This Scrimba student dropped out of college to learn online instead - now she's a Junior Developer!

This Scrimba student dropped out of college to learn online instead - now she's a Junior Developer!
Meet Elly from Australia 🇦🇺! They dropped out from their CompiSci degree to double down on frontend web development with Scrimba. After showing a recruiter their beautifully-presented portfolio, Elly managed to secure their first “real” job: A Junior Developer role at a purpose-driven web agency!

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🎙 About the episode

Meet Elly from Australia 🇦🇺! She dropped out from their CompiSci degree to double down on frontend web development with Scrimba. After showing a recruiter their beautifully-presented portfolio, Elly managed to secure their first “real” job: A Junior Developer role at a purpose-driven web agency!

🔗 Connect with Elly

⏰ Timestamps

  • Introduction (0:00)
  • Elly dropped out from their CompSci degree to pursue front end  (02:59)
  • Replacing university with Scrimba’s Frontend Career Path and community (06:00)
  • Did Elly need to know Data Structures and Algorithms? (08:03)
  • Elly’s wonderful HTML resume template (09:05)
  • HTML vs. PDF resume in Elly’s opinion (12:39)
  • All about Elly’s new job at Portable (13:24)
  • Elly’s experience working with an external recruiter (15:20)
  • How Elly stood out and found work so quickly (19:17)
  • The importance of having a good vibe (rapport) with your interviewer (20:24)
  • The interview! (21:25)
  • What would Elly have done differently? (22:51)
  • Elly’s advice to aspiring Developers and closing words (24:34)

🧰 Resources mentioned

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💬 Transcript

Alex (00:01): Hello, coders, and welcome to the Scrimba Podcast. My name is Alex. And on this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior developer job. Today, I'm joined by Elly from Australia, who dropped out of university to pursue front-end web development in part using Scrimba.

Elly (00:23): Yeah, the front-end career path was, I guess, the nail in the coffin for uni.

Alex (00:27): At Scrimba, we put so much effort into building a curriculum that helps you remember what you learn and, of course, learn the right things to be hireable. I loved learning about Elly's success and you will too, because we dig to these specific things that made them successful. Things like building a beautiful and well-thought-out portfolio. Stay tuned to the end because I ask Elly what they wish they knew earlier on their journey. Let's get into it.

Alex (00:55): I was through your LinkedIn profile a little bit to learn more about you before this interview. And it looks like you've worked a few different jobs, right? You were a social media manager, a video editor, I think... And then just before you got your first developer job, you were working as a support technician at a company that sells custom PCs?

Elly (01:11): The desire to break into a developer role... It's been a thing for a long time. Ever since I was pretty young, I've always been super interested in computers and computer-related stuff. So it was kind of just over the years narrowing down exactly where I wanted to head; obviously ended up being web development. Prior to that, the social media manager was one that I did while I was at high school, actually. And it was for a very, very small company and it was just kind of managing their Facebook and LinkedIn stuff. The people in the company were a bit older, so they needed a bit of help navigating social media and stuff and being able to market it properly on there.

Elly (01:45): The video editing job was a bit of a freelance that had followed on from just my own kind of hobby. I'd been editing and doing kind of motion graphic stuff for a couple of years as just a bit of a part-time hobby. It was my interest at the time and I just kind of fell into finding some opportunities there. I feel bad when I say this, but I considered my job being the technician at the computer company as my first "real job," in big air quotes, considering... The other ones were still jobs, but that was my first not-at-high-school job, if that makes sense.

Alex (02:20): But the interesting thing, Elly, is, I mean, looking at your profile, we don't exactly get that impression. You didn't go out of your way to sort of discredit any of these things on your LinkedIn profile. So I can imagine later on when you started applying to jobs, you were just kind of using all your experience to make yourself look like the most attractive candidates and at least get in the door. And I think that's really smart, actually.

Elly (02:41): I was in a situation where I guess I didn't have too many jobs that I had done in the past and I wanted to at least be able to... I don't know if "pad out" is the right word... but have a little bit more of some substance on my LinkedIn and resume and stuff. So I kept those on there and maybe made the titles sound a little bit better than what they actually were.

