How I Went From Uber Driver to Self-Taught Developer in One Year

August 17, 2018

Hello! What is your name, and what do you do?

Hi! My name is Daniel Dailey, and I build full-stack web applications for small to medium sized businesses. I work on a wide range of different technologies, from automating Photoshop design tasks to building a robust internal employee tracking application.

What were you doing before you knew how to code? How long ago was this?

Prior to 2017, I was working odd jobs to make ends meet. I meandered around in college for a while and got my Associates Degree. I worked at a bookstore for a while, did some time at a call center, and also tried doing freelance art. I was even an Uber driver for a bit! Almost got sucked into a scammy door-to-door sales position. None of this made me very happy, or made me much money at all.

What motivated you to get serious about software development?

I think it was a general dissatisfaction about the trajectory of my life. I spent a lot of my free time doing a whole lot of nothing, and I just wasn’t going anywhere. I felt like I was just killing time, and not doing anything positive for myself. I knew that if I didn’t get it together and do something then I was going to be stuck in the rut that I was in forever. Computers always interested me, and the idea of being able to talk to it and ask it to do things for me was super enticing. I’d sort of romanticized the “silicon-valley-hip-macbook-toting-alpha-geek-leet-haxxor that eats new programmers and craps beautiful code” archetype because of things like Silicon Valley. After sitting down and really considering my life choices, and the paths I could take, I ultimately decided that I’d pursue “coding” in some sort of abstract sense. I didn’t really know what it meant, but I wanted to do it.

What did your friends or family think about you starting to learn to code?

My dad is a software engineer himself, so he was pretty ecstatic. Sort of like a prodigal son moment. My mom and the rest of my family aren’t super tech-y, so it was like a “oh… cool!” sort of thing. It’s not really a sentiment I expressed too much, I guess. I always get worried about telling people when I start to do things, cause if I end up not doing the thing I look kinda dumb.

What was your first step in learning software development?

Commiting to do it! Really locking in that feeling of “this is what I want to do” with lots of conviction. When I’ve tried to do things on a whim or half heartedly it’s always turned out to be something I don’t end up investing myself in. After that, I basically just started Googling “where to learn how to code” or “different types of developers”. I took a look at all the options, decided that web applications seemed to be on the “simpler” side of development, and headed off in that direction.

How did you get your first job offers and/or clients?

I spent pretty much a whole year straight on FreeCodeCamp and Udemy and the likes to start exercising that mindset and gaining confidence, and then I just started POURING out job applications into the wild (Thanks ZipRecruiter!). I mostly applied to junior positions, and entry level stuff. By the grace of whatever deity resides above us, or luck, or whatever it was, I got a call back from a small company looking for someone to fix up and manage some of their old websites. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there (3-ish months) due to personal differences, but it was an AMAZING start and an incredible learning tool for how real world development cycles and situations play out. After that I decided I’d like to try freelancing a more marketable skill, ended up landing a wonderful client through a family member, and then have met subsequent clients through people they know.

Did you think that you were going to get paid more as software developer? What if you would be paid less, would you still have learned to code?

My expectations were not high to begin with, since making anything more than $15 an hour was HUGE to me. It’s definitely the most money I’ve ever made. And I’ve thought about it, and I think the answer is yes. Regardless of the money, programming is my passion. It’s something I wake up and am excited to do and think about. So yeah, I’d probably do it, but I’m just glad that it pays what it does 🙂

What are your goals for the future?

Build better applications, strengthen my programming chops, network more effectively. I’m not sure if I’m going to do the running my own business thing for more than a few years, so I think working at a bigger company would be cool just for the stability of it, and the prospect of working on exciting projects. I think I’d also be in the market to find an “idea guy/business guru” and do the startup thing. It just seems exciting putting so much on the line like that. But basically my goals for now are just get/be/do better.

What are the biggest challenges you ran into while learning to code?

The initial phase where you’re in the very beginning of working your way up the learning curve. It sucks. Or sucked for me, at least. Nothing made any sense, I had no idea what I was doing, what a DOM was, or pushing things onto stacks, or static or dynamic languages, REST blah blah blah. It made my head spin. And to be honest those things seemed kind of boring. I wanted to code! But as I continued to read up, and practice, and solidify my understanding — everything became clear. Clearer, maybe. I’m no expert by any means, and I’m still most definitely a junior developer, but it really started coming together after the first couple months of grinding away at it.

What resources helped you the most?

Has to be FreeCodeCamp, I think. I don’t know what it was, but something about the lessons, the built in IDE, the projects, etc. It just stuck with me. A big thing for me in the beginning was feeling aimless. Like I’d been given a massive canvas, and a nearly infinite supply of tools, but no idea what to paint. FreeCodeCamp gave me the structure that I really needed, and got me learning in a way that I hadn’t before. I didn’t actually end up completing any of their courses (I’d still recommend them), because I got distracted with all sorts of other interesting tools and frameworks and things, but it was the launchpad I needed.

What’s your advice for people learning to code?

Brute force it. Seriously. Just do it as much as possible. Read the documentation. Read books by smart people who know how to do things well. Pick one thing (front-end, back-end, javascipt, php, angular, react, ,etc) and stick with it. I made the mistake of hopping from framework to framework, and I think it hurt in the long run. Be elastic in your thinking.

Where can we learn more about you?

Ask me anything at: [email protected]