Danny thompson

Danny Thompson

Software Engineer Frontdoor

Danny Thompson is a software engineer, community leader, and the chapter founder and organizer of GDG Memphis, a meetup for providing resources and supporting developers along their careers.

Description

In this episode, we talk about how to stay motivated and get your first job, with Danny Thompson, software engineer at Frontdoor and the chapter founder and organizer of GDG Memphis, a meetup for providing resources and supporting developers along their careers. Danny talks about going from gas station fry cook to developer, how to maintain drive and motivation on your coding journey, and his four steps to landing your first job.

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today we’re talking about how to stay motivated and land that first coding job, with Danny Thompson, Software Engineer at Frontdoor and the Chapter Founder and Organizer of GDG Memphis, a meetup for providing resources and supporting developers along their careers.

[00:00:26] DT: I have three rules when it comes to becoming a developer in a faster process than normal and they’re ABL, ABB, CCC, Always Be Learning, Always Be Building, Code, Code, Code.

[00:00:39] SY: Danny talks about going from gas station fry cook to developer, how to maintain drive and motivation on your coding journey, and his four steps to landing your first job after this.

[MUSIC BREAK]

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[00:02:48] SY: Thank you so much for being here.

[00:02:49] DT: Super excited.

[00:02:50] SY: So Danny, your path to becoming a developer is a bit nontraditional. Can you tell us how you started your journey?

[00:02:56] DT: So before I ever got into tech, I was working in a gas station, frying chicken, and I did that for over 10 years. And it wasn’t until I was introduced to that concept of programming through a rapper, this rapper invested several million dollars into tech companies, has given an interview about this, and it kind of blew my mind because he said, the reason why he invested that money was because he was learning how to code. This kind of shocked me because I didn’t think people from my background could ever learn how to code. I always thought this was reserved for the PhDs and the rocket scientists of the world. I didn’t think average individuals were coding. So when he started learning how to code, I was like, “Wow! That’s incredible!” So I got on the internet and I started learning how to code. And the reasoning for learning how to code is kind of profound. It’s like we spend 90% of our days touching these amazing machines and the limits of our usage is opening the internet and going to YouTube and watching some videos. And I said, with our bodies, we have the basic understanding, like if we’re sick, we know we need to go to a doctor or we can ride this out. Or if I’m driving my car and it makes a weird sound, I know like, “Oh, this isn’t normal. I need to go to a specialist.” So why don’t I have the same understanding with these machines that I touch all day long? Why don’t I understand why a laptop is like $2,200 or why a smartphone is 1,500 bucks? What is RAM? What are all these words? They’re meaningless until you know the meaning behind them. So I really hunkered down and started learning how to code. And I got a free code camp out of Oregon. That’s exactly where I started. I was going through the motions of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, all that good stuff. And I went to like my first meetup and I go into this meetup. And at this time, I have like a very basic, basic application that I made in HTML, CSS where you enter like the URL of an image and it will return the image with some coloring on it, like a really, really bad filter. So I go into this meeting and I’m like, “Okay, I don’t know anything about what I’m doing.” And I realized very quickly that everyone in this meeting is far more intelligent than I am, and they know way more about stuff that I do. And I realized, “I don’t know anything.” I was so confident walking in here and I don’t know anything. So I said, “Okay, I’m going to keep studying,” and I go home and I start learning more and more and more and I started learning about JavaScript and ES6 functions. And I go to that next meetup and I’ll say, “Oh, well, do you know about arrow functions? Do you know this? Do you know that?” And then I go back the next day and I start studying more, more, more, and I start learning about SQL and I go to that next meeting and said, “Well, do you know how to do it? What SQL table is? And do you know what a SQL Query is?” And I keep learning more and more and I start learning about Java and I go to the next meetup. And now I’m included in this whole community of developers that are focused on trying to help others become better developers. And that was the pivotal moment for me and where I started taking programming so serious and I never intended for myself to become a developer. I just wanted to create a website. And that curiosity started sparking more and more and then you start meeting these phenomenal human beings that just have the same intentions to just kind of grow the community, grow the city and help people. And I just got soaked up into that.

[00:06:02] SY: So it’s interesting that you were so confident going to those meetups. I think you might be the first guest that we’ve had who felt confident after learning just a little bit of coding. Usually we have people who say, “I learned a bit and then I was so intimidated and so overwhelmed.” What gave you that confidence?

