Web Development

My Journey from Finance to Self-Taught Front-end Web Developer

Published: Dec 01, 2021

Last updated: Mar 17, 2022

The Beginning

Hello World! Two years ago I was working in the Finance industry, and today I'm proud to say I've successfully switched careers into Tech as a Front-end Engineer. Like most of us in Tech, my journey is a bit less traditional. I didn't attend a coding bootcamp, nor did I major in computer science, application development, or graphic design. Below is a brief rundown of how I got to where I am today.

I graduated from Penn State University in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. I always knew that I didn't want to be in Finance my whole life, but I'd seen it first hand that a lot of my peers struggled to get jobs after graduating college. I knew that I didn't want that to be me, so I made it imperative that I join the workforce with whatever credentials I already had.

I landed my first job as an Operations Analyst at an insurance company and they paid me decently enough where I could have some spending money and go out with friends on weekends. No matter where I find myself in life, I'm always looking on the bright side and focusing on growth; looking for ways I can push the envelope and advance. I found that the only opportunities for significant growth would only be found within the Finance industry, so I decided it was time to actively climb the ladder.

I started studying and eventually passed the Series 7 Securities exam, which helped me secure a new job at a boutique investment management firm. I'd say this new job served as a great change of pace for me. Overall it was a better company, better people to work with, and better pay. The job itself was also challenging and pushed me to grow, but at the end of the day, the work just seemed so mundane to me. It was more or less the same thing everyday and I didn't find it very gratifying.

I know that for some people, work is just a means to an end, but for me it's become more that that. If I'm spending 8-9 hours of my day doing something, I'm going to be present and give it 100%. I would much rather invest my valuable time doing something I can enjoy.

In addition to the dissatisfaction at work, it's also worth mentioning that my main source of purpose/fulfillment for the last 18 years was no playing an active role in my life. My thing has always been Gymnastics. The very reason I made it to Penn State was due to my talents in the sport and it's what most people know me for. But with being retired and all, my life felt like something was missing and I no longer had a purpose. I needed to find something new and it had to be fun, creative, and meaningful to me.

Exploring New Avenues

One day I stumbled upon a really dope website and it got me wondering, how is something like this actually made? I started deep diving into how websites are made, what programs they used, how they designed it, and where I can learn to do it myself; literally everything. A couple rabbit-holes later later, I realized I took a real liking to coding, and decided to go for it. The idea of using code to make fascinating user experiences on the web was intriguing to me. Coding was also very close to my highest values, so I knew it would be easy for me to put my head down and grind at it.

Reflecting on my teenage years further validated my choice, since I always loved playing video games and tinkering with tech. From jailbreaking my iPod touch to customizing the code on my Myspace and Tumblr profiles; the proof was all there. In hindsight, I really wish someone would have told me that I could make a career out of writing code for websites. I'd have over a decade of experience in the game by now!

Front-end, Back-end, Full-Stack, Half-Stack?

Deciding to learn to code was the easy decision and now I had to consider exactly what type of coding I wanted to do. At the time of this writing, there are over 700 programming languages, all of which serve different purposes. To me, becoming a full-stack web developer seemed the most interesting. I would become somewhat of a jack of all trades on the internet and who wouldn't want to hire me right? After doing some research though, I realized that I wasn't very excited to learn back-end and ultimately decided to focus my efforts on learning front-end web development. This would allow me to be creative while also challenging myself technically.

The Switch Up

Early on in the game, I used resources like Free Code Camp, W3 Schools, and Youtube to learn, but the resource that had the most impact on me was, SuperHi. They specialize in coding for creatives, and I wanted to create dope experiences with my code; they just really spoke to me.

I would go through their courses and teach myself how to code 24/7. On the train commuting to/from work, on weekends, whenever I could find a pocket of time, I spent it coding, with my focus on learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Struggling

My coding journey isn't as linear as some may think. I originally stumbled upon this whole thing in 2018 and cycled periods of time where I would be aggressively applying myself and times where I had to focus on other priorities. The largest chunk of time not doing coding was when I was studying for the Series 7 Securities exam; the 6 hour exam was extremely difficult and needed all my energy if I wanted to pass. It was only after I successfully got the new job where I decided it was time to pick things back up with coding.

I got back on track during the summer of 2019. After a couple months, I was making great progress, but not the type of progress I wanted to (this was my ego talking). I was confident in my web development skills, but deep down I knew that I was capable of doing so much more. Thinking a few steps a head of the game, I started to ask myself questions like: How will I stand out from everyone else in the job market? How do I make up for my lack of experience? On top of that, growing up as a Caribbean black man, I've always had the mentality that I had to be twice a good just to be seen as "equal" to the other players in the game. These questions only motivated me to work harder. I wanted to outperform everyone else on the same journey as me.

In addition to my stagnant progress, I also felt that I was struggling to manage my other priorities; things like spending time with family, my girlfriend, having a social life, and maintaining my workout regiment. It was difficult to balance it all and I wasn't getting the results I wanted, so I decided that I would save up 6 months of expenses, quit my job, and really hit the ground running to change my career.

Break Down, Build up

January 2020 I decided to leave my job and fully pursue becoming a front-end developer; little did I know I was about to experience the worse global pandemic of my lifetime.

To begin, I committed to completing the 100 days of code challenge because web developers code all day everyday, right? I might as well get used to it too. This challenge helped me become more disciplined and build upon the habits that would help me understand programming syntax and condition my brain to identify certain patterns in the code. It also brought awareness to my friends and family on what I was doing, which only helped keep me accountable.

In this time, I became proficient at HTML, CSS, Javascript, React, Static Website Generators and started to build projects that I could show on my portfolio. I would do websites for friends and relatives for free. I would take the projects I made from SuperHi and remix them to make them my own. I would look for opportunities where I could collaborate with peers to build projects together. One of those projects was Take Blaction, which was developed alongside some friends of mine as a response to the George Floyd incident in 2020. The website served as an easy access collection of resources for black justice.

I think that doing a project like this is a perfect example of what employers would like to see on your portfolio. There are other important factors to being a good web developer besides knowing how to code. It's about being collaborative, being able to communicate with non-technical team members, adapting to change in the world around you, and most importantly using your skills to build something for the benefit of others.

After building my amazing portfolio, I had to actually get recruiters/hiring managers to view it, so the next piece of the puzzle was crafting my resume to look like the perfect candidate. I would consult with friends and family for advice, but one of the major keys for me was reading the book, Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers, by Dr. Dawn Graham. In this book, she teaches you the philosophy behind the successful career switch, how to set your goals, create your value proposition, highlight & apply your transferrable skills to prospective job opportunities, and evaluate which companies you should be targeting. Switchers was integral to branding myself as an ideal candidate for web development work and I'd recommend the book to anyone interested in switching careers, regardless of the industry you're interested in.

Success

Nine months later from quitting my Finance, I landed my first job in the Tech, as a Front-end Web Developer at a Digital Marketing Agency. It was a difficult, but rewarding journey and this transition would prove to be one of the best decisions of my life. It feels great to say I love what I do and I couldn't be happier.

If you're curious about taking the leap into a new, exciting career, there isn't any time like the present to get started.