Niche Down to Blow Up: Scrimba Student Leo Reveals How to Land an Awesome First Dev Job

Niche Down to Blow Up: Scrimba Student Leo Reveals How to Land an Awesome First Dev Job

🎙 About the episode

Meet Leo de Leon 🇺🇸! Leo was a successful self-taught motion graphics designer. Today, he's a successful self-taught developer! He used to design motion graphics for billboards at an arena in Kansas City that seats 20,000 people. But he needed a change. Eventually, he taught himself how to code in 314 hours over 3.5 months and landed his dream job in a Web3 startup around four months later.

In this episode, you will hear why it's essential to know your learning style and how not doing great at school doesn't mean you cannot learn new things. Leo will teach you how to approach your project and portfolio website, as well as his number one tactic for landing your dream job: niching down.

Alex and Leo also talk about some shady recruiter practices you can come across nowadays, the perks of working at startups (yes, especially in this economy!), developers to follow on YouTube, learning opportunities, consistency, and blessings in disguise.

🔗 Connect with Leo

⏰ Timestamps

  • How Leo decided to do something with computers after he saw a Matthew Broderick movie when he was 8 (01:59)
  • How Leo worked as a motion graphics designer for a decade (03:15)
  • Why Leo wanted to change careers and get into coding, and how a failed job opportunity propelled him forward (04:20)
  • Why Leo is equipped to teach himself new skills (06:49)
  • Leo signed up for a bootcamp and then realized it didn’t work for him (when he discovered Scrimba!) (08:31)
  • How long it took Leo to learn to code (11:01)
  • Why you need to set realistic goals (11:45)
  • You’re not too late: there’s never a bad time to get into tech (13:37)
  • Community break: Highlighting tweets and LinkedIn posts from our community (that’s you!) (15:26)
  • How Leo approached finding a job and positioning himself in the job market (17:25)
  • When choosing portfolio projects, choose something difficult! (18:08)
  • Here’s how to make sure your projects and portfolio look nice! (20:07)
  • Leo got his first developer job when a recruiter reached out to him on LinkedIn (21:27)
  • Why a culture fit is important at startups (25:14)
  • Leo’s trial project took an entire month, but he still got the job! (27:48)
  • Quick-fire questions: first lines of code, favorite tech YouTubers, and music with lyrics (32:16)
  • How to create an appealing LinkedIn profile, and how to recognize shady recruiting practices (34:15)
  • Leo works at a Web3 and blockchain-related company. How did he optimize his LinkedIn profile to get there? (37:30)
  • Let other people review your LinkedIn profile and your resume before putting yourself out there! (38:36)
  • Why do you need to niche down and focus on one field or technology (39:56)
  • Don’t get FOMO: you can’t be known for everything (41:07)
  • Be consistent and purpose-driven because motivation comes and goes (45:12)
  • What’s ReadMe Driven Development and how to apply that approach to your career (48:39)

🧰 Resources Mentioned

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💬 Transcript

Leo de Leon (00:00):
Several people that actually saw my resume before I put it out came back to me and said the same thing. They said, "This sounds great, but I don't know what you're looking for. I don't know what you want." And I thought that's odd because my resume does say I'm a front-end developer. How is that-

Alex Booker (00:15):
Hello, and welcome to the Scrimba Podcast. This is a weekly show where one week I interview a recently hired junior developer and then the next week an expert, like a senior dev or recruiter so that you can learn how to break into tech from both sides. I'm your host, Alex Booker, and today I'm joined by Leo De Leon from Kansas City, Missouri. Leo just got his first job as a junior developer and he's here to tell us exactly how he did it. Before learning to code, Leo used to design the motion graphics for billboards at the T-Mobile Center. This is a massive arena for 20,000 people. You see, after struggling at school, Leo taught himself design at his senior level. Several years later, he taught himself how to code in, let me shake my notes here, 314 hours over three and a half months. Now, if that sounds oddly specific, it kind of is.

(01:12):
Leo's story is pretty unique and fascinating in that he took detailed notes about where he spent his time, what specifically he learned, and how he got his job as a developer so that he can pass it on with you here today. I know you're going to get a lot of value from this episode with Leo. We'll get into it in just a second, but first, here's your quick reminder so I don't have to interrupt the episode later to please share this free podcast that has no ads with your friends and on social media. If we like your post, we might read it in the mid-roll along with your name and then you can be the envy of all your friends. Without any further ado, you are listening to the Scrimba Podcast with me and Leo de Leon. Let's get into it.

Leo de Leon (01:59):
I'm going to date myself a little bit here, but in the 80s, this movie came out and, of course, I watched it much later when I was eight or nine years old and the movie's called War Games with Matthew Brodrick. That movie completely changed my life because the movie's about this kid who wants to hack into a gaming company, he wants to find out more about this new game that's coming out. He ends up hacking into the government computer and causing a World War III scenario, and this is an awesome movie. And so at that time, being eight years old, I just completely fell in love with computers and I knew that one day I was going to do something with computers.

(02:33):
That was the case, but I was never really into coding during my childhood or even my teen years, but I did create websites for fun. When I was 17, I made my first website and it was just something where I would list my favorite things, my favorite music, stuff like that, and probably nobody ever saw it, but it was a fun little project to do. Then later on in the 2000s, I also built some websites for a marketing company that I owned. And at that time, I also got into motion graphics, which eventually became my career for the past 10 years. It wasn't until last year when I really, really got into coding as a serious career option.

Alex Booker (03:12):
Motion graphics, that's like creating animations basically?

Leo de Leon (03:15):
Yes, that's correct. I created some marketing websites. At that time there was a big buzz about creating video for your websites and how effective video is, and I wanted to create some cool looking graphics and moving things on the screen and things like that. So I started learning and it took me a couple of months and I actually got really good at it to the point that people wanted to pay me to create. And so I ended up doing it professionally as a freelancer and I also did motion graphics for our arena here in town. It's called Sprint Center, and I was there for four years doing motion graphics professionally. It was a lot of fun.

Alex Booker (03:48):
No way. So those big billboards, they would play your animations basically?