Alex (02:59): Yeah. I mean, "padding out" might not be the right word, but I certainly think you were introducing more talking points for the interviewer and showing a sort of history of working and doing it alongside university as well. Am I right about that? Are you studying now or did you recently graduate, perhaps?

Elly (03:15): The role at the computer company was while I was at uni. I found that job towards the end of my first year at uni, as I was getting ready to move out of home. Had to have some kind of income coming in so I could actually get out of home and get up into the city. Because prior to that, I was living in kind of suburbia where there wasn't really any jobs or anything around there. So getting up here was kind of also a way of obviously getting to uni, but trying to break into the wider job market. But yeah, no, I haven't graduated uni. I actually did about half of the degree. Thought it was less than that. Yeah, no, I'm about halfway through my degree and I've taken a leave of absence. That was when I started working on Scrimba, actually, and started working on the free Reactor course and then the front-end career path.

Alex (04:02): That's super interesting. I didn't get that impression at all that... You've not hammered in the nail yet, so to speak, but you're on the way towards dropping out, it sounds like.

Elly (04:10): I say "leave of absence" because technically I'm still enrolled, but it is like, I doubt I'm heading back at this point.

Alex (04:17): But you've got a job now, right? And a big reason to go to uni is to get the job and then you'd just be paying tuition. And, okay. Interesting. Looking at your portfolio, it's very sort of front-end orientated in terms of the technologies and the design and things like that. Traditionally, I feel like computer science degrees, especially in the first half, they focus more on the foundations and the fundamentals and typically doing behind-the-scenes type work, whether it's backend or desktop applications or console applications and things like that. Is that kind of maybe where Scrimba came in, was it just that you were more front-end orientated and that suited you better?

Elly (04:52): That's 100% right. I was getting pretty stuck, I guess, in my degree, because it was so not front-end focused. Everything in there was... It was great to have the fundamentals. I was really grateful for those base knowledge classes. But after that, it was just... As an example, I had one class that was a mobile development class. But it just felt super outdated. And almost every single one of the other classes as well were all very outdated, which is fine when it comes to, say, a broader concept, base foundational knowledge class, because that stuff doesn't change.

Elly (05:30): But when it comes to a class that is actually kind of more based in the, like, okay, this is the language we're working with. We're trying to build something like mobile apps, which is very fast-changing and a new kind of area. It was not the best thing at uni. So that is exactly what drove me to look for other things and what led to finding Scrimba. Because I wanted to do not such outdated stuff. We were working with PHP and FTPing our files up to the server, kind of thing. It's really outdated stuff.

Alex (06:00): I mean, fair play to you for recognizing that. I think if you're going through uni, you don't know what you don't know, sort of thing. You don't have a view of the landscape. But you could feel in your gut that something wasn't quite right for you and where you wanted to go. Just out curiosity, what parts of Scrimba did you utilize? Were you a front-end career path student, maybe? And you also, I think, were fairly active in the Discord community as well. I'm just wondering if that played a part in your process.

Elly (06:24): Yeah. The front-end career path was, I guess, the nail in the coffin for uni. I started working on [inaudible 00:06:30] free Reactor course during my, I guess, last semester at uni. And that... I was just blown away by the quality and the Scrimba platform; being able to code along with the videos, it's just so amazing. I got to my holidays in between semesters and was like, "Okay, I'm going to put the money down. I'm going to do the front-end career path. And I'm going to see where that puts me and see if I can get a job from this." Because I thought I could. I thought with that career path, with all of that knowledge, at least for a junior role, that should be good enough to be able to get into a role. And there's no reason to not start applying. So yeah.

Alex (07:08): What are some of the things that your university curriculum gave you that maybe Scrimba didn't?

Elly (07:13): Ooh, that's a good question.

Alex (07:15): It's a weird question to ask on a Scrimba Podcast, isn't it? You might think I just want to promote Scrimba or something.

