maybe that meant that you could at least have more confidence while you learn to code. You could trust the process a little bit more, I hope.
Jimmy Johnston (08:01):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, everybody knows how to teach themselves and really every job is about teaching yourself through others, through failure, through anything. You pick up a book and you start to learn something on coding, that's great. You picked up that book, but as soon as you start typing, you realize where your errors are and you realize where your strengths and weaknesses are and what your passion is. Even if you go to college, college doesn't teach you the job per se, it teaches you about the job and about the industry and different variations of. But when you start working, that's when you actually start learning and that's when you are also learning on your own. You take that initiative.
Alex Booker (08:37):
By the way, how much of cooking is a science versus an art? Because I like the way you describe it through the artistic and creative angle.
Jimmy Johnston (08:45):
That's a great question. Honestly, it's both at the same exact time.
Alex Booker (08:49):
Jimmy Johnston (08:49):
Yeah, without a doubt. What temperature does an egg white cook at versus what temperature does an egg yolk cook at? It's science, it's always science. And especially the visual plating, how is that going to affect a customer from wanting to buy your dish? Much like a website, how much is that first landing page going to grab their attention to stay on your page? And that's also a science, but an art.
Alex Booker (09:11):
What about web development? What would you say is like the split between science and arts?
Jimmy Johnston (09:16):
Again, I'd say it's 50/50, really, from what I've seen. Because obviously you have that computer science part built in, just grammatically it's there. That's how you talk to the computer. But also that artistic side is, if you're going to write a for-loop, there's many different ways to write a for-loop and you have a landing page built. Every single developer that's developing the same looking landing page is going to develop it differently because they each have their own unique ways to writing their code, to writing their CSS, their HTML.
Alex Booker (09:45):
Jimmy Johnston (09:46):
And that's where the artistic side kicks in.
Alex Booker (09:48):
Yeah, and that's why we can say things that probably sound really weird to people who don't do programming. But code can have a certain beauty and elegance to it. And you could say with cooking as well, there's a performance, a flair, a ceremony, just the way you approach the kitchen. With coding, it could be similar. That's why we watch people live stream on Twitch, for example, or really enjoy watching our favorite teachers code.
I think that's super interesting, that kind of comparison. Because a lot of people come at coding saying, "I don't know maths, I don't know science. I was never very good at those subjects in school." And yet, it's actually just as much creative as it is scientific. And maybe if you start from that point of 50/50, you can lean a bit less or a bit more in one direction. Maybe you really doubled down on front end and it's a bit more creative. Maybe you really get into the back end side of things and it's a little bit more scientific, rooted in computer science for example. There's room for everybody, I really like that.
Jimmy Johnston (10:39):
Absolutely. Couldn't agree more
Jan Arsenovic (10:41):
Coming up. How Jimmy found a way out of burnouts.
Jimmy Johnston (10:45):
I took some time off, looked back at where I was at the beginning, why I was doing it and what I achieved at that point.
Alex Booker (10:52):
I'll be right back with Jimmy in just a moment. But first Jan, the producer, and I wanted to read some of your comments from social media about the podcast. We're not just checking Twitter, by the way, we're checking LinkedIn as well, where I'm often posting about the new episodes of the podcast. Last week I posted about our recent episode of Laura Thorson from GitHub. She worked at some epic companies like Meta, Twitter and even graduated from the first coding bootcamp.
I asked people what they remembered from the episode. Diego Aguek found Laura's insight about asking follow-up questions after the interview insightful, as well as her tips on how to optimize your LinkedIn profile even when you don't have relevant coding experience. Stephen Campbell also chimed in on that front on LinkedIn. This is just in response to my posts on LinkedIn, so give me a follow, check out the feed. And he says, "Excellent episode as always. Great that you have people on from such bearing backgrounds." Absolutely. This is what the podcast is all about, isn't it, Jan?