[00:06:18] DT: Lack of knowing anything. I thought JavaScript was the end of all programming. So when I went into that meetup and I started learning JavaScript, I was like, “Well, I’m near the end.” I didn’t know what was past JavaScript. So I was like, “Oh, I’m at Vanilla JavaScript and I can make a very, very simple dynamic website.” I thought it was hot stuff at that point, but it was because I didn’t know what was past that. And that is why that to me it was so pivotal, it opened this whole breadth of knowledge to programming that I didn’t know was there. And that’s what got me hooked. I became so hooked knowing that it’s never ending. And I always tell people this all the time, “To be a developer is to be on a lifelong journey of learning. It never stops.” And that’s when I realized that that very first meetup, when I started hearing Java and C#, and these were foreign languages to me, this one, right? This didn’t mean anything to me because I didn’t know they existed before that event. So once I got introduced to that, now of course, like imposter syndrome hit me like a semi-truck, but that’s the moment for me where I was like, “Okay, this is something I could keep uncovering and keep learning, keep getting better at.” I always say I started learning JavaScript three years ago and I’m still learning JavaScript now. It’s a never ending cycle.

[00:07:30] SY: So paint us a picture of what it was like to fit coding into your schedule because I understand that you were still working at the gas station as you were learning to code. Is that right?

[00:07:40] DT: That is correct. So at that point in my life, I was making just enough money to still call myself broke. I was still depressed when I looked at my paychecks, but I was working over 80 hours a week. I was working these countless hours seven days a week. So I tried learning to code after work. And what happened is I’ve worked these 10, 12-hour days and my brain would just be fried and I wasn’t retaining whatever I was going through. And to be honest, I was spinning in circles and I went to my wife and I was getting frustrated. I was like, “Maybe this is too hard for me and this is just something that I don’t have the ability to learn.” And what I ended up doing, I started waking up earlier and I started waking up at 2:30 in the morning to start learning how to code. And I didn’t do that because it’s cool. It’s just the only hours I had available to me at that time because I had to leave for work at 4:30. So I said, “If I wake up at 2:30, I give myself two hours to study before I have to go to work every day.” And that ended up working like a charm. I ended up realizing when I woke up in the morning and my brain was fresh and when the day could not affect me yet. If it was going to be a bad day or a tough day or a hard day, I wouldn’t know at 2:30 in the morning. So those two hours where my isolation from the world and I just did not have anything distracting me. And that was basically the biggest key for me to becoming better. Now I don’t ever tell people to wake up at 2:30 or wake up at 4:00 in the morning. I still wake up at 4:00 in the morning. But I am a very big proponent, you need to create the hours for yourself. For me, I still wake up at 4:00 in the morning. That’s my me time. My 4:00 in the morning, maybe somebody’s 7:00 PM or it’s someone’s 10:00 PM. You just need to find those couple of hours a day to dedicate to yourself or whatever you want to do.

[00:09:26] SY: So with those, because two hours a day isn’t that much. It’s a good start, but it takes a while to really get comfortable in coding and find like the right groove and really make some progress. So two hours a day doesn’t feel like much. How long did you do that for?

[00:09:42] DT: I did it until I started my first job. Well, let me preface that. My only hours dedicated to programming were not just the 2:30 to 4:30. But if I had available time, that’s when I was doing it. I would even code on my lunch breaks on my phone, to be honest, and I still have some of those snippets that I look at when I was learning Java. But any available time allocated to that, I ended up finding mentors that didn’t know they were my mentor until you blocked me, that I’m using this opening to learn as much as I can. And I’m grateful for that because it gave me the opportunity to meet some phenomenal human beings and bounce ideas off of and do things. I even started leading a meetup community well before I had a job in tech, but it was any available moment I had I dedicate it to it. But for the most part, 2:30 to 4:30 was the main crust of everything that I needed to do.

[00:10:33] SY: I’m wondering, how did you decide what to focus on? How did you kind of create a curriculum yourself to make sure you were getting the most value out of those two hours?

[00:10:43] DT: So I definitely started on freeCodeCamp.org, and I was following their curriculum for a good while and then I started branching off. And at that time, one of my biggest mentors, James Q. Quick, who’s phenomenal, he was guiding me and basically he started me down Python. And on Python, I would go down to SQL and then Java. And at that same time, there was a program in Memphis that came around that was guiding people through like a bootcamp-like curriculum. That’s where I ended up meeting James through that opportunity and it was guiding me onto what I needed to learn after that. So I would just study like Python on my phone and it was through James’s helped that I started learning SQL and things like that. He’s still to this day a huge mentor of mine, but it was just through that guidance where I figured out, “Okay, I need to learn this. I need to learn this.” But the other thing for me is I’m not really someone that learns by curriculum. I’m someone that learns by building. So I will start saying, “Okay, I want to learn Java. I need to build something.” And then I’ll say, “Okay, this is not performing the way I want it to perform. Let me research to make this do exactly what I wanted to do and then move on to the next piece, then the next piece.” And that is how I’ve always learned, project based.