Leo de Leon (03:51):
Exactly. It was creating graphics for all those screens and so much fun, so much creativity going on, and I'm a creative person at heart. There was always this misconception that coding had to do with math and I was never good at math, so I stayed away for a while because of that but later, I found out that was not the case entirely.

Alex Booker (04:11):
You were doing motion graphics for so long and clearly working on some successful projects. Where did the desire to learn to code more seriously and change career come from?

Leo de Leon (04:20):
My wife says I'm a free spirit, which I am, and I have a lot of interests and after doing motion graphics for such a long time, I felt like I wanted to do something else. And then my wife also wanted to go back to school and she got into the medical field and she had to go to school for a few years, so I stepped back a little bit and just worked on other things just to make sure that she could go through school and all of that. Once she was out of school, I decided, "Well, it's time to get back into it." Something really strange and interesting happened to me about a year ago, almost to the date, actually. I was invited to apply for a senior motion graphics position at a Fortune 100 company here in town. Big, big company. And I applied and then they interviewed me for this position.

(05:02):
Normally, these companies have a huge process, like five, seven interviews in some cases, but I had the first interview and the guy who was also going to be my manager actually hired me on the spot to be the senior motion graphics designer, and I thought, "Whoa! This is incredible." And he said, "You know what? We're going to get the paperwork done and HR is going to get back to you." Days started going by then weeks and that turned into months and I did not hear back from them until about three months later, and three months later I got a letter saying, "Oh, by the way, we're not going to hire you anymore." This was such a big hit for me. It was such a terrible experience, Alex, because I was looking forward to this new big position that I was going to get and I was already toying with the idea of a career change as it is.

(05:47):
So I came across a video by a guy named James Cross on YouTube. He's a senior front-end developer for Adobe, I think, and he has a story, a very interesting story, where he became a developer in nine months and then started working and started being a developer. And so I had a talk with my wife and I said, "Look, this is something that I want to do. I really need a career change. I think I would be really good at this developing thing." She's very supportive, so I was able to quit my job at the time, completely unrelated job by the way, and I dedicated the next four months to just becoming a developer. It was like, "I'm done with motion graphics as it is. I had a good run, but I think it's time for me to change." And again, I'm the kind of person that gets bored with things sometimes if I do them for too long. And one of the things I love about development is that it is a creative outlet in itself. The possibilities of what you can create with it are almost limitless. Now you have AI and now you have some things where you can VR and you can create these amazing experiences for people that you could never do with just motion graphics. And so that's what triggered this career change.

Alex Booker (06:49):
By the way, did you teach yourself motion graphics or did you go to school for that?

Leo de Leon (06:53):
I taught myself. I am a self-learner to a fault. I was a terrible student in school. I flunked ninth grade three times. I'm not proud of that. My parents suffered a lot, but I was one of those kids that couldn't conform to the school system. It just didn't work for me. So I was pretty terrible at it, and once I was done with high school, I was like, "I'm done with school forever," but I wasn't done with learning,

Alex Booker (07:14):
Right. Yes.

Leo de Leon (07:15):
I'm good at teaching myself, and so I was able to teach myself, of course, with a lot of tutorials and a lot of online education, free education, and creativity just was something that I've always had. So it definitely helped and people saw that and they were like, "You know what? I want to pay you to do something like that for me."

Alex Booker (07:33):
It's the good old quotes, "Don't let school get in the way of your education."

Leo de Leon (07:36):
Amen to that.

Alex Booker (07:37):
So yeah, you're equipped to teach yourself how to code, but it's still a big brand new world, I guess, with lots of options to learn. How did you end up learning to code?

Leo de Leon (07:46):
That's an interesting story as well. I began to relentlessly watch stories online. Those videos when you go down the rabbit hole and you go and watch these day-in-the-life videos and stories of people saying, "Hey, I became a developer in X amount of time. I went to bootcamp, this and that and the other." And so I started exploring what can I do? How can I become a developer? How can I do it as quickly as possible? I mean, I am no spring chicken. If I'm in a career change, I got to make it happen within a year. I can't spend two or three, four years doing this. I came across Udemy and Angela Yu's bootcamp course that she has. I got the course and I started going through it and it is a little bit outdated. It's a 2019 course, but she's such a great teacher that I was able to really grasp a lot of the concepts.

(08:31):
And so I started learning CSS and HTML and then JavaScript, and I think I went through about 60% of the course. And at that point I decided, "Okay, so if I'm going to do this, I want to do it right. So I'm going to go to bootcamp." I started researching boot camps. I came across a YouTube channel by a guy named DonTheDeveloper, whom you've had on the podcast, by the way. Great guy. He does a lot of bootcamp reviews and things like that. I started learning about all these boot camps and I decided to sign up for one. So I did sign up for one, actually. While I was doing that, and during that time before I even started, I came across Scrimba and I saw one of your videos, Alex, and I was thinking, "This is cool." I started hearing about this Scrimba system where you can type and you can actually edit your code on the video itself and things like that and I was like, "Hmm." So I started exploring and I again went down the rabbit hole. I started listening to the podcast, did a free course, I think, a CSS course, and I decided, "You know what? I want to do this instead." And so I actually canceled my actual bootcamp that I was going to go to and I decided to do Scrimba.

Alex Booker (09:36):
What!? Did you lose money when you did that or?

Leo de Leon (09:40):
Just a little bit. Nothing much. There was a 10% cancellation fee. It was not one of those $15,000 boot camps either. So I may have lost maybe $100 at that.

Alex Booker (09:48):
Hey, $100 is $100.

Leo de Leon (09:50):
I know.

Alex Booker (09:51):
But it's the right decision, isn't it? Because if you found something else that you felt could work better, well...

Leo de Leon (09:56):
Yes, exactly. And being able to do Scrimba also allowed me to not have to work because when I go into something, Alex, I like to go all in and we had an opportunity for me not to work for a few months. Again, my wife had just come out of school and she actually got her dream job way before I did. So we were in a position where I could stay at home for a few months, just dedicating the time to learn to code, and I can only focus on one thing at a time. So even working part-time would've probably messed me up. I don't know. It would've taken me a lot longer. I just went in and I thought, "You know what? I'm going to do a couple hours a day because coding is very mentally intense." And then I would watch videos of people saying, "No, I'm doing eight hours a day and this and that," and I was like, "Oh, well, maybe I need to do more time." But I ended up doing about four to six hours a day. That was the sweet spot for me. So I did, and I went through the front end career path and I completed that and I have a record of everything I did. 314 hours I believe is how long it took me and it completely, completely changed my life. So thank you, Scrimba.

