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🎙 About the episode
Meet Don Hansen 🇺🇸! Don is a software engineer and developer mentor who helps aspiring juniors land their first opportunity. He's also a Youtuber, podcaster, and streamer who met his first boss on Twitch!
In this episode, Don and Alex talk about career changes, leaving a good first impression, and the state of the job market right now. You'll learn whether you should consider attending a coding bootcamp or stick to a self-directed path, how to see past the marketing copy on a coding bootcamp's website, and how to actually look at networking (especially if you're bad at it). Don also shares valuable insights on all the things you might be doing wrong if you're just starting your job search.
🔗 Connect with Don
- Don always coded as a hobby (01:19)
- Bridging the gap between a hobbyist and a professional: it's a shift in mindset (02:56)
- How to keep coding playful while maintaining discipline (05:02)
- How did Don go about getting his first coding job? (06:23)
- Don met his first boss on Twitch! (07:20)
- Why is providing transparency very powerful + are you curious about coding? (09:01)
- What Don learned from failed job applications (11:21)
- How you should think about networking (13:10)
- Ad break! Next week, it's Marleigh Morgan! (14:52)
- Fight shyness with exposure (16:21)
- How James Mariott fought his insecurities by streaming, and why streaming can be a great strategy for you (19:03)
- On imposter syndrome: it never goes away (20:32)
- Why you should train yourself to be a problem solver (23:25)
- Don put stuff you don't know (or senior developers, for that matter) on a pedestal (25:47)
- Short-term vs long-term goals (26:19)
- How to pick your area of expertise, and why Don picked CSS (30:10)
- Should you sign up for a bootcamp or choose a self-directed route? (34:32)
- Can you pick a bootcamp based on their success rate? (38:24)
- What to do if you're applying for junior developer jobs but never hearing back? (42:39)
- Coding ability vs. soft skills, and why it's important to learn presentation skills (45:58)
- What's the motivation behind Don's YouTube channel? (48:13)
- How to look for jobs during a recession (51:05)
- The only surefire way to fail is to quit (55:47)
🧰 Resources Mentioned
- DonTheDeveloper YouTube channel
- Don's YT video: How I Got My First Web Developer Job
- Don't review of Scrimba
- Should aspiring developers be worried about the recession?
- Scrimba podcast: Code Like Nobody Is Watching: On Community, Learning, and Finding the Right Culture Fit, With Scrimba Student James
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You can also Tweet Alex from Scrimba at @bookercodes and tell them what lessons you learned from the episode so they can thank you personally for tuning in 🙏
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (00:00):
We got to realize like these coding boot camps are doing whatever they can to bump up those numbers on their marketing pages. And there's so many ways they actually bump that up where they're not liable in illegal sense.
Alex Booker (00:12):
Hello and welcome to the Scrimba podcast. On this weekly show I speak with successful devs about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior developer job. I'm Alex, and today I'm joined by Don Hansen, a junior developer coach from the US. This is a really fun interview because Don graduated from a bootcamp in 2017 and he's been mentoring other new developers ever since in person on one-on-one calls, but also on his YouTube channel, DonTheDeveloper.tv.
He's made videos on what hiring managers look for in juniors, how to become a self-taught developer, and he's also done a series of in-depth bootcamp reviews where he invites three or four graduates from the bootcamp and grills them a little bit gently about their experience in the bootcamp to see if the bootcamp is living up to their claims. We touch a little bit on boot camps in this interview, but mostly this is me pretending to be a junior again and asking Don the general questions I think you would like to know the answers to if you had a coaching session with him or something like that. You are listening to the Scrimba podcast. Let's get into it.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (01:19):
This is going to date me, but when I was like 14, I actually wanted to build websites for my favorite video games, big fan of StarCraft and different Zelda games. And so I built my first X page website, I think that's the name of it. And I kind of just want to get information on the page. I thought it was really cool that I could create something like that. So, I've honestly experimented with coding ever since I was little. I built a web hosting company when I was 18 and basically a lot of my coding came from me just being a creator. I needed a website for my web hosting company, so I built it, I learned what I had to learn. Then I went to college for computer networking, super boring, switched to psychology, very interesting. But then I volunteered at the crisis center in Lafayette and I realized I didn't want to do that full time.
And so what I would do to de-stress the entire time is just code on the side. Then I became an aquatic director, did lifeguard swim instructional and a lot of that just to pay the bills and I thought that's what I wanted to do. And then I would de-stress through coding. I'd go home and I'd code for a few hours. And I always loved it as a hobby, but always ... I remember I'm like, do I have to go back for a CSS degree? I can't afford it. I have a lot of debt going for psychology and finishing that degree. And I actually want to give a shout-out to Chris Sean because one of his earlier videos convinced me that I could probably just go to something like Treehouse back in the day and it worked for me. And it didn't really matter what course I chose. But yeah, eventually I quit my full-time job as an aquatics director and jumped into just trying to teach myself how to code and taking it seriously as a career. And two years and three months later I finally got a developer job.
Alex Booker (02:56):
It's interesting because you'd been dabbling with coding for a while and doing it quite consistently as a hobby. When you made that decision to become a professional, how would you describe that gap between being a hobbyist and being hireable and then how did you close that gap?
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (03:11):
It's a shift in mindset. I think what's really scary is to take something that you love that you kind of just do for fun, you don't take seriously, you don't have necessarily structured learning and now you basically test yourself whether you can do this on a very high level where companies are actually going to pay you for money. I had imposter syndrome like no other, and it really made me feel like I was kind of stupid compared to a lot of other professional software engineers. I remember putting other software engineers on this huge pedestal, they're brilliant people, brilliant engineers. And that was a mistake. I learned that I should have interacted with software engineers a little bit more frequently. I learned that the skill level that I was at, at multiple stages of learning how to code was actually not that far off from a junior developer that was paid.