Jan Arsenovic (11:46):
Totally. Over on Twitter, Rachel Dooley says, "Biggest lesson learned from the Scrimba Podcast featuring Randall Kanna, getting your name out about the work you're doing is just as important as doing the work. This is one of the biggest things I need to work on. It's hard being an introvert." Well, Rachel, in that case, I think you should listen to the episode with Stephanie Chiu, it's title is, An Introvert's Guide to Networking and Becoming Amazing at LinkedIn.
Another useful listen could be the episode with Randall's sister, Madison, who got her own domain at the age of nine. She also shared some really great personal branding tips. I'm going to link both of these interviews in the show notes. And on Apple podcasts, Donny from United States left us a review saying, "Motivation plus actionable advice equals when. This podcast has been the guide I needed to navigate my way toward my first developer job. Not quite there yet, but getting closer. Thanks, Scrimba." If you'd like a shout-out, join the conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn. Or leave us a review in your podcast app of choice. And now we're back to the interview with Jimmy.
Alex Booker (12:58):
It's interesting, as well, because you went to culinary school essentially, rather than ... I don't know how the cooking industry, restaurant industry, the food industry works necessarily. I don't know if it's even possible to truly teach yourself how to cook at home and go straight into a kitchen or something.
Jimmy Johnston (13:13):
Oh, a hundred percent is.
Alex Booker (13:14):
Jimmy Johnston (13:14):
Absolutely. Just like coding, you don't need to go to college for ... I went to Culinary Institute of America, which is one of the top schools in the world. I got my bachelor's from there. But you don't need to because you can gain this same knowledge from any other school or just out there in the real world. You can absolutely teach yourself how to cook and there's lots of famous chefs that have not gone to culinary school.
Alex Booker (13:35):
Well, it's like you said, the real learning begins once you're on the job, I suppose. But nevertheless, you chose to go down the self-taught route, mostly, with coding instead of pursuing university again or doing a traditional bootcamp. Over 90 day ones that cost 15, 16 K or whatever, more in some cases. Was that an option at all? Or how are you viewing your options to learn to code at this point?
Jimmy Johnston (13:58):
Alex Booker (14:30):
Jimmy Johnston (14:31):
Game over. And I wasn't getting as far as I wanted to by self-learning. I needed some mentorship, especially not knowing anybody out there really that knew how to code. All my friends knew how to cook. So my fiance and I, we decided it'd be beneficial that I started a bootcamp. I looked at a few, the prices were expensive, I was willing to throw down. But after that class with Pair, I was like, this is just too good to be true, especially for the price. So let's give it a shot. So in mid-June last year, I joined up the Scrimba Bootcamp.
Alex Booker (15:03):
Can you give us an idea of how much coding knowledge you had when you joined the bootcamp?
Jimmy Johnston (15:08):
At that point, it was about four months of self-study. Because I wanted to start a boot camp with at least some base knowledge because I know a lot of boot camps. They just take off and if you're a little bit behind, you're behind. And I didn't want to get to that point.
Alex Booker (15:23):
I agree with that a lot, by the way. You can probably get your basics down by yourself within a few months and then at that point, that's when the branches really opened up to you. There are so many different ways you can learn, so many different things you can learn. Things get a bit more advanced. That's a great opportunity to come in and get some guidance.
So if I've done my maths right, you taught yourself to code using freeCodeCamp with VS Code on the side, actually doing Pairs course on YouTube from Scrimba with VS Code for about four months. And then 11 months ago, you enrolled in the bootcamp. So yeah, there was plenty of runway there, like plenty of things to learn and enjoy. How did you find the bootcamp experience?
So for people listening, some context. We have the career path of Scrimba, which you can enroll in for just a small monthly subscription fee and take things completely at your own pace. You get all the benefits of the podcast, but also the Discord community, where you can ask questions and get peer-to-peer supports. But if you're really committed to your learning and you're wanting to accelerate things a little bit. Or at least eliminate the risk of going in the wrong direction, as it's so easy to do when you're teaching yourself to code. You can subscribe to the bootcamp, which is a bit more expensive, a bit more exclusive. And maybe Jimmy, you can tell us a bit about the benefits you got from it specifically.
