A few years ago, I was working as a retail cashier at Goodwill. Today, I am a junior web developer at Blue Tangerine: a website design, development, and digital marketing agency. The process of going from a complete beginner to a software engineer took dedication and perseverance, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. This is my story about how I went from a retail cashier to a junior web developer in 12 months.

The Process

My self taught journey started with a web design class I took in college while working towards a bachelor’s degree in media communications. At the time, I was interested in writing and dreamed of working in marketing. My goals shifted after I decided to teach myself HTML, CSS, and eventually JavaScript, which opened up a whole world of technology that I didn’t even know existed.

I started out learning the basics of HTML and CSS on Codeacademy. One day, I stumbled across Team Treehouse on Youtube and took their JavaScript course. Soon after, I started learning PHP, which I did not like at first, so I switched to studying Python. The first program I wrote in Python was a numbers game. The computer picked a random number, and the user had three attempts to guess the correct number. That project got me excited and motivated me to continue learning. I further improved my Python skills and learned the basics of object-oriented programming by reading The Self Taught Programmer by Cory Althoff.

The Self-Taught Programmer Cover

Python helped me better understand PHP, which helped me better understand Javascript. What I learned from this experience was that you don’t always understand things the first time you study them, but if you keep at it and don’t give up, you will get it eventually, and one day, it will all start to click.

The Routine

While I was learning to program, I started every morning at 4 AM. I would make a cup of coffee and spend an hour on social media reading tech-related content on Reddit. Next, I would check out my Trello board, which I use to keep track of the tasks for my programming projects. I also spent 6-10 hours a day reading programming books and writing code.

At the time, I was 21, and I worked part-time at Goodwill to make ends meet. I made enough money to pay my car insurance, put gas in my car, and that’s all I needed. Even though I was still learning, I was happier than I’d ever been because I was spending most of my day doing what I love: programming and creating new projects.

My journey becoming a junior web developer taught me the power of habit. When you do something consistently, eventually it becomes a habit. When you are learning to program, there are days when you don’t feel like studying, or you’re in pain because you’re trying to wrap your brain around a new concept. You will often want to give up, but if you create good habits, they will get you through it.

The Passion

I was a shy, quiet kid growing up. I got bullied a lot because I was always quiet and alone. Looking back on it, I wasted my childhood daydreaming about what I wanted my life to be like when I was 30, but I never thought about what I had to do to get there. It took some trial and error to find my creative outlet. I got lucky that I finally found programming.

Computers are the only thing in this world that makes sense to me. The only thing that I truly understand. For many years I’ve been a nobody. Programming has allowed me to feel like somebody. Software is intangible. You can’t see it, but it has such a significant impact on our everyday lives. The more I study computer science, programming, and software design, the more I want to learn. I can’t get enough of it.

The Interview

The next project I worked on was a social networking platform. I built it using the frameworks Laravel and VueJs. I wrote CRUD for a few resources, worked with databases, and added features like email verification, and notifications. My family started encouraging me to apply for jobs after I showed them my new project, even though I didn’t feel ready yet. So I started casually applying for junior web developer jobs on Indeed. I wasn’t expecting to get a response, but a few days later, I received one from a marketing agency. I did a SQL assessment on Indeed followed by a phone interview, then a code assessment, and soon after an in-person interview.

During my interview, I completed a code assessment. After my evaluation, the web development director and two senior developers sat down and reviewed my answers. I felt good because they were blown away by some of my answers and pleasantly surprised when I told them I was self-taught. They told me a few of my solutions were better than ones given by senior developers they had previously given the same code assessment to. Two weeks later, they hired me as a junior web developer, it’s been four months since then, and I’ve been working on a custom content management system for a niche market built with Laravel.

The Junior Web Developer

Working as a junior web developer has been amazing so far. I’ve learned so much from working on real-world problems. It is entirely different than coding in your room by yourself. Now I have to think about how my code fits into the overall system. There are many ways to make the pieces fit, but figuring out the best way in the context of the project is what I enjoy thinking about most. I even love it when my code breaks because it allows me to think of new ways to make it better.

Programming has become a creative outline for me, and I’m so happy I discovered my passion for it. The real battle in life is you vs. you. If you can put in the work and get through the pain, then you can make your dreams come true. I hope my story inspires anyone out there thinking about making the same journey. If you work hard and build the right habits, you can do it too.

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