I think the big thing was overcoming that obstacle specifically. And once I did, because when I put people on a pedestal like that, I felt like I could never learn enough. I wasn't learning the right things. I don't know how in the world anyone became a software engineer. And then when I stopped putting people on a pedestal, I started having fun with coding again. And I think that's the big thing that I think people need to get is you have to continue having fun with it. You're not necessarily going to treat it like a hobby, but you have to be curious about learning stuff. You have to want to build that project that you can finally build because you finally realized how you can go about going forward data visualization with CSS, or you can finally build that API and store all this data and build this website for your favorite community or whatever you're trying to build.
I feel like you just have to figure out projects that capture your attention, that you're curious about, that you love to build and that's going to be the fuel to finally push you forward into a professional level. Because really all it takes is time. You just got to learn and build a bunch of stuff and eventually you'll definitely get there and that's what I had to do.
Alex Booker (05:02):
Keeping coding playful has to be the key to long-term success. If this is something you're going to sustain for at least a year to learn at a hireable level, but maybe do for the rest of your life. You don't want to feel stressed and hurried and people say you should be disciplined. But discipline is not without a cost. Not many of us or frankly anybody can afford just to spend discipline indefinitely. You have to kind of recharge and I think go back to your roots. In your case you said you were a builder. I think many of us enjoy solving problems and unlocking the next level of web developments. I didn't need Pomodoro methods and study schedules to play games because it was just fun and enjoyable. And I think your advice to bring a bit of that mentality to coding is great.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (05:43):
I think it's really hard because you need to bring discipline into your journey because I think your motivation is going to wary. It's great that I can tell you that you should bring some fun and playfulness back into it, but in reality you're going to experience life. You have relationships. What happens when you get into a breakup? How do you continue pushing forward with coding, dealing with a breakup? I can almost guarantee you that at some points you're going to feel very demotivated. So, you have to figure out a way to bring kind of a schedule and some consistency into it. But then you also have to know, like you said, when to pull away and recharge and get back into the playfulness of it. It's a balance that you have to figure out for yourself, but it's really hard to find that sometimes.
Alex Booker (06:23):
So, you had a degree in psychology and you had been taking your coding more seriously, bringing some more structure into it and watching various courses it sounds like. How did you then go about getting your first coding job?
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (06:35):
Alex Booker (08:00):
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (08:01):
Yeah, we just talked about it. We chatted about React, what we liked about it, what we didn't. And I met my first boss, Danny, great guy. He's still a friend of mine. We play games every Thursday. But we related on Twitch. He was a Twitch user, he played video games, he saw my stream. And honestly, I think that's the main thing, that connection that we formed there that got me that job.
Alex Booker (08:21):
What do you think the role of virtue signaling plays in the hiring process when you're a new developer? Because live streaming on Twitch, that to me is the type of virtue signaling, having a lot of reputation on Stack Overflow, sometimes there's advice if you want to get a job as a developer, the degree of the 21st century isn't a piece of paper from an institution, it's your GitHub, it's your Twitch, it's your Stack overflow.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (08:44):
Actually, can you define virtue signaling in this context?
Alex Booker (08:47):
Sure. So, virtue signaling is a way you kind of publicly express yourself that demonstrates your kind of character or your views on something. For example, your views on coding and your passion and desire to get better at it.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (09:01):
Gotcha. Thank you. Okay. So, I think it's very powerful to provide transparency. When companies are hiring, they are taking a risk, right? And a lot of it's trained to mitigate that risk of hiring a new software engineer and so make their job easier than other candidates are making it for the employer by providing transparency in what you can do and who you are as a person. Because I think two big fits are obviously a minimum skill level. So, they probably have a timetable of how long they think you're going to take to ramp up and be able to contribute in a meaningful way into their code base, provide real monetary value for their company. And so you do that through kind of expressing what you can do, what you can build, but also the type of personality that you have. Are you humble enough to learn from more senior engineers?
Are you curious about coding? Because quite frankly a lot of career transitioners, they start off, I just want more money and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is, and I've even seen this among aspiring developers, if that is your main driver of just more money and you don't really enjoy coding, you're most likely not going to make it. You're not going to be curious enough to figure out something and push through it. Because even at a company, you're going to have tough spots and you're going to need to be a little bit resourceful as a developer to figure out how to overcome this problem, how to overcome this challenge. And a lot of that comes through enjoying the process.
So, I think it's incredibly important to virtue signal and be transparent about who you are as a deve loper. Are you going to be a developer that's going to fit onto their team into their culture? What are you curious about? Because also if you're a developer that's passionate about accessibility, you are going to be much more attractive to a company that really cares about accessibility. That's a very important driver in their business and that's what they care about. It's what their team cares about. So, it's really just about kind of showing yourself to the world when 95% of other applicants won't even do that, that's what's going to make you stand out. It's really powerful in getting a job.
Alex Booker (10:59):
It's good to learn, you went to a coding bootcamp and was starting to learn the origins I think of DonTheDeveloper.tv, your YouTube channel, which we're going to link in the show notes. I know there you're oftentimes making videos to help bootcamp students, self-taught developers and junior devs. You also made a video about how you got your first job in tech ..
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (11:18):
And today I'm going to share how I got my first web developer job.
Alex Booker (11:21):
And I remember you had the advantage before recording that video of asking your hiring manager at the time some questions about what they liked about you and your profile as a developer. Apart from the Twitch live streaming, which sounds like a great idea, what were the other kind of key things that played into you getting your first role?
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (11:39):
There were a lot of positions where I just submitted my resume. I probably applied for hundreds of positions and very few called back. It was very discouraging. And so I got into a really bad habit of just submitting some templated resume and sending it off and hoping for the best because it saved me time and I could send more resumes. I thought that was an effective way to get a job. And the company that hired me forced me. I was very frustrated at the time. I remember I was applying to so many positions, I'm not going to get this job. But they forced me to answer very specific questions that kind of dug into my personality and who I was as a developer. So, they had their own internal system that just had a bunch of inputs questions and I'd answer it and it essentially became a cover letter and they almost curated the cover letter that I was supposed to send them so they could really figure me out.