[00:11:56] SY: And so you did that until you got your first job. How long did that take?

[00:11:59] DT: It’s an interesting question because I could have had a job right away, for the most part within eight months, and that’s when I started getting offers and I turned down six offers before I accepted my first job in tech and they just weren’t what I wanted them to be. But the other thing was I had gotten so hooked in this meetup community that I enjoyed helping other people land jobs in tech, so much so that I was denying myself the opportunities just to make sure that they were getting opportunities. The first year that I was leading meetup communities, I helped 44 people land their first jobs in tech and it was just through those connections that I ended up making. I started creating opportunities to the meetups. I realized that a lot of people were looking for jobs that didn’t have a way to do that. So I was trying to create a pipeline for them, and in doing so, I was passing people in there. And a lot of times I’d go to an interview where the purpose was we want to interview you. And I say, “Well, this isn’t a good fit for me, but I got James down the street who’s a phenomenal developer or Sandra down the street is amazing.” And that’s how I ended up getting people into jobs.

[00:13:05] SY: Okay. Now let’s move into getting that first job and that job search process. So you turned down six jobs, which is very bold of you, I’ll say, because each time you turn down a job, you’re assuming that you’re going to get another opportunity. So what made you so confident that the next one was going to come?

[00:13:23] DT: I didn’t have confidence that the next one was going to come. The way you put it makes me feel kind of foolish doing it. So I had a vision of what I wanted. And every opportunity I was going for, it seemed that way. And the more I dug, the more I realized it isn’t matching what I thought it was going to match. It was a situation of I wanted sugar, but I couldn’t accept Splenda. I couldn’t accept the substitute for what I envisioned in that moment. And I remember I even stopped one interview halfway through and I said, “This isn’t going to be a good fit for me and I don’t want to waste your time or my time. But I have this great meetup and I would love for you to come talk to the people at the meetup.” And the person I was interviewing with was the CTO of the company at that time and he just kind of stared and he ended the Zoom call and then he called me back the next day. He said, “You know in 20 years, that’s never happened. But if you’re crazy enough to ask me to come, there must be something interesting going on over there.” So he came and he talked at the meetup and was fantastic, but I ended up finding that dream job. And I’m still with that company to this day, at Frontdoor, and I’m eternally grateful for them taking a chance on me. When I came in, it was a junior opportunity and I’ve already been promoted twice. That growth is exactly what I was looking for, that opportunity to keep learning and keep proving myself and the interesting challenges. And we’ve got some of the most interesting challenges I’ve ever come across. So I’m in love with where I am. I don’t plan on leaving any time soon unless something insane comes along where I have to consider it, but I don’t see that happening.

[00:14:55] SY: So what was wrong with those six jobs? Why was it Splenda as you described it?

[00:15:01] DT: One of the biggest criteria for me was the ability to continue to learn the way I wanted to learn, but also to have opportunities to gain knowledge and ask questions and things like that. A lot of the companies I was talking to they didn’t really have learning materials or opportunities for the developers to keep going. And when I was talking to some of the developers there, they’re like, “Well, this is more of a “we throw you in and you figure it out” kind of situation. And I was looking more in the sense like mentorship, but also the biggest thing is obviously if you’re coming into your first tech job is the ability to ask questions, to get answers. And it just didn’t feel like those companies were valuing that same kind of mindset. The other thing as well for me was the internal growth. So a lot of the companies, when I was speaking to, because I network a lot, I’m a big networker. I believe that there’s a lot of value networks. So I would contact developers that are currently at that company and many of them would tell me, “I’ve only been here for a year,” or, “I’ve been here for a short period of time and people come, they go.” I wanted the opportunity for long-term growth to grow with the company. And at least for the offers, that was the one thing that I could not find where developers were staying long-term. The turnover was kind of too high, in my opinion. Whereas Frontdoor, people have been trying to grow with them for a long time. They’re a billion-dollar company and they’re doing great revenue. I knew those opportunities for growth would exist there.

[00:16:24] SY: So how long were you job searching before you got that first offer?

[00:16:31] DT: Eight months.

[00:16:31] SY: Okay.

[00:16:31] DT: I think given the timeline too because…

[00:16:33] SY: Why?

[00:16:34] DT: The biggest thing that I’ve noticed, especially with beginners, is they try to put their timeline against your timeline. And so now they’re like, “Well, I’m at nine months, I must have failed.” And the greatest example I can give to that is I have a coworker who’s a phenomenal friend and it took him six years to become a software engineer. Meaning from the time he started learning to the time he got his first job. And it took me eight months. And our titles are both software engineer. His title took six years to become an engineer-engineer. It’s just a software engineer. So I always try to tell people is, “Just keep working towards your goal of getting there. Don’t try to say, ‘Well, I need to speed this up as fast as I can so I’m going to cut these corners and cut these steps,’” and then you’re in a situation now where you’re unsatisfied or unhappy, and maybe you’ll get an opportunity and you may squander it because you don’t know enough.

