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Working as a new developer: Insights from recent Hackeryou grads

I asked the amazing Hackeryou alumni community to chime in on what the months after graduating from the program have been like for them, whether they’re freelancing, working at a company, or a little of both. Their answers, including mine, are below! A special thanks to our contributors: Vanessa Merritt, Margaret Reffell, Logan Greer, Julie Jancen, Jessie Willms, and all the other Hackeryouians who volunteered.

SKIP TO: Logan Greer: Small Agency | Julie Jancen: Large Agency | Vanessa Merritt: Large Product Company | Emily Porta: Tech Startup | Margaret Reffell: Freelance | Jessie Willms: a Bit of Everything

What’s it like to work at…a small agency?

Logan Greer has worked at Zync Communications as a Developer since July 2014. Zync is a small agency with 14 people.

Q: What’s the development team like where you work?
A: Just 2 people, myself and a Senior Dev

Q: What are some key skills you need to have for your job?
A: Tech-related skills: Javascript, HTML5, CSS, PHP, Foundation 5, Compass, WordPress etc.
Non-technical skills: Good sense of UX/UI, ability to communicate complex tech issues to non-technical people (and sometimes to extremely non-technical people…aka clients)

Q: What’s your tech stack?
A: LAMP for most projects, some projects require MEAN

Q: What are you working on right now?
A: A site for a famous Canadian Astronaut and some cool custom API’s to go along with it

Q: What new technical things are you learning?
A: How to integrate front and back end tech, how to build custom API’s

Q: What’s the best part about working for your type of organization?
A: With only 2 people on the dev team, my ideas get taken seriously and I am able to learn new things much quicker as I spend every day working side-by-side with a talented full stack dev who has 10 years experience

Q: What’s something unique about working at Zync Communications?
A: We count the amount of Keurig coffee pods that get used per month! the coffee stats on our homepage are based on facts!

Q: What personality traits fit best at the kind of place you work?
A: The ability to balance workplace maturity with creativity and total immaturity. You need thick skin and a strong stomach! My Co-workers are highly creative people who have 0 filters for “proper workplace speak”. We laugh a lot, talk about inappropriate things… watched messed up videos on youtube together.. its quite important that new people on the team share a similar sense balance between hard work and using silliness to stimulate creativity.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to get a job at a small agency?
A: Be prepared to learn fast. With less people comes more responsibility. As 1 of only 2 developers, I am often tasked with finding answers and solutions to things that I am not even sure of. I do alot of on-the-fly research and have to learn how to find creative solutions to complex issues in a timely manner. If you are someone who wants to learn fast and be connected to a project much more then what is contained within your basic job description, a small agency is the place to be!

What’s it like to work at…a large agency?

Julie Jancen has worked at Powered by Search as a Web Designer and Front-End Developer since March 2014. Powered by Search is a large internet marketing agency with ~60 people, including off-shore staff and team members who work from home.

Q: What are some key skills you need to have for your job?
A: Tech-related skills:

  • Strong UX/UI skills,
  • Strong typography and layout skills,
  • Familiar with current web standards, cross-browser issues, coding XHTML HTML5 and CSS3,
  • Simple JS, Javascript coding and working with script libraries like jQuery
  • Ability to design/wireframe bold, responsive websites that work on all platforms and browser
  • High proficiency in photoshop, illustrator, axure, omnigraffle, google apps, ftp client, WordPress

Non-Tech Skills:

  • Strong verbal skills and writing skills… including good grammar,
  • Ability to interpret instruction and output high quality work based on that,
  • Keep learning new trade skills… stay on top of new web trends,
  • Manage deadlines,
  • Manage client personalities
  • Be aware of project budget and scope creep

Q: What’s your tech stack?
A: LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP)

Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I’m doing a ton of web design projects and taking a Javascript course in the fall to meet the needs of being a developer at my company

Q: What new technical things are you learning?
A: Everyday I think I learn something new. New code, new css3 animations, new UI design trends, new software for wireframing, new shortcuts in photoshop, new sites for inspiration, etc, etc. It’s why I love my field… everyday, I look forward to learning at least one new thing.