I think it's really important to submit an effective cover letter, doing a little company research, making sure that your values do align with the company, how do they align? So, keeping the cover letter super short, showing that you did a little research and you found what's really important to the company and this is why I think, like I can see the direction you're going with your company or as a tech team. And this is why I think I can really blend well into this and provide a lot of value and here are my skills, I can do that. But a lot of people shy away from cover letters. I think it's really important. And if it's not a cover letter, a lot of it is just getting involved in the developer community, getting your personality out there. Networking is very huge. A lot of people hear networking but they're like, what does that mean? I'm kind of shy, little introverted.
Alex Booker (13:10):
I don't have a business card.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (13:12):
I certainly didn't, right? And I think networking is this very stuffy term. Most people are just going to be like, yeah, okay, whatever. I'm just going to keep learning, I'm going to submit my resumes. But I think it could be fun. I think networking means getting involved in the developer community in a way that makes development fun. Getting involved in a hackathon, there are a lot of hackathons that have very deep purposes and you're building apps that could essentially help society in a way. You have employers there and you get to meet a team, you get to build a project very quickly. And I think building with other people, doing group projects and even replicating the process of working with the software engineering team, committing, dealing with merge conflicts, not stepping on each other's toes and getting a product up even if it's crappy. Getting a product up in that week of the hackathon is a really cool experience and it's definitely going to build a lot of the skills that you're going to need on a team.
But also just getting into public projects and public events like that, I think that's another really powerful way of just building your network in a way that doesn't feel like you have to go to some stuffy networking event. So, that's how I kind of see networking. But big thing is transparency, especially with the cover letter and then just getting involved in a dev community because you never know who's going to recommend you. Even if you work with a software engineer that is learning to code, that software engineer can get hired and then that company might say, okay, we're currently going to open up this position. Everyone on our team, we haven't done this publicly yet, but do you have any personal recommendations? And that other aspiring developer that just got a job might be like, oh hey Alex is a great guy I worked with. I would highly recommend that you check out his portfolio. I think he's going to fit in really well here. Especially if you guys like me here.
Alex Booker (14:52):
I will be right back with Don in just a second. But first Jan the producer and I have a quick favor to ask of you.
Jan Arsenovic (14:59):
Hello, I'm here to ask you to share the show with someone. Word of mouth is the best way to support a podcast that you like. So, if you know somebody who is learning to code and who would also benefit from listening to the Scrimba podcast, why not tell them that there's an uplifting and insightful show they can find wherever they get their podcasts. You can share the show on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Discord, on Mastodon, or maybe even tell somebody about it in person. We are a weekly podcast and one week we're talking to an industry expert like today and the other week we're talking to a recently hired junior developer. Next Tuesday Marleigh will tell us how and why she learned to code.
Marleigh Morgan (15:44):
Probably the weirdo because I always wanted to. When I was a teenager I got into just basic HTML and CSS. I don't know if you've ever heard of the website Neopets. I went to school for computer science and it didn't really work out because at my university they did it the most boring way possible. It was just like here's Java, go write it out on a piece of paper. I changed my major, got into the more of the design side of things and only recently I was able to go back and kind of restart learning all of it.
Jan Arsenovic (16:14):
That's next week on the Scrimba podcast. And now we're back to the interview with Don.
Alex Booker (16:21):
I like your advice to think about networking less stuffy rooms with small tables and business cards, but more like collaboration, working on projects, discussing ideas, contributing to meetups. Hey, I think if you attend a meetup and have one good conversation, you've contributed. But at the same time, if I put myself in my old pair of shoes when I was learning to code, feeling a bit shy and maybe a little bit like an imposter. Whenever you do something like that, it makes it actually quite hard to interface with other developers because you're not going into it with a mindset that you're equal and I can make it quite hard to strike up these conversations and get involved. So, how did you approach it practically?
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (17:02):
Exposure. I think the very first thing that I did, because I grew up in Northwest Indiana and I was trying to find a developer job while I was learning in Northwest Indiana and I can tell you aren't a lot of tech things going on around here. And so I felt completely alone, completely isolated. One of the best things that I did, I don't even think developers should necessarily do this, but just get the effect of it. I livestream my code, so I overcame my imposter syndrome by just exposing it to the world and saying, you know what? This is what I can do. Maybe I look dumb on these live streams. But I think exposing myself to a lot of people on Twitch, a lot of other aspiring developers and professional developers alike, it built confidence. I guess I had this idea, everyone was judging me.
I really felt tested with my intelligence and how quickly I could figure out different challenges with coding, especially when I got into data structures and algorithms. Even in the coding bootcamp, I kind of still had a little imposter syndrome, which just I couldn't figure out this challenge fast enough and my partner just did. But I feel like the more people, the more software engineers, even the more aspiring developers I met, I realize people aren't thinking these things about me. They're just like, this guy's pretty cool. He's live coding, he's exposing his process, he's coding with us, he is treating us like an equal. And I even attracted a lot of senior developers that would just be like, this guy's humble enough where he's going to accept my feedback.
And I got senior developers involved in my community to help out other junior developers and that pedestal just got lower and lower and lower. The more I talked to even professional developers, I realized they're not much different. And then when I would answer a question or share advice with other senior developers, sometimes they would take my advice and I'm like, that is crazy. You're going to take my advice. I'm a junior developer. I think just meeting more other professional software engineers is incredibly important and it's just exposure into the industry through meetups, through discord communities, online communities. Until you feel a little bit more comfortable, you just got to talk code with other developers and I think that really helps.
Alex Booker (19:03):
When I was learning to code for the first time, and I didn't have a degree, I didn't have advice like this, I mean wasn't a YouTube channel like yours, there wasn't a podcast like the Scrimba podcast, totally shooting in the dark. And I thought, well, making YouTube videos, maybe people can see my coding skill and trust that rather than a degree. And naturally that led to live streaming as well. So, this is very close to my heart. There used to be an all, I don't think it exists anymore, but this platform was called livecoding.tv. It was like niched down just for programming before Twitch launched the computer and programming category, which is better I think.
And the other thing that's got me smiling is that just a few weeks prior, I was interviewing a recently hired junior developer named James Mariott. You can check out that episode in the show notes if you like. And you won't believe this, Don, he did his first job interview, his first technical challenge and he just froze under this sort of pressure of having to code in front of someone. Now that doesn't mean that he didn't know the answer or that he couldn't do it. He just literally never had anybody looking over his shoulder before. And so his smart idea was to do something similar to what you're describing and do a bit of exposure therapy and go and Twitch and just stream himself coding in front of people.
