From Teaching Assistant to Front End Developer: an Interview with Techdegree Student Steve Brewer
London-based Steve Brewer was working as a teaching assistant and was hesitant to change careers as it felt like a waste of the education and experience he’d invested in teaching. Then Steve read an article about the rising trend of gamifying education. Intrigued, Steve decided to try out Treehouse while he was out of school over the summer.
By the time he returned to teaching, Steve was faced with a crossroad in his career. The cost to obtain the post-grad degree he needed to become a teacher would cost £9k – £12k. Already in debt from his education, Steve wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice again. Serendipitously, around that time Treehouse launched the Techdegree program. Steve decided to take a chance, change course, and pursue a career as a developer.
A few months later, Steve came across an opportunity that would enable him to apply skills from working in education to a career as a developer. At the interview, Steve confidently showcased his portfolio and shared his enthusiasm and interest for front end development. The company was blown away and not only offered Steve the job, but an increased starting salary. Today, Steve is able to do what he loves each day, while learning and growing in a new industry. What’s more, he’s now making 50% more than his teaching assistant salary.
We asked Steve to share his experience with the Techdegree and starting his new career as a developer with the Treehouse community.
When Treehouse invited me to start a Techdegree, I was at a fork in the road. I was already in a lot of debt, but the Techdegree would give me 12 projects and the confidence from having them graded to take into an interview. So I took a chance, and it was the best decision I ever made.
What encouraged you to learn with Treehouse and choose the Front End Web Development Techdegree?
I’m a huge fan of Mashable and other tech blogs, and I’ve always loved tech. About a year ago a post came up on my feed about a free online code school, and I was intrigued by the idea of ‘gamifying’ education, so I tried it out.
What were you doing career-wise when you began learning to code and what inspired you to make a change?
I wasn’t planning for my career at the time, I was genuinely curious from an education perspective. I worked as a teaching assistant at a primary school for special needs children while I finished my degree in child development with the Open University. Changing careers felt like I would waste my experience so far, so it didn’t feel like an option at the time, but I was excited about how Treehouse was delivering education online, because it really is exceptional. The way the science behind habits and rewards is utilised makes learning feel fun and effortless.
The videos were easy to follow, but the best part was the frequent quizzes and code challenges, which are hugely rewarding and give you instant feedback that you’re actually on track and learning. Since the courses were in order of difficulty, I started ploughing through the front end courses, racking up the points as I went and before I knew it, spending hours on Treehouse every night became habit. Every green ‘Well done!’ reinforced the habit and I spent most of last year’s six-week summer holiday on Treehouse, and it flew by.
You recently landed a junior position as a front end web developer at a new and fast growing company in London (congrats again!). Tell us a little bit about how your career has evolved since learning to code and the experience of landing your first job in the tech industry.
After banking about three months of Treehouse study, I began to feel like changing careers might be an option. If I wanted to get into teaching I’d have to pay £9–12,000 for a postgraduate degree on top of taking a year out of work to do it. And the salaries were lower than developer salaries.
Treehouse success stories kept showing up on my Facebook feed, and after hearing about how Bryan changed his career in just 8 months, I read other examples and started to get more optimistic. When Treehouse invited me to start a Techdegree before it went public, I was at a fork in the road. I was already in a lot of debt, but the Techdegree would give me 12 projects and the confidence from having them graded to take into an interview. So I took a chance, and it was the best decision I ever made.
Two months later, I had a quick look at what jobs are out there in London with no intention of applying for any, and I came across a Junior Front End Developer role for a company that offers free short courses from universities. They were looking for someone eager to learn with an interest in education, and weren’t expecting high-end code skills as they were interested in developing their staff. It was perfect, I could transfer my skills and experience working in education to a career as a developer.
So I applied, feeling ridiculously optimistic and in the back of my mind felt like I was probably heading for disappointment. But I had a telephone interview to discuss what the job would entail and establish if I still wanted to apply, and then a face-to-face interview was arranged a month later, where I spent half a day at their office.
There was a technical interview, which consisted almost entirely of me talking about my first three Treehouse Techdegree projects (I was only up to project four of twelve!) and two other websites I had made, one for a friend’s florist and a photo gallery for my mum (that was the extent of my professional experience!). I feel like having those projects really helped my interviewers understand where my skills are at, as it would have been more difficult for them if they had to prepare tests for me, but they knew in advance I would be bringing my own work.
Then I had a code pairing where I worked with another developer to create a section of a website using HTML and CSS. It was meant to represent real-life working conditions so I was free to ask for help and look things up, which I did and that showed initiative and the ability to figure things out.
Finally, there was a traditional interview with non-technical staff members where I was asked about anything exciting I had seen recently, where I chose to talk about recent books I’d read about how habits work and the importance of setting goals. I was asked where I see myself in five years and what attracted me to a front end development career.
The whole process was a pleasure. I’m used to intimidating, half-hour interviews where you have to prove you’re the best and dodge trick questions, but this felt much more like a team of people trying to make sure I felt relaxed so they could get to know the real me, and they pulled it off spectacularly.
When they called to offer me the job, they said they were bowled over by the way I presented myself, my experience in education was valuable and my skills were strong. They offered me £2,000 more than the salary advertised, so I’ll be starting on £30,000 for my first developer role. That’s about £5,000 more than the starting salary of a teacher, and 50% more than my TA salary. All I have to do now is continue developing my skills and my salary will increase.
I have the freedom to work with others on the team, including back end developers, and the company invests heavily in training and development. The only limit is how much I want to learn, because I’m now being paid to do what I’ve already been doing on Treehouse for free, and it’s the most exciting time of my life. The icing on the cake was being asked to order my hardware, where the email literally said: “You can choose any laptop.” And “Whatever software you need to do your job, just say.”
How have you benefited from specific features of the Techdegree?
The Techdegree projects gave me solid evidence of my skills, and knowing they were graded and checked by someone before I took them to interview gave me confidence in my work. Being able to see the work of other students and collaborate in the Slack channel was really useful for gauging where you’re at and gives you great experience with collaboration, which is vital for working in the real world. I’ll also be using Slack in my new job, so it’s great that I now know what it is and how to use it!
Treehouse also has some great videos on working in the industry itself, which I’ve not seen in other code schools. The forums have a lot of words of wisdom about finding a job and what employers look for.
What would you say have been the greatest benefits of your Techdegree experience?
It’s a tie between having the projects as evidence to show employers and having that confidence that you’ve got something solid behind you. The Techdegree is more rigorous than just taking the courses themselves, where employers might feel is an open book in terms of what you’ve actually learned from the courses. The Techdegree not only pushes you further in terms of creativity and using your own initiative, you have solid examples of your own work available to show on your Github profile.
What has the value of a Treehouse Techdegree meant to you?
Initially, I was worried about the cost, as it’s a lot more than the $25/month, but there are code schools in London charging £8,000 for three months. Now that I’ve started, it’s worth every penny, and my salary has gone up by 50%, which I couldn’t have done without it. So it’s certainly covered its costs and I’m only two months in! The fact you can pause at anytime and resume later without losing progress was also a great help for me.
What advice would you share with aspiring front end developers?
When you feel like you want to quit, which we’ve all felt, take a break. Take a week or a month, but always push yourself to come back again in the future, even if it’s just for an hour. I had a four-month break and was surprised to find I had forgotten nothing. I made myself do an hour, and I just picked up where I left off and got back into the swing of it. That turned out to be the final push before I found my first job.
Now it’s your turn to learn the in-demand programming skills you need to start a new career path as a developer. Learn more about the Treehouse Techdegree and explore the 6 certifications we offer.
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