Q: What’s the best part about working for your type of organization?
A: My company offers two work-from-home days each week and run a monthly blogging contest to win $1000. The focus is on building a well-rounded employee who knows a little about what everyone’s role is. Even considering I’m in the “creative department”, as part of the contest, I need to write content. It’s a great way to learn and get a breadth of skills in the industry.

Q: What personality traits fit best at the kind of place you work?
A: You have to be a quick learner, keep an open mind, move at a quick pace and implement new workflow processes as the company grows. Deadlines always feel like they’re due yesterday. So, keeping a birds eye view on the project is essential. There’s a lot of individual personalities you have to learn to manage internally and with clients. Always stay polite and respectful… Always over-deliver, never over-promise.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to get a job at a large agency?
A: Stay positive, stay hungry. Don’t be intimidated.

What’s it like to work at…a large product company?

Vanessa Merritt has worked at Telus Digital Labs as Front-End Developer for almost a month, and has a four month contract. Telus has ~50-100 people in the Digital Lab and thousands across the corporation.

Q: What’s the development team like where you work?
A: Mostly contractors with loads of great experience. The Toronto Team works closely with the Vancouver team (more permanent employees are in that office, from what I understand) so there is lots of teleconferencing. Currently there is a team from Nascent working in the toronto offices on the overhaul of the telus website. So, there are lots people different backgrounds and experience.

Q: What are some key skills you need to have for your job?
A: Tech-related skills: HTML, CSS, SASS, Git, command line.
Non-technical skills: working on a team, time management, general office etiquette 🙂

Q: What are you working on right now?
A: We are working on a Web Standards Guide to be used internally in order to keep web development on brand.

Q: What new technical things are you learning?
A: More SASS, working with code written by others. I’m also using a new CMS I’ve never used before (Statamic). I will have opportunities to shadow senior devs as they work on short sprints as well.

Q: What’s the best part about working for your type of organization?
A: Loads of people around to learn from. I applied for this job as a junior developer because I knew I’d have support from more senior devs, as well as my fellow juniors.

Q: What’s something unique about working at Telus?
A: We have the ability to work from home a few days a week. There is also a reasonably priced gym and outdoor eating area for employees.

Q: What personality traits fit best at the kind of place you work?
A: A balance of being hard working but with a good sense of humour.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to get a job at a large product company?
A: Have a willingness to learn and be a great team member.

What’s it like to work at…a small startup?

Emily Porta has worked at Shift Health Paradigms as Front-End Developer for almost three months. Shift, a health tech startup that makes a product called Tickit, has eight employees.

Q: What’s the development team like where you work?
A: We have three developers working full-time, including myself. It’s a very small team, obviously, and we keep things pretty laid back. We use the agile development methodology to keep the whole thing running on time.

Q: What are some key skills you need to have for your job?
A: Tech-related skills: strong HTML and CSS and Less, flexbox, be familiar with frameworks like bootstrap, responsive design, Javascript and Angular. Git, of course.
Non-technical skills: solid understanding of web design, web standards, usability, and UI/UX concerns. Communication is key, as well as being able to work in a rapidly changing environment, and working modularly (both in terms of your time and your tasks).

Q: What’s your tech stack?
A: Our back end is Ruby (on Rails), and front end is Javascript, Angular, CSS3/Less, HTML5, and we use Grunt. Technically there’s some Bootstrap in there, but part of my job is weeding it out. Git for version control. Ummmm I think that’s everything major. Probably more back end stuff I don’t know about yet.

Q: What are you working on right now?
A: Right now I’m working on making sure all of our 3rd party widgets are styled correctly and are fully responsive, taking in to account things like tooltips popping up, really small screens, and all the dynamically generated content that fills our app.