[00:17:24] SY: Yeah. I think I like the eight months because I think that it kind of debunks how fast it’s supposed to be. That’s kind of the way I look at it. A lot of the marketing around learning how to code, especially around like the bootcamps and stuff. A lot of it is like, “Get a job within three months,” right? I think the longest I’ve seen is like six months. But I think there’s a lot of just expectations that are already being set by the market that I think when we hear different answers and we hear like a collection of answers that people who took eight months, who took a couple of years, I think it helps debunk what people may already believe.

[00:18:02] DT: I love that. And I talk about that all the time. I saw one the other day and I actually tweeted about this that said, “Become a developer in four weeks.” And I said, “In four weeks? I didn’t even know the difference between padding and margin at that point.” The one thing I always tell people, too, is this is a very like intellectual kind of space to an extent, right? You’re solving problems, you’re creating solutions, and for most people or a lot of people, your degree takes four years. So even if it takes you, let’s say, two years, you’ve done it in half the time as if you’re a medical degree holder.

[00:18:36] SY: That’s true. That’s true.

[00:18:38] DT: Now I will never say don’t go to college. I think there’s a lot of value in college. And if you have that luxury to go to college, I absolutely recommend that. You’ll meet a lot of networking opportunities and meet some great people. But I am going to say it’s absolutely possible to get that dream without that piece of paper.

[MUSIC BREAK]

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[00:20:20] SY: So I want to talk a little bit about that eight months of looking for a job. What did that job search process look like? How did you approach it? How did you tackle it? Tell me about that.

[00:20:30] DT: So to understand the job search process, I need to go a little bit backwards and the whole reason why I even started a meetup. I was going to meetups consistently and I asked the one question that everybody asks when they go to a meetup, “How do I get the first job in tech?” And I heard the same answer over and over, like was a broken record. “Oh man! That first job, whoa! That’s the hardest one. But if you get that first job, every opportunity after that will come.” To me, this was the worst answer you could possibly give me because not only did you demotivate and demoralize me, you’ve given me zero action items to work on. So I instantly created a LinkedIn profile and I just started cold messaging and cold calling, like hiring managers and recruiters. And in the beginning, they’re like, “Who is this guy?” And I was like, “Oh, I am Danny from the beginning.” But what was important was I started creating that network on LinkedIn. And to be completely honest with you, I am not a person that likes filling out applications. And so I love to leverage my network around that. And so if I see someone post a job, I’ll just message them on LinkedIn saying, “Hey, I saw that you posted this job. I’m Danny Thompson. And here’s three reasons why I matched that job listing and I would love to talk to you about this further.” Well, now they’re like, “Oh, that’s a pretty interesting idea.” They’ll call me and I just made it to interview number one. So it helps me skip the arduous task of filling out countless applications and submitting my resume a thousand times only for it to be thrown in the trash. And so a lot of the companies that I was even applying for, I was the very first person that they ever even considered that didn’t have a degree. And that was my way to circumvent that, but that is also how the same process that I help people land jobs in tech. I have four steps that will help you land your first job in tech. The very first one is having a very strong LinkedIn profile. You need to stand out where the recruiters hang out. Simple as that. Number two, you need to have a very good portfolio site. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be technical, but it does need to be eye-catching to a degree because most hiring managers and recruiters have never coded a day in their life. So they judge things off of visuals. So if it actually looks visually appealing, they’re more likely to trust that site and consider you for a position. The third is your portfolio items. That’s where you’re showing your technical savvy abilities. You’re showing what you know, what you can code, and that’s where like an actual manager would view your code. And the fourth is obviously you need to have a resume. So those steps are exactly what I took to land that job. And I can tell you, I probably filled out a handful of applications. The rest were just me networking and getting to know employers and hiring managers and decision-makers of businesses. And to this day, I still value my LinkedIn profile. I keep it active, not because I’m looking for a job, but more so, because I want to keep that network alive so I can keep helping people land jobs in tech.

[00:23:29] SY: Tell me about making a strong LinkedIn profile, because I know that’s really hard for a lot of people because frankly there’s not a lot to put on there, right? Like if I’m working in retail for 10 years and then I’m learning how to code, and I’ve only been learning for a couple of months by the time I’m doing a job search, what do I do with my LinkedIn to prove that I’d be a good developer?

