How Robert got his first developer job at 33
🔗 Connect with Robert
- 👩🚀 GitHub
- 🤖 RobbyCors#0066 on the Scrimba Discord
- Introduction (0:00)
- From business owner to coder (01:45)
- Deciding to finally go for it (04:01)
- Robert’s greatest challenges and how he overcame them (06:37)
- Employers don’t want someone who only knows HTML and CSS? (08:33)
- As a Junior, you can do the task, you just need a bit more time (10:11)
- Learning to code and career a little later in life and with kids (11:07)
- What Rob learned from his unsuccessful interviews (13:18)
- Self-confidence and the job search (15:54)
- How Rob got 8 job interviews (17:18)
- How Rob got his first Junior developer job (18:48)
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Alex (00:01): Hello, and welcome to the Scrimba podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful devs about their advice on learnings of code and getting your first junior dev job. I'm Alex, and today I'm joined by Rob from New York, who recently got their first full-time junior dev role. In the past, Rob ran his own business doing property damage restoration, but when the pandemic hit and the world slowed down, unfortunately, so did Rob's business. Fortunately, however, Rob actually sped up his web development journey and learned to code front end websites on Scrimba and a few other websites while also being a dad and a husband. This is in contrast to someone like myself, who was fortunate to get to spend all day, every day learning to code without any sort of serious responsibilities. So much respect to Rob for that.
Rob (00:51): I was doing it full time for a while. Then I was worried about, I might have to get to a point where I get a full time job and then I do this when I can. And I said, well, guess what? I'm going to keep doing it when I can then, and going to get to where I need to be.
Rob (01:54): I've done a bunch of stuff, honestly. Right before that I had my own company and I did property damage restoration, which is completely different. It was never a passion of mine. Most of my previous jobs, let's say probably the last 10 years, have been out of opportunity. An opportunity came about and I took it because it just ... you know, it was a good opportunity. And sometimes it's more about hey, this is a great opportunity. Let's just see where it goes, rather than unnecessarily pursue something. And when I came out of school, I didn't really have a path, what I wanted to be.
Alex (02:29): Sounds familiar.
Rob (02:31): But I always did want to code. My first time I ever got into doing anything was back in high school. I used to have one of those ... I don't know if you ever saw those big books. It was called HTML. And it was a book you write in. I did that and I liked it and it was cool and stuff. Over the years, I had kind of played around with the idea. I did a course. A couple years ago, I started CS school. I started a computer science class, and then my company started doing better and it kind of took me away from it, but I finally got to a point where the pandemic kind of ... it hurt my company. It was like, "I think I got to shift to something else." And my wife was like, "I'm so sick of you talking about getting into computer science and playing around with it. If this is what you want to do, do it." So she kind of pushed me and was like, "It's time." It was great to have that. And that's it. I was kind of determined at that point and I'm like, "You know what? I'm going to get this done."
Alex (03:28): It's mad to think, isn't it, how much the pandemic has changed so many of our lives. Because the whole world was kind of on pause, there was no longer any pressure to do the things we always doing. There was no pressure to go out and find a job because nobody was really hiring at the beginning. There was no pressure to go and do your job in person because people were social distancing. And then it's during those times you start to reflect on what you truly want to do. And it sounds like, to me, coding was that thing sort of gnawing at you. What were you planning to do differently this time? How did you structure your learning and about learning to code for real this time?
Rob (04:01): I think it was more of a determination, "I'm going to do this." Before, it was kind of like, "Oh, let me just look into it." And I took a course, I did a Udemy a couple years ago. I was doing all right, but I got stuck. I hit that wall that everyone hits all the time. And I hit again, and it was more of just not going to give up. So part of my worry about trying to ever get into this field was I took eight years of Spanish between high school and college. It was about eight years of taking courses, and I just could not do it. I'm not terrible right now. If I'm talking with someone, I could pick up bits and pieces, I can get maybe the gist of what someone's saying, but it's just so fast. I always should have gotten to a point where I was talking to someone. That was something I should have done, but that kind of gave me a fear of, "Hmm, if I can't do that kind of language, this is also kind of a language." But then I learned it's not really a one to one comparison. There may be some similarities, but it's really not the same thing. So that was always a fear of mine.
