Transition into Tech
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Syk Houdeib: ‘Front-end dev… I still have to pinch myself!’

How did Syk do it, concretely?

So – as always the case in worthy adventures, Syk rolled up his sleeves and started to study. What did he study, you ask? In this section we’ll explore in detail all his steps between decision and job search. Let’s go – or, as Syk puts it:

Let’s do it!

What do you need to know to become a web dev?

The first thing we need to know form him is what exactly you need to know in order to become a front-end dev. Let’s hear what he has to say:

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Well, it’s a long list of things you need to know, but also it’s a very limited list because as a front-end developer there are only 3 main things you need to understand – which are HTML, CSS and JavaScript (JS). These are the 3 languages and you need to get good at those. Now, these lead to loads of other different things that you have to know and understand, but that comes with time! If you can create a good structure with HTML, and are able to style it with CSS, and understand JavaScript to a certain extent, because JavaScript takes a long, long time before it sets in and you can use it comfortably, then you might need to pick up a framework that uses JavaScript, such as React, Vue or Angular (these are the  ones that are popular these days); if you can get started with one of those and have a basic understanding of these bits, then that is enough to start.

How do you learn all that?

Ok, now we’re clear on the bare minimum you need to be able to call yourself a front-end dev: HTML, CSS, JS + a JS framework like React, Vue or Angular. Easier said than done, you’re saying? Let’s hear Syk’s tips on building these skills. Do you have to drop everything and go back to school? Pay large amounts to get into a trendy bootcamp?

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My path was the self directed study; so I did not go to a bootcamp, I did not do any kind of specific course. I started with simple videos on YouTube and things like these, just dabbling with it when I first started testing it up. And then, when I got more serious, I started doing more courses… I mean, there are plenty of resources on the internet, and a lot of them are free or next to free, really cheap. And so that allows anyone to really get into it. One of the best things to do is to do some courses in the beginning, figure some things out, get an introduction, and then… you will hear everybody saying this: build stuff, BUILD STUFF! Do some projects, no matter what they are, not matter how simple they are. Taking something and building it from scratch, creating a simple website and then trying something a little more complicated and building from there doing some courses and then building things with the knowledge that you’re getting is what is gonna give you some experience.

I know what you’re thinking: ‘Lol, build stuff? Really? How do you suggest I do that, if I’m a beginner? Surely you need to have A LOT of experience to ‘build stuff’… ‘. Not according to Syk:

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If you’re just starting, you’re like ‘How am I gonna build things from scratch??!!??’ People say that and you’re like ‘But I don’t know ANYTHING!’. Yes, of course, You just start copying people, you just start doing some simple things, but to build a simple website it’s much easier than you’d expect. I thought, when I first started learning that it was gonna take me… I don’t know… like months and months before I would be able to do a simple website but you can get a website up and running in a couple of weeks of learning, or even a few days of learning. And then you start to put more details in… If you’re trying to add something, if you want something to happen, then you’re gonna look for the resources that will make it happen, that’s always a very good way, at least for me, to get motivated.  Like: I need to get this to work THIS way, and I don’t know how, so I’m gonna look for information that will get me there. 

What are the best resources to learn, Syk?

Ok, so learn a lot, practice even more. Easy peasy 🙃. But how do you find the best learning resources to use? And how do you choose since There. Are. So. Many! Well, here’s Syk’s take:

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Well, my first tip would be to always find the kind of resources that work for you because everyone learns in a different way, and if you’re doing some kind of course or using a resource that bores you, or that makes you lose interest, then there’s no point in me recommending it because it’s not for you. Yeah, so the most important thing is to find the thing that excites you, find the thing that keeps you hooked, and motivates you, makes you want to come back to it. If it’s not connecting with you, then it’s not the right resource for you. If you’re… some people like to watch videos, and code along with the video; some people like to read documentation and then apply it themselves;  some people like to look at someone’s code and they copy it and change it, whatever works for you – this is always the best. For me, I used so many different resources in so many different moments, in my learning process. I was mostly driven by what I needed to learn more than anything else. Like – I needed to understand what is this thing – how to make an API call, and WHAT IS THAT? And I would look up for resources and find the right people, try a few things out and see which ones connects with me, then do THAT. 

