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Ju Hang Sin


Becoming a programmer without going to a university!

2 years ago, I got my first job as a programmer. I always thought becoming a programmer, you’d have to have either Comp Sci or Comp Eng degree. But I did it without it with a little help (maybe more than a little) from my friends.

Life before programming

Before my 1st job as a programmer, I got my Audio Engineering diploma, was a cook, AV technician, and was in a Rock and Roll band (Yeah, I changed my career a lot and often).

So how did I become a programmer? I wasn’t happy with my career. As everyone would’ve guessed, being in a ‘sort-of-popular-in-your-city’ band & AV tech doesn’t make much money, also I know I couldn’t do that forever. So I was looking for a change. I had some interests of learning coding before, but never really knew where to start.

Life between old and new

I met a friend at a bar, who is a very talented programmer. I was talking to him about my concerns about my career and it doesn’t really have a future, and he recommended to me trying out FreeCodeCamp’s HTML & CSS course. I did the entire course within 2 days (back then, FCC’s JS course was very limited), and was absolutely thrilled! Told him how much I loved it, and as you programmers know, HTML & CSS doesn’t even consider as coding… So I started asking what my next step should be to my friend. He kindly invited me to his work, and talked to people who was at the same situation as me few years before. One of them has told me about a coding bootcamp called Bitmaker Labs (now acquired by General Assembly, Toronto).

During my time at the bootcamp & what do I think about coding bootcamps?

I booked a meeting with the administrator at Bitmaker to talk about my potential enrolment, and signed up for the next cohort and began my journey as a developer. It was 3 months program from 10am - 6pm every day. My opinion with bootcamps are you can’t learn everything, they teach you ‘real-life’ problems that you’ll run into while you’re working for a company. But it will get your foot in the door. It is totally up to you what you do with the limited knowledge they taught you. At the end of the day, it is only 3 months, and there’s so much you can learn about programming during 3 months. Our cohort started with 40 people, only 15-20 finished the program, and as far as I know, only 30% got a job in tech. Most important thing I realized was you need to be dedicated to continue learning concepts you’ve been taught. And most importantly, just keep coding.

How I landed my first job!

I finished bootcamp, and now I had to find a job. Yes, there are thousands of tech jobs around, but think about it this way. University students will also be applying for jobs that you’re applying. They have 4+ years of experience, you? 3 months.. Why the hell would they hire you instead of fresh university grads? So I had to put in the work.

During this time, I had created 3 Ruby On Rails apps, 2 JavaScript apps, and many HTML & CSS static web pages to keeping my skills up to date.

This is the important part, my girlfriend told me about how to apply for jobs & how to keep track of them all.

USE A SPREADSHEET WITH WHERE YOU APPLIED!!! This is extremely important and I don’t know many people really does this. If the hiring manager receives 2 resumes from you, there’s no way this person will call you back. This shows your time-management skills & shows you’re not an attention-to-detail person. I was applying about 5-10 jobs per day, with personalized emails, calling them after 24 hours if I really wanted that job (I did hear pros & cons about this method though. So best would be going out for coffee with someone at the company, and ask them if that would be a good idea). I had about 10 interviews, bombed most of them since I was so nervous. One of my early interviews, I even tripped on simple CSS question. It definitely gets easier though and interview questions were getting repetitive.

Then I aced my final interview and got my first job at a hotel management software company as a Junior Web Developer. Then it all began from there.

So, do I still think university degree is necessary in tech?

Answer is yes and no. I did bootcamp because of my circumstances of being in late 20’s. University teaches you from 0-10. Also algorithms, yeah yeah I know you’ll never use algorithms at your job unless you’re working at the Big Four, but it will definitely help you in the long run! So I do think university graduates will be a lot stronger than bootcamp graduates, but this all depends on you. One of graduates from my cohort is doing so well, and he now is a senior dev at his company.

So don’t stop learning and keep on coding!