Alex Booker (11:01):
Oh, my gosh! This is incredible to hear, by the way. Thank you for sharing this with us. And I'm so surprised, actually, you'd logged your times so diligently. I don't think if students really done that before, but now we can maybe reverse engineer the question that people often ask, which is how long it takes to do the career path. Over how many weeks or months did you complete those 300 plus hours?

Leo de Leon (11:24):
I completed the career path in three and a half months, so 314 hours was over a period of three and a half months. I self-imposed that goal on me again because I wanted to make it happen quick. And also because my deal with my wife was I was going to be out of work for just three months, which was wishful thinking looking back because it's not like I was going to get a job right away.

Alex Booker (11:45):
Yeah, I get that. Maybe three months to learn is doable if you have the right foundation. And I want to point out as well that you clearly understood how you work best when it comes to teaching yourself and pursuing an intellectual endeavor like coding, but yeah, you need a bit more time to get a job even after you finish learning. That could take another few months at least.

Leo de Leon (12:06):
Yeah, no, and I agree 100%. Be honest to yourself and you have to set realistic goals. Sometimes people say, "Well, I'm going to do this in X amount of time," and then when it doesn't happen, they get discouraged and they just drop it all together. That has happened to me many times and during this time that I was getting into learning to code, the industry started to change as well. This was May of last year when I quit my job and around that time is when the big tech companies started to talk about layoffs and started talking about the tech industry is never going to be the same again.

(12:36):
And people that I would follow on YouTube and other places, they were starting to talk about the panic that started to happen and I thought, "Did I just come in a little late? I mean, this is all happening. Did I choose the right thing because things are a little shaky right now?" At some point, I realized this is going to take me a little bit longer to actually land a job, but I put everything into it and failure was not an option. It was rocky in that sense, but I did ask for a lot of advice from other professionals, and LinkedIn was crucial in this. I made a lot of really great connections and I would talk to people and say, "Hey, what do you think about what's going on? Do you think is going to be hard for someone like me to find a job?" And they would say, "You know what? Companies still need developers and some of these big tech, they're getting rid of a lot of their senior engineers and things like that, but the company down the street, whatever, the mom and pop shop here, they need a website and it's not like they're not going to hire somebody. They need to hire someone to create a web process for them." And that gave me a little bit more peace of mind.

Alex Booker (13:37):
During the lockdowns, after the panic settled, people started to retrain, and at the same time tech was booming. So many people were doing commerce, online tech companies were growing, hiring, investing in all kinds of talent. But yeah, I think you're probably right in terms of the timeline. Halfway through last year, I guess around May, things slowed down a bit. The world opened up, last money was being spent online, inflation was booming and trends changed a little bit, actually. I can totally imagine that being quite an anxious time to learn to code. It's weird because you always feel like you're too late. I think about starting a business or starting a YouTube channel or starting a Twitter account or learning to code. You think, "Oh, everything's been done already. It's so competitive already." But I think if you go five, 10 years into the future, you'll be thinking, "Damn, I wish I started five, 10 years ago. It was so much easier then." There's never a bad time to get into tech, in my opinion.

Leo de Leon (14:27):
Yes, I absolutely agree. And I've also heard a quote that says, "With adversity comes opportunity." Because when some companies are laying off people and things like that, there will always be opportunity for people like me and even companies that may have considered hiring senior developers, when they see the situation with the economy and things like that, they might reconsider and say, "You know what? Maybe we don't need a senior. Maybe we can do with a junior." And so that might be an opportunity for people like us that are just breaking into the industry.

Alex Booker (14:54):
I have to believe, for my own sanity, that statistics don't mean anything to the individual. No matter what the trends are, there are things within your control.

Leo de Leon (15:03):
This is 100% true. Yeah.

Jan Arsenovic (15:06):
Coming up shady recruiters and how Leo got his first developer job.

Leo de Leon (15:10):
You've wasted our time. We've wasted money on this. Don't talk to us ever again.

Alex Booker (15:15):
I'll be right back with Leo de Leon. We don't normally say the full name, but this one's too fun not to say. In just a second, but first, here's Jan, the producer, to read out some of our favorite comments from the last week or so.

Jan Arsenovic (15:26):
Hello! Gubrick tweeted, "Nothing better on a wonderful Wednesday walk than listening to the Scrimba Podcast, episode 109. I see two new courses being added to Scrimba. Learn how to Google effectively and be persistent in problem solving when you're stuck. Two essential skills for any dev." That actually sounds great. I'll take those courses myself and I'm not even a developer. Tiffany Avarez tweeted, "The Scrimba Podcast is a source of motivation for me as a web developer, and I enjoy listening to it while cycling or working out at the gym." Should we add workout music as one of our music beds? Does it still work as is? I don't know. Let us know. Sashan Chetre tweeted, "I've been listening to the Scrimba podcast with @BookerCodes and learning a lot as a junior developer, highly recommended." Thank you.

(16:19):
And somebody asked, "What's your favorite tech related podcast?" And [email protected] tweeted, "Among the multitude of podcasts I've listened to, Syntax.fm, Whiskey Web and Whatnot, JavaScript Jabber, and the Scrimba Podcast are my favorites. Each of them is unique and they're really helpful." So if you needed recommendations on what else to listen to once you finish this episode and you've already listened to our back catalog, here are some recommendations from one of our listeners. That's it for this mid-roll. If you want to hear your tweet or social media post here, join the conversation. If you're learning something from our podcast or if you're finding it motivational or insightful, you can tweet about it, you can post about it on LinkedIn. You can also review us or leave us a rating in your podcast app of choice. And now we're back to the interview with Leo.

Alex Booker (17:15):
Let's talk a little bit about how you got your job. How did you position yourself, firstly, to get a job without a computer science degree or any sort of formal work experience in this field?