Jimmy Johnston (16:31):
Honestly, if I can describe the bootcamp in one word, it would strictly be value. Not only some amazing classes, but friendly community. Unlike Stack Overflow. You can ask questions and feel good about asking simple ones, that have been asked numerous times before because that's okay to do, you're learning. The bootcamp also comes with weekly meetups that helped motivation and new perspectives on something each time. We had some fantastic guest speakers Pair, for one. A freelancer, Google employee, Shopify employee. The list really went on from there.
Other students in the bootcamp were also incredibly engaged with their learning. If I had a question and wanted to start or join a study group, for instance, they were just a quick Discord chat away. And the response time in the bootcamp from other students was fast. I mean a lot of good friends in the Discord. You can also do the bootcamp, which was great for me, at your own pace. Being a stay-at-home dad, full-time job by the way, never realized how tough it was going to be. And some days I couldn't even get time to study because my daughter needed lots of extra time and Papa was just very tired.
Alex Booker (17:40):
So it sounds like there was quite a lot of camaraderie and it was lively in there. That's really cool to hear.
Jimmy Johnston (17:45):
Alex Booker (17:45):
Did you do any of the solo projects and get code reviews and stuff like that?
Jimmy Johnston (17:49):
Absolutely. So I did a majority of the solo projects. I'm going to be dropping back actually to the pro membership just because I want to keep the Scrimba classes and everything else, and all the additional classes that it comes with because it's such a fantastic tool, really to use. So I can even continue to work on the projects. But yeah, I did a majority of the projects. I did some of the projects way overboard and over the top. And I think I got my responses back after I would submit a project in there, probably within a day, I believe, something like that. So that's been absolutely fantastic. And the reviewers have been amazing. In fact, Miko's now one of the instructors for the bootcamp now, and she was actually my very first instruction on my CSS class. So that was great.
Alex Booker (18:32):
That's so cool. I love this about the Scrimba community, in general, with the bootcamp as well. Oftentimes people who are the most active, again, I guess promoted in some way. We love to recognize people who set a great example in the community. And award them the community hero status or in some cases, they even joined the official Scrimba team. Tom Chant, who some people might recognize as a teacher on Scrimba, was originally a student. Mika was a student, as well, who then got a job, who then started giving back and is now an official code reviewer and a big help to the bootcamp, alongside Gil and Michael. Really cool to see.
I'm so excited to segue in a second, into how you specifically went about finding the job. Because this is totally new territory, it's not specific to Scrimba at all. But I do want to quickly ask for my own curiosity, how would things have been different for you if you didn't do the bootcamp? Like say you still had Scrimba, say you had the regular pro membership and you could crack on with the career path. What do you think would've been different about your journey, had you not enrolled in the bootcamp?
Jimmy Johnston (19:31):
I honestly probably would've went back to cooking, just because of time and everything. I mean even in the bootcamp, the reason why it took me so long is because I even had a personal burnout moment with programming because of watching my daughter and then spending every spare moment I had to trying to study. And six months later, I wasn't still ready to quite start looking for a job yet, even though I already had my webpage, already built up my portfolio page, I had already a freelance job done in my belt. But I still wasn't quite ready yet and I didn't finish ... or I hadn't finished even the React course yet. And I took that really hard. But I took some time off, looked back at where I was at the beginning, why I was doing it and what I achieved at that point. And used that to kind of push back.
Programming isn't easy, but with every skill out there, the more you work on it, the better you'll become. And you will become better. And that's kind of what helped me. But also just that help from the community, for sure helped push me along, help with the bootcamp. If I had a question, if I got stuck, the answers were right there, somebody would get back to me and we would have a little one-on-one chat through Discord, and figure out and work on that problem. If I had to study on my own, I mean I probably, like I said, would go back to cooking. But I would also be continuing to study and working on it as a hobby until I got to that point. But this definitely helped accelerate the process, 100%.
Alex Booker (20:51):
No, I hear you. And I really appreciate you telling us about that because honestly it's just so inspiring to struggle yet persevere. I think that's what everybody listening needs to hear. And I did not mean for that to rhyme, but just as well.