[00:23:51] DT: One thing I’ll say right now. I’ve done an entire series on YouTube with actual hiring managers where we’ve gone over people’s LinkedIn profiles to show what they’re doing that’s great, what they’re doing that’s wrong, like big, big mistakes that would keep you from landing in job searches or actually if a hiring manager would actually look at the profile, how would they approach that? One of the big things that you need to recognize about LinkedIn and a lot of people don’t is this is like one of the few places in the world where it is completely okay to toot your own horn. Like this is where it’s supposed to happen. Show off all your strengths, because if a hiring manager comes across your profile, your job is to make sure they feel comfortable in knowing and in viewing whatever it is that you have. Whether it’s, “I finished this website,” or, “I went to this meetup,” because I started my LinkedIn profile when I was in the gas station. So of course, I couldn’t say this is what I did at work. Nobody wants to see me frying chicken, but that is where I’m showing, “I was at a meetup and this is what we did. I created this application. I solved these problems. I went to this event. I met this person,” things like that will go a long, long way. Don’t do, for example, like a hundred days of code or something like that on LinkedIn. Keep that on Twitter. On LinkedIn, that is where you will show basically your finished products. Show all your finished products, things that you are very proud of that will stand out for you and that will help you out in the long run.

[00:25:18] SY: What kinds of things would stand out? Because I’m thinking about projects that I’ve done or that I’ve seen, that people do early on in their careers, and a lot of it is replicating things that already exist, right? It’s like a Twitter clone or maybe even a LinkedIn clone. It’s doing little tutorials, little math problems from. Project Euler is a really great resource for little math, things that you can code. It’s finishing coding exercise. All those things don’t really sound LinkedIn worthy. You know what I mean? Like they don’t sound like something you’d show off. So what kinds of things are we talking about that we should put on our LinkedIn profiles?

[00:25:57] DT: So to explain this, I have three rules when it comes to becoming a developer in a faster process than normal and they’re ABL, ABB, CCC, Always Be Learning, Always Be Building, Code, Code, Code. Always Be Learning, learning through multiple methods because no two teachers teach the same. Two teachers can teach the exact same subjects and you will learn very different things. ABB, Always Be Building, build. In tutorials, nothing breaks. In real life, everything breaks. You could literally do a background read and break a website. So what I always suggest when you’re following the tutorial, did it teach you how to make a cat website? Well, now make one for dogs. Does it teach you how to make a car reservation system? Well, make a house reservation system. Making that little twist will make that project your own. And so now, instead of showing a Twitter clone, for example, you’re showing a project that you actually made that doesn’t represent something that someone has seen a thousand times. CCC, Code, Code, Code, let those fingers dance on the keyboard. There’s no shortcuts to success in this situation. You have to actually create these things and code these things out. So now if you’re coding and you’re following a tutorial for a to-do list and you turn that into a reminder list of tasks to be done, you’ve just made that project your own. And that is something that you could show. One, instead of doing, let’s say a YouTube layout or a Twitter clone, you can make that your own social media application. For example, I change up some of the styling and change up some of the logos and now you’ve got a project that you can show off showcasing your abilities. But the key thing is don’t just change it on the surface level. Try to break things and remake them. So when you’re breaking, you’re going to learn a lot in that process. And when you remake it, you’re going to learn a lot in that process, probably a lot more than when you even learned in the tutorial itself. Most of programming isn’t a Craigslist website from scratch. We have a problem on our existing platform we need to fix. How do we do that? Your job is to face those errors and discover the solutions to those errors. Your job is to be a problem solver. Your job is to say, “Okay, this isn’t working or this is a new feature. How can we incorporate that or how can we fix that?” You’re solving problems, and that’s where a lot of the learning is going to come in and pay off.

[00:28:14] SY: So what kinds of things did you build and what kinds of things did you put on your LinkedIn?

[00:28:18] DT: So for me on LinkedIn, I did a lot of things where I was incorporating my work in the community, but I had also built for example that really bad filter project that I was very proud of. But I also built several projects where, and this was actually what I call like my main project that I talked about and interviews. And that is something that I always tell people, when you’re in an interview, try to use real life scenarios and situations because you can control the interview. So for example, in an interview, and this is the exact project I did, someone would ask me, “Well, do you know SQL?” And my answer would be, “Yes, I know SQL because I created this database of city names and I would separate the rural cities from an urban city and I used an API to get that information and I’ll display it on the front end using Angular and I use Java on the back end. So now in the interview, I’ve just given the interviewer three things that are my strengths. I’m strong in Angular. I’m strong in SQL. I’m strong in Java. I have a project to prove it. And now with this project, we can dive in deeper into what I created. And so instead of that interview, going to those questions where I might not be the strongest at, now I’ve controlled the narrative. And if I keep hitting them with all these strong points, they’re going to fall in love with me. The other project, and I recommend this to a lot of people, is to make not a clone, but a site similar to something where it’s an online purchasing website with multiple products across multiple categories. One example that I always give is like overstock.com. And if you can show that you can create multiple products over multiple categories with a shopping cart function, and this doesn’t have to fully work, like no one’s going to enter their credit card details to test this out. But if they do, I mean, you have another problem on your hands. But otherwise, you need to have something where they can shop through. But if they say I want to reserve this item, it needs to go into that separate area. And if you can do that, that’s the kind of project that you can show off in an interview and it will go well for you.

