High School Student to Web Developer

Tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Olivia and about 18 months ago, I started the Code Avengers JavaScript course. I had tried Codecademy too, but I was a bit bored and found that they didn't teach proper syntax. They just kind of let you run for it and disregard any standards.

Anyway, the reason I say all this is because since then, my life and direction has really changed. Just methodically working through the courses gave me the confidence to start looking at things like Stack Overflow where egos are so rampant it's hard to get a word in. And not only that, but it got me making things that were worthwhile.

I did all this in my last year of high school, which if you ask any Australian teenager (or teacher) they'll say was a bad idea. But I disagree. After getting my high school diploma I was hired by a web development agency and now I get paid to learn more and do what I love - while the rest of my friends are making themselves academic debt and not being sure if it's for the right degree anyway.

I'm 18, doing what I love and learning the skill that you kicked off for me. So thanks!

What motivated you to start coding in the first place?

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but in the beginning it was to be cool. Some of my good friends were into IRC (chat rooms filled with strangers) and I got into it too – but, like high school, there was a ‘social hierarchy’ and to be at the top, you had to be an awesome programmer.

After coding with Python for a little while and not really getting anywhere fast, I started looking into web development because I found that the ‘instant feedback’ of coding for the browser was a lot easier to work with.

Originally I trawled through the W3C schools website, but I don’t know if you’ve seen it lately - it’s a bit like time-travelling back to 2003. So I googled for fun projects and found Code Academy, but like many others I found it too slow-moving and the lack of regulation (particularly of syntax and presentation of code) made me feel like I wasn’t going in any particular direction.

Et voila! Now presenting Code Avengers! It wasn’t completely finished when I started, but I remember methodically going through each level and really enjoying the sequential learning. I did the HTML/CSS course and found that it filled in all the gaps that my half-hearted self-teaching had made.

Then the JavaScript! It really helped add structure to my spaghetti code, and subtle helpers like example code snippets with consistent placement of curly brackets were welcome. It was at this point that I gained confidence to use sites like Stack overflow that are pretty good at intimidating newbies into silence.

So how did you fit this in with your school work?

I started programming websites on a regular basis when I started my high school certificate which was both a blessing and a curse. I took an IT subject during the first year of the certificate, and there was a little bit of overlap in the content, but not very much so I found myself trying to integrate it into my other subjects – i.e. making a website for my linguistics class when I was probably (read: definitely) meant to make a poster.

In my final year of high school, just before the year 12 formal dance event, I met my first client. Can you get more unconventional than discussing your client’s new website as they manicure your nails for the big night? It began with “Do you have a job?” and ended with “I’ll come in next week to discuss designs.”

The website took me a criminally long time to finish considering I was juggling a final year workload, a university subject and personal issues – but I managed it just in time for the pre-exam study break.

It was this fast progression that got me where I am today. I passed my final exams with a good mark and over the break before university was meant to start, I managed to get hired by an independent digital agency as a junior web developer. Pretty crazy huh!

What were the keys to landing a job? Portfolio? Did you blow them away in an interview?

After sending in my CV which consisted of my previous employment at the local post office, and the list of links to websites I’d made (all of which were hosted on google drive) I got a call which was completely unexpected. I’d applied to a lot of agencies and most of them had immediately shot me down because I hadn’t yet heard of the HTML validator (whoops!) and thought ‘SASS’ was something my mother hated.

I had an interview with them in which I showed my portfolio. Even now I can say wasn’t terribly good quality – but it was extensive. They saw my passion in my work, they saw my youthful willingness to learn and that was what they were interested in. In the interview I was super nervous, but I went in there knowing what my angle was; I was a blank canvas. They could teach me their styles (their in-house practices) and they could watch as I grew from a hobbyist to a fully-fledged developer – which as a small agency, was really exciting for them. It was this attitude that I really appreciated. They were willing to take the time, especially in the first couple of months, to answer my endless stream of questions. The companies that sent me away probably wouldn’t have supported me to such an extent.

What are you currently doing at your job?

Now my duties are the same as any other front-end developer, despite my age and initial lack of experience. I’m given a Photoshop document and told to recreate it pixel-perfectly (and yes that does mean screen-shotting the website at every size and overlaying it on the PSD)! I then hook up all the buttons and boxes and interactive stuff to the back end before showing it to the client. I’ve been there about six months now, and I think soon I’ll be introduced to more back-end work, which is really exciting. The amount of progress I’ve made, now that school is over and I can dedicate more time to coding, is amazing.

All this really did start with Code Avengers. I know it’s cliché and super corny, but it made me feel like I was moving at a good pace and I was learning some standards rather than guessing for myself. Code Avengers walked beside me, rather than holding my hand.

Are you ready to script your future?

Learn to Code with CodeAvengers.com

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