CommunityHome Depot Retail to Freelance Web Developer: an Interview with Techdegree Student Esteban Valdez

Faye Bridge
writes on September 12, 2016

Esteban had always thought you needed a college degree to have a career in the tech industry. It wasn’t till he became friends with a self-taught web developer that he realized there were other means of learning to code and successfully launching a rewarding career in tech.

Based on a recommendation, Esteban began learning with Treehouse and soon was able to take on small paid projects. However, life got busier and he had to put learning on hold while he took a position at Home Depot as a retail associate to provide for his family.

When Esteban heard about the Techdegree program, he was determined to recommit to learning the skills he’d need to make his career aspirations a reality. With the front end web development Techdegree, Esteban found a balance with work, life and learning. He worked tirelessly and built his skills, experience, and portfolio to a point where he was able to quit his job at Home Depot and focus solely on his growing freelance business, Nemo Web Design.

We asked Esteban to share his inspiring story.

Esteban

What first encouraged you to learn to code and pursue a career in the tech industry?

I was first encouraged to learn to code in high school when I signed up for web design courses at two different schools, both of which were horrible. All I remember from them is discovering that HTML existed. However, later in life, I met a new friend named Daniel who was working in the web development industry, which I thought was super cool. I assumed that he had some fancy college degree, but inquired how he learned the trade. He informed me that he did not attend college, but was self-taught. My interest was piqued, to say the least. Daniel recommended that I check out Treehouse and I quickly did so. I signed up and began the Web Design Track with Nick Pettit. I enjoyed the courses so much that I continued learning as much as I could.

Shortly after completing the beginner courses on Treehouse I let Daniel know how I was doing and to my surprise he offered me some paid projects! I was nervous at first – considering I still had much to learn – but took him up on the offer. Those first few projects made me realize that coding could be more than a hobby for me. It could be a skill I use to provide for my family. However, life got busier and I had to put my learning on hold.

One day I got an invitation to join the Treehouse Techdegree Beta program. After discussing it with my wife, I signed up for the Front End Web Development degree which really helped reach my goal of becoming a full-time developer.

Those first few projects made me realize that coding could be more than a hobby for me. It could be a skill I use to provide for my family.

What work were you doing when you started learning with Treehouse?

When I began learning with Treehouse I was working in sales for a wholesale animal grooming supply company and soon after that began working for The Home Depot as a retail associate.

You’re now a full-time freelance web developer. Tell us how your career has evolved since learning to code.

Well for the last year and a half I had been working for The Home Depot as a retail associate. I started working in the parking lot pushing carts and then got promoted to a sales position for the flooring department. While I appreciated this opportunity, it wasn’t an ideal job for supporting myself and my wife financially.

During that time, I kept doing side work for my friend Daniel as well as my own clients. My first web projects were easier tasks ranging from modifying existing web pages, then configuring styles/layouts using CSS for an e-commerce surf store, to finally building websites and web apps from scratch using only my coding skills. What really jumpstarted my career in this field was the Treehouse front end web development Techdegree.

The courses really helped me to deepen my existing knowledge, hastened my workflow, gave me much more confidence in my skills, and helped me to start developing new skills such as JavaScript. I am still working on finishing the program, but it has already contributed so much to the work I am able to do today. So much so that I was recently able to leave the Home Depot and launch my own business NemoWebDesigns.com.

What has been the greatest challenge while learning to code?

The greatest challenge I faced was maintaining the motivation to learn while balancing work/life at the same time. I overcame this by keeping my desire to learn alive through reading web development blogs (like this one), following trends in the industry, and reading other people’s success stories.

Another challenge was gaining the confidence needed to make the jump to doing web design full-time. The solution – as I mentioned earlier – was the Techdegree program. It really gave me a deeper understanding of things and the confidence followed. Don’t get me wrong, I still have much to learn, but it definitely helped. Also, allowing other people, like my wife and Daniel, to critique my work helped me to get the needed feedback to improve both my work and skills.

The greatest challenge I faced was maintaining the motivation to learn while balancing work/life at the same time.

What has the value of a Treehouse education meant to you?

Treehouse has empowered me to take on a new form of employment that I never imagined would be possible without a college degree. I have always been a fan of vocational training because it helps people develop the skills needed to do satisfying work without accumulating large debt.

Treehouse also offered me the flexibility needed to learn while balancing life and work simultaneously. Really, I can say that any money that I have spent on Treehouse thus far has already paid for itself.

Treehouse has empowered me to take on a new form of employment that I never imagined would be possible without a college degree. I have always been a fan of vocational training because it helps people develop the skills needed to do satisfying work without accumulating large debt.

Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started learning to code?

Yes, I wish I had realized that there usually is more than one way to solve a problem in coding. I would say most of the time, those “other ways” likely require less of your time and are more efficient. So take the time to research (Google) any problems you come across, read the documentation, and ask others for advice.

What advice would you share with aspiring developers?

Don’t assume that you need to know “everything” to start developing because you never will! Jump in and start doing your own projects outside of Treehouse with whatever knowledge you currently have. Doing so will help you increase that knowledge, help you recognize pitfalls, and in the process build a really great portfolio of your work.

Jump in and start doing your own projects. Doing so will help you increase your knowledge, help you recognize pitfalls, and in the process build a really great portfolio of your work.


Learn to code and empower yourself to start a new career as a developer. Start your free trial and explore the Techdegree Program today.

2 Responses to “Home Depot Retail to Freelance Web Developer: an Interview with Techdegree Student Esteban Valdez”

  1. For me it was never about the degree in finding employment it was always about the portfolio. However being a freelance web developer the market seems saturated in obtaining clients or marketing and competing

  2. The debate as to whether or not one needs a degree to succeed in tech seems has been going on for decades. The funny thing is the tech industry itself reveres certain gods who either didn’t go or dropped out of college like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, yet their companies’ job postings say Masters or Bachelors required.

    I knew a lady who was self taught with 20 years experience and she had excellent and design and coding skills. Frequently she applied for certain jobs, yet was denied opportunity because she didn’t have the diploma. Fed up with this, she got a degree so it wouldn’t be an issue. (She then went and got 2 more in robotics.)

    The one thing many employers do not know how to ask and determine is actual job competence. Can you actually do the job? If you can, then it really doesn’t matter whether you went to an Ivy League or an online U or underwear basement. Because so many employers don’t know this, it’s up to the candidate to plainly ask, “Exactly what do you want done? What kind of app / site do you want?” Many times they can’t reply cohesively which is why they ask for a ton of languages and sheepskin. You have to walk them through to see what they want to accomplish; you may also discover some don’t have their act together which means you must find those who do.

Leave a Reply

Learning to code can be fun!

Get started today with a free trial and discover why thousands of students are choosing Treehouse to learn about web development, design, and business.

Learn more