[00:30:21] SY: Absolutely. Yeah. I love that. So I did a bootcamp. That was my route. I taught myself for a couple months and then I did a bootcamp. And at the end of the bootcamp, we had a science fair, where they brought in all these things, like over a hundred employers, hiring managers, recruiters, and then you stand at your little booth. You have your laptop, your tablet open, and then you show them your code. And everyone else had, I think, like three or four projects that they built and a lot of it was clone type stuff. And my group, it was three of us, we decided that we were going to build a note-taking app for videos and you would include a link to a video and then it would play it and then you can take notes on the side and it’ll timestamp it so you can play back your notes at any given point in the video. And it was something that no one else had thought of as a unique idea. And I did not know if we’d be able to build it in two weeks. We had two weeks to build it and I barely knew any JavaScript, but it worked and it worked really well. And I got to show it off and I feel like because the project was not exactly a clone and it wasn’t something that people had seen a lot of, I think it got more attention than it would have. And that one project led me to, I think I had like six, seven interviews off of that. And one of those interviews turned into a job offer that I ended up accepting. But I think that you’re right, that having a project that you can fully explain, that fully make sense to you, that you’re able to talk about, but that’s different from just doing a project, a tutorial that you see online has, for me, been a very successful way of navigating the job search.

[00:31:55] DT: And what’s great about that, and I’m glad you said that, is when it’s your own, you’re almost excited to talk about even if it’s basic features.

[00:32:04] SY: Right.

[00:32:04] DT: That passion, that excitement, you can’t fake that when you say, “Well, I followed this tutorial to make a Twitter clone.” It’s completely different.

[00:32:12] SY: Right.

[00:32:12] DT: You own the item and it’s yours. And that note taking app, I guarantee you, you talked way more about it than someone that said, “Yeah, I followed this YouTube tutorial and make this thing.”

[00:32:21] SY: Oh, yeah. So tell me about when you first started applying to jobs. How did you know that you were ready for the job search?

[00:32:29] DT: I don’t think anyone will ever know that they’re ready. My basic criteria was, “Have I made several projects? Can I actually make a website to some degree without needing actual hand holding and help?” And if the answer to that was, yes, I was like, “This is time to apply.” And I started going to jobless things and talking to people for jobs that I wasn’t qualified for. I definitely, definitely wasn’t qualified for the job I have now. And my rule of thumb with that is if you match 50% of the requirements, apply. If you know the languages that they’re actually looking for, apply. You will never, ever, ever match a job listing all the way. It’s impossible. They’re looking for a fictitious character that doesn’t exist. Your job is to match as much as you can and just apply. And best case scenario, they’re going to say you got the job. Worst case scenario, you’re just going to say no. Or at the very least you can have a conversation and show how you can bring value to that team. I always try to tell people, and this is the same mindset I carried when I was looking for a job, don’t go into a job with that begging mindset. Don’t go in there thinking, “I need a chance. Just give me a chance. If you give me a chance, I’m going to work so hard.” Don’t go in with a begging mindset. They don’t respond to that. Instead, understand, you are valuable. Going into that meeting and saying, “I’m going to bring value to this conversation, I’m going to bring value to this team.” And if you go in there showing that you can bring value, they will bring you checkbook. It’s as simple as that. No company in the world has ever turned down an opportunity to make money. Just show that you’re the best possible candidate for that position. And that is the exact same thing I did when I was looking for jobs. I went in there knowing that I’m going to be valuable, no matter what I do, where you put me, whether it’s QA, whether it’s developer, whether it’s a front end developer, whether it’s backend, whatever it may be, I’m going to make sure that I excel in a way that makes you happy, because if you’re happy, I know I’m going to be happy. And people really responded to that mindset.

[00:34:48] SY: Coming up next, Danny talks about how to stay confident in your journey and his thoughts about the criticisms of what’s been called “hustle porn” and “toxic positivity” with motivational tech influencers after this.

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[00:36:25] SY: So what I find really fascinating about you and your journey is you seem to never feel self-conscious or intimidated or nervous because everything that you were saying seems like it comes from a place of confidence. Like even being able to walk in and say, “I am valuable,” you got to be confident to say that, right? Otherwise, why would you feel valuable? Where does that sense of value come from if you’re intimidated, if you’re scared? Has there been a moment in your coding journey where you lost some of that confidence?