Q: What new technical things are you learning?
A: A couple days ago I learned that you can conditionally change the styling on child elements using only CSS, contingent upon how many children the parent container has. Super cool, right? I’m also trying to make time to read John Duckett’s JS/jQuery book, which I’m about halfway through. A tiny bit of Angular.

Q: What’s the best part about working for your type of organization?
A: Oh man. This is tough because there’s so many things. It’s very relaxed. You can have a profound impact on the company. What you’re good at (naturally or because of experience) is discovered and highly valued. You’re friends with the people you work with. You get a chance to get as close as possible to making the product pixel perfect. You get to work on something that could make a very positive difference to humanity. You get the thrill of seeing the company succeed, and you get to grow with it. We’re very agile, with very limited bureaucracy. Everyone cares deeply about what you’re making, and the development team is treated very well, but not better than anyone else, we’re all equals. Your skills beyond your literal job description are highly valued. I could go on! Of course this will depend heavily on the people in each company.

Q: What’s something unique about working at Shift Health?
A: The work-life balance is excellent, not something I thought I’d get at a startup!

Q: What personality traits fit best at the kind of place you work?
A: Casual, but driven. Likes to joke around, but also get things done. We’re “young” not in the sense of age, but in our iterative approach to success, agility, and team personality. Someone responsible, and dedicated to what they do. Generalists who aren’t afraid to learn and champion new things.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to get a job at a startup?
A: Well, if you’re a new front end dev definitely try to learn as much html, css, js and angular (or similar) as you can. Learn a bit about the back end, I certainly wish I knew more. Go to tech meetups, tweet about technical things (and non-technical things) all the time. Go after the companies that already have one or two full stack devs – startups looking for their first developer need a full stack dev first. Know that getting a job at a startup is usually a lot less traditional process than other jobs.

What’s it like to work as…a freelance developer?

Margaret Reffell has worked as a freelance Front-End Developer for just under three years, and wishes she did it sooner!

Q: Do you have a business name?
A: I currently operate under my own name Marg Reffell as a Sole Proprietor, but I’ll be changing structures to incorporate soon, so I guess I’ll have to pick out something a little catchier 🙂

Q: Do you have a typical location you work from? Set hours? What’s the breakdown of your day like?
A: I work from home and coffee shops at the moment. I have tried shared working spaces, but I often have to hop on skype for quick conversations with clients, so I feel more comfortable doing that at home where I don’t bother anyone. As far as hours, I know many freelancers who draw a line in the sand between work and personal life, but my line is very blurred. I’m very selective with who I work with, so I really love my clients! I’ve been to their houses, I’ve met some of their families and I’ve even celebrated launches with them (and a glass of bubbly). I also keep my own life and schedule intact by having a pretty solid daily routine. I’m an early riser, so I typically get up at 7ish, check emails, train, make breakfast, then work until about 4pm. Although, on product launch days it’s not unusual for me to be working until 1:00am.

Q: What are some key skills you need to have for your job?
A: Tech-related skills:You have to be a bit of a “jack/jill of all trades” because every project has a new set of technical challenges. I find this is why it’s especially important to surround yourself with a “virtual team” of experts. I’m always asking for help, but I’m also always giving out free technical help whenever I can. Freelancer Karma, ya know?
Non-technical skills: Ah, I feel like these are just as (if not more) important than the technical skillsets required. I work primarily in the development of e-commerce and membership sites so I would say the biggest and most valuable soft skill is asking the right questions. It’s important to get to the root of the clients business goals, and then find the appropriate software you need to build them something they need to move their business forward, rather than something they think they want. Establishing trust and realistic goals with your client is a key to success.

Q: What’s your tech stack?
A: Working as a freelancer, you often have to learn programming skills as well as a lot of 3rd party software that’s frequently used by online businesses. Here’s my Tech/Software stack

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript/JQuery
  • PHP
  • WordPress
  • CRM’s (Mailchimp/Aweber/Infusionsoft)
  • e-Commerce (Paypal/Stripe/WPe-store/WooCommerce/Infusionsoft/Shopify)
  • Membership Platforms (Wishlist/Sensei/Optimize Press)

Q: What are you working on right now?
A: Right now I’m working on 2 Shopify builds and 1 custom e-Commerce system for a client in Australia.