Alex (05:01): I get it. If you've tried and ... it sounds like you succeeded, actually. Your Spanish is much, much, much better than mine ever will be. I'm pretty sure about that. But it's interesting what you said, that you should have started speaking to people a bit sooner. When you learn a language and you learn to read and write it, it's not quite the same as participating in a dialogue. And something a lot of non-native speakers say is they just speak so fast or they use colloquialisms that didn't exist in my lesson, the slang and things like that. So reading and learning from a textbook or an isolated class was never going to be the best way to learn the language. But funnily enough, in programming people often make a similar mistake, don't they? Because they will watch Udemy courses or YouTube videos or read books, but not at actually participate in building software. Do you think that's a fair comparison?
Rob (05:47): Yeah. Oh, absolutely. That is the part where my concern was, because doing the courses and not coding is very similar to ... it's the same thing. You're not doing it. You're not using what you learn. You could know what a map is as an array method, but if you don't practice it, you might be able to do the exact thing that they showed you to do, but once it starts changing a little bit, you have to actually understand it. It's the same thing when someone will speak Spanish, and there'd be times when they'll say something ... I actually used to have a friend a long time ago who he would help me, a coworker, really. There would be certain times he'd use Spanish and I'd be like, "What'd you say?" And he'd be like, "Oh, I said this." And I'm like, "Oh, I know that. Why couldn't I understand? I actually know that," but it's just ... it's slang. Look, it's not said the same way. You know what I mean? To learn cabasa, then hear a native speaker say it is totally different.
Alex (06:37): That's interesting. That sounds like it was one of the challenges then, letting to code. There are so many challenges. So I'm actually kind of curious to hear which ones stand out to you. What did you find particularly challenging and how did you overcome those challenges?
Alex (10:11): That's an amazing point. You can achieve the same thing, it might just take you a little bit more time. And if you are on that trajectory, you're probably the same person who, after a relatively short period of time, two, three, maybe even six months, which is still not that long in the scheme of a career, you're on the path to becoming the same person who can do it in 10 minutes with some practice, to disqualify you because you can't speed run it under the pressure of an interview. The only thing I could imagine is you're very determined. You can work twice as hard as well, because you've got more to prove, sort of thing. I'm reluctant to say it, because when I was looking for a new job or my first junior developer job, I knew that I could trade on the fact that I would like work really hard. I was confident I would outwork some people, because I had a chip on my shoulder, I didn't have that degree, I was asking people to take a chance on me, but I do recognize that I was a younger person. I think I was 19, 20 at the time. I didn't have to go back home to a wife or a family. I'd like to hear from someone else what you think.
Rob (11:07): I want to say that didn't help me necessarily get my job, but it was definitely something that I was hoping to show and prove. I mean, I do have two kids. Here's the thing. Some people were like, "Well, don't say that, because then someone's going to think, oh, you have a family and you're not going to be able to give as much and stuff." And I said, "You know what? I disagree with that. I think what it shows is that I'm serious." Someone may just think that this is just a job to them, but that's regardless of whether you're young or old. I think it shows that I'm someone who's about my career and someone who's going to really care and be dependable and stuff like that. So that's what I wanted to get across. And I think I've proven ... I haven't missed a day. I've been here early and I leave late every day. So I think I've proven that tenfold, but it's just about everyone's situation, and you just don't know who you're dealing with and what they're looking for. I truly believe there was a couple times when I felt good about the interview and I felt good about it. And I would've just said, "You know what? Without threatening lawsuit or anything like that, I would love to be able to be a fly in the wall and just find out why," just because it's maybe they had someone in mind already. Maybe it was because I don't know what the reason is. It could be silly. It could be they wanted someone who's ... maybe they wanted a girl for the position because they needed girls. It's not something they can disclose, and I get it, but it would be nice to be like, "Oh, we needed a girl because we have all guys around here." Great. I'm all for diversity. It would just be nice to know it wasn't me that didn't get it, it's just that I didn't qualify.
Alex (12:40): 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, thank you in advance. Next week, I'm talking with Gregory Wittek, an experienced developer and engineering manager. We have a gripping chat about the states of the junior developer job market and how you, an aspiring junior web developer, can position yourself for success.
Gregory (13:11): A lot of people focus on building yet another portfolio project, but that sometimes makes absolutely no impact.