But there’s more. First though, check out this article on (Re)learning how to learn, it will help you if you’re just getting started; it outlines some simple techniques you can use to get the most out of your learning. Especially if you find yourself thinking: ‘Pfff, I’m not a mathy / techy kind of person’ or ‘I’ve never done this and now it’s waaaaay to late’… Syk doesn’t mince his words on this:

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Yeah, I completely insist on the fact that you just gotta believe that practice and the concentrated effort and focused learning is what you need to achieve, to learn ANYTHING, to learn any skill. It’s just a skill, and like any skill you just gotta do it, and do it, and do it, and do it – and you will learn. It’s a very complex thing, and it requires a lot of work and dedication, and probably the thing that you need the most is to be able to deal with the frustration, because you get frustrated and you WILL feel overwhelmed at times… so you need the ability to deal with this frustration and then you need the ability to persist, even at the times you think ‘I think everyone else is just REALLY clever and I’m NOT!!!!!’ At that moment, you gotta convince yourself that that is just the voice in your head, and it’s not true! And you should just persist despite that voice, despite the voice, despite the imposter syndrome, despite the fear, despite all of these things. If you push yourself in that direction, and try it and keep going then there’s nothing else there… there isn’t a special mind to becoming a programmer. It’s a complex skill, and complex skills require time and a lot of effort. But like any other complex skill, repetition and practice gets you there. And that’s it. 

Point taken: you just have to learn to power through. One way you can do that is to tap into the online communities that match your interests. And these may vary throughout your transition – but there are some that are of particular relevance:

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In some particular courses, or in some particular places you will find an active community, and in these places, this community can become extremely helpful. Online communities are supportive, are the greatest; they can answer your questions, they can encourage you, and I found a few places in courses that I was doing that did this. But probably my favourite and most important one, and one that I owe a lot to, is the #100daysofcode community on Twitter. #100daysofcode, for anyone that doesn’t know, is a very simple idea: you commit publicly on Twitter that you are going to code for the next 100 days at least 1 hour a day, every single day. And that you’re going to help others and encourage others as well – at least 2 people every single day. With these simple rules: declaring it publicly on Twitter, saying that you’re gonna do it for one hour, helping others, this has created one of the most supportive and loveliest communities that I know of online. 

The thing is, about coding for one hour a day is that it really, really works, because you get home after a long day at work, and you’re exhausted, and you think ‘Aaargh, I can’t bothered now, I’m really tired, I need to do the dishes, I’ve got things – you know, I need to sleep early…’ and then you say ‘On the weekend, I will put in more hours’ and that’s the kind of thing that breaks the cycle; you start programming, or you start learning any skill, really – and you get excited about it, and you’re thinking about it but then… Monday comes and you can’t do it, Tuesday comes and you can’t do it… and on Wednesday you go ‘OK, maybe over the weekend… ‘ and then on the weekend you need to rest, and then other things happen, and the next thing you know – 2 weeks have passed and you haven’t touched it and you lose the motivation… And you lose your streak and that’s the kind of thing that can pull you away from an idea that could be really, really great!

And so, the one hour daily thing, is really genius because you get – when you’re in that situation and you’re really tired and everything you think ‘But it’s just one hour’ – like it’s one episode of that series I’m watching on Netflix… I can dedicate one hour’… You pick up your laptop, you sit down and you start doing stuff; most of the time you’ll end up doing way  more than just an hour – and you’re not gonna watch any Netflix at all. But that’s the thing: it just keeps you going and because you’ve kind of committed publicly to it, and you tweet every single day what you’ve done, you kinda feel terrible that it’s 10 o’clock at night and you haven’t done anything and you’re like ‘Nah, I’m not gonna sleep before doing that hour and tweeting what I’ve learnt today!’ And then you get all of the support from the community, which really, really works to keep you motivated. That – I think it worked magic for me, because it just made me persist, and – you know – made me feel accountable and it pushed me continuously to keep on working, and not to stop when I was tired, when I was finding it hard. So these are the kind of things that I got the most out of in the early days of the journey, and throughout the whole journey.  Kudos to Alexander Kallaway who created this wonderful concept, because

Ok, so we’ve learnt a lot already from Syk. We heard this far about the skills you need to go into front-end development as a mid-career transitioner; we also got his best advice as to how best to learn and where to turn to for support and accountability. Join me on the next page to hear about the day-to-day of a front-end dev – and see if you find it inspiring.

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