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How to Become a JavaScript Developer? From Welder to Frontend Developer - INTERVIEW

Read an Interview with Lukas, who after years of working as a welder, became a self-taught Front-end Developer.
Łukasz TucholskiMar 26, 2021 | 16 min read
How to Become a JavaScript Developer? From Welder to Frontend Developer - INTERVIEW

Career transitioning is currently a very strong trend in the global labor market. One of the most popular directions of such job changes is the IT industry, thanks to the continuous growth (only reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic), high salaries, and interesting professional development opportunities. Thousands of people dream of starting a career in IT, but only a few have enough determination and motivation to turn these dreams into a real plan.

Today we will tell you a story...

How to become a JavaScript Developer?

Lukas’s success story, who, after 9 years of work as a forklift operator, locksmith-fitter, grinder, and welder, among others, decided to change his career and started working as a Front-end Developer. Today, he has almost 2 years of work experience, has doubled his previous earnings, and carries out projects for American companies from Silicon Valley.

Sounds like an American dream? Well - it's a reality. See how he did it for yourself.

Interview with MasterBorn's Frontend Developer Lukas Tucholski

Hello Lukas! Let's start from the very beginning. What did you do before you became a software developer?

I've done a lot of things - for a total of about nine years. My first serious job was production work in my small hometown. I was 20 years old at the time. It was just ordinary work at a conveyor belt, but it was freezing because the work took place in a cold store.

After a few months there, I snatched a job as a forklift operator because I had already gotten my qualifications when I was considering moving to Wrocław to study, thinking it would help me get a job in order to stay there.

After arriving in Wrocław, thanks to my cousin's help, I found employment in a security company as an ordinary security guard in one of the supermarkets in a shopping mall. This was a good job to get me on my feet so I could start looking for something more serious and better paid because $1.5 (6 PLN) per hour wasn’t much. After two months, I managed to find a job as a locksmith-fitter, where I had the opportunity to learn to weld.

Welder

I did so, and after a year and a half on the job, I moved into a welder-grinder position. After a little more than four years, I changed my company to a better one and continued to practice this profession. I didn’t stay there for too long (1.5 years), and while working there, I started learning JavaScript programming. So, that would be (hopefully) my last manual job before starting work as a Frontend Developer.

Why did you decide to become a software engineer?

How long did it take you to decide, and what factors did you consider?

Before I made the final decision to embark on a mission to change industries, the idea was in the back of my head for about three years. It was mainly influenced by the environment of my friends. Based on what I learned from them, I began to understand more and more what the IT world looked like and noticed what opportunities it could give me that I hadn’t thought about before.

The first few years in Wrocław were a never ending cycle of trying to make a living to continue living there. Work-home-work. Stagnation. Not an interesting situation.

This also coincided with health problems. A welder’s work isn’t healthy by any means. Slowly, I started to experience dermatological and allergy problems. Signs of burnout and mental fatigue followed soon. Several years of inhaling dust or smoke took its toll on me. My only chance to solve this problem was to reduce my exposure to the allergic agent to the minimum, i.e., simply changing professions completely.

In addition, contrary to popular opinion, the salaries weren’t excessive, and the work involved a large volume of overtime and work on Saturdays. I felt that it would be a waste of my life to spend it mainly at work, covered in dust. This is not what life is about for me.

What motivated you to become a software developer?

Apart from the negative answers to the previous question, it was what I saw among my friends who already worked in IT and weren’t necessarily educated in this area.

Life as a software engineer

At a party or having a few beers in a pub until 1-2 am? For me, this meant a lack of sleep because I started work at 6 am, and to get there on time, I had to get up at 4:30 am. For programmers, this is totally relaxed - they can ask for home office or just come in an hour later. Either way, coming in at 8 or 9 am doesn’t make much difference.

This was a great perk for me. You could easily have breakfast and drink a cup of coffee before leaving for the office - or just relocating to another room.

Benefits of being a software developer

And that's right - the prospect of working remotely was something incredible to me. Have a laptop plus internet access and voilà, you can work from anywhere in the world! I assumed that after 4 or 5 years of work, I would be so experienced in IT that I would be able to enjoy this model of work, especially since I already knew a few such people who were not limited in this respect.

Developer

Thanks to the pandemic, it turned out that I can take full advantage of such a model right now. Companies that were forced to switch to a remote model saw that there’s no need to be afraid of a decrease in employee efficiency. It’s a win-win for both parties.

Usually (except in winter), I prefer to go to the office, talk and hang out with people. But, I really appreciate the possibility to take home office whenever I want. It's great to simply be able to do so, not being forced to do anything. It also makes traveling easier - for example, I spent the last week of work in my previous company working from Barcelona.