Q: What new technical things are you learning?
A: I’m diving a little further into JavaScript and PHP. I am also interested into diving into Magento, but that might have to wait until the new year.

Q: What’s the best part about working as a freelance dev?
A: So many things! I get to work from anywhere with people all over the world. I get to choose my own clients and choose my own projects. I (sort of) get to choose my own hours, but often, my projects end up choosing my hours.

Q: What’s unique about working as a developer?
A: When people are really happy with the work you do for them, they give you gifts! I’ve never experienced this at any other job before. I think the most unique/interesting gift I received was from a client who is a sex coach. After we launched, I got some interesting gifts in the mail haha!

Q: What personality traits fit best for freelance work?
A: Organization! I can’t stress this enough. The second trait would be boundaries. Saying “yes” to completing certain tasks when you really like your clients is easy, but you have to get good at saying “no” and setting boundaries. I have learnt that it is much easier to say no to clients when the ground rules are set before you begin to conduct business.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to work as a freelance developer?
A: Ok, I’ll try to be as brief as possible by putting it in point form:

  • Stay on top of tracking your invoices and expenses – there’s lots of good software for this.
  • Establish an equation or system of how you price your products before you enter freelance. Don’t undersell yourself. It’s easier to start at a higher rate than it is to start low and increase rates on your clients.
  • Trust your gut and know when to say “No!” to a project. I recently said no to a $20,000 project because it didn’t feel right. Am I crazy? Maybe. Am I happy? Yes!
  • Create an expiration date on project proposals. My proposals are required to be accepted within 30 days. Otherwise, I reserve the right to re-quote and possibly increase rates.
  • Get really, really good at something. Get a stack of software you specialize in. If you can become a JavaScript guru, or a Magento developer you will never have a problem finding work.

What’s it like to work as…a little bit of everything?

Jessie Willms has worked as a designer/developer for two months. She currently works for iPolitics.ca, who cover federal politics and public policy issues in Ottawa with <15 employees.

Q: Do you have a typical location you work from? Set hours? What’s the breakdown of your day like?
A: Every morning at 9:00 a.m., we have an editorial story meeting to go over what’s happening and what we’ll cover for the day. I usually chime in with what I’m working on that day — sometimes code, sometimes an infographic — and pitch graphics or interactive elements I think could be added to stories. I usually get into the office during or a little after the meeting (we mostly call in), 9:30/9:45 a.m. and head straight for the coffee pot, catch up on some emails, and the headlines of the day. After that, it’s two or three hours of coding/designing. Today, I coded a interactive chart to be used alongside coverage of the annual meeting of the provincial leaders. Usually go for a walk around the Market, run an errand, or grab a coffee. Code/design until 1:00 p.m. when a colleague and I stroll around the Market for 15-20 minutes. In the afternoon, I’ll check in with my editor about progress on whatever I’m working on, or chat with some of the other reporters about whatever. 5:30/6:00, I try to pack up and leave for the day (unless there’s breaking news to be infographed (unusual), or I need to work late to meet a deadline.

Q: What are some key skills you need to have for your job?
A: Tech-related skills:
Web development: HTML/SASS/jQuery/Javascript. We use WordPress as our CMS, but I usually don’t tinker with that.
Non-web: Illustrator, Photoshop, a little bit of InDesign.
Non-technical skills:
My sense of humour (no, really, I collaborate with a reporter on a weekly humour graphic column, so being as hilarious as I am comes in handy). Hmm, communication, email, ability to focus when there are one million people conducting interviews in the background.

Q: What’s your tech stack?
A: HTML/SASS/jQuery/Javascript.

Q: What are you working on right now?
A: Currently coding a big feature story on mining plus a freelance project developing a web app for a non-profit, and some infographics about urban issues.