Elly (07:21): No, no, it's a good one, though. I guess the main kind of core difference would be that Scrimba, obviously, and the front-end developer career path, is very web dev focused. Yeah. It's not trying to give you the base knowledge before getting you started with, say, certain languages or technologies or anything. It's like, "Okay, here's HTML, here's CSS, here's JavaScript, here's React," kind of thing. Whereas uni was very much like, "We're going to teach you how to do these things and we're going to teach you how to think about things, but not necessarily give you a set language to stick with." It was like each class, we had a different language, so it was very much like we had to think in a broader kind of programming sense than like, "Oh, I know how to use this specific language."

Alex (08:03): And what about things like, I don't know, data structures and algorithms? Were they sort of things that came up in your first half of university and were they helpful in your job search?

Elly (08:12): I think I had one class. Yeah. I had one class on data structures and algorithms, but I didn't do amazing in it. And it was not something that came up in my job search at all.

Alex (08:19): Fair, fair. Well, you wanted to be a front-end developer, right? This was the tension the whole time. And maybe that's one area of tech where these DSAs... we call them for short sometimes, data structures and algorithms... maybe this is a place where DSAs aren't as relevant, right? When you're assembling websites. So very, very good to know. Very good to learn from your practical experience as well. And sort of speaking of front-end web development, I think your portfolio was quite exemplary. If anybody curious to see it, they can check out the show notes, but I can quickly summarize that it was beautifully presented. Most importantly, you highlight, I think, three custom projects. And then you even have two or three projects from the Scrimba front-end developer career path. You also have a compelling About section so somebody reading your profile can get a sense of who you are and where you want to go. That's so important.

Alex (09:05): I also think it's really cool you've built a HTML CSS version of your resume. That's nothing short of cool. And you also have some nice things that... Honestly, I don't quite know what digital garden is, but I'm going to leave that as an intriguing point for people to investigate after the podcast because it looks beautiful for sure. Anyway, with all that said, what I'd like to ask you, Elly, is just to talk us through your portfolio a little bit. Why did you build it? Maybe it sounds obvious now, but just out of curiosity, what was your motivation to build it? And what sort of considerations did you make during the process?

Elly (09:35): Thank you so much. I'm glad that it comes across as thought-out in terms of the design. Well, I knew that whoever was going to be seeing it, it needed to be eye-catching because they were probably going to be seeing many, many, many other different developer portfolios, whether it's a website or a resume or whatever. I knew I needed to try and stand out. And I'm glad I did this. I tried to kind of start making my portfolio as soon as I had the base skills, if that makes sense. I didn't wait until I knew everything. I just dove in and started making it so that I could share it, if need be. Because, yeah, I started learning it when I knew HTML, CSS and a bit of JavaScript. I was thinking about waiting until I knew React and maybe Tailwind and so many different other frameworks and stuff. But I thought, "I may as well just get something out there to start with. And then if I want to change it in the future, I can."

Alex (10:26): That's a really good point. I think a lot of us wait for perfect conditions that never come. There's always one more technology you can learn. One more project you can build to add to your portfolio. But you're saying that you just cracked on with it and you don't regret it, right, because... I mean, possibly it led to you finding an opportunity sooner than if you were to... maybe this is a harsh way of putting it... but kind of procrastinate on building and fleshing out the portfolio.

Elly (10:47): Yeah, no, exactly. I was so glad that I did do it sooner rather than later because when I did get the opportunity to apply for the job where I'm at now, because I had that portfolio, I was able to just go, "Yeah, here, look at this," instead of going, "Oh, crap, what do I send them?" And actually, the resume as a page made out of HTML and CSS on the website, instead of just being a PDF or something, was also another thing... was actually a bit last-minute. I got asked for my resume in the morning, on this day, and then started working to make the page on my website throughout that day and then replied to them at about nine o'clock that night with my resume on my website.

Alex (11:28): That's class. Did you let them know you kind of fleshed it out in a day? Because that's quite quick, I guess, to build a page. Or did you just kind of give the impression it was there for a while?

Elly (11:36): I gave the impression it was there for a while.

Alex (11:37): If you are enjoying this episode of the Scrimba Podcast, please do us at Scrimba a favor and share it with your friends on social media or in your community. Word of mouth is the single best way to support a podcast that you like. So thanks in advance. Next week, I'm speaking with the awesome [Danny Thompson 00:11:59] about their journey breaking into tech after frying chicken at a gas station for over a decade.