James Mariott (20:14):
Maybe I don't have the best solution. Do you know what? Maybe someone will come in and tell me a better solution. That's a good thing. I'll learn something. Oh I don't have the best solution to this problem, therefore what I write is rubbish. That's not true. Working code is good code.
Alex Booker (20:25):
I think this is a winning strategy if it suits the particular set of problems you face and your personality a bit as well, it's not for everybody.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (20:32):
I agree. I want to add one extra thing to that. When I was a developer for maybe a couple of years, I finally decided I want to apply as a developer to Twitch. I had been a professional developer for a couple years now and I remember in the interview I completely froze up. I'm like, this is crazy. I've been doing this seriously for four and a half years since I started seriously learning how to code and I honestly froze up. It was a React test and I couldn't even throw props. I would forget the name of my components and I would just make mistakes where it's just kind of silly. And these kind of mistakes I would never make when someone wasn't over my shoulders. So, I learned that I think I'm kind of going to live with imposter syndrome to some extent for the rest of my life, whatever I'm doing, because I'm always going to be challenging myself.
I'm always going to have a little imposter syndrome. And I think the only thing that I found that's going to help with that is just getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. As many situations, going to several interviews is going to get you a little bit more comfortable with doing challenges during interviews. And I think it's okay to have that imposter syndrome. I think it's okay to be nervous and freeze up. I guess the more often you do it, the easier it gets. I feel like that's the only way to overcome imposter syndrome. And even if you have it as a professional developer, that's okay. I think you just need to get comfortable with that feeling. Because for most people it's never going to go away. But it gets so much easier once you accept that.
Alex Booker (21:56):
Every person who changes career or learns the code, they are pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone that is uncomfortable. And that often feels a lot like imposter syndrome. And on the other hand, I have come across people who genuinely shake at the thought of being exposed as an imposter. I think it's almost a spectrum in some ways, but the fact remains that whenever you feel imposter syndrome, it can be a good thing because it's your gut telling you, you are doing something that you care about and you want to be successful at. A lot of people don't have that direction in life, which is a big quest for them to figure it out. And likewise, you're pushing your comfort zone and what lies beyond your comfort zone as the quote goes is growth. It never actually gets easier, but you go a bit faster.
And if I feel some imposter syndrome, I don't panic like I used to, I'm just like, okay, this is uncomfortable, I might fail. But I've been here before. And it's exactly what you're talking about with coding in front of people going to meetups or whatever. It's just putting yourself in this situation and realizing the worst possible thing you could imagine is not even close to reality. The worst thing that could happen probably isn't that bad. You know, go to a meetup and you don't speak to anybody. So, what, you watch some good talks. You go to a coding interview and you bomb it because you're nervous. Well you take about learning and you go back to the drawing board. This way when the job you really want comes around, you're a bit better prepared. I think so much, and I'm curious to hear your perspectives on this because I think that being a successful coder has got so much more to do with mindset than it does actually learning to code.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (23:25):
I definitely agree with you. And to kind of elaborate on that mindset, I think mean you could even just break it down into several habits that can build that mindset. But thinking about the mindset term, I think you have to understand that, and this is my perspective, coding is a tool one of many to be able to solve problems. At the end of a day you are a problem solver and I think it's really important to recognize that. A lot of coding doesn't start with just writing code and typing things out. It starts with understanding the problem. It starts with understanding the user. So, even at a very basic level, when you're learning how to code, I think it's important to train yourself to be a problem solver. To look at problems in the world and as you gain more skills, you start to try to think of solutions, technical solutions, coding solutions that can solve those problems in the world.
Even when you're coming up with personal projects. What kind of apps would you love to have built that don't exist? What about your old industry? Did you use really crappy software that you could rebuild where you would've actually loved that software? Could you have built new software to make your old job easier in your industry? You are the user of your old industry, you understand that industry, you understand the problems. And so Zach could actually make it easier to come up with project ideas, but most importantly it kind of gives you a user-centered approach as a developer. And with the user-centered approach, you need to understand the problem of the user of whatever solution that you're building. If you can do that, I think that's a major mind shift. You have to assess what the requirements of what you're actually going to build are. You're going to have to plan this out a little bit and it's going to be much easier if you compartmentalize all the features that you need to build.
Because when you think about, okay, I got to become this professional developer, I got to learn all these skills, I got to build these really impressive projects, there's a level of abstraction that kind of just feels very overwhelming that hasn't been solidified yet. I actually think having the mindset of being a problem solver and practicing identifying what problems exist, how you're going to solve those problems. Actually you can kind of become a little bit more systematic about your approach. It can become more planned. You can gain confidence that you are actually building something worthwhile. It can be fun, it can be engaging. But I actually think taking a user-centered approach is going to be very attractive to employers.
But also it's just really important in shifting your mindset in a way where you're no longer putting what you have to learn, all of your growth on this giant pedestal that you'll never be able to achieve. I think it's a mindset of building up habits to be able to systemize what you're doing, to just make whatever's in front of you a little bit more achievable. And I think confidence will come with that. And when confidence comes with that, enjoyment comes in coding. And that's kind of like the process I try to instill in people. But I think that approach is really important.
Alex Booker (26:19):
If I understand you right, you probably wouldn't encourage setting a goal like learn React, or even learn this technology or whatever. Probably a better way to frame your goals and implement some of this mindset would be to set goals around I'm going to build this project or I'm going to solve this problem.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (26:35):
So, that's a tricky one. So, I think you need long-term goals of being able to learn the marketable technologies, especially in your local area. I think you have a higher chance of getting a job in your local area. So, you can do a little company research, you can do job hosting research, figure out what people are hiring for. But a lot of these surveys have been issued out of what technologies you need to learn. So, I think a long-term goal of learning those technologies is important, but I would just be careful of not letting that long-term abstract goal that's probably going to take a while to achieve, cloud you essentially creating a much more short term goals that might not be so linear. You think about I'm going to learn React. Okay, well what does that mean? I guess I'm going to learn, go through some tutorial.
