Recruited by Activision to code email templates (best first Developer job ever?)
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🎙 About the episode
Tony is a successful Scrimba student from Los Angeles who was recently got their first Junior Developer job at Activision! Tony used to work in finance but hated it. He knew he wanted to find meaningful work that allowed him to prioritize his mental health but couldn't afford to quit outright. For months on end, Tony learned to code alongside his full-time job. Despite many setbacks, he managed to come out on top by niching down and becoming an expert at creating email templates. In this episode, you'll learn all about it!
🔗 Connect with Tony
- 👩🚀 GitHub
- 🤖 tonymoreno86#6931 on the Scrimba Discord
- Introduction (0:00)
- Tony transitioned from the world of finance to coding (01:04)
- Learning to code alongside a full time job (02:33)
- The role of community and friendships in Tony's success (04:00)
- How to make your Dad proud (05:02)
- Joining Activision! (07:30)
- Finding riches in niches by coding email templates (08:29)
- Working 400+ hours on UpWork to earn reputation (12:33)
- How Tony discovered their niche for email templates (14:31)
- Activision reached out to Tony on LinkedIn (16:45)
- Perks of the job (18:03)
- Moving around in the company a little (18:49)
- What do you think were the most significant contributors to landing this job based on what you experienced during the interview process? (21:23)
- What would you do differently? (22:23)
🧰 Resources mentioned
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Hello, and welcome to the Scrimba Podcast. My name's Alex. And on this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior developer job. Today I'm joined by Tony, from Los Angeles, who I'm proud to share recently got their first job at a company called Activision. Oh, you've heard of it. Well, Tony works on the email marketing team helping to code up email templates. It's actually a very specialized and therefore well compensated job that you're going to learn all about. This is a really good example of finding riches in niches. You're also going to learn how Tony built his reputation by freelancing Upwork before polishing his LinkedIn and shortly thereafter being reached out to by a recruiter at Activision. So stay tuned for that.
The competition for email on Upwork was definitely not as intense as the competition for full front end development on Upwork. I just said, "Okay. Do I want to be part of the competition or go somewhere where it's just a lot easier to get into and get more experience?"
Remember to check out these show notes for links to all the resources Tony mentions as well as the snapshots of his resume. And with that reminder out of the way let gets into it. Can you tell us a bit about what you did for work before pursuing development?
I was in the horrible world of finance. I had been in banking for about 10, 11 years. When I first started, it was one of those things when you start something new, you're like, "Oh, okay. I could see myself growing in this type of place." But as time went on, I just realized that it was just getting worse and worse. The higher you climb the corporate ladder the more egos you see and the more formal it gets and that environment just wasn't for me. Sadly, I was more concerned about trying to make more financial progress, I guess, than my mental health and happiness. So that's why, I guess, I decided to stick around, once I really look back at it. Finally, the last few years there I just said I needed a change. And one of my buddies who was actually a coder he says, "Hey. Why don't you try looking into programming?" And so I did. I started looking at free courses like CodeaAcademy and that's some Udemy courses and things, and started dabbing into it and noticed that I really liked it. So, that's where the whole change began.
It's interesting that you were staying in part for the many over your mental health, when developer jobs can be both very lucrative and at a pace you can manage. Right?
Yes. The difference is, it's astounding really?
Were you learning to code alongside your full-time job or maybe you'd focused on it full-time for a bit?
No. I was actually learning to code part-time while I was still working at the bank. I was at a point where I couldn't quit my job. I wanted to do the whole thing where, quit, I go full time to bootcamp for three months and then start pursuing the coding career, but I wasn't in a position to do that. So I had to take it step by step and, unfortunately, still stay stuck in my job I was miserable with. So I was coding part-time using free resources, Udemy. I was doing it in and out for a while and I was having a lot of, I guess you could say a lot of setbacks. Once you start to code you, you kind of think like, "Okay. Is this really for me." And once things start getting tough, when you start getting to the hard parts of coding, you're just like, "I don't know. I don't know if this is worth it, worth breaking my head." But then I started seeing like salaries and success stories and how happy people were. And I'm like, "Okay. This is definitely something I have to continue with."
But I did have a lot of setbacks. Solid one month, two months I would start and I would stop because I had different things going on. So it went on like that for about a year and a half. I think I had mentioned to Per, when we had our one-on-one. It went on like that until finally the last six months I said, "Okay. I got to go through with this 100% without stopping." Yeah. That's the way it went. That's when I discovered Scrimba and I took in the front end developer path. And that's pretty much where him just kicked off, from there.
You mentioned, you spoke with Per, Scrimba's CEO. You were part of a community meetup we host every week, getting involved in. I think that's really cool that you were reading success stories that inspires you and now you're here sharing the same for the benefit of others. Thanks a lot for that, by the way. I think that's really cool. But suffice to say you were taking part in the community and the Scrimba Discord as well. I'm just wondering what kind of impact that had on your experience.
