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Chapter One - Why we Program?

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For a product displaying a "View Offer" button clicking the button will direct you to the product on the associated shop's online store. Yes, delivery can be arranged as shops offer various delivery methods. All of our shops use the South African Post Office or reputable couriers to deliver goods. Just configuring a datetime-picker required several days spent on Stackoverflow. Not to mention the chat feature, using websockets with Action Cable, which took me about two weeks to get right. But the time invested was so worth it.

The app actually turned out pretty great: it was actually something I could demo for people and feel proud. And in fact, experiencing all that hustle gave me a lot of comfort in that the bootcamp had probably been a good choice. So sometime in late August I finished the app. I tried my best to use that self-pity to keep ramping up my coding efforts. And it was working pretty ok. Soon enough the time came to code the actual portfolio website. And for once, I decided to keep it simple. After finishing it, my plan had been to start applying for jobs.

But there was something that bothered me. And JavaScript. If I started applying for jobs now, I could probably land something decent as a Rails developer. But what if all the haters were right, and Rails was actually outdated and dying? And what if I found my dream job, only to realize they used advanced JS technologies?

According to the search results on LinkedIn and Glassdoor, that would mean that I would more or less double the amount of developer jobs that I was qualified for. I recalled that Gus, the bootcamp manager, had told me that it would take me about another month to learn it. How hard could it be? I could probably do it in two weeks, was my thought.

So once again, I turned to my old friend Google to research learning strategies. They all seemed to be focusing on one part at a time, which is definitely the right way to go if you want to understand a framework in depth. There were so many out there. For every technology or stack I could think of, I found at least five decent tutorials. Ten videos at 20 minutes each, showing you how to build a basic RESTful web app with both user registration and sign-in authentication.

I started right away and coded along to each video on my laptop. And crazy enough, after just a few days I was done. Node for the backend, Mongo for managing the database, Angular for the frontend, and Express for tying it all together. Could it really be this easy? Did I know this stuff now?

Well, since I was ahead of schedule, I figured, why not build onto the app a bit further?

I figured I would just need to add a couple of new routes, models, controllers and views, and that would be it. Like getting a controller action of a certain name connected to a view with that same name, right out of the box. Because it proved that my hunch about the whole tutorial process having been too good to be true was right. The app was nowhere near ready to be added to my portfolio page. It literally had no features.

Just the possibility for users to register, log in, and do nothing but look at some static Bootstrap designs. Another option was to just keep hustling the trial and error way. I was supposed to start applying for jobs yesterday. Luckily, I found a pretty good one on the same Youtube channel, and decided to use it as my lifeline. Despite all the hustle, two weeks after the decision to try and learn the MEAN stack, I actually deployed a decent web app. Which had been my goal. All of a sudden I had three apps in my portfolio, and could add a bunch of new technologies to my skills repertoire.

Finally, it was time to enter the next phase of my developer journey: the job hunt. And it was not a day too soon. All in all, it would take me about 4 weeks, 30 applications, 10 interviews, and 3 offers to find that perfect fit. And ironically enough, it would actually be the first company I applied to that I would join. Then I spent several days scouring the job boards of LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Stackoverflow for jobs based on keywords like web, development, software, frontend, backend, Ruby, Rails, Javascript, Angular, Node, and Postgres.

Not very surprisingly, the searches returned hundreds of jobs just in the Stockholm area alone. The companies behind them ranged from startups to digital agencies, media companies, cloud service providers, game developers, and everything in between. That was about it.

Pretty high demands for a rookie one might think. But note that a high salary was not part of the criteria nor is it today, with 6 months of professional experience. After a while I was noticing a few patterns:. Firstly, most companies on paper required way more tech skills and experience than I could offer. This came as no surprise. That many companies considered it too expensive to spend the valuable time of senior developers on mentoring rookies.

Which was why they prefered hiring senior developers, which are in very high demand but extremely low in supply. The big paradox here is of course that if no one takes it upon themselves to foster and teach junior developers, how can we ever patch the shortage of senior developers on the market? Secondly, I saw that the hotter and bigger the company was, the more likely it was to include requirements of some computer science related degree and professional development experience.