[00:36:59] DT: Oh, yeah. Here’s the thing about confidence, and I agree, confidence is very attractive and people respond to confidence. I almost had to create this mindset because most of my life I was not confident. I mean, think about it, I’m working in the gas station, making minimum wage. There’s nothing really confident about that idea. Right? But I had to manifest them. I don’t want to say manifest, but basically create this whole idea of, “I know what I’m doing,” and it really stems from this Muhammad Ali quote, where he said, Pretend like you’re the champion, even if you’re not.” So even when he wasn’t the champion, his mindset was that I’m a champion and it’s the same concept here is I knew I was going to be a developer, no matter what. And to be honest, my goals were high. A lot of people kept their own success. And one big thing with that is I’m a big believer in whatever your cap is, you will hit. So if you say, “I want to earn enough money to buy this house,” you will absolutely buy that house, but you will never get anything past that. You will never get past that starter home and get a nicer house. Or if your goal is, “I want to make $10 million,” you will absolutely make $10 million, but you won’t make 11, you won’t make 12. A lot of people have this mindset of, “Oh, I want to be a junior developer. All I can think about is being a junior developer. I want to be a junior developer.” And then they become a junior developer. And then within a few months, they’re fired because they got exactly what they wanted and they weren’t really hungry for it anymore and now they’ve stopped getting better. They stopped staying up studying. They stopped learning new concepts and they’re not bringing value to the team anymore. That value that the team thought they were going to get they are no longer ascertaining anymore. I never had the goal of being a junior developer. I never had to go of being an entry-level developer. My goal was to be the best developer that I could be, period. So of course, if I’m going to be the best developer I could be and be valuable for a company, of course entry and junior are going to come. They’re natural stepping stones. Of course, I’m going to go down that path. They have to come in order for me to reach my exact goal. So for me, that mindset has always been there and I just want to realize, “Okay, I’m going to be the best developer that I could be for a company and for my team and I want to make sure that I’m bringing as much value as I can to everyone around me,” I knew what I was bringing to the table at that point.

[00:39:15] SY: So a big part of what you do online on your social media is motivation. And you provide a lot of inspiring tweets and a lot of motivation, a lot of positivity. And I’ve seen that trend among tech influencers, we will call them that, where there’s a lot of just kind of like a flood of motivational tweets that I’ve seen an increase in that lately. What are your thoughts on that?

[00:39:37] DT: It’s interesting. I will never be against trying to help someone get to where they’re going. And sometimes people just need that little bit of boost. And I think people that have gone through the journey recently know how difficult it is, especially in tech, to where when you’re learning on your own, you go through these dips of, “Oh, I’m doing great and now I’m terrible and I don’t know what I’m doing.” And at least for me, the reason why I even started that, when I was going through my journey, I would try to find something to inspire me to say that, “Okay, this is possible. You can do this. You’re not terrible. You’re valuable.” And it was hard to find it. So when I started tweeting, that was my vision, like, “Okay, I know someone out there is looking for this exact message that I’m crafting. And if I can just help them get through that next algorithm question or if I can help them break through that wall that they’re studying and they can’t get past, I want to do that.” But also on some degree, I was almost tweeting it from my old self, from the self that basically was looking for it. That’s the one thing that I do with my tweets all the time. And I tell people, “This is me having a conversation with someone that doesn’t exist. And if you enjoy that tweet, I love it. That’s fantastic. And I’m glad you’re taking part in this. And if you don’t, I don’t always get it right.” But if I can help one person move past that pivotal issue, that’s phenomenal and I’m grateful for it. And that’s the same way I look at all these other people. I feel like the ones that are tweeting about this know that struggle, they went through that, that endless almost misery of a position of searching for a job that. That whole job search is really demoralizing when you keep hearing, “No, no, you don’t know enough,” or, “You failed this whiteboard coding exam or you failed this HackerRank assessment.” Mentally, it’s hard. And I talked to people all the time that just feel like they’re inadequate, they feel like they’re breaking down, and they’re the ones that keep me going to keep this. And I feel like when they finally get that first shop, they get all this new found excitement and that’s their way of trying to share it with them, telling we know it’s hard, but we know you can get through this. And I always say this isn’t easy. It isn’t easy learning how to code, but it is absolutely possible. Coding is hard. I don’t want to say I hate, but I have like a disdain for people that say, “Oh, coding, you can totally do this as easy.” Coding is not easy. It is hard, but it is absolutely possible. It is absolutely possible to learn enough to make that website that you’re thinking about in the back of your head.