Q: What new technical things are you learning?
A: Javascript. Re-learning basics JS all the time … trying to dig into Angular a bit, too.

Q: What’s the best part about working as a bit of everything?
A: Working as a designer/developer and freelancing means you don’t have the time to be bored with what you’re working on. (And because I’m really the only developer person in the office, I get to pitch projects — big and small — that I think would be a good fit for our site and our audience.) I really like being able to flip back and forth between projects; if I do get border — or more commonly, stuck — on a piece of a project, I can switch over to a different project.

Q: What’s something unique about working in your situation?
A: If I spot something cool online that I want to try, I usually can find a home for it. For example, when I wanted to give Haml a whirl, I had a project in the early stages that I could use it for.

Q: What personality traits fit best at the kind of place you work?
A: I can be super scatter-brained sometimes (especially if I’ve got a bunch of projects on the go), so it’s super important that I force myself to keep detailed notes with specific actions items with reasonable deadlines. Working in a newsroom — a super small newsroom — it’s important to communicate effectively with my reporters and editors. We all have a million-plus-one stories/projects on the go, and if we fail to talk to each other, things fall off. When stories break across beats — think Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau being suspended from the Senate on the same day Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack cocaine on the same day committees were sitting on the same day, etc, etc — it’s essential we keep in touch and on the same page. As a developer, I rarely (never) have to run to a press conference on a moment’s notice, but I do have to be ready to pitch ideas across a variety of beats — stuff that I can turn around in a hour, an afternoon, or a week.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to get a job doing what you do?
A: Learn a little bit of everything — especially how to read the documentation, and find the best tutorials — but carve out the time/space to have a favourite thing. Talk to your clients/editors/co-workers. Outsource work if you’re overwhelmed, ask for help if there’s something you’re not sure about, keep notes on what you’re working on for who, with specific deadlines. Javascript sucks but it’s so important to understand.

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My first two weeks as a developer

I’m already about to start my third week at Shift, and I’m loving it! A few people’ve asked me to write a little post about what’s been going on, so here are some general thoughts and experiences I’ve had during my time working so far.

First thing: I am so glad I chose to work at a startup! In the process of interviewing after hackeryou, I met with a bunch of awesome companies, mostly agencies of varying sizes and types. Shift was the only “startup” (well..depending on how you want to define startup) I interviewed with. Since my 2 year plan was to end up at a startup, I consider myself lucky to have been at the right place (twitter) at the right time and gotten in touch with these guys. As a result I’m already ahead on my life plans as far as my job is concerned, so that’s the first huge bonus.

So on my first day I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was going in to a completely different profession, doing totally different things, for a different company. Of course I’d had lots of great advice at hackeryou and from my friends, but at the end of the day everyone’s experience is different, so I definitely felt like I was going in blind. Most of my first day was meeting the team and setting up my development environment, but by the end of the day I had started on the work that I’ll be doing for awhile.

There’ve been a lot of firsts over the past couple of weeks, one of which is working in an agile development environment. There’s some terminology to learn, but really it’s pretty simple, and I’m loving having my work for the next two weeks set, so I know exactly what’s needed, what’s expected of me, and how far along I am in that process at any given time.

On the tech side of things, I’m working primarily with flexbox right now – we’re rebuilding the entire application, and for me currently that means taking previous Bootstrap html+css and rewriting it using flexbox, refactoring as best as I can along the way. We also do our styling in Less, so I had to learn that as well (I knew SASS before so this wasn’t a big deal – although so far I’m not using anything too complex). Right now I have to strike a somewhat difficult balance between making necessary changes, but not going too crazy on said changes because I’m not familiar enough with the code base and the app, but that’ll come with time.

I love the people I work with, and the position of a front-end dev is so interesting, sort of “living” between the designers and other developers – you get a complete blend of aesthetics/usability/etc. and functionality/code/efficiency that, at least to me, is exactly what I’m looking for. It’s a great gig for generalists who like technology and have an eye for design. You don’t necessarily have to know everything about either side (you never could anyway), but your value (in my opinion, anyway) comes instead from being able to see and understand both sides, which seems to be a fairly unique quality in a person.