Thirdly, that almost every single job ad mentioned React. Despite all the hype around it online, I was still amazed by its crazy high demand. So amazed that I actually decided to spend a few hours a day building a small React web app, using React. Except for the fact that I could put React on my resume, the biggest benefit from this experience was getting comfortable with building a web app using components as opposed to controllers and views, as is the Rails way , and working with props and state.

With new insights like the ones above, I could develop and refine the criteria I already had to determine whether a certain job should be added to my shortlist or not. Soon enough I had a list of some 50 job openings, and it was time to actually start sending out applications. This might have something to do with me being the kind of person that writes one generic cover letter that I send to everyone. But come on. Got some pretty flattering feedback on it, just saying…. Make sure that the names of all the technologies you know or want to pretend that you know are included in both.

After sending all the applications, a week or so went by without me hearing anything from any of the companies. That actually turned out to be a well-needed period of rest for me. The first reply came from a really young startup. The email was from the CTO, and he was inviting me to my very first developer interview. Aware that the positive responses will always come before the rejections, I tried to keep a cool head and not get too excited. Oftentimes, bootcamp alumni and self-taught coders with more practical experience will fail the technical interview due to their lack of knowledge in fundamental computer science theory.

Just like CS grads will often fail due to their lack of experience with building apps with modern technologies. Why would the technical interview be any different? So I accepted the invite, and a few days later I walked into the lobby of their office. They were waiting for me by the reception desk. The place was a dump. They told me it used to be an office for a big auditing company, remade into a cheap interim coworking space for the time left until its planned renovation.

We stepped into a conference room and sat down by a big wooden table. They started off by telling me a lot about themselves and the company. But they were still pre-launch, and most definitely pre-revenue. After about an hour of what felt much more like a sales pitch than an interview, the CEO left and I was told that the CTO and I would continue for the technical part of the interview. My heart skipped a beat.

Like what technologies and frameworks I liked. If I could choose any new technology to learn next, what it would be. What I thought about the new syntax introduced by ES6 the Javascript update, introducing a lot of new cool stuff like arrow functions, promises, and constants. We had a nice conversation that lasted for probably another half hour. But then came the big backlash, when the CTO decided to put all the cards on the table.

Due to their tight financial situation, he told me, they could only offer me a 6-month internship role with symbolic pay for now meaning practically no pay. If the internship went well, however, they were very open to offering both equity and decent pay. An offer is still an offer, I thought, and can always come handy when negotiating with other companies later on. The second response I got was from a slightly larger startup called Teamtailor. They were a Stockholm-based company with a mission to digitize the recruiting and employer branding industry, currently ruled by quite non-technical recruitment consultants and HR managers.

Not a bad idea. Not bad at all. Everything pointed towards the fact that they were in that sweet spot of the company life cycle. Again, it was the CTO that wrote to me.

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After a few messages back and forth we settled on a first interview in their office a few days later. I was told that both he and another co-founder would be meeting with me. Before even meeting with any of them, I had a really good feeling about the whole thing. Which was bad. At least in my head. Because now I would enter the interview probably wanting them more than they wanted me, I thought. After walking up the stairs of the old beer factory, I finally reached the door to their office and stepped right into a rather special scene.

In front of me a bigger room, where the table closest to me was filled with developers, casually hacking away on big crisp screens. And all around me, soft hiphop beats pulsating from Sonos speakers. This place was awesome. You can say a lot of bad things about the typical Silicon Valley wannabe office.

But in my opinion, even the worst office of this kind will still be a thousand times better than the typical corporate counterpart. So for me it was heaven. Which was really bad for my attempted coolness for the interview. A tall skinny guy with a baseball cap smiled at me and got up from his chair to greet me.

It was the CTO. We stepped into a conference room with glass walls and green fake grass covering the floor. The other co-founder joined us and we kicked off the interview. Unlike my last interview, they started off by telling me about the process I was in. The purpose of this first meeting was mainly to get to know me better. If I proceeded, the second step would be a technical interview. I was so relieved to hear that. The imposter syndrome was real. Finding business-minded developers was rare, and finding developers with business degrees and experience from both business development and finance even rarer.