And you realize, okay, well as my projects get more complex, this is getting kind of messy. So, there can be a more natural point to bringing a more complex technology in such as React once you realize the problems that it fixes. Because I think learning things because you're told to learn things, there's nothing to engage with there. It's very hard to do that. Most people aren't successful with it. But if you naturally let your projects become more complex and then you integrate more technologies in to solve harder, more complex problems in your project, I usually see more growth in a software engineer when they come at it from that standpoint.
Alex Booker (28:28):
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (29:07):
I think one lesson that I learned, and this is key for me and it changed my entire perspective of learning to code, is I remember my second developer position. I went to my manager, I said, hey, I just bought this thousand page book and I really want to get good with CSS. I really want to get good with this. I want to master this, right? And I remember him saying something similar to, are you sure? I shared my concern. I'm like all these software engineers, they remember things. They can just code so much faster than me and I want to get to that level.
And he really emphasized this. He's like, they only know all this stuff because they've used it. They've encountered the problems and that bug that you were trying to fix that you took a while. We took that long as well once we encountered the bug. But now we've experienced that a dozen other times and so that's why we're so fast with it. And he emphasized, don't read a book cover to cover. You're only going to reinforce and remember what you're going to use. And that book, I don't even know where it's at, but I honestly did not read much more of that book and that was the best lesson I could learn.
Alex Booker (30:04):
Yeah, it's probably collecting dust somewhere or maybe it's under your monitor just propping it up.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (30:09):
Yeah, pretty much. It's somewhere.
Alex Booker (30:10):
You mentioned that you really wanted to get good at CSS. Why was that?
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (30:14):
I've definitely found a huge interest in the front end. I think you can literally build an entire company with a very effective landing page and a decent design and building a responsive landing page. Like that alone and even just testing your product is very powerful. That can literally build an entire company. There are different methods to gauge interest in your product. But one thing I learned with even just building startups is a lot of developers that try to do this, they don't build a product initially, at least as successful startup founders. They essentially come up with the idea as a product. They built a really nice, well laid out, effective landing page for that product. It looks great. They're very clearly great at CSS. You know their site is very accessible. Everything's just structured perfectly in a small little tiny landing page. And it made me realize how valuable of a developer you can be by knowing CSS.
Alex Booker (31:59):
Making your weakness is your strengths is always a good idea. And by the way, so anybody listening, the sign that you're oftentimes doing good at your job is when people keep coming to ask you questions. And if you're like the go-to CSS guy, it's funny we're talking about this because at my first company working as a developer, there was a guy who joined the team who just was a god at CSS. Any sort of flax box issue, any positioning issue he would know the answer to.
And it struck me that for a long time, backend developers or maybe we'll call them half site developers, just people who focus a lot more on the data side of frontend web applications and the business logic, they sort of assumed and looked a bit down on CSS but everybody eventually needed some UI or some CSS question and they would go to this guy, Luke. Luke Jackson, his name is. And that always impressed me. And it's funny you had that ambition because my idea was to be the go-to RegX guy, I thought that was how I was going to stand out. But it turns out I don't actually like RegX that much. It's a bit of a ball ache to be honest.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (32:58):
That's interesting. I actually have a question for you. Do you feel like that's a common thing? Because I've seen a little bit of that. I've met backend engineers that I think there's this pride in what you learn and I think there's depths of coding that you can go down, there's tangents and you can become really specialized and you become proud of what you've learned. I almost feel like that pride can sometimes be a little bit toxic in that you can look down on other people.
Alex Booker (33:24):
Yeah, a hundred percent. I think the most common way that manifests is with advice like, oh you're not a real coder unless you can do it without the library. Or oh you should really understand how this thing works under the hood. You shouldn't use a database engine unless you could kind of code one yourself or something. And I would not follow this advice and I hope this advice hasn't been shared. But you could say like, oh you need to roll your own encryption algorithm or something. Because obviously if you're the type of person who's invested a bunch of time in that and you value it, you might feel a bit cheated for now these developers are coming in and working more efficiently building on the shoulders of giants. And I think sometimes what worked for you, you think it should work for other people. But it's a very subjective experience and I think for new developers especially, you should ignore advice like that because it is on the brink of gatekeeping and I agree it can be a little bit toxic.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (34:14):
Yeah, I kind of like hearing that from other developers because that's kind of the sentiment that I gather sometimes and I think newer developers that kind of avoid device like that, like you said, they're going to be really well off.
Alex Booker (34:23):
Let's shift the topic a little bit and talk about bootcamps. In your experience with a bootcamp and on your channel you speak with a lots of boot camp students, graduates, self-taught developers, self-taught can be a difficult one to define. We could debate it. But maybe the right word in this context is self-directed. So, they didn't have a curriculum necessarily but they found success. How does self-directed learning compare to bootcamps do you think?
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (34:51):
The truth is most people are going to fail at the self taught path. I've just mentored thousands of developers, many of which ... like I hosted a meetup in Chicago where a lot of people really couldn't afford a coding bootcamp. And so it was a part of the city where a lot of people were just, they had that ambition but they didn't have the resources. And it was a cool experience for sure. But one thing that I realized is a coding bootcamp definitely makes it easier to get into the industry and that it provides a lot of that structure mentorship, it provides help when you need that help. Because I think a lot of us were trained with traditional education, we grew up with traditional education. So, we're very used to essentially being given this curriculum, that structure that's curated for us and we have a teacher to talk to if we need help.
And I think a lot of traditional education has really failed us in the fact that it doesn't help us become more resourceful. It doesn't help us navigate this really, really messy world. And that's kind of what you're doing with the self-taught path that's not linear, it's frustrating. You have to form your connections, you have to find the help, you have to find the support because you're eventually going to need it and most people are. And I feel like people that are very resourceful and self-disciplined can have a high chance of being successful if they're interested in coding with the self-directed path or self-taught path. But the thing is, most people that come to me and they ask me seriously, if you've been investigating coding bootcamps, chances are you're not at the stage where you're going to be successful at the self-taught path. And a coding bootcamp path is probably a better option for you if you can afford it.