Overall, the past two weeks have been great. I’m really looking forward to learning more and getting deeper into things. Speaking of looking forward to things, I’m also going to be giving a talk in August at the consistently awesome Pyladies, on the topic of why developers should encourage their artsy friends to get in to development. I’d love it if you came out! And if you can’t make it, I’m sure I’ll write up some sort of summary of it on here.

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What it’s like to get a job as a jr. developer

I “graduated” from Hackeryou just a couple of weeks ago, and since then I’ve been through an incredible whirlwind of interviews, phone calls, meetings, and tests. We finished the program on a Friday and I spent Saturday and Sunday terrified that I’d made a terrible life choice, that I was now officially just unemployed and “what if no one wants to hire me?!?!” – lots of “I’m going to be living in a box at the end of the month, I know it” and other silly things that seemed to make sense at the time. But come Monday, the emails, tweets, and phone calls started coming in. I was absolutely shocked that anyone anywhere in the world would look at my portfolio and then contact me because they liked what they saw.


I assumed, if I were lucky, I might get one or two interviews because I know Heather (CEO of Hackeryou), and Heather knows everyone, and someone might feel obligated enough to hire me and maybe they think I can learn eventually. I SWEAR that was what went through my head more than once on that weekend. It’s hard for me to admit that, but I figure I should, because everytime someone says to me this is how they think, I think they’re nuts because they are clearly amazing. But really, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that no matter how aware you are of imposter syndrome, no matter how much you talk about it, lots of people (myself included) will still fall back on to it. Even if you’re generally a confident person. There’s a lot fighting against you when you try to start your life over again in a different profession, including your own brain.


In reality, what happened is I didn’t have enough time to fill out applications, because I was constantly in interviews, sending emails back and forth, responding to people via twitter, and so on with people from companies interested in hiring me simply because they saw my portfolio and liked it, saw me on twitter, heard about me from a friend of a friend. The best of these – a complete stranger comes across you on a social network, looks at your portfolio, and decides based on nothing else they want an interview – this has got to be one of the best ways to combat that imposter syndrome I’ve found to date. You start to think more clearly. You realize you have a choice of where you want to work. That people see value in what you do (FINALLY), and they want to see you grow with them – they ACTUALLY want this, not just say they do. Which brings me to my key takeaway from this experience:

Every worker is valuable, and you shouldn’t settle for BS hiring practices in your field

Looking for a job in tech is what looking for a job should be. It’s what our parents told us would happen if we went to university. It’s what everyone tells us will happen if we just “get more experience” and “keep trying” and “keep being involved”. It’s an actual, respectful, give and take – you give them your current skills, your passion, your willingness to learn and work hard (bonus points for excellent communication or really any professional skills), and they give you steady pay, a chance, a place to learn, mentorship, tangible results of hard work, a future. Of course as someone new to tech I’m crazy naive about how wonderful it is. I get that. A lot of my developer friends tell me it’s “not that great” – but very, very often these wonderful people have never experienced the soul crushing experience of knowing you’re doing everything you possibly can to succeed and never getting anywhere because everything about virtually every other field is just systematically broken. Applying for 80-100 jobs and getting one interview if you’re lucky is not okay. So for me, I’m now making the following commitments to myself:

My commitments to myself as a young professional

  • I will never work on a short term contract, unless that’s the type of work I’m looking for.
  • I will not come to your company and work for a bit to see if I’m a fit. Do good, thorough interviews, and trust me and yourself.
  • I will expect something from your company, because as an employee I offer a lot. Mostly right now it’s non-technical, but very soon I and the other Hackeryou grads will be an unbelievable catch because we’re the whole damn package.
  • I will not settle for pay less than what I’m worth. I know what that number is, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be getting it.
  • I will do something I care about. Exactly the something. Not something I hope will eventually lead to something I care about. That’s not good enough.
  • I will continue to work really, really hard to be worth the above. And because I want to put all of myself into something and see great results.
  • I will remember that good companies hire good people, and I’m a good person.
  • I will trust (based on clear evidence) that in my new field, working hard means seeing actual results, from getting good jobs to creating something amazing there.