So why had I decided to hop off my path to pursue this totally different one? So I basically told them what I told you in the beginning of this article, that I hate selling, love technology, and wanted to transition into the creative side of things. From this point forward, the conversation sort of got its own life. To my surprise, the CTO was surprised by this remark. He laughed and asked me why. I hesitated. He let me off the hook, and told me that he was also a self-taught developer. I was a bit shocked by that. But there was more to it. As a matter of fact, none of the 10 developers at the company had a real CS degree.

A few of them had taken a year or two of some private web development program, but most were actually self-taught. Hearing that from this guy made me so happy. Good stuff. Immediately, their faces lit up and they straightened in their chairs, nodding me on. The first embarrassment was that it literally took 20 seconds to load the home page. The last thing I wanted was them to think my app was slow. When it had actually loaded I took some time to explain the idea behind the product. It was basically a service for creating virtual lines, allowing organizations like airlines, banks, and hospitals to set up queues online instead of in their physical locations.

Then came the second embarrassment. When I tried logging in on my account using Facebook authentication it failed. Rookie mistake. I finally managed to log in manually instead, and demoed some of the main features without any issues. But then came the biggest embarrassment of them all. Then I basically gave up. Because just a few hours later, I would realize that the chat worked perfectly fine. We said our goodbyes and they told me they would be in touch. I left the interview feeling angry and disappointed.

It had all gone so smoothly until that last part. Nevertheless, not even an hour would pass until David wrote me again.

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He told me I had proceeded to the next step of the process. But of course, also a bit scared about taking on my first real technical interview. Already in the invite email, the CTO told me that I would be meeting with two of their senior developers, and that they simply wanted me to show off one my apps more thoroughly, along with the code behind it. The main purpose would be to get a grip of how well I knew their backend framework Rails , and how fast I could be able to learn their frontend framework Ember.

It was perfect for two reasons:. Soon enough the big day came, and I was back in their office in another of their fake-grass-floor conference rooms. I started off showing the UI flow of the app. It was sort of like Product Hunt, but more like a market place strictly for apps. So any user would be able to browse the home page for apps for sale and for purchase. And if they created an account and logged in, they would also be able to search and filter the app items, rate them, and write stuff in the comment fields. That was basically it. But fortunately for me, it was enough. The two senior developers apparently liked what I showed them so much that they gave the CTO the thumbs up.

They later told me a few things that they liked specifically:. In parallel with the whole Teamtailor process, I interviewed for 4 other companies as well. I saw it both in the much more thorough recruitment process they had 5 interviews! But I was so obviously not prepared for them. Just like with the other companies, the first interview was all fluff and soft skills.

Why do you want to work as a developer? What technologies do you like using?

How I landed a full stack developer job without a tech degree or work experience

And so on. Easy stuff. The second interview, however, would turn out to be a quite traumatic experience. It all started with me sitting down in a conference room with two of their web developers. And then I got the biggest sucker punch of my life. Out of nowhere the guy across the table handed me a huge white A3 paper and a pen. He told me they wanted me to draw a sketch of the data flows and processes involved in the following scenario:.

This really caught me off guard, but I hesitantly nodded and accepted the challenge. Was that a joke? But time was already running out and it was too big of a risk. So I decided to give it a shot. But I did none of that. In my state of panic, I skipped ahead several steps, and started trying to sketch the database model of the user account, with a table, columns and foreign keys I assumed that they used a relational database. When I was done with that, I had about 30 seconds left to map up the other components of the architecture.

I was so stressed that I got all philosophical, and started questioning what the actual roles of the API and server were. Not a good sign. One to the left, representing the database, and two to the right, representing the web and mobile app clients. Of course, I failed the interview miserably. However, they let me down easy, telling me that they liked me and that I should apply again when I had one or two more years of experience.

All in all , during my 4 weeks of job hunting I ended up attending 11 interviews for 6 companies, of which 3 made me offers. So despite getting burned a few times, it was really an amazing experience. If I was asked to name the one single biggest reward except for getting my dream offer , it would be that I got comfortable with talking to developers about software. Another key takeaway is that out of my 11 interviews, only one turned out to require actual theoretical computer science knowledge.

No questions on complex data structures, no devious brainteasers. Just one question on system architecture. And although that might be true statistically, cold-applying without a referrer is definitely not a waste of time. The rest of us are more or less self-taught. The product itself is a recruitment web app that lets companies build and manage their own career sites, effortlessly and completely without requiring any coding skills. In our product team, we try our best to follow the agile principles of Scrum , Kanban , and pair programming.