Leo de Leon (17:25):
So one of the benefits of being an overthinker sometimes is that you do a ton of research. Because I wanted to do this right from the beginning, I did a ton of research as far as what do I need to do to get a job? What are the steps? I wanted to find the path of least resistance. I kept hearing people say, "Look, the best way to learn is to build your own projects." DonTheDeveloper is one of the people that say that a lot and he's saying, "you got to build a portfolio. You got to show employers what you can do." And you got to realize coming from a creative background like the motion graphics, it works the same. You basically have to show employers what you can do. I got my job even without a degree. I was able to get a job as a motion graphics designer because of my portfolio.

(18:08):
So I thought, "You know what? The same thing could apply here. It makes perfect sense." And so that I focused a lot of my time and energy into creating a portfolio, and that's when I felt I would be ready for it. So I was so excited to get it done and did a ton of research as far as what kind of projects I should include and what is it that people or recruiters, employers are looking for and I got a lot of really great advice. They were saying, "Hey, try not to use the little project like the calculators and the weather apps and things like that. Those are [inaudible 00:18:38] and you got to create something unique, something that really, really shows what you can do." My best advice for that would be create something that is going to be difficult for you to make because that's a project that's going to help you learn a lot. And when you actually have to talk about it with a potential employer, they're going to see your excitement of how you learned to overcome certain things. I think that's extremely valuable, is when you build something that is you're going to hit some walls. Don't create something that's easy for you. It's got to be something difficult. And that's how I felt that I was getting ready for a job, is when I created my portfolio.

Alex Booker (19:13):
Maybe tell us a little bit about the main project you built or one that comes to mind and what kind of challenges you faced while building it.

Leo de Leon (19:21):
When I created my portfolio, I made a list of things that I wanted to have. And to me, a good project would be something that had an API, something where I could call data from a different place and manipulate that data and display the data, interactivity and things like that. I think probably my favorite project is... I call it my Yushi Project. It's a fake restaurant, like a sushi restaurant, a project that I made that actually became really popular on LinkedIn and everybody's been messaging me about it and things like that. Someone even said, "Hey, after I saw that I actually went and got sushi that night." I thought it was kind of funny. There was a lot of data manipulation going on in that and I ran into some major, major walls on how to delete some things when you add to cart and things like that.

(20:07):
I was able to add some things and delete some things and it was really a huge learning experience. But something that I also enjoyed was that I actually designed that on my own, and that's another thing, I guess, that I would recommend people, is make something that's pretty looking. Even if you're not a designer, there's a lot of resources that you can use. I use a website called Envato. They have a subscription plan called Elements, and there's a lot of UI elements and even full designs that you get as a Figma file that you can actually turn into code. You will stand out when your work looks pretty and not just the basic graphics. This may not come naturally to a lot of people and that's perfectly understandable, but that's something that I really wanted to do. And so if you look at my projects, I try to make them as pretty as possible.

Alex Booker (20:50):
Oh, it shows. It shows 10 times over. I really appreciate you, by the way, mentioning you can find an inspiration on Envato. I'll add Dribble into the mix. That's another good place. Behance. There's another website called Awwwards with three Ws and awards, I think, which is a place to feature landing pages. Lots of great place to find inspiration. But anyway, you have this motion design background, this creativity, and it pierces through when I look at the Yo Sushi project, because you have these animations and this consistencies of a design. It looks truly, truly awesome. It's no wonder an employer took interest in this and got in touch at some point.

Leo de Leon (21:27):
I appreciate that, Alex. I finished my portfolio maybe a month after I had finished the career path, and at this point, I thought, "Okay, now I'm ready to apply." And so I began with the process of applying for jobs and to make a really long story short, Christmas came and I didn't have any real prospects. By now, it had been a month and a half since I had started to apply. And so my family and I, we went out of town. I visited my in-laws in Nashville and we were there for a few days and we came back on December 26th, and then the next day on the 27th, I got a message on LinkedIn and it was a recruiter. But you got to understand at this point I have gotten many messages from recruiters and I'm doing the air quotes, "recruiters", because some of them were paid to play opportunities where they say, "Hey, we will find you a job in two weeks, but you got to pay us 11% of whatever the offer is. And by the way, half of it is due upfront and the other half is a payment plan." And I was like, "Yeah, I don't know about that. I don't think that sounds too legit." So I'm used to getting these things.

Alex Booker (22:27):
We need to get into this a little bit later in the interview because that sounds very messed up, but for now, please just continue and tell us about how the job came about. We'll get back into this.

Leo de Leon (22:35):
So December 27th, I got this message on LinkedIn and it was a recruiter for a company called Game of Silks. And like I do with every recruiter that emails me, I go with it and I say, "Hey, this might be a legit thing or it might not be," but I always agreed to the interview and I found out that a lot of times recruiters don't really see your portfolio or your resume before they want to interview you. And then when they finally do, they realize, "Oh, you don't have enough experience, so you might not be a good fit for this." So I thought this might be one of those things, but I still went ahead and the recruiter said, "Hey, are you interested in a front end developer position?" And I thought, "Yeah, absolutely." And he said, "Well, send me your resume and your portfolio and then we'll set up a time that we can talk." And this is when I thought, "Okay, here we go again. He hasn't seen my resume or anything, so he doesn't know I don't have a lot of professional experience." But I did send my information and then the day of the interview came and one of the first things I asked was, "Were you able to see my portfolio and my resume?" And he said, "Yes, I did." And I thought, "Oh, okay."

Alex Booker (23:32):
Hallelujah. The bare minimum.

Leo de Leon (23:34):
Yeah. This might be something here. And he did just standard questions about my experience and things like that. I think one of the things they really liked is that I have a motion graphics background, and they wanted somebody who would be more of a creative than just a developer or a coder. We went through the interview and everything and he said, "Okay," and I showed him my work and then he said, "Okay, I'm going to pass this along to the team, so give me about a week and we'll get back." And I thought, "Okay, well, I've heard this a few times by now," so I didn't think anything of it. And literally two days later, he got back to me again and said, "Hey, I showed the team your work and they really like it and they want to set up another interview." And I thought, "What? Okay, this might be something. Okay." At this point I'm starting to think, "Okay, there really might be something here." I had an interview with the head of product and he's a very technical person, and we went over my work again and this time it was kind of like a technical interview but without a coding challenge. It was more like, "Tell me about a project. Tell me what challenges you encountered."