Jimmy Johnston (21:04):
Hey, that was perfect. I love it.
Alex Booker (21:08):
Jimmy, what'd you say before we get into your career story, we do a round of quickfire questions.
Jimmy Johnston (21:13):
Alex Booker (21:16):
So what was your first programming language technically, Jimmy? Was it actually basic?
Jimmy Johnston (21:20):
Alex Booker (21:26):
Jimmy Johnston (21:30):
There's so many to choose from. But honestly, I would really love to get to the point where I can actually start understanding and working with C# or C++, just because I get to, I don't know, work either on video games or work on whatever the case may be. But something even more in depth in programming because it'll broaden my knowledge as far as how computers work and think and just working on that lower level, I think, is incredibly fascinating. But really anything, I mean, I don't care. I want to learn it as much as I can.
Alex Booker (21:59):
I love that, going a little bit lower to get to the nuts and bolts. But yeah, I was trying to figure out the commonality between C# and C++ there, but game dev makes a lot of sense. That's really cool. When you are coding, Jimmy, what music do you listen to? If any.
Jimmy Johnston (22:12):
I'm studying, I'm definitely listening to Lo-fi for sure, whether that be video game Lo-fi or just Lo-fi hip hop or whatever. Just something without words. Then when I'm actually working on a personal project or just having fun coding, I'll listen to really anything from Rock Alternative to Country, doesn't matter.
Alex Booker (22:30):
A little bit like when you're cooking, maybe, you can sometimes get a bit lost in it. As long as you know what you're doing in the first place. If I'm trying to read a recipe really intently or learn a new technique or something, I can't have a podcast on in the background, it's too distracting. But once you know your stuff, you can blast the tunes and really get into it.
Jimmy Johnston (22:46):
Alex Booker (22:47):
Is there anyone you follow or look up to in the tech community that maybe you could tell us about and we could check them out after the show?
Jimmy Johnston (22:54):
Of course. For sure, Kevin Powell. I'm sure everyone is very aware of him with CSS. But one of my big ones is John Maeda, I believe he's still currently Vice President of Design and Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft. He was an MIT professor for, I think, like 12 years or something like that. But anyways, he wrote a book that I absolutely could not recommend anymore, called How to Speak Machine. Which even if you're not a programmer, it brings you into this world where he shows you this crossroad of where computers and humans meet. Kind of the evolution of computers that were once simple like computational devices, to now something that impacts us on a social and cultural level. It's not a dry read by any means. It's full of personality, it's very easy to digest while still making you kind of reflect on the world we live in.
Alex Booker (23:44):
Oh my goodness, that sounds absolutely fascinating. I need to get my hands on that ASAP.
Jimmy Johnston (23:49):
It's really good.
Alex Booker (23:51):
Jimmy, thank you for enduring my quickfire questions. I really appreciate that. Here's one more, but it's not part of the official format, but I wanted to ask you as a chef. Are there any particular foods you like to cook before you code? People say chocolate is a brain food, sometimes though, I'm not sure if that's even true, but we say it.
Jimmy Johnston (24:09):
That's a great question. Most people ask me, what's your favorite food to eat? And my response is food because I like everything. But food before I code, honestly, it's like grapes, fruit of some sort, nuts, berries, kind of things like that. Really when I'm coding, like trail mix, kind of like a combination of many, I don't know, super foods or whatever. I really like that when I code.
Alex Booker (24:29):
I don't know if it's because I'm getting older or what, I never used to really pay that much attention. But these kind of foods really help you focus, to be honest.
Jimmy Johnston (24:36):
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Alex Booker (24:36):
And especially the avoidance of really carb heavy meals, as well. I know it sounds a bit silly, but I won't be having pasta and stuff like that for lunch. I'll always have that after work and it'll help me relax a bit. When I'm coding and stuff, like protein is the best. Or like you say, fiber and fruit and nuts and that kind of thing. I think that's a really good shout.
Jimmy Johnston (24:54):
Exactly. I think we are getting older, for sure, because 10 years ago I would not be agreeing with you.