It definitely helps. I think for beginners, when you're just starting and you can't pick things up right away, you feel if you're alone, if you're the only one that's not understanding a certain particular topic, once you log into the community and start seeing all these chats and you see very similar questions, you start to see like, Oh, okay. I'm not the only one. Okay. I'm not dumb. It's everyone. It's just a hard topic to understand." And that's the tough part. When you try to go the self-taught route, that you really feel like you're technically on your own and that you have nobody there really telling you, "Hey. It's fine. You're not going to pick this up right away. You don't have to learn this right away. It's just about practice." But, once I joined that community on Discord and started seeing, like I said, similar questions, similar struggles in general, you just don't feel alone. You feel like, "Okay." And you start hopping on and remembering those times when you were stuck in the same position and you help that person out because you've been there before.
What kept you motivated while you were learning?
It's sort of a tough topic, and I apologize if I choke up. I've always looked up to my dad and I actually didn't bring this up when I spoke with Per at that meeting. But, little by little it gets easier to talk about. But my father was diagnosed with cancer a few years back. I was still staying with my parents at the time. So he would see how I would come home. When I was working in finance, he would see I was frustrated, I was mad, I just had a bad day at work. And then once I got into coding, my dad had told me, "Oh. You're going to make the change. You're finally doing what you said you were going to do." Because I hadn't mentioned that to him. And he is like, "Well, good because I'm tired of seeing your face every time you come home like that. I want to see you happy for once. Maybe that would help you."
Shortly after I decided to start coding that's when my father was diagnosed. So, like I mentioned the setbacks, at times I would go on but then the frustration of hearing the bad news over my dad and how things were, how his cancer was progressing and such, that would just make me want to stop. And then of course the stresses from work. I didn't want to continue. So I would stop a little bit, I would say, "Okay. I need a mental break. I'm going to stop for a couple weeks here and there." But once I realized that the time was, I guess, getting closer to his last days or his last months, I should say, that's when I really said, "Okay. I want my dad to see me succeed." I was hoping to see him see me land a job before his passing. But unfortunately it didn't work that way.
So sorry about that.
Thank you. But, that's what kept me going. His words, me wanting to be like him. He's a very successful person. He was an immigrant, but he came here and he has so much. He built so much for his family and it was me just wanting to fall on the footsteps, make him proud. And really want him to see me, like I mentioned, succeed and to come home happy from work for once. Like I mentioned, he said he was tired of seeing miserable all the time. But that's definitely the biggest motivator that kept me going. And of course second, was just myself wanting to be happy mentally and then financially stable.
I'm really sorry your dad didn't have a chance to see you thrive. But I think it must have been obvious for a long time how much hard work you were putting in and clearly making progress the whole time. Sometimes we talk about this at the end, but maybe now would be a great time to jump to today and how things are going. Because, it sounds like you absolutely smashed your goals. You're working at an awesome company, Activision, I think a lot of people will recognize for producing games they like as well as being a multinational, awesome company. And, likewise, it seems like you're earning a good living and having a lot of fun doing what you're doing. So we can come back to some other things. But I'd love to just jump ahead a little bit and learn how things are going.
Absolutely. It's actually, it's going really, really good. I'm learning more as I go. I'm definitely happy. I can tell you that. I actually wake up and I look forward to hopping on and working on the next project or email or landing page. It's awesome. I work with a great team. We're technically considered the lifecycle marketing team, but I it's awesome. I couldn't be happier.
I remember that when you first posted and discord about joining Activision, you wrote that you joined as a front end developer, that was presumably for title that you were applying an interviewing for. After, I think a month and a half, you transferred internally to doing HTML email developmets, which sounds like quite intriguing, actually. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
But, it's really fun. And, I like the fact that you can work in a small, I guess, place. Because, the max width that you can do within an email is about 600 pixels. So, it's pretty cool. Instead of having to worry about them. Media credit with 1200, with pixels and all that, it's max is 600 and 320 for mobile. It's actually something that I was into. I started freelancing with it and that's pretty much how eventually I got into it with Activision.
It's really quite specialized, I think. A lot of developers, they'll eventually want to send a custom email and be quite shocked to learn that all the CSS has to go with the email body. And that means it has to be in line because you can't send a CSS file and a link to it with the email and then you might expect to use flexbox or CSS grid. Like you say, maybe you and me Tony, we use Gmail or something in our browser, but there's loads of people who use things like mail for Apple or apps on their phones. I'm trying to think of some older email clients. You'll know them off by heart, probably. There are some older email clients out there for sure that are probably quite tricky to work with since they maybe haven't been updated since flexbox came out.
