CommunityRobert Relied on Treehouse & Became a Full-Time Front End Developer in 7 Months

Faye Bridge
writes on August 5, 2015

Robert graduated with a degree in Sound Engineering, but soon found himself unable to launch his career and returned to working part-time at McDonald’s while continuing to apply for jobs. But after two years without success, Robert realised it was time for a drastic change and set himself the goal of climbing to Everest Based Camp. For Robert, blogging about his travels and Everest sparked an intrigue for the web industry.

When his travels brought him to Sweden, Robert was faced with the challenge of needing in-demand skills to land a job that would allow him to stay. After much research, Robert saw the abundance of job opportunities in the web industry and decided to focus on converting his web hobby into employable skills.

Robert joined Treehouse and was soon dedicating 70 hours a week to learning to code. After 7 months, he felt confident enough to start applying for jobs. Robert was then given the opportunity to work on a project with a local startup agency. The agency was so impressed with his coding skills, enthusiasm and attitude, they offered him the job. Robert is now able to embrace a career that he loves. He has also enjoyed the journey so much, that he’s now blogging about his learning experience and aspiring to teach others to learn to code in the future.

We caught up with Robert to hear more about his learning experience, the work he’s doing now as a frontend developer and his plans for the future. 

Robert Smith

Treehouse was the single best investment of my money that I ever made. The return on that investment has already been astronomical and it’s only going to continue upwards. I always advise newcomers to the industry to sign up for Treehouse.

 

What first drew you to the web industry?

I’ll back up to a little while before I became interested in the industry. In 2009, I graduated from University with a degree in Sound Engineering, but despite my best efforts, failed to land a job in the industry. So instead I went back to working at McDonald’s, which is where I’d worked while studying. I then tried and failed numerous times to get a junior role as a sound engineer and began to wonder if I ever would.

Fast forward two years and I’d totally lost interest in sound engineering, I felt frustrated, I had no idea what to do with my career. My job sucked and I needed a way out. I thought maybe travelling and working abroad might give me some ideas on what to do, possibly change my outlook on life.

A year later and I was on a plane headed to Nepal to climb to Everest Base Camp, I’d always had an interest in climbing, mountains and nature at it’s most extreme. I’d come to the perfect place. My family and friends told me to document my climb and perhaps write a blog about my experience. I started a blog on WordPress, using a premade theme which a friend kindly hosted for me.

Although I didn’t really do any coding I was intrigued, I learned about ‘inspect element’ just from clicking around and I was fascinated that you could change the background color of and font-size right in the browser. I started reading about web design and development while I travelled around Asia, and also while I worked in Australia, mostly just creating rudimentary things in JSFiddle.

TL: DR; Blogging about my travel experiences was my introduction to the web industry.

What work were you doing when you first joined Treehouse & what encouraged you to learn with us?

After my time in Asia, I ended up in Sweden having met a girl while I was on my travels (I think all expats in Sweden ended up here for that reason). I quickly found out that there was no way I was going to get employed in the service industry with my non-existent Swedish skills. If I was to stay I had to get some in-demand skills and quickly (I had about $6,000 to my name). I’d been playing around with this ‘web thing’ and I had really enjoyed tinkering around despite no structured form of learning. After some thought I realised it was probably my best shot and who knows maybe I’d actually enjoy the job. So I put it in my mind that I would get a job no matter what.

After a short time searching and looking at learning materials I stumbled upon Treehouse and signed up for a free course, I was hooked. The way the videos presented the information really helped me grasp the fundamental concepts I knew I needed to learn the low-level fundamentals of HTML, CSS and JavaScript before I attempted to build anything substantial. What better place to learn this stuff than Treehouse?

At this time I was spending about 70 hours a week studying Treehouse’s resources, and a few others such as CSS-Tricks. It all sounds a bit full on but I was enjoying learning and saw great value in the opportunity of a chance to get my foot in the door of what I was beginning to realise was probably the best and fastest growing industry on the planet. I was quickly growing in confidence and after a few months I was answering as many questions on forums as I was asking.

In only 8 months, you went from zero experience to employed as a full-time Front End Developer. Tell us a little about how your career has evolved since learning with Treehouse and the work you’re doing now.

About 6-7 months in I started looking around for jobs. Money was getting a little scarce, I was getting pretty comfortable writing HTML, CSSJavaScript and some jQuery, a little PHP and WordPress and I had just started playing around with Sass. I applied at over a dozen jobs but didn’t get a single response. Eventually, I got a shot at working on a project with a local agency, after offering to code right in front of them, they liked my enthusiasm and “never give up” attitude. I was lucky, I was down to my last $300 (or ~3000Kr in Swedish currency). Once that was gone my Swedish dream would have been over. The hard work had paid off.

The new role had quite a steep learning curve. They were using Bootstrap and Git in the terminal so I spent the entire weekend before I began learning them. I was a little afraid of the terminal, but I persevered. Getting stuck in VIM for the very first time doesn’t help build terminal confidence!

That’s now almost two years ago, since then I got our agency to drop Bootstrap as I felt it had a number of fundamental flaws and they allowed me to build my own framework which has been ever evolving as I improve my coding abilities. Shortly after this I learnt about Grunt and added this to automate a lot of the repetitive tasks.