Alex Booker (24:59):
Yeah, my habits on the computer definitely changed over the years. Whether it's my posture, the time of day I code, dark mode, light mode and what I eat and stuff. But hey, maybe I just was closed off to those things. So if you're a young buck listening to the show, you can still benefit, I think, from these tips.
But hey, that's not why you're here. The Scrimba Podcast is all about how to learn to code and break into tech. So let's segue the conversation here a little bit, Jimmy. You'd been doing the Scrimba bootcamp, you'd struggled a little bit with burnout before and not totally believing in yourself as a developer, it sounds like. Because as you put it, you had your portfolio, you had your freelance project under your belts, and clearly you were making some traction. How did you eventually decide you were ready to start pursuing professional opportunities and applying?
Jimmy Johnston (25:43):
Yeah, so I knew that you can start applying when you're not quite there yet, not quite ready. But I wanted to make sure that I was at least ready for myself and able to have those technical conversations, and at least know some of the foundations under my belt. Six months in, I personally wasn't quite there yet. So I took some time off, probably about a month and a half off, where I still read and kept up on some things but not really hands in the computer. And then I came back, started getting back into the React class. And then React really kind of brought my passion back a little bit and I was like, oh, this is really cool. This is literally playing with Legos or something like that. I'm putting pieces together and little components go here and this is great.
Alex Booker (27:04):
What was your strategy for applying to jobs?
Jimmy Johnston (27:07):
So my strategy for applying to jobs was looking at a company, not for the company name, but rather the people behind and in charge. These are the ones that you'll be working for, they're the ones who set the culture. By targeting my resume and cover letter based on the research that I did about that company and the people in the company with their values and their culture to stand out to taking that extra 30 minutes to show that, hey, not only am I wanting to work for you, but this is the reasoning why I want to work for you. That was kind of my goal in mind.
Alex Booker (27:39):
I really like the way you're presenting this because you're kind of peeling it back one layer. You're answering your why, your raison d'être, the thing that motivates you to push through. It's not about any one tactic, it's about every day sort of reminding yourself why you started, looking back at how far you've come. And just imagining, by the way, if you were at the beginning of your journey, how impressed would that past version of yourself be for where you are right then and there. And that then helps you, I think, with the confidence to apply to jobs.
You are truly describing a strategy, I think, because I think sometimes when I ask that question people might say, oh well I'll apply on LinkedIn, I'll do quick apply and stuff like that. That's a tactic. Maybe it's part of a strategy. But in my view, what makes it a strategy is the way things tie together and the fact that you were looking at these companies from the perspective of alignments. Whether that's cultural alignments or mission alignments. That probably helped you when you could just answer truthfully when they asked you, "Why'd you want to work here?" Well, I specifically sought out this company because I felt like there was a good alignment here and it's something I'm passionate about.
I want to get into that, but I don't want to skip too far ahead because I'm quite curious to know, as I'm sure people listening will be too. If you could give us an idea of how many jobs did you apply for roughly and what kind of responses were you getting? What kind of success rate? And how did that make you feel at the time?
Jimmy Johnston (28:51):
Just before my burnout period, I probably sent out ... actually, I can look at my board. I kept a tally with ticks on it. I sent out around 30 applications probably. And they weren't specifically targeted because I still wasn't even sure what I was looking for, what I was getting into. And the responses back were either no responses or your generic, thank you very much. And some automated ones because I didn't have experience in whatever language that they were asking. So it would just be an automatic within 24 hours, "Sorry, you don't meet the qualifications." Which is fine. I mean, I never took a no to heart. It never bothered me, really, personally. Because I knew at that point when I sent that out, like yeah, my resume and cover letter, it looked too generic. It needed to be something a little bit more. So I understood.
Alex Booker (29:36):
Did any companies ... I mean, at least one company definitely got back to you and said, "Hey, would you like to do a interview?"
Jimmy Johnston (29:42):
Not a single one at that time.
Alex Booker (29:43):
So you were doing the kind of spray and pray thing, not getting much success.