I’d really encourage anyone who was in the position I was in professionally to explore what else is out there, and to not be afraid to make a radical change if it’s worth it. There’s no point in wasting time, you’ll only regret it later. Reach out if you like: hello@emilyporta.com or @agentemily on Twitter.

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How I changed my life forever

I’ve said the words “I can’t believe it’s all over” about a hundred times in the last 24 hours. Wednesday was Demo Day at Hackeryou and today is both Hiring Day and the last day of the program. It’s been an extremely intense, sometimes stressful, often incredibly fun experience. And definitely, definitely the best decision I’ve ever made. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of development, learning All the Things, pitching, presenting, cross-browser testing, and, of course, a bit of celebrating.

I think more than anything it’s going to be so strange not to see the other 23 students every single day, but I’m extremely confident they’ll all find success moving forward, and I can’t wait to see what they all go on to do. I’ve been continuously inspired and challenged by all of them from the beginning.

What I learned outside my text editor

Besides all the technical skills I’ve gained, I learned two key things about myself that I think are even more valuable. First, I learned about who I am as an individual – being in such close proximity to a group of people who are all simultaneously very similar and very, very different has shown me what makes me unique – something I struggled with before. My dry sense of humor, my passion for advocating for more diversity in tech, and my professionalism really shined through at Hackeryou.

The other thing I learned was that I love love love love LOVE development. A concern I think most of us shared going in to Hackeryou was the thought of “oh no, what if I don’t like to code?!?”. That concern, for me, quickly disappeared. I discovered that coding is a lot like creative writing – the feeling you get when your mind is going too quickly and being too involved to think of anything but the problem at hand – you’re completely immersed in it. It’s an amazing (and honestly kind of scary) feeling that you can only get if you’re really stretching yourself with complex thought. It’s just super fun. Although I’d tried my hand at programming on and off for years before Hackeryou, I’d never sustained it enough to get to this, and I’m so thankful I’ve found it now. I never want to do anything else.

What’s Next for Me

Moving forward, I want only one thing: to go to work every day and work on building things and solving interesting problems through code. It sounds insane, but I can’t wait to spend my spare time learning about UX and design, to polish older projects and work on new ones. As much work as I’ve done in the past nine crazy weeks, I honestly want to keep up the momentum I have right now and jump in to projects. It seems pretty likely that this will happen in the form of a career – Hackeryou is a very well-connected organization and I seem to be getting a lot of interest from some pretty great places. I’m really just looking for a great fit, as is anyone who’d want to hire me. I’d like to work in an agile company that values my previous professional experience, and sees both how far I’ve come and how far I’m clearly going to go. I’m finally confident in myself and my abilities enough to say that I’d honestly be an asset to the company that hires me, and that’s an amazing feeling.

For that and EVERYTHING else…thanks Hackeryou <3

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More making, less magic: my experience learning to code at HackerYou (so far)

I’m halfway through week five of nine weeks here at HackerYou and I simply cannot believe how much I’ve learned. Of course I knew going in the curriculum was going to be super fast-paced, and that the weeks would be intense and challenging, and they certainly have been. But there really was no way for me to grasp even what it feels like to just learn this much information in such a compressed time frame. I know one thing for sure: it’s exactly what I always wanted from a learning experience. It’s almost completely hands on – you learn a concept and within ten minutes you’re in the console or in your text editor hammering out code. Do some examples, have some discussion, questions answered, and now you’re on to the next concept, building on that previous one. But at the same time, all of the intimidation, fear of failure, and frankly the loneliness I felt trying to learn to code online or in a gigantic university classroom is completely gone as well. It’s everything I expected, and a lot more.