Alex Booker (24:34):
Did you go through the sushi app?

Leo de Leon (24:34):
I did, yes. That's my favorite one and that's also the one the most technically challenging for me. And so I'm so excited to talk about that one because of all the challenges I had and how I came up with some of the solutions and things like that. And it was a really great conversation. It lasted about an hour, I think, and then he said, "Okay, well, we'll talk to the team again and we'll get back to you." And again, about two days later, they got back to me and said, "The co-founder of the company wants to talk to you." And I thought, "Oh, my gosh. This could actually be happening." And sure enough, I met with the co-founder of the company. This is a startup, which, by the way, I love startups and a lot of people say, "You got to stay away from startups because there's no job security and this and that."

(25:14):
But I'll tell you, I appreciate startups because during my motion graphics days, I worked with a lot of them and something that I realize is when you work at a startup, you wear a lot of hats and if there is any opportunity for you to learn and grow is through a startup because you have to do so many things and you get to learn how systems work and things like that. So I have a soft spot for them, and this was kind of like a dream job situation for me where, hey, I would love to work for this company. And so we met with the co-founder and we had a really great interview. There was nothing technical about it. And this person is not a technical person necessarily, but he was more interested in personality traits and things like that.

Alex Booker (25:51):
What kind of questions did he ask you?

Leo de Leon (25:53):
He would say things like, "This is what we're trying to accomplish as a company and this is what we do." And by the way, this is a blockchain, a web three company. It's a blockchain fantasy sports company. And he was very interested in me being or wanting to be a part of it because of what they want to accomplish and do I get along with a company culture? And so that was important to him and how do you like to work? What is your thinking process when it comes to making creative decisions and things like that. And so it was very much, "Are you the right fit aside from the technical part?"

Alex Booker (26:26):
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense because if you are to work at a startup, I'll just quickly add, for a lot of big companies that have done layoffs lately too, there's really not much more security at a big company necessarily, but obviously, in a startup, you need a certain attitude. I think you need to be able to adapt. The only constant is change. You need to be okay with being a big cog in a little machine. You should expect to have an impact and you might not have someone to hold your hand necessarily at the same time. And so I think an interview like that makes a lot of sense because if you start describing your workflow and say, "Well, I'll write a 2000 word proposal. I'll share that around. In a few weeks, I'll finally write a first line of code with them." They'll be like, "No, that's not how a startup works. You need to run experiments and hit the ground running more quickly than that." And that could flag that it's just not a good fit fundamentally because you work in a way or you're looking for something they don't have to offer or vice versa, you might learn the same.

Leo de Leon (27:16):
Exactly. And also, it was important to them to talk about expectations for compensation as well. Everybody knows it's common thing that a lot of tech companies will give you an interesting compensation plan where you also get shares in the company and things like that. Honestly, I've done a lot of research and people always say, "Hey, you have to ask for more than what you think they're going to give you." So did I. I probably asked for something that was a little unrealistic for a junior, but I did anyway and interestingly enough, they actually agreed to it, which is crazy.

Alex Booker (27:46):
Oh my, that's incredible.

Leo de Leon (27:48):
And toward the end of the call he said, "Well, I want to make this happen, but I will tell you this. The way that we want to do this..." I've been a business owner before, and one of the things that you hear people say business owners say is you got to hire slow and fire quick. So you got to hire somebody, go through a really lengthy process and when you have to fire someone, make it quick, don't drag it on. And so I think he was adopting some of this like, "Okay, we want to be absolutely sure that you're the right person for this. So what we're going to do," he said, "Is we're going to do an initial project. It's going to be a contract and you tell me how long you think it's going to take and you tell me what your rate's going to be and we're going to make this happen and if it works out, then we will talk about a full-time position."

(28:29):
And so I call it like a glorified take home assignment because it was actually paid. I was like, "Okay, I'm about to get paid to code and it's never happened before and this is fantastic." I took the project home and it did take a little longer than we had expected. It was originally going to be a two-week thing. It ended up being a month long thing, and that's mainly because of some technical issues we were having to get me set up.

Alex Booker (28:51):
How did you feel about this type of interview? A take home task during the interview phase that takes a day or two, in my opinion, there's not much of an opportunity cost associated with that, but as they contract you to work on this two, three week project, whatever it happens to be, you're not realistically going to be continuing your job search, I feel like, because you'll be tied up on this project and obviously, if it pans out, that's great. It's fantastic, a wonderful investment, but if, for some reason, it doesn't pan out, then you're going back to square zero. You've lost two weeks in your job search and that can be really expensive even though they compensated you.

Leo de Leon (29:24):
This is correct. And the way that I looked at it, Alex, was this is going to be a learning experience, so I will win no matter what happens because I will be able to learn and take a peek at working in a team environment, a real team of developers environment. Even if they decide not to move forward, I still have a lot to take away and I was okay with that. Yeah, I was definitely okay with that. And I did learn a ton, and again, it was mainly getting me set up. With the blockchain, there are so many authentications you have to go through and there's smart contracts and things like that. Even in a development environment, you have to get authorized and your IP has to get white listed and this is what took the longest. But once I finally was able to get down and code, it was really great experience.

(30:05):
Now, it was also a good experience for me because they threw me into the code base and there was not much of an explanation as to, "This is where things are and this is how things work." It was just like, "Take a look at the code and ride in." And so I had to do a lot of code reading and a lot of trying to understand how this works, and this was a really huge learning experience for me as well. Finally, then I had what they call a code review, and this is when several people from the company came to the call and we had lead developers and some other senior people. It was probably more nerve-wracking than having a tech interview because at this point, I have to present and I have to do a demo. And so I do my presentation and I show them everything I did and they ask me some questions, "Why did you do it like this?"

(30:50):
I was sharing my screen and they were like, "Show me this line of code and why did you do it this way," and things like that. But I felt like I was in my element because again, I had gone through so many hiccups along the way and being able to figure things out gave me a lot of authority to talk about what I had learned and why I had decided to do certain things a certain way. And honestly, at this point, before the meeting, I felt this might be it. At this point, they might tell me, "You've wasted our time, we've wasted money on this. Don't talk to us ever again."