Danny Thompson (12:04): I remember going into interviews and my brain would literally be screaming at me, "They don't want to talk to you. This interview room now smells like chicken because of you." I can safely say my imposter syndrome, my doubts, my insecurities, even my haters... I absolutely made it. I'm Danny Thompson. I'm a software engineer and I absolutely love everything that I get to do.

Alex (12:22): If you haven't already, make sure you subscribe to the Scrimba Podcast in your favorite podcasting app, like Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or something else entirely. That way you'll never miss an episode. Back to the interview with Elly.

Alex (12:39): Some people highly encourage you to create your resume as a PDF because it's a more portable document, essentially, for applying and things like that. But you ultimately chose to build a HTML CSS resume rather than turn it into a PDF, right?

Elly (12:52): It was a tricky choice, but I think it was one that I made with the knowledge that I wasn't, say, going to be applying to really competitive jobs that may have... or really big companies that may have, say... What are they called? Like an applicant tracking system where you just feed in all of the resumes, kind of thing. And especially being where I am, Melbourne isn't... it's not small, but it's not huge like, say, San Francisco or something like that. There's not a lot of really huge companies. So I didn't have to worry about matching the specifications of an applicant tracker system to try and get picked up.

Alex (13:24): Understood. That makes a lot of sense. This is a really nice segue into sort of the company you're working at now. It's called Portable Solutions. Seems like a pretty cool mission-driven company. What can you tell us about it?

Elly (13:35): Portable's awesome. I'm actually super lucky that I managed to find them because initially, I had never heard of them or anything like that. But I was working with a recruiter on LinkedIn who suggested that I apply to Portable and I'm so glad I did. It's a digital design agency and we do a range of different things. We'll build websites for companies or design briefs or code design sessions, stuff like that. Sometimes we might do end-to-end; we'll design, build and then we'll ship it for you. Or sometimes we'll just be brought in for a certain section of the process. It's a very, like you said, mission-driven company. We try to work in areas that really mean a lot to us, whether it's mental health sector or the justice sector or the public sector. Those kind of things where we know that we can have impact.

Alex (14:21): Oh, that is badass. I wasn't really sure what it meant on their website when it said that they use design and technology to create a positive impact. But what I'm understanding now is that they are an agency, but they are selective about the clients they take on. So they wouldn't take on like an oil company, but they might take on a sort of company orientated around those values.

Elly (14:40): The other great thing is that when we are brought offers or we're looking to put in our hat to go for an offer, it's always brought to everyone at the company to have a say, kind of thing. It not just one person gives the go-ahead. It's like, "Okay, is this something that we actually want to work on? Is this something that we're comfortable being a part of with? I believe... Might have been before I started... But there was an opportunity that came up for working with a company that was involved with live animal exports. And we brought the offer to everyone and made sure to look it over and have a discussion about it and see if it is actually something that we wanted to be involved with. And we ended up declining the offer.

Alex (15:20): I think it's a super cool idea to find companies that align with what you care about. And I heard about an idea similar to this, I think on TikTok of all places; an agency founder was talking about how they started their agency for a social purpose, but ended up accidentally slipping from that goal to bring on clients that didn't agree with their philosophies. Anyway, I thought that was interesting, but for it was a one-off. What I'm kind of learning from you today is that maybe there's a trend or something happening. So for anybody listening, if that sounds exciting, could be something to consider while you kind of look around. One thing you mentioned, Elly, I really am quite excited to learn a bit more about, is that you said you were working with a recruiter on LinkedIn. How did that come about and what did the relationship look like?

Elly (16:00): Actually, yeah, I think I might have listened to... It could have been, was it one of the Scrimba Podcast episodes, or was it a video on YouTube with Jermaine Jupiter?

Alex (16:09): That was likely a YouTube stream and we can link it in the show notes as well.