[00:42:15] SY: And I think that last thing you said is where I’ve seen a lot of pushback from the dev community, from the tech community of people saying, “You can do it,” to the point where it kind of sounds like if you’re not doing it, then you’ve messed up. You know what I mean? I know Gary Vaynerchuk is one person that comes to mind that people either love him or hate him because he really sells that story of just like, I’ve heard it being referred to as like “hustle porn” and like “toxic positivity” where you’re just, “So you can do it, it’s easy, you got this,” to the point where it kind of feels like, “Man, I don’t got this though.” You know? “I don’t have it. What’s wrong? If I’m supposed to be able to do it, what’s wrong with me that it’s not happening for me?” Even though I like to think the intentions are good, there’s kind of like the other side of it where it can be like accidentally harmful almost. What are your thoughts on that?

[00:43:11] DT: The thing with this is what motivates one person is not going to motivate another person, right? What works for me might not work for you and what works for you might not work for me. I think it was valid to an extent that if this is something that you don’t like, totally makes sense. You don’t necessarily have to listen to this or be exposed to this. But if it works for someone else, who are we to dictate at that point, like, “Hey, you shouldn’t like this because I don’t like this”? So I always try to keep that in mind that maybe this individual really likes this or this resonates with them to some degree. Now I will say I don’t like it when people say, “Oh, I did this. So definitely you can do this.” Because I know there’s a million things that I can’t do. I think I’m a great singer, but I know I’m terrible. For a song to say, “Well, just sing like this, you should be able to do this,” is kind of belittling to an extent. And I totally get that. So I’m not the biggest fan of, “Oh, anyone can do this,” because anyone can’t do something. And I’m a big believer in, “Everyone can learn how to code.” I don’t think everyone’s going to work at Google, but I do think anyone can learn enough to create that website that they’re dreaming about or to create that website that shows that idea that they have in the back of their mind, whether it’s through actually learning HTML, CSS, or JavaScript, or utilizing tools like WordPress or utilizing other methods and means. But I think it’s possible, but you should not be harder on yourself if something is too difficult. Simple as that. Keep going until you can’t go anymore. And if you get that wall, you should be asking for help to try and move past that point. But I’m not a big believer in, “You need to code 20 hours a day, seven days a week. And if you don’t, you’re a terrible developer.” That’s not my philosophy at all.

[00:45:04] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blank of some very important questions. Danny, are you ready to fill in the blanks?

[00:45:11] DT: Yes, ma’am.

[00:45:12] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:45:16] DT: The worst advice I’ve ever received, when I started learning how to code, I had mentioned it to my coworkers and they said, “Oh, this isn’t for us. This isn’t for people like us. This is for the smart people. People that are far more educated than us.” And you’re right, it wasn’t for us, but it was for me. And I’m glad that I stuck with it past that, because if I listened, I would probably still be in that gas station, frying chicken to this day.

[00:45:40] SY: What do you mean by it wasn’t for us? What does that mean?

[00:45:43] DT: I think a lot of people have that mindset of coding is for people that come from like a science background or highly intelligent or they’re not people that come from humble beginning, so to speak. People have that idea. And I know, I had that idea that for developers will all these extremely, extremely brainiac level individuals and a person that comes from a background like me would never be on that level. So even at that time, it was very daunting, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

[00:46:14] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:46:18] DT: This was from my mother when I was going through a hard time. And she said, “When the world was handing out problems, they didn’t start and stop with you.”

[00:46:27] SY: Oh, wow!

[00:46:28] DT: What matters is how you approach them.

[00:46:30] SY: That’s deep. I like that. Wow!

[00:46:32] DT: Yeah. I have kept that for a long time.

[00:46:35] SY: Number three, my first coding project was about?

[00:46:38] DT: My first coding project was that application I made in HTML CSS and JavaScript and it was bare bones basics and you’d enter in that URL of the image and it would return it with some color on top.

[00:46:48] SY: Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

[00:46:52] DT: I wish I knew that all the pros, professionals, no matter their level, still Google problems. I used to beat myself up so much to memorize every little piece of syntax possible and it was almost a profound moment. It was my first week on the job. And I go to the senior developer who’s got like 20 years of experience and I approached him with this problem. And he said, “I don’t know.” And right in front of me, he just started Googling it. And it was almost like my mind exploded because I thought as professionals we aren’t supposed to Google. Googling is for the people that are still going through tutorials. So I still Google things every single day, but that was the moment for me when I noticed all professionals Google their problems.

[00:47:41] SY: Oh, I’m sure that was a big day for you.

[00:47:43] DT: Yes, yes, yes.

[00:47:45] SY: Well, thank you so much, Danny, for spending time with us today.

[00:47:47] DT: Thank you.

[00:47:55] SY: This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, hello@codenewbie.org. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.

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