Alex (13:18): This chat was based on an article Gregory wrote called Why No One Hires Junior Developers Anymore. If that sort of title peaks your attention, make sure to subscribe to the Scrimba podcast as not to miss it. It's a sensational title, but the conversation was very measured, insightful, and actionable. You can look forward to that, but for now, back to the interview with Rob.
Did you ever get any sort of feedback from these interviews? Sometimes they'll be very direct and be like, "Hey Robbie, this is one thing we think you could improve," or something like that. Other times you just get a vibe. I think you got a vibe from that other interviewer, that they wanted someone faster. And that wasn't a good mutual fit, by the way, because if that's reflective of the interview where they were really pressuring you, that's the same thing they would expect if you did get the job. So if they extended you the offer in that case, you might have been thinking twice about it anyway. So did you get any sort of indication about what worked well and what you could have done differently?
Alex (15:54): I think people listening are going to really enjoy how sure of yourself you are. When someone is a bit older in life changing to development, they sometimes look at social media and success stories and they're like, "Oh, it's always the 20 year old who got the job," but what you've highlighted is that your maturity and your experiences and your having a family and that responsibility, well, these are strengths as well. For you to take that risk so much later in life, I think that's a huge testament to how serious you are about proceeding in this industry. Do you think that helped you along the way?
Rob (16:25): Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I can't tell you how many times that my experience helped. Yeah, for anyone who ever ... I don't care what the age is. I don't care if you're in your fifties trying to learn, use that experience you have, because you've learned a lot and you've been, I'm sure, in plenty of different situations. And I'm in my thirties, I'm 33, so I'm just about my mid thirties. I've had people say to me, "Wow, man. That's amazing that you did that. I don't know if I'd be able to do that." And I'm just like, eh, I don't think you realize the strength you have. I don't think you realize the strength that you possess already, being someone who ... let's be honest, by the time you're in your thirties, it's not everyone, but a lot of people you talk to, they've had how many different jobs already? Multiple different jobs and different industries, maybe different bosses. You've gained some life experience that just can't be taught.
Alex (17:18): I noticed when you were talking that it didn't seem like you had very much trouble getting job interviews. I mean eight is a modest amount, but still, it's all you needed, obviously. How did you end up succeeding in those interviews and getting in the room?
Rob (17:30): I'm not really sure. Maybe it was my past experience that people are like, "Oh, this guy's got a lot of experience. Let's just give him a shot." And some people have said that it's a lot, but I'll be honest with you, most of them were bad.
Alex (17:42): Okay.
Alex (18:03): That's a red flag. I don't like that. But you had a LinkedIn profile, I assume, and the resume. Did you have a portfolio or any side projects or anything like that might have helped you stand out? Or do you really think it was just your resume doing the work based on your experience?
Rob (18:18): Yeah, I mean I had ... I definitely know that they looked at my portfolio with this current job. They talked to me about a few things that I had on it. One mistake that I made and I would suggest to others is to build your portfolio out more. I do have a portfolio and it's got some good projects on it, but I really don't put enough time or effort into it. And it's something I want to redo. It's important. I can almost guarantee that there were times when people didn't give me interviews. Not that I have any knowledge of it, but just looking at my portfolio a few times, I was like, "This is just not up to par. It could be better."
Alex (18:48): I think it's one of those things that once you invest in it, you've got to ... so even when you have your first job, it makes a lot of sense to ... I could follow this advice, which I don't, by the way. I should lead a better example, I think, but it certainly is a good idea. Tell us a little bit about your current opportunity. How did you find it? What technology stack are they using? What did the interview process look like? What does the company do? I just want to learn everything, basically.
Alex (22:38): Definitely. You said that things were getting a little bit desperate and then you also went on to be almost painfully honest during the interview, sort of being very forthright about not knowing PHP, but I think you handled it super well, sort of explaining it's something you can learn and you will learn and you can transfer your skills. Those two things, desperation and honesty, don't often go hand in hand.
Rob (23:00): Yeah. I just didn't want to get a job where I kind of made it seem like I knew so much. And then you get in there and it's not ... I didn't want to start off on a lie.
Alex (23:08): Yeah, I think that was brave, man. That was really cool. And I'm glad to hear it's paying off as well and you're having a good time. What sort of projects are you working on at the company?
