I had a chance to talk with a self-taught developer who learned to code for 9 months before getting a job in tech. Nadia Zhuk is now a Ruby Developer at Zendesk and an aspiring writer.Recently, she wrote a book about how to learn to code and build a programming career, Crossing the Rubycon.

Background before switching a career in the tech sector

Nadia was an English translator and a journalist before she found her new challenging career in coding at age 25. She was in Belarus and looking to move to Poland.

While researching the job market in Poland, she realised that software engineers were in high demand in that country and coding jobs were much better paid than other office jobs. This meant she could emigrate to another country more easily—and more comfortably—if she learned to code.

The role at Zendesk

Nadia designs and builds backends for payment processing and subscription management for Zendesk Sell. It’s a sales automation tool built with salespeople in mind.

How Nadia learned to code

From zero background in tech, she started from Code Academy, TryRuby. Then she found Michael Hartl’s Ruby On Rails Tutorial that made everything click into place. She suggested some tips for newbies that she wished she knew earlier.

“Before diving into specific programming languages, it’s better to start with web development principles. I would recommend Michal Hartl’s series of introductory tutorials called “Learn Enough to Be Dangerous.” These include HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Git, command line, etc.”

After going through a few Ruby books, such as Agile Web Development with Rails 6, Programming Ruby, Rails 4 in Action, Rails 5 Test Prescriptions, Nadia started to build her own projects.

More details on her learning path is written in her book.

Job interview preparation

Nadia usually starts her job interview preparation with researching the company and finding out what the interview process looks like there. Websites like Glassdoor have this information about many companies. If you know someone who works at the company, you can ask them about the interview process.

After Nadia understands what the company expectations are, she prepares for the kind of interview they conduct. Most of the companies Nadia has applied to usually had a take-home challenge followed-up with a pair programming session where she needed to fix a bug or add a new feature to a Ruby on Rails application.

With this kind of interview, it’s important to refresh the knowledge of the framework right before the interview. Looking through Ruby on Rails guides or a book like “The Rails Way” was usually enough for Nadia: she simply refreshed her knowledge of certain parts of the framework she felt most rusty about.

Nadia suggested “if you are coding on a regular basis and building your own projects in the chosen framework, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to complete a pair programming session. Treat it as an opportunity to code together with someone more experienced. Also, it’s usually allowed to google during these interviews, so if you forget how a method works, it’s not a deal breaker.”

For more theoretical interviews, it might be helpful to review a foundational book in the programming language of choice, in Nadia’s case, it was “Programming Ruby” by Dave Thomas. You need to feel comfortable about the basics of the programming language and understand how it works outside of a given framework. Nadia doesn’t have much experience with “classical” whiteboard interviews, but she suggested “A Common-Sense Guide to Data Structures and Algorithms” as a great resource to start your preparation for algorithmic interviews.

Tips for newbie

  1. Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs. Most newbies feel hesitant or reluctant to apply because they don’t feel ready. From Nadia experience, she has proven that within 9 months from zero background in tech, she can get a job. Just apply.

  2. Build your own project the earlier the better. This would allow you to apply your knowledge to practical use and speed up your learning. Get out of the tutorial hell as soon as possible.

What is Crossing the Rubycon book about

After working in tech for a couple of years now, Nadia wants to help other self-taught developers to build a career in tech. The book is packed with useful resources she wishes she knew when she started learning to code. This covers insider tips, learning strategies for newbies and how to get hired as a newbie.

Unlike other resources that are authored by people who have some technical background, which she found hard to relate to, this book will guide newbies through step by step. It’s the path that Nadia took and enabled her to land a job in tech within 9 months.

You can read a free sample of the book here.

Interesting Note from Nadia

Nadia has chosen to learn Ruby instead of JavaScript and Backend over Frontend. Contrary to common belief that you have to start from JavaScript and work on the Frontend, she found that working on the backend is more structured. Front end territory is moving much faster and requires you to keep up with it constantly. This could be more challenging and overwhelming for newbies.

I hope you enjoy reading and get inspiration from Nadia.

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