Surprisingly, Outlook is actually one that has not been updated. It's not updated very well and it's one of the most frustrating email clients to work with. We're definitely lucky to have testing tools. There are tools, something called Litmus tester, and then Email on Acid. So the way that works is that once your email code is done, you go ahead and copy the code. You paste it into that site. And it'll render over 73 email clients so you can see where your errors are, where your bugs are, and you can go back and debug them. So, thankful for those tools.
If you're enjoying this episode of the Scrimba Podcast, please remember to share with your community, followers, or even a friend. Word of mouth is the single best way to support a podcast that you like. So thanks in advance. Also remember to subscribe in your podcast app. It could be Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, or any other well known podcast app. We've uploaded every Tuesday since June 2021 and you never know which episode might inspire you on a slow day or spark an idea that changes it all. You started pretty much on Upwork, if I'm not mistaken, doing some freelance work. And, I think, I read you did 41 jobs and almost 400 hours of paid work on Upwork. So you clearly were taking it very seriously. Was your plan to be a freelancer all along or did you just think it was a good way to maybe gain some experience and see what happens?
It was a bit of both. Once I started looking into full-time jobs, I was really looking for something that's very flexible. Most of the job postings that I had read weren't as flexible as I want it to be, or at least remote, at least for entry level, which I think is great. I guess, to start because when you're entry level position, I think it's good to be on site. To be happy with your mentor. So I guess that made sense. But at the time I was liking the flexibility that I had in my life. So I just said, "Okay. Can't land the job yet, jobs are no coming, so I'm going to go and look for the jobs." So that's when I decided to go to Upwork and I said, "Okay. Well, I'm going to go ahead and start applying for the things I know, look for roles that at least, even though they're scary, I can just Google my way out of it, if anything." Because that's what developers do. Right? We don't have to know everything, but. If you can Google your way out of a problem, then go for it.
I definitely did the whole front development thing, but every time you would submit a bid, you would see maybe about 30, 40 other applicants. At times, when you're a beginner, it's discouraging because you're like, "Okay. You have all these other applicants. They've probably done so many hours of work. And then the client is to get the reviews and you have nothing. It's really discouraging. Yeah. And then you go and you look at the email gigs and it's maybe two or three submissions and it makes you feel a little bit better. You're like, "Okay. I can actually compete with this. Especially if I sent over some work samples."
What happened there? Did you just happen to stumble upon a job that wanted you to do email development or did the idea come from somewhere else? I'm just saying this sounds like a pretty wicked niche you found, but you did find it. And that's the hard part.
I was actually learning React and I remember I'm like, "Okay. I need to take a break from react because it's breaking my head." And I remember at one point they told me, "Okay. When you start getting tired of or feeling stressed about something, go back to learning something or reviewing things that you already know to help you feel comfortable and confident again." So I started doing that and I was just kind of looking at just basic tutorials to build, I guess, advanced layouts with flexbox and grid on Udemy. Just free stuff or examples so I can try and follow along or try to do it myself. And then suddenly I get this pop up, this advertisement, "Hey. Learn how to code and HTML email. There's lots of companies looking to hire email developers and it's a very specialized field and not a lot of people know how to do it. And you probably going to land a job really quick." And the advertising was just legit and pretty much caught my attention. I'm like, "Okay. Let me give this a shot. I'm intrigued."
I went ahead and I took the course and it broke my head as well because the video advertisements sounded very easy because it says just HTML and CSS. But then once you get to the specifics where it's just tables within tables within tables and table data, table rows, I was just like, "Wait, what? Why is this nested here? Why is this nested outside? Wait. How do I make two columns? It was just crazy. But I did learn the basics of it. And then I got to good news. Luckily there is something called MJML, which is bootstrap for email. So instead of having to build your own columns, MJML has a very simple structure for you where instead of having to write 50 lines of code, you write three lines of code and there you have boom three columns right there, or two columns and you have everything, your grid set up the way you want it. So, you learn the basics and then you find tools to help your development life easier. And that's pretty much what I did.
Your time is money.
Yeah, exactly. And since then, like I mentioned, I just started finding a bunch of email gigs that were just a lot easier to work with and it's been going really good. I'm still doing it up until now.
So at what point did this opportunity from Activision come about?
It actually just came by one day. As the whole freelancing gigs were increasing, I said, ""Now that I have experience and I've actually built some landing pages and websites for some clients, I technically have experience now." Right? And that's what people are looking for. So I said, "Okay. I'm going to update my LinkedIn profile." And that's something that I had heard in one of the community meetings through Discord from Scrimba. There was going to be an interview with, I think it was a recruiter. And he had mentioned a lot of these LinkedIn tricks. So I went ahead and used those tips and tricks and I updated everything that he said that I should do. I completed my profile 100%. I put that I had experience freelancing and actually put some of the projects that I had done.