Jimmy Johnston (29:47):
Yeah, terrible idea.
Alex Booker (29:47):
And after just a little bit of time away, you got a bit of clarity on the situation.
Jimmy Johnston (29:51):
Yeah. So just before my family and I went on vacation a little over a month ago, I put out only five applications. Targeting those specific companies and looking at them, actually, for what they were. And changing my entire perspective on how I was going to approach that. I looked at the companies, decided that these were the companies that I wanted to work for, and then I applied. And got one response back.
Alex Booker (30:13):
Yeah, but look at that as a percentage. One out of five, versus zero out of thirty. That's a massive difference.
Jimmy Johnston (30:19):
Yeah, it was great. Absolutely.
Alex Booker (30:20):
And you just need one, right? That's the thing I always remind people of, even myself at times. It just takes one. That's all that really matters.
Jimmy Johnston (30:26):
Alex Booker (30:27):
What did the company say when they got back to you? What was the process like?
Jimmy Johnston (30:31):
The process was an in-depth process, really. First one was just a congratulations, we'd like to move you forward, we'd like to invite you to ... it was a one-way video chat. Much like a Zoom call, but you're looking at yourself and they would ask you questions and everything else, and you would just respond to the questions they asked, a very preliminary kind of interview. What do you think of our company? Who are you? Your basic HR questions, kind of situation.
And then from there, it was probably about a week. I was already on vacation at the time and I got the email saying that, hey, we want to move you forward from there. We liked your interview. Here is a test, take-home test. So that involved a two-part quiz. They gave me about two weeks long, I'm assuming two weeks because I was on vacation and they were perfectly good with that.
It was a landing page, kind of HTML, CSS, can you follow the instructions given an image here? And then the other one was with a system I've never worked with before. It was a CRM content relational management system called Keep. And they wanted to see if I can build a project in this system. And yeah, that both took me about a week to complete. So I sent it in roughly a week early. It wasn't to the best of my ability because given the information that I was given, there was no way for me to make it a hundred percent. I wasn't given exact widths, exact divs, I wasn't given colors, I wasn't ... all these different things that would normally make you successful on a job. I didn't receive that information, so I could only do the best that I could given what was given to me.
And I knew that if I spent an extra week on it wasn't going to be any better than what it was at this point. Because I really did put a lot of work into it. And I was like, "Okay, hopefully this is good enough." And I sent it away. And then honestly, two days later they gave me an email back saying, "Hey, we'd like you to meet the CTO and have an interview with them going over your projects." I was absolutely thrilled.
Alex Booker (32:24):
I can imagine, like you wouldn't put that effort into it if you weren't super excited about the opportunity. Not every opportunity is made equal when something just feels right. I think that's the time to double down a bit, deliver it early, put that effort in.
Can you reveal a little bit about ... maybe you don't want to tell us the absolute ins and outs of the task in case they want to give it to someone else in the future. But I'm curious about the coding skill necessary to complete it to a hire-able standard. And maybe you can talk about it in terms of the career path for Scrimba. Like say someone's doing the career path right now of they're learning to code, they're doing the bootcamp. At what point would you roughly say they would've been at a point ... this is such a hard question to answer because it really does depend. But maybe you can give us an idea of the skill necessary to solve the task.
Jimmy Johnston (33:09):
Alex Booker (34:02):
Very good to know, as well, for anybody listening. So you got to the interview of the CTO, what was that like? Nerve wracking?
Jimmy Johnston (34:08):
That's an understatement. I don't think I drank enough water. I don't know. I mean, I must have probably drank a gallon of water, but I was still like parched. I've done so many interviews in the past through the culinary industry and everything else. And I've given many interviews. But I've never done a technical interview because this was my first technical interview. And I really wanted the job. I did my research on the job, I did my research on the people at the job. I wanted this position. And for them to call me in to have the interview with the CTO, I didn't know what was going to happen at this point. Were they going to ask me data structures and algorithms? Were they going to go over all these different ... I had no idea.