Elly (16:12): Yeah, yeah, yeah. And he was talking about improving LinkedIn and stuff like that. So I had gone on to LinkedIn... Because my LinkedIn was pretty decrepit at the time; cobwebs everywhere... So I made sure to try and yes, spruce it up and start trying to reach out and connect with people. And I saw a message on my feed from a recruiter that said that... He was open and feel free to comment on the post or message him if you were wanting to work with him to find some work. And I was like, "Yes, that is what I need right now." So I got in touch with him and started working with him and he got to know me and what my values were, what I wanted to do, what kind of work I wanted to be a part of. I mean, it was really helpful in being able to find a job. I think without that, I probably wouldn't be where I am.

Alex (16:59): That's very encouraging. Was this recruiter sort of broadcasting for like junior jobs in particular? Or was it quite a broad call to action? I'm just thinking that a lot of juniors might feel deterred, if they see a recruiter advertising for new jobs and things and they're like, "Oh, I'm a junior. I'm not sure it's worth wasting their time or something."

Elly (17:16): I'd seen a few different posts from him. Some were specific to certain roles. Some were like, I have a company who's looking for, say, a mid-level data scientist or whatever. But then this one that I responded to was kind of a more general like, "Hey, I'm available to help someone out. If you want to reach out and get involved with me, just comment on this post and we can figure something out." And that was what was like, "Oh, okay. Yes. Go time. Action stations. Let's get involved with this."

Alex (17:45): Yes. And it was only go time because you'd prioritized your portfolio as well. Imagine if that opportunity came about and you had nothing to share. It could still lead somewhere, definitely, but it wouldn't be as smooth. And just one more thing, you said about kind of communicating with them, did you hop on a phone call or something or was it mostly asynchronous via some messaging app?

Elly (18:03): It was mostly asynchronous via just LinkedIn messages, actually. Because, actually, I think he's based in Hong Kong and obviously I'm in Australia and I think there's a bit of a time difference. So it was mostly asynchronous, which was good. Being able to just kind of go over things and have time to think about answers to certain questions and stuff, which was good.

Alex (18:21): And was this one of your first opportunities or were you in the process of applying places? Did you have a strategy or was this very much just an awesome opportunity that presented itself and just happened like that with Portable?

Elly (18:32): Yeah, it was very much just an awesome opportunity. I hadn't actually applied to any places on my own kind of time yet. I'd been looking at a lot of stuff, saving a lot of roles that I was thinking about applying to when I was ready. Because I did not think I was ready yet, but yeah, by the time that I was in touch with the recruiter, he suggested one other place first and he got into contact with them, but nothing came of it and then he suggested Portable and I was like, "Yeah, that sounds great." And then they got back and I sent through my resume and obviously my portfolio website and everything just kind of followed on from there. Which was kind of crazy considering, I guess, that was kind of the first place that I interviewed at and applied to.

Alex (19:17): What's your sort of interpretation of that? Maybe you are just an awesome candidate. It probably is true, to be honest. And maybe you could have found success elsewhere or maybe you think it's like a reflection of the market in Australia? Maybe developers are in super high demand?

Elly (19:30): I think definitely developers are in super duper high demand at the moment here in Australia. This is probably the case everywhere in the world. There's always way more juniors than there are junior roles. For example, the role that I applied to, there was something like around a hundred applicants for only two junior roles, which was mind-boggling. I had no idea. When I found that out towards the end of the interview process, I was just like, "Oh, what?"

Alex (19:53): That's a great point. Which makes me wonder, what do you think, with the benefit of hindsight, made you stand out?

Elly (19:58): I guess my portfolio, probably. That is what I sunk most of my time and effort into. But also, I guess, throughout the interview process, which was quite a lengthy one, it was a lot of getting to know people and a lot of just having genuine conversations, speaking human-to-human instead of interviewer-and-interviewee.

Alex (20:17): A rapport. You had a vibe as well. Yeah.

Elly (20:20): Exactly. And be able to kind of... I hate this term, but see if I was a cultural fit.

Alex (20:24): Yeah. Cultural fits is a weird one. But at the end of the day, the facts are, you will spend a significant portion of your year working with these people and vice versa. So you want to get along, you want to feel like you can disagree and not make it turn into an argument, for example. And you're also willing to take advice and learn and things... I don't think anybody can disagree these are nice attributes to have in a junior. Many juniors possess it, but you have to present it in a way that reassures the recruiter or the interviewer as well. And if I'm understanding you right, you seem to think that's a place that you did well.