Alex Booker (31:19):
No way. Come on. What did they say for real?

Leo de Leon (31:21):
It's imposter. It can get you. We went through the presentation and honestly, it went so much better than I could have even imagined because everybody was like, "Hey, this is fantastic work. This is great. I am super excited." And then the co-founder stayed on the call afterwards and said, "Okay, we're going to send you an offer and we're going to make this happen. You're going to be a part of the team." Sure enough, two days later I get an offer and I remember taking a screenshot and sending it to my wife and being like, "Hey, we made it. This is it."

Alex Booker (31:48):
Yes! The sacrifice was worth it.

Leo de Leon (31:51):
It was worth it.

Alex Booker (31:52):
That's amazing. I love how you two were supporting each other, by the way. First with her goals and then yours. So cool. How did you celebrate?

Leo de Leon (31:59):
We were so excited and I was jumping up and down and I just couldn't wait to tell everybody in my family and everything and we went out to eat. That's what we do to celebrate. That's what we do. It's kind of like birthdays and things. We go to a special place and have a meal and just be happy.

Alex Booker (32:16):
All right, man. Well, I want to dig a little bit deeper into some of the topics we spoke about already, but what do you say we do a quick round of quick fire questions before that?

Leo de Leon (32:25):
Let's do it.

Alex Booker (32:30):
Who is your favorite coding teacher or coding course that you've completed in recent memory?

Leo de Leon (32:35):
Well, you know what? I love Angela Yu, but Bob Sorel is by far my favorite teacher.

Alex Booker (32:40):
That's so cool to hear. And what was your first coding language all those years ago?

Leo de Leon (32:44):
It was HTML and CSS. I never went beyond that when I was doing websites back in the 2000s.

Alex Booker (32:50):
Oh, man. I'd love to see that code now and see how it compares to the modern web standards and what editors you used and stuff. Is there any technology you want to learn going forward?

Leo de Leon (33:00):
Yes, I want to dive deeper into Web3 three and smart contracts and things like that, get a little bit more into the backend. That is something that really interests me and I'm actually planning on learning more in the coming months.

Alex Booker (33:11):
Do you follow or look up to anyone in the tech community that we should know about? You mentioned James Cross and DonTheDeveloper already. We're going to link those in the show notes.

Leo de Leon (33:20):
Absolutely. I like Chris Sean as well. He's another YouTuber and he does podcasts. I like the guys from the Syntax podcast as well. They're always putting out courses and things.

Alex Booker (33:30):
Scott Zelensky and West Boz, right?

Leo de Leon (33:32):
Yes.

Alex Booker (33:32):
Legends. And what music do you listen to while you're coding? Or do you prefer to code in silence maybe?

Leo de Leon (33:38):
Here's the thing, when I was in school and I was doing math problems, I could not listen to anything at all. People that study with music, I couldn't do that. But when it comes to coding, I actually listen to 90s music for the most part. A lot of people will say, "Well, the Lofi stuff," and I like that too, but I can actually code and listen to music with lyrics. It doesn't bother me one bit. So that's why I like to listen to it.

Alex Booker (34:00):
And how do you fill your coding sessions? With tea or coffee?

Leo de Leon (34:03):
Definitely coffee.

Alex Booker (34:04):
Me too, man. All right. That's awesome.

Leo de Leon (34:06):
I'm an American man. We drink coffee.

Alex Booker (34:07):
Hey, you'd be surprised. I've met a few green tea sipping Americans in my time.

Leo de Leon (34:13):
That's true. I know them too.

Alex Booker (34:15):
All right, man, we have to dig into this a little bit because I know that a cornerstone of your job hunting strategy was LinkedIn. I can surmise that your LinkedIn is in a really, really good shape and we can link it in the show notes for people to look at and maybe draw inspiration. There's a lot of the things we consider hygienic, I guess. So that means having a good headline, a good picture, but you've gone above and beyond there, I think, because you've also been posting on the platform as well and engaging with others. You have more than 500 connections. I know you've been engaging with people in the Scrimba community and taking advantage of everything Scrimba and the community have to offer. It's a really exemplary kind of thing and I would encourage people to check it out and connect with you. Maybe your DMs are open as well? I'm not sure.

Leo de Leon (34:58):
Absolutely. 100%.

Alex Booker (34:59):
But obviously, when you go ahead and optimize your LinkedIn profile, you can expect to hit back from recruiters. Essentially, they're going to search up different keywords and hopefully your profile comes up. To be honest, I've mostly heard good things about this, but it sounds like there are some situations to be cautious of. You spoke about a couple of scenarios where the messages from recruiters, even though they looked really exciting at first, once you peeled them back a layer, you realized they weren't quite as exciting as you first realized. Is that fair to say?

Leo de Leon (35:28):
Oh, absolutely. That is very fair to say. One of the downsides of creating a very appealing LinkedIn profile is that you will also attract some of the bad apples, I would say. I know there's a lot of scams going on for a lot of different things, and I hate to use the word scam, but that's really what they are. People that will offer you different things that will send you a link to fill something out and things like that, you got to be very cautious about that. But one of the things that I chose to do was if anyone messages me and says, "I have an opportunity. Would you like to set up a call?" I will always say yes because you never know. Even if it doesn't look like it's legit, turns out a lot of those weren't legit, but I still would go to the call and see what this was about. And it is not like they were necessarily scams. They were not exactly what they had portrayed themselves to be. There were a lot of those pay-to-play things.

Alex Booker (36:16):
What does that mean? Pay-to-play?

Leo de Leon (36:17):
Pay-to-play means that you actually have to pay in order for them to get you a job.

Alex Booker (36:22):
So they'll say, "Hey, I can help you get a job, but if we succeed, maybe it's a payment in advance," which I would definitely never ever do, but they say, "Hey, we want to share of what you go"?

Leo de Leon (36:31):
Exactly. I don't want to say they're not legit because I never tried them. I just think from my years of experience on this earth that when somebody says, "We'll get you a job in two weeks, and then you got to pay us 11% of whatever the offer is and half of it is due on signing," I'm thinking, "Well, what's keeping your buddy from calling me and telling me their company and giving me a contract and then I pay you guys and then you guys disappear?" kind of a thing. That's just me thinking.