Alex Booker (34:47):
So scary, by the way, because-
Jimmy Johnston (34:49):
Alex Booker (34:50):
It would be such a shame, wouldn't it, to have come so far. And you wanted so bad to get turned away at that final stage, because you hadn't quite got around to DSAs, for example.
Jimmy Johnston (34:58):
Absolutely. And then within the first few minutes of the interview I was like, this is definitely where I want to work because this is going to feel like home for the next, I don't know how many years. The interview wasn't based around data structures and algorithms, or things that had nothing to do with the job that I would be doing. It covered the projects that I worked on, the reasoning why behind the projects, and here's some advice that you can improve on the projects. And a couple basic questions that were involved in the project and that was it. And the rest of it was, let's have a conversation about who you are, why you're doing this and talk as human beings. And it was fantastic. It really was.
Alex Booker (35:40):
Do you know what's funny? And I'm kind of curious to get your perspective. Is that during an interview like that, I've been in that position a few times. It starts off really tense, I feel like. But then after, I don't know, five, ten minutes, I feel a lot more comfortable and I really get into it. Was it like that for you?
Jimmy Johnston (35:55):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it was very tense at the very beginning. But once we started, that's when I kind of got into my rhythm a little bit. When you are interviewing, it's not about them interviewing you a hundred percent, it's 50, 50. It's about you also interviewing them. And within right away, I can identify this person that I'm talking to and are they going to ... is this going to be a good fit? And right away we made that connection. I was like, yes, this is going well. I enjoy this and I like the direction that you're taking this interview. Because it shows that not only do you respect the job and teaching others in your job, but you also respect the person that's trying to get their foot in the door to your job. And that was huge.
Alex Booker (36:34):
I think when you look at a company from the outside, based on the job ad and the website and maybe social media, in some cases. You get vibe and it might start making you feel like you really want to work there. But at the end of the day, it is not until you get to the actual interview, do you have a chance to see if the people at the company and especially leadership like a CTO, live up to those values.
For example, if you had all this great impression of the company and exciting ideas about why you might be a good fit and why it's a great compatibility. If the interview was all about DSAs and as you put it quite eloquently, stuff that really doesn't have much to do with the job of a front end developer. That probably would've signified that maybe this isn't a great fit. And even though it'd be really disappointing because you were looking forward to it, you might have to accept that it was a bit of a mirage. It wasn't really the great opportunity you thought it was. It wasn't really that great compatibility. That just happens sometimes. That's why it's a two-way street. But then when it does match up, that's a bloody great feeling. After the interview, how did you feel about your chances?
Jimmy Johnston (37:32):
So after the interview, I still had no idea. Because I knew there was one more interview left, but I felt pretty good, honestly at that point. They liked the work that I did. Really, there was no negative feedback. They were impressed with what I put out, and then it was just kind of a waiting game at that point.
Alex Booker (37:46):
You had an interview after the CTO then?
Jimmy Johnston (37:48):
So I had one more interview and that was with the co-owner. It was basically a culture fit interview. And again, that interview was fantastic. There was no questions about how do you handle stress. They knew I was a chef for several years. And that was just a very professional conversation between two people. Because he had already gotten feedback from the HR manager, already received feedback from the CTO, like they knew how this was going to go at this point. And it was just a very good conversation of understanding more about the company and the culture that they have built.
Alex Booker (38:24):
Okay, now the waiting game begins.
Jimmy Johnston (38:27):
Yeah, and at that point, it was one week after that. And then I got the call back of saying, "Congratulations, you're in."
Alex Booker (38:36):
Oh, they literally phoned you?
Jimmy Johnston (38:37):
Yep, they phoned me. It was nice to actually hear a voice. I've been at my house for the past 14 months. But no, it was really nice. I didn't expect them to physically call me up and yeah, it was just a nice experience, really.
Alex Booker (38:51):
What was your reaction?
Jimmy Johnston (38:53):
I was shocked. I had a feeling I was going to get it, but then when you wait for a week, that feeling starts to kind of turn into questions.
Alex Booker (38:59):
Yeah, you doubt it a little bit, don't you?