Rob (23:15): I built almost a backend for a company that was getting Shopify data. They were having stuff go from [inaudible 00:23:24] to Google Sheets, and it's just not ideal and they wanted something a little more solid. And there's a big website being built, but it's going to still take a while. So we kind of built a temporary backend for them. It's security and stuff, and it's not just on a Google Sheet and all that. So it was a cool. I mean, I really, really enjoyed doing it. I has so much fun. I can say this to anybody doing this kind of work or wanting to get into the work, when you enjoy what you do, it's like not working. It's really not. When you come to work and enjoy what you do and have fun, I mean my days go so quickly.
Alex (24:00): Tell me, Rob, when you got the offer, did you and your wife celebrate? Because from the sounds of things, it was both exciting and relieving, I can imagine.
Rob (24:06): Well, right after the dance of excitement that I did, I mean my wife was as happy as me or more happy. I mean, she was so thrilled just to see me be on this path for a while and to kind of be at the end of it. It was definitely relief. And I felt it since then. I mean stress is one of those things you just don't realize how stressed you are. Now being able to do what I wanted to do is this feeling I've never really had. I don't think I ever pursued something that I wanted to do. I did open a company of mine back when I was in college and that was kind of fun, but it was just a lot of work and I was doing everything myself and when you're doing it and you're not getting paid, it's a different story. So to actually be paid to do something that I love is ...
Alex (24:51): Was that the property damage restoration one?
Rob (24:54): No, it was back in college called My Freebies. I actually sold it to someone, which was cool.
Alex (24:59): Very cool.
Rob (24:59): But it was a lot of work. It was a successful thing. And to be honest with you, I only sold part of it and was supposed to stay with it, but I got in there and it was just supposed to be ... they were going to change it into something completely different. So I didn't want to stay in it anymore. And my life was changing a little bit, anyway, I had met my wife and stuff.
Alex (25:17): But that's just one of the experiences that contributed to your sort of worldview and maturity and things like that, that helped you succeed today. You've been through it all, it sounds like. I mean, your journey is both unique, but also there are so many parts that I think people listening will find relatable. If you could go back to the beginning and offer yourself, and by extension, anybody listening your advice about learning to code and finding success as a junior developer, is there anything else you can offer?
Rob (25:41): I think that one thing I notice that happens a lot ... and people still contact me. I get messages from people ever since I wrote that I got hired and they'll message me and ask me these questions. And one thing I see that I think everybody makes a mistake with is putting timelines on stuff. Well, why do you think you got it in this time? And do you think it's okay for me to take this long? And I always tell people, I'm like, the first thing for you to do is just remove the timelines, stop thinking about how quickly I did it. Stop thinking how long it took this person. There was a guy not that long ago, maybe that was only doing it for two months. And I remember we were having some discussions about it and I'm like, "That is such an unrealistic timeline." Now maybe you can do it in two months, but don't focus on the two months, focus on you're going to be on a journey now, you're going to work hard, and you're going to get there when you get there. I got to a point where I was doing it full-time for a while. And then I got to a point where I had to go part-time. And I said to myself, "Okay, yeah, it's much easier to do this when it's full-time, but guess what? If I have to go part-time, it's not going to stop." And I started doing it part-time. Then I was worried about I might have to get to a point where I get a full-time job and then I do this when I can. And I said, well, guess what? I'm going to keep doing it when I can then and I'm going to get to where I need to be. You can't worry so much about the destination. You have to worry about just growing the way you need to grow and learning what you need to learn.
Alex (27:04): Couldn't have said it better myself. Rob, thank you so much for joining me on the Scrimba podcast.
Rob (27:08): Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me.
Alex (27:09): That was Rob, a successful Scrimba student from New York. Thank you for listening. If you made it this far in the episode, you might want to subscribe for more helpful and uplifting episodes with recently hired juniors and industry experts alike. We tend to alternate between a recently successful, self-taught developer, like Rob, and a more experienced hiring manager, recruiter, or somebody else who's been in the industry a while working with juniors, such as Gregory, with whom I will speak next week and in the next episode. So this way you get to learn from both sides how to find success. Also remember to tweet me, your host, Alex Booker, and share what lessons you learned from the episode so I can find you personally for tuning in. My Twitter handle, along with Scrimba's, is in the show notes. See you next week.