Alex Booker (36:57):
And your interests aren't aligned anymore because they just want to make some money. They don't care what job it is, what role it is. It could be a terrible job. It won't be right for you, but they would encourage you to take it to secure their commission, essentially.

Leo de Leon (37:09):
Exactly. And I was thinking, no one can guarantee that you're going to get a job in two weeks. No one can do that. Even the best recruiters cannot say, "I will guarantee that I will get you a job within the next two weeks."

Alex Booker (37:19):
I've spoken with a lot of really talented recruiters on the podcast and elsewhere and they would never do that because so many variables. It just sounds too good to be true. It probably is.

Leo de Leon (37:28):
100%.

Alex Booker (37:30):
The company you work at is Web3 and blockchain related. Did you have keywords relating to this on your profile before you got these messages from these people, or did you only update your profile of the Web3 stuff later?

Leo de Leon (37:41):
So I did Web3 as a keyword, and that's because I became very interested in this after I graduated from the pathway. I'm sorry, I keep saying pathways. The path.

Alex Booker (37:52):
I quite like pathway, by the way.

Leo de Leon (37:53):
I became very interested in that. I was going to open c.com and I was looking at some of the NFT websites for inspiration even to put something in my portfolio. And some of the websites that they create in the NFT world are so creative. They're just pushing the edge of technology with some animation and just really great experiences. And I thought, "This is really amazing." So I started digging deeper into it and I realized this is something that I definitely want to learn and I want to get into. So I added Web3 to my profile on LinkedIn because it's something that I was very interested in and I started to learn it, learning about smart contracts and learning about the blockchain and things like that. And so I think that may have helped when the recruiter found me.

(38:36):
But Alex, I was going to mention something about the profile and the resume and something that I don't hear a lot of people say. One big piece of advice that I got that I think really helped me because I had several people review my resume before I put it out there. There were some senior developers that helped me out. There were some recruiters that helped me out, and the several people that actually saw my resume before I put it out came back to me and said the same thing. They said, "This sounds great, but I don't know what you're looking for. I don't know what you want." And I thought that's odd because my resume does say I'm a front-end developer. Yeah, you might say that, but you're not explicitly saying, "I am looking for a React front end developer job."

(39:17):
And I thought, "Huh, that's interesting." And I've seen a lot of people like to put all of their skills in one thing. They'll say, "Hey, I'm a developer, but I'm also a designer and I'm also this, and I'm also that." I think you should be one thing only and you should never downplay your other skills, but, for example, in my case, I have a strong background in motion graphics, so I am a front end developer with a strong background in motion graphics. I am not a front end developer and a motion graphics designer. I am not two things. I am one thing with a strong background in these other things. So I thought that was key for me and I'm very specific as to what I'm looking for. I think that really helped me a lot.

Alex Booker (39:56):
Can you talk more about how you positioned yourself, because I think that makes a huge difference to people's job search, and it's clearly something you've thought a lot about.

Leo de Leon (40:03):
After I went through the path, I decided, "You know what? React is amazing and I want to do React. I don't want to just do JavaScript. It has to be React." So I positioned myself as a React developer and everything I did rolled around this one thing. And if you look at my projects and my portfolio, even my portfolio itself, I built everything in React. I was tempted to put some other projects that I created in JavaScript and things, some fun ones that I made, but I was like, "No, I got to stay true to this one thing." So it goes back to you got to be one thing and one thing only. So if you want to get a UX designer job, then make another portfolio and another resume for that, but you can be a lot of things at once. So that's one thing that really helped, is focus on the one thing. And so everything that you make, including your portfolio and your resume and your LinkedIn profile and everything will be that one thing. And so you will become the React guy. You are the React guy because that's what I wanted. And so I think that's a good way to position yourself, is to be focused on what you want and make sure that people that are finding you will also realize, "Oh, this is what they want."

Alex Booker (41:07):
What would you say to someone who is worried about missing out? "Ah, crap. I'm not going to show up in this job search for Angular, even though I could do that job if I focus on React." Or how would you convince yourself to niche down?

Leo de Leon (41:18):
People fall into this trap of wanting to be everything to all people because they want that job. We want that first job so we are afraid that we're going to miss out. And so we want to put everything that we know and all of our skills and everything into this one big pot, but I think it comes down you have to sit down and really decide "What exactly do I see myself doing for the next..." Doesn't have to be the next 10 years or anything because things change all the time, "But at least for the next year or two, what do I see myself doing?" And in my case, I wanted to get really good at React and I want to build React websites. I want to build React things.

(41:52):
That's when I decided, "Okay, I'm not going to go out there and start learning Angular and these other things or even Python because that's not my focus right now. I can learn that later." Later on, once you have a job, once you're established, then I think you can think about those things. And so I just made the decision and I said, "I really love React and I think this is it. I know there's a lot of other really great technologies out there and I definitely want to learn them, but for right now and for what I'm looking for, I think I'm going to focus on this and I'm going to try to be the best that I can be at this one thing and then focus on the other things."

Alex Booker (42:26):
I love that. And that, honestly, is a cohesive strategy and I think something that can make you really successful. When you have a portfolio or a resume or a LinkedIn and you're just not really painting a clear picture about what you can do, what you want to do... Okay, maybe if a recruiter or somebody uses their imagination, they can see how you fit in, but honestly, when they see that your profile is a perfect match for their job description, they're going to press "get in touch" so fast, they might drop their mouse. And I think what makes it a strategy is you're not necessarily pinning yourself into this pigeon hole. Your LinkedIn, your portfolio, all these things, they allow you to be discovered and in that scenario, your profile's going to stand out. But that's not the whole of the strategy. That's just a tactic. That's just one way you work towards getting your goal to make a really good strategy.