Jimmy Johnston (39:01):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that's okay. I mean, it was either a good fit or they found somebody else that was just a slightly better fit. Which is perfectly fine. There's nothing against that. That's how businesses go. But luckily I was the fit.
Alex Booker (39:13):
Yeah, a hundred percent, absolutely. I've heard it all on the Scrimba Podcast after 116 interviews. Some people when they get the call, they're quite [inaudible 00:39:23] and they're like, "Ah, thank you very much for your offer. Let me just consider this. I'll get back in touch with you." Other people have been like, "Holy shit. Yes, of course I'll join. I can't wait." Where on the spectrum did your reaction fall, Jimmy?
Jimmy Johnston (39:34):
Definitely the latter, for sure. I was thrilled. I couldn't contain myself because I've been talking about it, especially with my fiance for over a month at this point. I really wanted that position.
Alex Booker (39:45):
Congrats, man. I'm so happy for you.
Jimmy Johnston (39:47):
Thank you very much.
Alex Booker (39:48):
Now that you've got an offer, now you're about to start your first professional job and hopefully you feel really validated, as well. I mean, it's all good and well feeling ready to apply. But someone else putting their money where their mouth is, offering you the contract, all these things, has to be a great feeling.
Jimmy Johnston (40:02):
Yeah, the validation was spot on, especially for working for something that you want for so long and so hard, and then you finally get it. Words can't describe it. The only thing that's next is, great, what can I do next? And find the next thing that you're hungry for and then just keep going. It's a great way to build momentum, for sure.
Alex Booker (40:20):
Jimmy Johnston (40:21):
Alex Booker (40:22):
Class. Yeah, it's never easy to leave an industry like that behind. Especially when you've risen in the ranks. So I'm really glad to hear you've got no regrets.
Jimmy Johnston (40:29):
No, I mean, I still love the restaurant industry. I am incredibly passionate about it. But honestly, this is what's best for me and that's what matters for me.
Alex Booker (40:38):
If you could go back to the beginning and tell yourself one thing about learning to code and getting a job, what would you tell yourself when you're at the beginning of your journey?
Jimmy Johnston (40:46):
Probably stick to one programming language at the very beginning. No matter what it is, but just stick to one. Because there was a time where I was kind of bouncing between different books and confusing myself. Look up a popular stack, whatever popular stack that's out there right now. One of the top, I'd say, 10 stacks that have the most opportunity. Choose one and stick with it. And that's probably about as simple advice as I would give to myself at the beginning. Because then everything else just falls in suit.
Alex Booker (41:13):
Yeah, and that's brilliant. It's so easy to kind of ping pong around, get distracted by shining new things or feel like you're missing out. I feel like I always had that thing where I'm letting react, but then Angular doesn't update and everybody's talking about Angular. On Twitter yesterday, people were raving about PHP and Laravel and about how that's making a comeback. Always easy to get distracted, but when you're new especially-
Jimmy Johnston (41:38):
Yeah, just get the basics.
Alex Booker (41:38):
And yeah, what brilliant note to end on. Jimmy Johnson, thank you so much for joining me on the Scrimba Podcast. It's been a pleasure.
Jimmy Johnston (41:44):
Thank you. Thoroughly appreciate it.
Jan Arsenovic (41:46):
Next week on the show, it's Angie Jones.
Angie Jones (41:49):
Once you get to the level of teaching a course, you have a certain level of mastery there. And so there's a lot of things that you can take for granted or assume is knowledge that everyone should know. I've taken courses where the instructor is more focused on sounding like super smart than enabling other people to be smart.
Jan Arsenovic (42:13):
Angie is a VP of Global developer relations at TBD, a keynote speaker, a Java champion, a senior software engineer, and somebody you might already be following on Twitter. Subscribe to the podcast so you don't miss her. You can find the show wherever you listen to podcasts.
This was a Scrimba Podcast episode 115. Check out the show notes for the ways to connect with Jimmy and our host, Alex, as well as all the resources mentioned in this interview. I've been Jan the producer, and we'll be back next week.