Getting rid of the “magic”

Certainly the most important thing I’ve gotten from attending HackerYou so far, though, is simply that I no longer see any “magic” when I look at or hear of technical things. Even if it’s a topic I know absolutely nothing about, I’m completely comfortable just throwing myself into whatever it is, and trying to find out if it’s useful to me, now or in the future, and if it is, how I’d going about using it. Nothing is “too difficult” for me anymore – for more advanced things it’s just “there’s n number of things I need to learn before I can learn this” (Node.js is a perfect example). And those who create technology (at least on the software side of things) are no longer magical themselves. Although they’re still my favourite people, of course :).

So what the heck have I learned anyway?

Based on my previous experience trying to learn code, if I had had to guesstimate what I’d learn at HackerYou by the beginning of week five, I’d have probably said “oh probably a lot of HTML, some advanced CSS stuff I’d hope, uhhh probably you’ve made a couple websites and are starting to build on the basics, maybe you can start thinking about using other people’s plugins or…something”. Yeah that would have been completely incorrect. In the shortest possible way, here’s SOME of what we’ve covered so far at HackerYou, in FOUR weeks:

  • Intro to html, basic concepts
  • Intro to CSS, basic concepts
  • Floats, the box model, laying out a page using CSS
  • Normalize, display, positioning (oh my)
  • Lists, navs, drop down navs using lists, forms, hidden and visible to create awesome navigation
  • More forms. I like forms. Other people do not like forms.
  • Best practices when writing HTML and CSS, best practices of design for the web
  • Design fundamentals, web design fundamentals, typography, some photoshop
  • Creating wireframes (both lo- and hi-fi) and style guides using HTML and CSS
  • Design resources, intro to UX concepts, learning about front end frameworks and why people would want to use them
  • More UX, why it matters, including talks from professionals working in the field
  • Responsive design: why to do it, how to do it, do it.
  • Embedding webfonts, media, etc.
  • Advanced CSS, start working with a preprocessor and start using SASS
  • More advanced SASS (I also like SASS)
  • Refactoring all the things
  • git, the command line, command line basics, using git in the command line (I freaking love the command line), git in a GUI (boo)
  • FTP and hosting, keyboard shortcuts and other ways to optimize your workflow
  • All the things you ever wanted to know about being a freelance dev. Just really, all the things. Even though I want to work for a company when I leave, this has been incredibly interesting stuff to learn.

And so far, in two days of Javascript:

  • Basics, syntax, that kind of thing
  • if statements
  • for loops, while loops, for-in loops
  • functions
  • arrays, objects

(This last bit, by the way, took about a month and a half to go over in my intro to programming course in my undergrad, and I understood less of it then.)

ALL including many, many, many examples, exercises, full on projects, and presentations. And then most of the students stay late in class, go to developer meetups, help each other day in and out on chat and in person, even go to hackathons or meetups to learn new frameworks, or create their own little side projects and a constant barrage of sick codepens. Blogging and tweeting, being active on github, and so on. Aaaaaaand so on.

Am I really learning? Short answer: yesyesyesyes.

You may be tempted to think “alright well sure you can go over those things…if you talk really fast…but you’re not actually taking them all in”. But an awesome thing happens when you get a group of people together who’ve been chosen because they have an amazing drive and willingness to learn, expect a lot out of them, and then give them a completely immersive learning experience where they gain knowledge through trial and error – we actually do learn, and quickly. Sure, we’re not going to be senior developers when we graduate – our job once we leave HackerYou is to keep coding awesome stuff and learn like mad while contributing to our own freelance business or the companies we work for. But we’re some of the quickest learners out there, with the strongest drive and willingness to grow as both developers and people, because frankly you couldn’t get to week five here any other way.

I’m interested in hearing about front-end internships and jr. dev positions in companies that share my values, and I’ll be available for work in late June! Let me know if you have something in mind for me at eeporta@gmail.com.

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