And then really everything just turned around from there. People started reaching out to me instead of me having to go out on the hunt. That's where the opportunity presented itself. I was just really just working on an email one day and then I get a message from LinkedIn, from a recruiter and they tell me, "Hey. We have an opportunity for a front and developer position and we want to see if it's something that you might be interested in working with. We see you have experience in that field. And I said, "Okay. I'm not looking to work full time, I'm thinking in my head. But Activision, "Yes. I know who they are. I play their games. It would be freaking awesome to work with them." So I followed the opportunity.
Did you get early access to Call of Duty and things like that? Is this one of the perks of the job maybe.
Yes. I absolutely do. I get all the-
Well really? Oh wow. I was teasing. That sounds awesome.
Yeah. We do get early access. We get to try out some of the demos, the betas, I guess you could say. Try them out to see if we catch any bugs and things like that. We get points as well. They called duty points. It's cool stuff.
Oh, nice. I can only imagine that if you're largely responsible for sending out the emails, when they release the game or release updates, you probably are exposed to the copy and therefore exactly what's coming up a little bit before everybody else.
Yeah. Not all the time, but yes. Since Activision is the publishing company for a lot of those gaming companies, sometimes they're really picky about the things they share with us beforehand. So...
That makes a lot of sense actually. Game developers can be very secretive until the last moment. I suppose they wouldn't want anything to be leaked. But, what happened there because the recruiter reached out to you about a front end opportunity. They were the keywords. Right? The job title. I'm just wondering, why was it after a month and a half that they changed your job title to be an email developer specifically when it sounds like that was the thing that got you in the door in the first place?
Originally the position was for a front developer, but then where I'm at now in the lifecycle marketing team, they had mentioned that they were short on a developer. I guess at the time, the emails that they wanted to send out, the email marketing and a lot of the different seasons that were out on Call of Duty at the time, they were getting very heavy. I had mentioned in my resume that I did know email development. So the recruiter then asked me, "Hey. I spoke to your manager and he asked if you'd be willing to help the lifecycle marketing team with some email development. So you'd pretty much be working on both sides." And I said, "Oh. Okay. Sure, why not?" Doing the emails. I'm familiar with it. I ended doing some of the front development. I liked doing both. "Cool. Let's go for it."
And then little by little I started transitioning to email developer. So I completely left the whole front end thing. And then they liked the work that I was doing with email. So I was on the life cycle marketing team, it was just full email development. Well then with all the changes that were going on internally, it went back to doing both again. I guess, not necessarily all full front end because, really, some of the other developers handle the actual Activision site and call it duty site. Now the type of things that I'm doing is working on the landing pages. So when you click on one of the links on the email, it takes you to a whole different website or part of the website from out Activision. That's pretty much the things that I'm working on.
Am I right in thinking that a landing page is quite a specific type of page because if a customer clicks the email and they want to take an action, like to buy an upgrade or something, you want to optimize the page so that they can't easily get distracted and they're very likely to click through and take the action they intended to take.
Absolutely. Yeah. And then of course there's always the design. Now the work has become a lot easier because like I mentioned, I like to like make my life easier. So I know what some of the designers like, how they like to do things. So I've templetized a lot of the work to make it just a lot easier for me so I can be faster, more proficient in my work. But that's generally what at landing page is. So that's why I still technically consider front developer since I'm doing that kind of thing. And a lot of the stuff is dynamic as well. It tends to be dynamic from here from time To time.
I noticed that you have quite a nice LinkedIn profile. You have a portfolio website as well with a few projects. You just mentioned you have a resume. And then we also discussed how many freelance tasks you completed on Upwork. What do you think were the most significant contributors to landing this job based on what you experienced during the interview process?
It's definitely my LinkedIn and my resume. Once I changed those two things that's when everything, like I mentioned, just started turning around. I really stopped hunting and people were look looking for me at the time. And again, that resume actually came from a post from Discord. Somebody had asked a question on how to create a beginner developer resume. And there was somebody who replied and said, "Hey. Here's a YouTube link to this individual who shows you how to create, or what to put on your resume for a beginner." And I pretty much just followed, not the exact structure or the layout, I guess you could say, but the concepts that he was explaining. I followed the same concepts and pretty much used my own little structure and it worked.
It sounds like you've done everything pretty much right. So I'm not sure what you're going to say when I ask you, if you were to do things again, what would you do differently?
Tony Moreno, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.
That was Tony Moreno from Los Angeles. A recent Scrimba student and front end developer at Activision. I really hope you enjoyed the interview. I figure if you've made it this far, this could be a great time to ask you to consider sharing the podcast. Sharing the podcast with a friend is easily the best way to support the show. So thank you. My name is Alex Booker, and I've been your host today. You could follow me on Twitter @bookercodes, where I share highlights on the podcast and other news by Scrimba. Until then, I will see you next week.