Practically, for us this means we carry out our work in cycles, where we split up the implementation of new features into projects running for 6 weeks at a time. In turn, each project has developers paired up two-and-two, and made responsible for shipping the new features within those 6 weeks. The pairs deploy their work continuously, based on a predefined Trello board of smaller tasks within each planned feature.

We also maintain the app. This means a weekly rotating position where each developer in turn spends one whole week assisting our users and support staff on Intercom. If you think this sounds like an annoying and frustrating task, it was. Until we decided that each tech-on-call would pause all their other projects while on support duty. Then all of sudden, when I no longer felt like every minute spent on Intercom was a minute stolen from my projects and deadlines, I actually started enjoying it.

Lastly, in between each 6-week cycle, we take two weeks to make a common effort to squash all the bugs lined up in our Trello bug board. We also use these two weeks to develop pitches for new features that we ourselves would like to see in the app. Although the app includes so many features and technologies that in the beginning were completely foreign to me, I was thrown right into the middle of the action already in my second week. The onboarding process — meaning me having a senior developer show me the ropes — lasted only five days.

After that first week, in theory, I was supposed to be more or less autonomous. In other words, a LOT of new stuff for someone who just came out of a bootcamp. And with time, the others would notice, and I would be trusted with more and more responsibility. The first serious one was updating the method we used to fetch information about users who signed up on our app with just an email. Since it would expose me to several crucial areas and data flows of the app, it was the perfect next step for me.

To implement it, I would have to navigate all the way from getting the email from the user input at the very front of the client layer, to understanding how the data would travel from the Ember frontend, through adapters and serializers to the Rails backend and ultimately get stored in the database. For instance, we wanted to let them redirect to the page of a certain job opening, a certain department, or some completely external URL.

Most of the backend architecture was already in place, so all I had to do was basically create a few new Ember components and add them to the other options in the career site editor. The third feature I worked on was enabling our users to integrate with external assessment providers, meaning they would be able to send candidates to a test platform like Hackerrank.

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This was a big one, so I mostly acted as an assistant to the senior developer aka the Ember grandmaster of our team responsible for the project. Still, it taught me tons about how to properly set up an API integration and automating workflows with triggers. My fourth project was the biggest to date, and for good and bad I ended up doing it more or less on my own.

The entire app had originally been built in Rails, and most views had been rewritten with JavaScript and Ember one by one. Only one of our main sections of the app still had just Rails views. So it was kind of important that my translation to Ember was flawless. Which stressed me out like crazy. Meaning I tried to bother the others with as few questions as I possibly could. The good thing about this was that I got a lot of confidence in my ability to solve real-world software problems completely on my own.

The bad thing, however, was that it made me super slow, and that it took me a good 6 weeks to ship the full rewrite of more than 2, new lines of code. Although this sucked at the time, I now realize that his standpoint was completely fair, and it taught me an important lesson. Teamwork is a major part of finding a productive workflow. The fifth project is the last to date, and we actually just shipped it. Instead, the feature required us to add stuff all over the place.

Notifications in one place, warning flags in another, search filters and bulk actions in a third, and dozens of new email sendout actions everywhere. For the first time since I started, I was paired up with the senior developer and co-founder that onboarded me. My probation period was about to end, and they would soon have to make a decision if I was good enough to keep on the team.

Oddly enough though, I think the complexities made our pair-programming sessions even better. There were so many user scenarios to take into account when designing each part of the architecture, that we were forced to discuss and twist and turn every new block of code. So we pair-programmed a lot, and it was really great. When I coded, he came with a lot of good feedback that mostly made my code a lot cleaner. But unlike that first onboarding week, I was actually also able to give feedback on his code, making suggestions and asking questions that really made his code better as well.

And by the way, so did the extension of my 6-month probationary employment contract, which I was just recently made aware of.


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I love that it keeps forcing me to push my intellectual limits through quantitative problem solving. I love that it provides me with an outlet for creative expressions when designing anything from UI to system architecture. I love that it not only tolerates my inner perfectionist, but actually requires that perfectionist to be present — and punishes its absence.