Again, a coding bootcamp provides all that structure and that direction. And if you can build up really good habits with the self-taught path to be able to push yourself forward and what happens when you get stuck, how do you overcome that? How do you deal with it emotionally and how do you assess yourself as a software engineer? How do you assess that you're moving in the right direction? I feel like if you can build really good habits that supplement a lot of that, that's when you start becoming more successful with the self-taught path. I have this thing that I say all the time, the only people that actually fail to self-taught path are people that give up. But a lot of people go into the self-taught path with unrealistic expectations that they're going to get a job in six months, they're going to get a job really soon and all these other developers are getting jobs way before you do.
And now, am I really meant to do this? Am I really meant to be successful with this? So, I think that a lot of developers that fail, it starts with false expectations. So, you don't even really give yourself a chance to be successful with the self-taught path. So, a lot of people are going to do that, which is why I recommend that they consider a coding bootcamp and then prove me wrong. If you can prove me wrong and you're going to be like, you know what Don, I don't need that. I'm not going to spend all that money. I'm going to be successful to self taught path. If you have that drive to do that and to prove me wrong, then you're probably going to be successful as long as you don't give up with it.
Alex Booker (37:37):
Most people listening are going to know about Scrimba already. All these points you make I think are completely, completely valid. I would say that it is possible to get the same curriculum that you might find in a bootcamp online these days more or less. But what a bootcamp's going to offer you is the routine, the framework, the systems, the connections, the supports to really steer you in the right direction. Obviously it's not suitable for everyone. Maybe they can't afford it, maybe they don't want the debt or the ISA or maybe they just don't have the time, right Don. So, for example, they could be looking after their kid in the interim. And as Scrimba we kind of recognize all these very valid points about the self-directed roots. And I won't go into too much detail, but our mission is to kind of close that gap a little bit and offer people more structure and support to achieve their coding goals.
But it gets me wondering when you go to a coding bootcamp, I don't think bootcamps straight up guarantee that you'll get a job, especially these days. And I think any bootcamp that does that, that's probably a red flag. But there is this general expectation that you are investing quite a bit of money, but the return on investment is very good When you get a job that pays you tens of thousands of dollars a year. What is your impression speaking with bootcamp students and graduates on your channel? What kind of portion or percentage of bootcamp students actually go on to get a job and does it genuinely solve all their problems? Because even if you go to a coding bootcamp, you need a degree of grit and determination that you would also need going for self-directed roots. What kind of percentage of bootcamp graduates go on to get jobs?
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (39:07):
I made a post a little while ago that basically mentioned going into 2023. I think we're going to be hit with a little bit of a deeper recession and I think you need to take that very seriously. Hopefully I'm wrong. But I had recommended that if you're going to go to a coding bootcamp without looking at very specific data, very specific coding boot camps, the average student will need financial independence for at least nine months after you graduate the coding bootcamp to stand a chance at getting that position. If you can prepare for that for it to take that long and you don't give up and you can financially support yourself at least around that time is when you're probably going to get a job. I just want to emphasize one point. I think the job guarantee is actually very strong. I don't think it's a detriment to the coding bootcamp offering it.
I think what's misleading is coding bootcamps aren't transparent about all the specific points and the contract that you're going to be signing that waive that job guarantee. Because essentially it's like you don't have to pay if you don't get a job. I think even ISAs can be very powerful in financially supporting you as long as the exact terms that you are signing for. And sometimes that means having a consultation with an attorney because some of those ISAs and contracts and job guarantees are very, they just have a lot of legalese that you don't really understand. So, I think there's a good chance that you're going to get a job within nine months if you can financially support yourself. And I think most people within that nine-month period will probably get a job. But it really just comes down to being prepared and even after a coding bootcamp, you have to supplement it. If all this information is whirl around in your head, you have to double down, you have to reinforce all of it through tons of project work afterwards. But yeah, I would say about the nine-month mark going into 2023.
Alex Booker (40:48):
So, you're saying that okay, maybe it's a three month bootcamp and they have a 99% hire rate, but that might and probably does not mean you get hired in three months. It might happen up to nine months after you graduate the bootcamp and you should account for that.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (41:02):
So, that's misleading. When you dig into the data it's hired where? Do they consider you going back to your old job hired? A lot of coding bootcamps especially have self-reported data where they will present technically truthful data that don't represent that very accurately or very honestly. So, over 90%, especially within six months during these times is ridiculous. I'd be very, very skeptical of that. I find that you have to consider that you might get a job in QA or some coding adjacent position maybe. You've got to realize these coding boot camps are doing whatever they can to bump up those numbers on their marketing pages. And there's so many ways they actually bump that up where they're not liable in a legal sense.
Alex Booker (41:48):
Say you do a bootcamp but then you get a job as a car salesperson that counts as hired sometimes.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (41:53):
I would say very few coding boot camps are willing to do something like that. Usually it's going to be a tech position. What I highly recommend is students ask how they calculate a lot of the data on their marketing pages and dig into it with the advisor. You're going to make that advisor uncomfortable with questions they're not ready to answer, which is good, that's what you should be doing. You should be challenging that. But yeah, you can get tech adjacent positions or they'll word it in a way that makes it seem like there's a 99% chance you're going to get a job as a developer given the previous paragraphs that described what their service did. But in reality, 60% of their people get jobs within six months as a developer or they don't give that timeframe and they'll extend it out into a full year, two years. And so you got to be careful with that.
Alex Booker (42:39):
I wanted to make sure we had time to talk about actually getting a job as a self-directed student or a bootcamp graduate. Some bootcamps they do have things like demo days and connections and partnerships. And by the way, that could be a huge advantage depending on the bootcamp and might be one reason it's worth investing in. When you are applying to jobs and you think you're doing everything right, so you've got a pretty good resume. It's like a one-pager, simple format, really concise and to the point. You might even have a portfolio with some good projects and you are applying to jobs on websites like LinkedIn, Indeed or whatever, but you're just not hearing back. I know that you offer coaching services and I'm sure a few people have come to you with a problem like this. Say someone comes to you with this problem, where does that conversation typically start and what are some of the likely culprits in your experience?