Elly (20:56): Definitely. Being able to have those kind of human conversations... I remember, I think it was my first technical interview, which wasn't any code-pairing or anything just yet. It was just kind of talking about the technical side of things before we got into the actual technical chat, when we were just saying hi and getting to know each other. We ended up talking about hobbies and stuff and we were both into custom mechanical keyboards, which was like the last thing you'd expect to be talking about in a job interview, but it was so awesome. And I think, yeah, it really helped create that rapport.

Alex (21:25): 100%. Finding that common ground, I think, is so important. They're not going to be in the interview panel and say, "I think we should hire Elly. They really like Cherry MX Red switches instead of Blues." It's still just a general impression they get and a good vibe. And I think it just kind of pads out these more technical parts, which you obviously have to do well at as well. Do you remember sort of what the kind of technical questions were? Can you give us a high-level overview of the interview?

Elly (21:51): I definitely think I over-prepared beforehand. I was online searching around, looking at like CSS interview questions, JavaScript interview questions, React interview questions, trying to get all of my very specific language knowledge down pat. But by the time that I got into the interview, it was much more general. I remember one of the questions was in regards to responsive design. And when you would, say, add or remove certain things on different screen sizes. Usually when going down to a smaller screen size, you are taking away a lot of the content. But the interviewer asked, what kind of content would you possibly add when you got to a smaller screen size? And I remember talking about how, when going to a smaller screen size, usually you might end up adding like a hamburger menu, like I'd done on my own portfolio website, which was just like the perfect answer. Being able to reference something that I had done and that they had seen in reference to the kind of broader question was, yeah, really great.

Alex (22:51): That's super interesting. So they weren't exactly grilling you saying, "When do you use React contacts versus Redux?" Or, "What's the difference between prop and states? They were rather talking to you about sort of general decisions and exploring what options and, part of that, what technologies you would pick. It sounds like things went pretty swimmingly for you, Elly, to be honest. But I always like to ask, what are some of the things you might have done differently if you were to start from the beginning to get a developer job more efficiently or otherwise find success?

Elly (23:19): There's a lot of things I would've done differently. Even though it went, like you said, super swimmingly, there's always room for improvement. When I got to the code pairing part of the interview process, they gave us a GitHub repo with the coding. I don't know if I'd call it a challenge, but the coding task, they gave us that a few days before our interview and said, "Spend an hour on this prior to your actual working with one of the developers." And as I got the repo a few days prior, I looked inside and it was Next.js and I had never touched it. So I quickly ran off for the few days that I had to try and scramble to learn it. So I would probably try and diversify what I learn. Not worry about learning the very specific details of everything. Get a bit of a broader knowledge base. That's one of the... On the technical side, one of the main things I would do.

Elly (24:16): In the less-technical side, I think one of the main things that's actually stood out to me from actually one of the Scrimba Podcast episodes with Kent C. Dodds talking about learning in public. That's one thing that I really wish I did. Getting out there and actually try and teach others what I'm learning to try and reinforce that is something that I definitely wish I did.

Alex (24:34): Any other advice you'd like to share with any new or aspiring junior developers listening?

Elly (24:39): One of the main things, though I've already talked about it, is definitely... Getting in touch with a recruiter is so helpful because being juniors, we really don't know much about the scene. We don't know much about who there is, what jobs there are, any of that stuff. Being able to get in and get help from someone who does know all of that stuff and has connections with certain people and certain companies is so important and is just the most helpful thing. The thing that I'm most grateful for doing is that. Yeah.

Alex (25:09): Well, Elly, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on the Scrimba podcast. It's been a pleasure.

Elly (25:13): Thank you so much for having me.

Alex (25:16): That was Elly, a Scrimba student who essentially dropped out of university to learn front-end web development in part using Scrimba. I'm your host, Alex from Scrimba. And if you like my approach to interviewing, you might also like the Scrimba YouTube channel, where I frequently upload videos about learning to code. You can also follow me on Twitter. There's a link to my profile in the show notes, where I co-host a weekly Twitter space about breaking into tech with my coworker Leanne from Scrimba. Hopefully I'll see you around.