Software engineer salary

I was also motivated by the financial prospects, which are very good in IT - especially for top experts!

We even have a blog article on this subject (I read it myself) and can confirm everything written in it. However, I wasn’t one of those candidates who required millions of dollars right away in my first job.

Software developer beginning salary

I took a pay cut getting my first job as a programmer. My reasons mentioned above and my clear desire to change the industry were much more important. I realized that I would earn less for a while - but in the long run, much more. For me, the salaries visible in the advertisements were motivating - I clearly knew what I was aiming for in the next 2-3 years.

Interestingly, to reach such a salary as a welder, I would first have to invest a lot of money in specialist qualifications.

Software Engineers' self improvement

The legendary "professional development opportunity" was a huge motivator for me. There would always be something new and different. There’s no monotony, and you get to constantly expand your horizons. At some point, thanks to my circle of friends, I realized that I was in my twenties, and my life was stagnating. I woke up just in time.

What were your biggest fears before you become a software developer?

I was (mistakenly) convinced that I needed a high level of English, especially spoken. And, that was bad news for me. I had a solid B1/B2 level in writing and reading, but having a chat? Maybe after having a few drinks! ;)

While I was sure I would be able to handle the technical side of programming, the very thought of ending up in a team where 100% of the communication is in English made me nervous. Moreover, I could be rejected during recruitment interviews after having my skills scrutinized.

I even wanted to learn English before programming itself. Fortunately, a few people out there convinced me to do the opposite, saying that I would still have time to improve my English.

I was also afraid that there was no point in competing in this market without higher education. This turned out to be completely false.

What education is needed to become a software engineer?

And what was your degree at that time?

I just finished high school. Initially, I did extramural studies at the University of Technology in Wroclaw, majoring in Mechanics and Machine Design. But I couldn’t reconcile this with working during the week and making a living in Wrocław. After the first semester, I quit without even taking any exams. I’ve saved my almost empty student Index somewhere as a souvenir. I was supposed to go back, but I couldn't afford it financially. So, I postponed it year after year, and to this day, haven't returned. I don’t think I’ll ever go back, i.e., not the same university but maybe other studies.

Library

Software developer without a degree - can this work?

Yes, definitely! In my case, determination and willingness to learn were the key. But let's go back into the past:

In the beginning, I knew little about IT and programming itself. My knowledge and interests in this topic stopped around 2009-2010. Back then, I also had a bit of "fun" in what was back then called "webmastering.” I knew HTML and CSS, and I developed some simple pages. Then I played a little with CMS.

However, I didn’t explore JavaScript apart from CTRL + C and CTRL + V statistics scripts. One of my sites was live for a long time (in several versions) and it was the website of... a parish in my hometown. At that time, my friend was very active at the Catholic Youth Association and was on good terms with the young vicar who asked him about it. Jacek (that friend of mine), not knowing much, contacted me because he knew that I had already dabbled in these topics.

A few years later, he actually graduated in computer science and, in the meantime, created much better websites for some extra money. Today, he’s a hotshot (Fullstack + PO + DevOps) in a software development company in Koszalin, and I am only at the beginning of the programmer's path. That’s because, in all those years, my interests changed, and I didn’t consider programming as something I would like at all, probably because I narrowed it down to strictly native desktop applications.

How to be a software developer with no degree?

Do you feel there are any gaps in your knowledge compared to IT graduates?

At work, strictly as a programmer, I don’t feel any shortcomings. When I listen to more DevOps topics sometimes, I have the impression that I would understand it all much better if I graduated from at least some post-secondary IT school. It would probably speed up the process of learning about topics in this field, which I am also slightly interested in, but not by much.

Where to start learning software development?

And how to learn JavaScript?

Did you focus on books / YT and being self-taught, or did you decide to take a course?

I was self-taught. The amount of material on the Internet is huge. Although initially, I thought about a course, though the prices were way beyond my budget. The first few weeks were basically all about recalling HTML and CSS, and learning what had changed over the years. Then I moved on to learning JavaScript.

The best JS content I’d recommend are as follows:

The best JavaScript books:

  • (PL) "Occupation: Programmer" by Maciej Aniserowicz. It’s not a technical book, but it shows, among other things, what a programmer's job looks like. Great to visualize what awaits us and verify that we really want to do it professionally. The author also runs a nice DevTalk podcast that I like to listen to.

  • (PL/ENG) "Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship” by Robert Cecil Martin. A classic and must-read, regardless of the language in which you program. A collection of best practices and standards.