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (43:27):
This is always fun for me. I feel like just like I did, aspiring developers do a very, very poor job at assessing how they come across and their skill level to employers. I feel like when I break it down, I'll usually start with, okay, so tell me what you've learned, talk about your projects, what you've built. And so we can dive into how relatable some of those projects can be and maybe what industries are going to really care about the problems that you're trying to solve. But a lot of times it comes down to the resume. So many people, they sell themselves as their old selves, non-developers and they take all of their professional experience. Whether you are an attorney, you are in the medical field and their resume is littered with all this professional experience that does not speak to them being a software engineer. That's like the frontline.
You submit your resume, that's the first time that employer, a recruiter is going to see who you are, what you can do. And I think aspiring developers most do a very poor job at presenting themselves as a developer. So, it's usually, okay, we got to rework your resume, let's really highlight your personal projects. That's going to take up majority of your resume. Let's speak. This resume should speak to you being a software engineer. And so it's really fine tuning that and then talking about their job search strategy. Most people there are like, yeah, I tried cover letters and they didn't really work so I stopped. It's like they didn't really try and I look at one of their cover letters and it was just some template that an employer would not care about, would not relate to whatsoever. And it's some long page where a lot of recruiters, they see that they're probably going to skim through it.
They've got tons of people to go through. So, I think getting to the point with your resume, your cover letter, your portfolio and effectively displaying what you can do very quickly in who you are as a person, most people fail at that. And I find that most people can make tremendous success in finding positions or at least getting calls back just by fixing those three things. I think most people are helped in my coaching sessions, but for people that are doing that and still not getting progress, I'll continue expanding on this. I just don't know how much time we have, but there are so many other things that will talk about their job search strategy and really dig into that. But I can pretty much see 12 easy mistakes that they're making very, very quickly at that front level that employers see that usually you fix those, they start making a little progress.
Alex Booker (45:46):
How much does it have to do with their hard skills and their coding ability versus their ability to present themselves and almost sell themselves? Because in a sense that's what you're doing when you're looking for a job.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (45:58):
There are two ways people majorly fail at this. One actually is their coding ability. They follow a tutorial, their project has tons of tutorial-based projects. They never created projects of their own, they never became that problem solver. They never became that user-centered developer and their projects just reek of templates that don't matter, that don't really assess anything and the companies might like, not that you actually wrote your own code and you really can't talk about it. I think developers in general, as they're learning to code, as they're building projects need to take a step back. If you have a rubber duck, you have a spouse, whatever, try to teach a lot of the concepts and articulate what you know about coding, articulate in terms that tech teams are going to understand and they're going to recognize that you actually know what you're talking about.
So, try to articulate what you're learning as you progress as a software engineer, because a lot of people will fail at that very hard in the interviews. That also comes to presentation. It's also showing the manager, the hiring manager, whoever's interviewing you, that you can actually talk the talk and you know what you're talking about. You can walk through implementation in a way that makes sense and you can show that you're consistent with your conventions. Even if they disagree with your conventions, you can explain them. A lot of people have a really hard time articulating that portion and it just lowers the confidence of the hiring manager. That's one portion and that can eventually translate into your presentation of the interviews. For the second one, a lot of it is just like your social presence. A lot of it is your portfolio, how you're displaying the projects.
I think a good chunk of people won't even have a GitHub that they submit. A good chunk of people won't even have a portfolio. I've talked to a lot of hiring managers and when you're applying it blows my mind how many software engineers just kind of get lazy in this portion or they didn't get the advice, but usually they got the advice and they didn't take it and they just have very poor presentation. You really can stand out among many of your applicants by doing really simple stuff by including a GitHub, having a portfolio, articulating your speech and your technical terms through your interview.
Alex Booker (48:08):
You talk about a lot of this stuff on your YouTube channel and podcast, don't you?
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (48:11):
All the time.
Alex Booker (48:13):
Tell me what is the sort of motivation behind the DonTheDeveloper.tv? I just love saying it. It's so fun. Like DonTheDeveloper.tv, I wish you were Scrimba TV or something. If I could just share my perspective. It seems as though oftentimes like, yes, you have the podcast and you have some dedicated videos where you share your advice, which I think people should definitely check out. I think you've more than proved how you share balanced and useful and experienced backed advice in this interview here today. So, if you want more of that, you can check out Don's YouTube channel for sure. But there's this other element which I find a bit more interesting actually, which is where you interview students and graduates of various bootcamps and you even did it with Scrimba and the front end developer career path. We watched that as a team, at least some of us. And I loved it because what it seems like you're doing from the outside looking in is you're kind of holding these bootcamps and platforms accountable to the promises they make on their homepage and their marketing material.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (49:09):
That's definitely right. I think that's one of the more interesting things that has fueled kind of my channel. I don't trusting things that face value. I'm very skeptical person by nature. As I've met tons of people and just explore different companies and talk with different people, I feel like you always have to dig in a little bit and it's funny because when I do these reviews, I have to balance. I have to make my guests feel welcome, but I also have to challenge the coding bootcamps through my guests. It's a hard balance to strike. I've even had entire communities frustrated saying all this bad stuff about me behind the scenes and leave bad reviews and everything. But I think it's so incredibly important to hold your program accountable, every single program accountable because you're a business at the end of the day.
I completely respect a business that wants to make profit, but my interest is in protecting students. I want to see people actually be successful with their dreams. So many people want a change in life. So many people want an escape out of the rat race. So many people want to just better their entire lives and especially the lives of the people they love, and you can do that through a successful career, but they just fail at it and they're just sold this BS over and over and over, these false expectations and we have to be critical of these programs because these programs are, in my opinion, a way better option than expensive traditional CSS degrees and to the development field.
And if we don't hold programs like this accountable, which are essentially going to ensure your success into this industry, if we just let companies like this run amuck and we don't look after the aspiring developers, they're going to fill out their dream and they're going to dump a bunch of money in, they're going to be frustrated. The time right now you transitioning careers might be the only time in your life that you actually give yourself a chance to change your life, and I don't want these companies getting into the way of that.