(43:15):
Now, what you do is you start applying to jobs and then you start writing your cover letter that, okay, maybe it's an Angular job and your profiles are all positioned around React well, maybe this now is where you tell your story a bit and say, "Hey, this is why I think I can do an Angular job, or why I think I'll be a great fit." Personally, I would always have one LinkedIn, one portfolio. I think things could get really messy if you go beyond that, but I really like your idea to have multiple resumes. You have a base template. It can be a page and a half, two pages, and then you condense it to a page, including the most relevant experiences for that particular role. You maybe change the structure a little bit and what you write in the tagline, in your objective statement or whatever it might be for your particular resume template, then you have an opportunity to do both. You can really resonate or you can have a little bit of context that makes you just as suitable for those jobs. That's a two-pronged approach I think could really work.

Leo de Leon (44:08):
Oh, absolutely. And this is something that I learned from my online marketing days back in the early 2000s. When you have multiple products to sell, for example, you create multiple landing pages. One landing page per product, so you're selling one thing in one page. And I think it's kind of a similar concept. It's like don't do a shotgun approach where you throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks kind of a thing. But you will focus on this one thing and you will sell that one thing and you're going to be a salesperson for that one particular thing. And I think that is the best approach. If anything, it's worked for me even finding my first job here, which, by the way, sometimes I feel bad to celebrate a little too much and tell people about it because I know there's a lot of people struggling right now trying to find a job. But I would say to them, "You got to keep grinding because your day is coming and just take some of these few things that you might have learned and just apply them and that can make a big difference when it comes to you finding that first job."

Alex Booker (45:03):
We almost out of time, unfortunately, Leo, but is there any other advice you can share with someone learning to code, maybe something you wish you knew at the beginning of your journey?

Leo de Leon (45:12):
One of the biggest pieces of advice that I could give anyone is be consistent with your learning and be purpose-driven because motivation comes and goes and it's very easy to get discouraged. I do remember there were some coding challenges that I couldn't do, and a lot of people ask me... I get a lot of messages from people saying, "Hey, were you able to do all the coding challenges and this and that?" And I'm like, "No, not even close." There were so many that I couldn't do it. And it's easy to think, "I should know this by now. I should be able to do this. Why am I not doing this? What's going on in my brain? Is this even the right thing for me?" I think when you're consistent with your learning, you'll be surprised to learn that your brain will retain so much with consistency as opposed to doing a whole bunch of learning one day and then you spend two weeks doing other things.

(46:01):
Consistency is key and just keep going because eventually, you will become really good at it and your brain will develop this thing where, you will learn to think like a developer, even later on when technology changes and there are other things coming, you will be able to adapt. And I think that's the biggest thing for me was staying consistent. That's always been difficult for me because again, motivation fluctuates, but when you have a purpose, for a lot of people, it's very serious because this means they'll be able to pay their bills. Some people quit their jobs and they only have so much time to be able to find a job and it's difficult. And when we put yourself in that kind of pressure, it's really hard to stay focused. But I think stay focused, stay consistent. I think it's probably the best thing I can tell you and start today if you haven't. I wish I would've started this 10 years ago like we were saying at the beginning,

Alex Booker (46:49):
That senior motion designer job at the Fortune 100 company that didn't quite pan out in the end must have been earth-shattering at the time. I completely sympathize with how much that must have sucked, but now you've come on this journey and you've become a developer. Do you regret it?

Leo de Leon (47:05):
No, not at all. I think that was a blessing in disguise. It was something that helped me focus on career. If that hadn't happened, I probably would still be doing whatever I was doing at the time and not having a clear direction as far as where to go career-wise. But that was like a jolt to the chest where I thought, "Okay, I really need to do this." And if I'm not going to be a motion graphics designer, because again, I was a little bit bored, I would say, of that career anyway, and I don't know, it was just a blessing in disguise.

Alex Booker (47:37):
And just one last question. You wanted to make this transition in three months. How long did it take you to learn to code and get your first job if you worked backwards?

Leo de Leon (47:46):
I started in May of last year and I got my offer, my official offer, about a month ago. So it was all in all about seven months or so?

Alex Booker (47:56):
Incredible. I think that's such a testament to your own advice, which is to be consistent. Even when motivation is fleeting, show up. Even if you do half an hour of that day, keep the momentum going. Keep that context fresh in your brain. Now more than ever in this market, you have to tough it out. You have to have grits. You have to be disciplined and teach yourself to code, but at the same time, I also really like what you did because you created a playbook for yourself almost. You thought about your job search earlier in the process and later. I think you described it as looking for the path of least resistance. By starting your journey there, you could be sure you're learning the right things that are more likely to get you a job and make you successful in the end. By the way, it's an interesting idea.

(48:39):
Maybe people could look into it a bit more after this episode and product development is called Read Me Driven Development. So instead of coding all the project and then writing the Read Me markdown file, like you recognize from GitHub, you start with the Read Me and you describe the API or if it's a visual product with a graphical interface, you start to talk about the landing page and the benefits to the users. And just by starting there, you figure out your destination and you can't take a wrong turn then. And yeah, I know it's a bit different in this case, but what you described very much reminded me of that.

Leo de Leon (49:12):
Absolutely. I love that concept and it's 100% true. I agree with it and it's been true to me and I think it can be true to anybody who applies it.

Alex Booker (49:20):
Leo, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to come and share your experience with us. It's nothing short of inspiring. I want to reiterate again, we didn't go into the nitty-gritty, but just check out Leo's LinkedIn and portfolio especially. I really can't fault it. It's really, really good and I think it's going to inspire people as well. Leo, thanks again for joining me on the Scrimba podcast. It's been a pleasure.

Leo de Leon (49:42):
It's been such an honor, Alex. Thank you so much and continue inspiring people.

Jan Arsenovic (49:46):
That was the Scrimba Podcast, episode 111. If you made it this far, you can subscribe to our show wherever you listen to podcasts. This is a weekly show where we interview both industry experts and recently hired junior developers, and we haven't missed a single Tuesday in... I think about two years at this point. So yeah, there's a lot of good stuff coming and if you subscribe, you can make sure you're not going to miss it. The podcast is hosted by Alex Booker. You can find his Twitter handle in the show notes. Make sure to check out the show notes for all the resources from this episode as well, including the ways to connect with Leo. I've been Jan the producer. For the people occasionally misspelling my name on Twitter, it's J-A-N, and we'll be back with you next week.