  • (PL/ENG) "JavaScript: The Good Parts" by Douglas Crockford. The book is quite old, but it’s still great material for learning and understanding JS itself before the ES6 era. But, I think that at the beginning of the road, you should just learn the mechanisms of older versions to better understand the later ones, which are more accessible overlays of the older ones.

  • (ENG) "You Don't Know JS: ES6 & Beyond" by Kyle Simpson. Supplementing knowledge with the ES6 standard. Overall, the entire series of "You Don't Know JS" from Mr. JavaScript Guru is a must-have!

Spiderman

Top JavaScript YouTube channels:

Top JavaScript blogs:

The best JavaScript courses and tutorials:

The best thing that happened to me from Udemy's courses was: udemy.com/user// (he also runs a channel called Academind).

The Udemy course (Maximilian Schwarzmuller is just the best!), and numerous tutorials on the blogs I mentioned, especially Type of Web or Na Frontendzie (not developed too much anymore, unfortunately). The first projects - a simple quiz, even one recruitment assignment found somewhere on the Internet. The immortal TODO, which basically turned into a notepad for me.

I also got a lot of help from my friend Jacek who I mentioned before.

He needs to be praised here - when I asked him a question, he’d never just give me a ready answer - he’d hold out on me for a few hours (or even days) and I would often come up with a solution on my own or he simply tried to direct my reasoning towards the answer. How many walls of text he got from me with detailed descriptions of something I couldn’t deal with only to receive a text 2-3 minutes that I solved the problem. A living "yellow duck."

Meetups for developers

In the meantime, I also attended various meet-ups - even those where I had no idea what people were talking about - and sometimes to some free workshops.

I thought that it wouldn't hurt to go and see something, because maybe I'll remember or understand it. I had nothing to lose anyway. And I could experience the vibe and community there. Pizza and beer at networking events are invaluable in building motivation for further learning. Sometimes you could meet really big enthusiasts and hear many curiosities, stories or warnings from them.

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Is learning software development hard?

What is your recollection in your time as a self-taught web developer?

I remember the first weeks of learning JS before I understood how it all worked, or even what the various concepts in JS were. As time has shown, I attended a fairly weak course. I found a better one later. Since I didn’t feel very confident in English, I was looking for learning materials in Polish. I avoided the legendary and immortal Stack Overflow.

Only after I had mastered and understood pure JS and started learning the first framework, I decided to take courses and read articles in English. Today I do the opposite - I can't remember the last time I googled something in Polish.

What about... Software engineer stress.

Does it sound familiar? What were your biggest sources of stress as a beginning developer?

There were many, to be honest.

I got stressed while looking for the definitions of millions of terms, abbreviations, or tools that were appearing in the meantime. It was a stretch to understand what the concept of API or REST API is, what SasS or XaaS is, or a template engine, framework vs. library or even how to recognize object-oriented and functional programming or what Webpack actually is, because I used and configured it with dozens of lines of code - but I didn’t know why, and what was going on here... Now it's a piece of cake, but for someone who used to write HTML with CSS in Pajączek before, it’s quite a challenge.

It was often overwhelming because it annoyed me to read about things, and not understand what was going on in an abstract way. As time has shown, I approached some topics a little too early. I realized that the subject of programming is so extensive that it’s simply impossible to learn everything. But, that's what I do to this day - when I hear a new term or abbreviation somewhere at work or during meetings, I write it down and google it later to have at least some abstract idea of ​​what’s going on. It’s just plain curiosity. This natural characteristic of mine is very helpful here.

I don't like not knowing what someone is talking to me about, even if I don't need to know it strictly in the context of the work I do.

How long does it take to become a software engineer?

I mean - how long had you been learning before you started working as a developer?

After about nine months, but I would like to emphasize this - I knew HTML and CSS in their older versions, so I skipped learning completely from scratch. I had a little background, I knew how a simple website is built, etc.

I bet that without such a background - learning would have taken me about 12-15 months.

Book shelf

How did you get your first web developer job?

I got it through LinkedIn. I created a profile before I started looking for a job or sending my CV. I sent an application only if the advertisement had the "Apply via LinkedIn'' option and there were not too many requirements listed. But that was more like gambling because I had nothing in my portfolio (apart from notepad/TODO).

It seemed that people with no commercial experience could apply there and look for job offers because players such as Just Join IT or No Fluff Jobs were in the lead. Well, I was right because I managed to find a job quite quickly after writing my CV and actively sending it to recruiters.

Frontend vs. Backend

Why did you choose JavaScript and frontend development?