Alex Booker (51:05):
I just wanted to wrap things up really with your outlook for 2023 because I know you made a video about the recession and what that means for tech. It's really hard to know what to think, especially as a new developer, you're perhaps planning a career change. Maybe actually you quit your job to focus on coding and you see in the industry, all these companies doing layoffs right now, layoffs have been actually kind of steady in terms of number of companies doing layoffs all summer, but obviously with the high profile companies like Twitter and Amazon and so forth, it's making the rounds in the news and it's fueling a bit of anxiety I think. So, I wanted to hear from you what your perspective is on this and what advice you can share for new developers wondering how to weather this potential storm.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (51:47):
I want to be very realistic about this. Developers that usually don't become developers are ones that give up, and so what you have to realize going into this, we're going to most likely dive into a much deeper recession. It's going to take you longer than you think it's going to take you, and if you can financially prepare for that, maybe you don't. That means you have a family to support you don't quit your full-time job right away. You do something on the side and that this is where a self-paced course can be very helpful. But if it was going to take you a year to stand a competitive chance at getting a job or even two years, extend that a little bit more, I think it's incredibly important to build up your skills. Now, if you really want to become a developer, it's going to take a while.
Build up your skills now, keep them fresh, weather the storm and you're going to be much better off once we actually overcome this recession. I find that I don't like, if you're really interested in coding, one of the worst things that you can do for yourself is to give up on it. But one of the best things that you can do for yourself is to not dive head first into it and just quit your job, get into a really crappy financial situation and maybe that means you can afford your bills on a part-time job that pays 30 hours and you just heavily dive in like 20, 30 hours of coding on the side.
But I think it's important just to be financially prepared because that is going to be the weight on your shoulders that is going to be the fire under your butt. That is not a good motivator. Financial stress is a horrible motivator. I see it essentially overwhelming way too many people. It can be like an initial driver. I think you stand a good chance of becoming a developer, you're eventually going to become one as long as you're financially prepared for it, continue pushing forward.
Alex Booker (53:28):
Obviously we're not economists and none of this is financial advice, but I did want to challenge this a little bit. We don't a hundred percent know what's going to happen. I think in the nearfield view, what we see is a lot of senior developers and very experienced folks reentering the job market, and when you think about a job market as supply and demand and now as a junior developer, you give this impression that the job market is being flooded by everybody who's been laid off, that can lead to a feeling that things just got a hell of a lot more competitive. Now, I would argue that the senior developers that got fired from Twitter or wherever are probably not the same one competing for junior developer opportunities and during the tail end of the lockdowns and things, there was somewhat of a trend where companies had a lot of dry ammunition, they had a lot more revenue coming in as their information technology products made a lot of revenue and they would just invest in senior developers because they could as a quicker path to a return on investment with a senior developer.
And for that reason, if you can't afford to get one, it makes sense. But obviously now with companies tightening the purse strings a little bit and maybe not just being able to hire senior developers left and center, you could say that leaves a bit more on the table for junior developers as they demonstrate their potential and come in. Don't forget as a junior developer, like you're much cheaper than a senior dev and there's going to be this sort of graph where you start in a few months contributing and delivering value to the business. And if you stay there for a year or two, you are always going to be a great investment in that view. And so I just wanted to present my sort of thought process here and see if you have anything to add to that.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (55:00):
I agree with your perspective, and that is important to recognize. A lot of people are getting kicked out of companies, companies are really tightening up and that has to do with just a lot of these products, a lot of these SaaS products that are very useful for people that are now in front of a computer because of the last few years and the pandemic companies just gained a lot of profit from that. I even gained tons that like revenue from my YouTube channel with that. Now I'm seeing that die down quite a bit and so a lot of companies are buttoning up. They're firing a lot of very expensive people. But you got to realize those people, those software engineers, they're applying for much higher positions than you. There are still going to be entry level positions and that flood of senior developers into the market. It's not going to have a big impact on how many positions are available for entry level developers where companies want to pay less money.
Alex Booker (55:47):
You can't control the economy, you can't control big tech companies or even your future employer. Or you can take Don's advice here I think, and control your approach to your finances to give you more runway and obviously becoming the best candidate you can be by leveling up your coding skills, but also maybe heating some of the advice in this episode to increase your ability to pitch and present yourself and be successful in the interview. There's nothing that should stop you from moving ahead full steam. You've said it a few times and I actually think it's a really, really, really good note to end on, is the most true thing when learning to code, which is for all the challenges and the difficulties, the only guaranteed way to fail is if you quit.
And so it's really important that you find a way to channel your intrinsic motivation, control your mindset, and hopefully find some good support in the form of friends or contributors or whatever that can pick you up on your bad days and just keep going. Because if you keep going, you will crack the nut eventually. I've seen it time and time again, and I'm sure you've come across it a fair few times in your interviews as well Don.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (56:48):
Absolutely. I think it's great advice, great thing to end on. And that's like the one key thing. A lot of people, they just get discouraged and I don't just do this to sell people on the stream of coding. I've mentored thousands of software engineers and I've talked to them face to face, and the one key thing is they just get discouraged and they give up. That's the only thing that prevents, and a lot more people are actually closer than they think they are. But they have no way of knowing. So, please keep pushing forward, like if you're really interested in this, please keep pushing forward. You did this to change your life. Don't give up on it now.
Alex Booker (57:20):
Don Hansen, thank you so much for joining me on the Scrimba podcast. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Don Hansen (DonTheDeveloper.tv) (57:24):
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on. This is a lot of fun, Alex.
Jan Arsenovic (57:28):
That was Don, the developer on the Scrimba podcast. Thanks for listening and don't forget to check out the show notes for all the resources mentioned in this episode. If you made it this far, please consider subscribing or maybe even leaving us a five star rating or a review. The podcast is hosted by Alex Booker. You can connect with them on Twitter and you'll find his Twitter handle and the show notes. I'm your producer Jan, and we'll see you next week.