These days I’m working on much larger projects. I also often teach the interns at our agency. We recently sold a huge project in the region of $80,000 of which I will be building the front end in React and I’ll be using webpack to serve the static assets. Right now I am learning ES6, Functional Programming, Node.js. I am very interested in web performance so I spend a lot of time researching ways to improve load time and run time performance. As you can see I have a bit of a passion for JavaScript!

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

Quite simply Treehouse was the single best investment of my money that I ever made. The return on that investment has already been astronomical and it’s only going to continue upwards. I always advise newcomers to the industry to sign up for Treehouse.

What are your plans for the future, and what’s up next on your learning path?

I’d like to move more from building websites to building complex, yet highly robust and performant web Apps. I love working with Node and React, and I’ve just started playing with Webpack and will take some time to learn that. I am planning to learn more about APIs such as web-sockets and Web RCT, improve my abilities with Node.js and React. Although I have a good grasp of functional programming I know there’s much more to learn here, it seems like a very smart way to code.

Ever since I started to learn to code I always had the dream of working with one of the Giants like Netflix, Spotify or Google, but for now I’m really happy with the agency. We won 3rd prize in an annual award for Sweden’s best startup so we’re doing something right! Who knows, maybe someday we’ll grow into something much bigger.

I blog about some of the things I am learning here. I plan to start teaching others in my spare time, through code reviews and perhaps in the next year or two maybe speak at a conference about improving web performance.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with new students who are just starting out?

Don’t try to run before you can walk, it’s very cliche but so true here. I see many new and excited developers attempting to build amazing interactive websites, but do not have a strong grasp of the fundamentals. This almost always results in an over-reliance on plugins and frameworks, many of which are poorly written. I don’t think this helps your learning. Instead, reinvent the wheel, take it apart and see how it works. Treehouse covers all the fundamentals you need to know. So spend time learning the theory, in the long run, it’s more than worth it.

Secondly don’t let things overwhelm you. There’s a vast sea of things that can be learnt. It’s important to spend time learning the right things, languages before frameworks – frameworks come and go, knowing a language well puts you in a far stronger position going forward than just a framework that’s built upon it. When you break these down there isn’t an awful lot.

HTML, CSS, JavaScript, learn these in great detail and the fancy stuff on top should come easily (speaking from a purely front end perspective here).

To read more awesome student success stories, check out the Treehouse Stories Page.

8 Responses to “Robert Relied on Treehouse & Became a Full-Time Front End Developer in 7 Months”

  1. Vincent Li on February 1, 2016 at 12:03 am said:

    Thanks Robert for sharing your story. I wanted to ask you if you had completed everything on teamtreehouse before seeking employment. At what point did you realize you were ready? Lastly what were some of the ways you adapted to the developer environment? I would presume working at home at your own pace would be different from employment.

    -Vincent

    • Hi Vincent, I’m sorry this is (very) late but I thought I’d reply anyway in case there are others who are interested:
      I had no idea of the concept of ready – as in there’s not really a perfect time. What pushed me to apply when I did was because I was running out of funds and just had nothing to loose.
      But I’d advise you to avoid all the noise and frameworks and focus on HTML / CSS / JavaScript with a little bit of Git.
      Once you know CSS well learn a bit of Sass, for JS introduce jQuery. If you have learnt the three aforementioned languages picking up Sass and jQuery should be straightforward.

      As for adapting I spent a lot of my spare time studying – sort of playing catch up as it was a massive step up for me. A big thing is not being afraid to ask questions / help from more experienced developers. By the time I left (I’ve since moved on from my post) I was being asked more questions – so as you gain experience try to help others, it really helps cement your own learning by teaching others.

      A little update on me: I’m now a Senior Front-end Dev at Sainsbury’s (Manchester UK) and it again was a huge step up and I’ve again had to spend a lot of time self studying in order to level up as the standard here is so high. I spend most of my time these days writing React, Redux, Node along with learning a few Ops tools like Docker, Vagrant and AWS.

  2. Amazing story really is a great inspiration for all of us.

  3. Nice I just got offered my first full-time Web developer role with the city government!! Super excited I’ll be taking the lead as the one and only web dev for the city. I start the 08/17/2015 super stoked!!!

    • Faye Bridge on August 12, 2015 at 6:18 am said:

      Hi Victor! That’s awesome to hear, congratulations! We’d love to hear more about your experience. Would you mind emailing me at faye@teamtreehouse.com? 🙂

    • Sterling Wilson on January 11, 2016 at 11:19 am said:

      Congrats, Victor! I’m happy you have a job. And you have an opportunity to learn and grow. And I suggest you start (or continue, as your post is now five months old) looking for a new job immediately. Working for the government might be pleasant but it’s not real work—it’s not a part of the free market. To really challenge yourself, work for a company that has customers they have to please on threat of going out of business. That’s how you learn to be better!

      Cheers!

      • Mary McPherson on January 12, 2016 at 8:02 am said:

        I respectfully disagree. There are always learning opportunities if you are open to them! Government work is a great place to build a good foundation. I hope you are enjoying your job, Victor!

  4. Thanks Robert for sharing your story and providing inspiration to us!

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