I had some knowledge of it, I liked it "on the front line," and was additionally motivated by the relatively low entry threshold. There is a lot of material on the Internet to learn from, lots of blogs created by even less experienced developers. So, for a person just learning, these are great materials because sometimes a junior has a fresher picture on such a topic and can explain more "blatantly" what's going on.

I also knew from the beginning that in the future, I would like to be more self-sufficient and as soon as I came across the term full-stack, I knew it was my goal. The frontend allowed me to change industries faster, gave me a greater sense of confidence that I would be able to handle it, and thanks to the fact that JS is also used as a backend language - it will speed up learning the backend part of development.

Did you have any moments of doubt?

Doubts in the sense of giving up because it doesn't make sense? No. I was determined to do it.

This is the result of a decision that took me three years to make. I was sure that I would be fine and had the right predispositions, so it was only a question of perseverance, especially in difficult beginnings.

Imagine a beginner's guide to become a software developer - what would be your top advice?

First of all, my advice would be to let go of your ego.

You need to be very humble and aware of the excess of candidates. It also helps to be patient when looking for your first job. I have read a lot on the Internet, not only about the standards and good practices that I should follow but also about how demanding people who match the requirements are - especially those who know the least. You should also prepare yourself for fatigue, both physical and mental.

Sticky notes

There were times when I felt exhausted. I wanted to get to the level that would land me my first job quickly, and it frustrated me that I could not understand something properly and use just my intuition. Back then, I was just taking breaks, and I would advise the same to others in this position. Take a week or two break from any learning or coding, and you come back to it feeling refreshed and energetic.

Now I have more patience and know that, as the famous cliche says, Rome was not built in a day.

Software developer skills

Are any skills from working as a welder useful in the work as a JavaScript developer?

Hmm... patience and understanding for quality controllers.

As a welder, I had to deal with them a lot, and they got on my nerves. But on one hand, I understood them - this is their job and they get the first complaints if something isn’t done well. On the other hand, sometimes they exaggerated and pointed out totally insignificant details.

It also taught me to be more accurate and to spend a little more time on what I do. To check three times, not twice, if it is really ok - to find and eliminate the so-called edge cases immediately.

Not only will I spare myself the stress of having to make corrections, but also ensure that I am not distracted from the next task.

Software engineer career path

What's your plan for further development?

In technical subjects, as I mentioned - it’s the backend. I target Node.js. That’s why I chose to work at MasterBorn, where we have a team of top experts in React & Node.js.

From the beginning, my goal was to become self-sufficient when it comes to building applications, so that's the natural course of things. It will be like that for the next 2-3 years. I have a few ideas for my own small projects, thanks to which I can build my knowledge in this field.

In the meantime, I plan to continue developing my so-called soft skills because I realize a senior needs them at a high level.

Developers mentoring

It's great that MasterBorn has a culture of feedback and a special Mentoring Program. In my previous workplace, there was no such thing in the IT team. Now I know how valuable and motivating this approach is. I have a special "learning relationship" with my Mentor and we generally focus on my long term career development. I think that it's important to develop both hard and soft skills - and having my own, experienced Mentor is priceless.

Software developer degree

I want to finally get a higher education degree, probably in the direction of business or management because if I haven’t felt any shortcomings so far without technical studies, I don’t see the point of studying a technical subject. It’s much better to spend time learning something I don’t know that well, and that knowledge is difficult to get without studying the field.

How to start a career in IT?

What would you say to a hairdresser, taxi driver and... a waiter who would like to start a career in IT?

Hairdresser

For people who hesitate to enter the IT industry, I would advise 5 things. Short and to the point:

  • Make a decision whether you want this change and stick to it consistently.

  • Be ready to learn and get out of your comfort zone. It isn’t going to always be nice. Very often, it won't. More than once, I got stuck for a long time trying to understand something, but I never gave up trying. Perseverance is the key.

  • Be humble and take your time. After getting my first job, I found out that sometimes it’s better to postpone a problem for a while, do something else and reset my mind because then the solution will come much faster.

  • Remember what you’re doing this for and don’t forget - WHY you decided to make this change.

  • Notice and appreciate your first successes - there will be more and more of them with time!

Last question - are you proud of yourself?

Hmm, I don't know if I'm proud because it sounds as if I were bragging. I’m certainly pleased with myself, but I have a lot of humility because I can see how much is still ahead of me.

I’m glad to have a lot of great professionals around me who are definitely more skilled. When you spend time in such an environment, you can be sure that you’ll grow because there is always someone to learn from.

Thank you for the Interview and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for your fullstack plans!

Thank you!


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