My Software Development Apprenticeship

The story about my first gig as a self-taught developer.

I started my apprenticeship at one of the biggest companies in the world about 2 months before I started typing this (I started on June 12th, 2017). The experience has been very positive, and negative in a positive way… I’ll explain soon. The positives are many and very obvious, they range from perks like an excellent support system to the basics: like a more comfortable life. I like to end things on a positive note; therefore I’ll get into the negatives (that are also positives) first.

Not what I expected.

As a self-taught developer my main learning resources were books, paid educational sites, free online resources (like MDN, YouTube, and Stack Overflow) and attending any meetup in my city and all the cities around. All of these resources painted a picture in my head of what a front-end developer was. In a nutshell, I thought a front web developer was a person who could grab a design or drawing and turn it into an HTML & CSS page, using some JavaScript for animations and more complex functionality like adding a slideshow. It took me a long time to “master” such skills and I thought these would be enough for me to be of great value to most companies. I also thought this is the type of code I would write every day.

The reality is that in most cases unless you’re working for an agency that focuses on building websites for small clients, you’re not going to be working on simple HTML, CSS, and jQuery …or WordPress. Big corporations require knowledge that is a lot more in depth. Java, React, Angular, several types databases, etc.

The “bad thing" is that I wasn’t familiar with any of these more advanced technologies, therefore, I wasn’t able to perform as well I was hoping. This causes anxiety and extreme impostor syndrome (notice I used present tense for the last sentence). However this “bad thing” is very positive in the fact that as an apprentice I am encouraged and forced to learn the latest and more advanced technologies in the industry and when it finally starts to stick, it is one of the best feelings ever. The struggle is real but I believe this is a great opportunity to gain knowledge that allows me to create wonderful things and is also in very high demand.

Self Development

One of the biggest and most positive things about the apprenticeship program is the people I work with every day. I work with a lot of smart individuals who have a positive attitude towards life, work on their personal development, and love what they do. Such positive enthusiasm is contagious and extremely helpful towards one’s personal development. Every single day this positive behavior and self-improvement seems more like the norm and not taboo like it used to be back in my previous jobs and around most of the people that used to work at those places.

A More Comfortable Lifestyle

To understand what this apprenticeship means to me, you need learn a little bit more about me and how I ended up here.

While I was in college I started a business. The business grew up to be pretty successful and I was able to make a really comfortable living from it. I moved out of my mother’s house and soon after I had to quit college because the business was taking too much of my time. While the business was at its peak I made some bad personal decisions that lead to me getting in trouble with the law, losing a lot of money and my business. It all came crashing down and the next few years after that consisted in me working jobs like Best Buy, factories, warehouses, pizza delivery, restaurants, etc. Before I knew it I was deep into the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle and I knew it was going to be hard to get out of it without a college education or a valuable skill. I was working full-time and doing freelance graphic design as a “side hustle” but graphic design wasn’t challenging or lucrative enough for me.

One day I decided to become a web developer. I took a notebook and wrote down a plan on how I was going to accomplish such goal. After trying to learn development and working 50+ hours/week at my day job for several months I realized it was not going to happen that way. The amount I could learn in my free time was very little and I never had time to actually practice on my own projects.

In order to actually pursue this career, I had to make some changes and modify the original plan. So I wrote it all down, I quit my main job and instead found something part time on Fridays and Saturdays nights (I never went out this whole time). This part-time job was ALMOST enough to cover my rent, bills, and other expenses. After paying bills I had no extra money for things like… food. I had to do graphic design projects for small clients (Which only came about once a month for about $70-$100) In order to complete the amount I needed to get by. During this period I didn’t buy clothes, go out, eat at restaurants, buy video games or spend any money at all on anything other than required expenses for me to survive while I learned. I did all of this in order to get free time to learn web development, full time. I went through about 8 months of living in this extreme frugal situation while learning and building websites and apps, with the hopes that one day it would pay off.

That day was the day I got offered the opportunity to join the apprenticeship program through Gaslight after I showed them some of my projects. They thought I would be a good fit with one of their clients and sent me there as an apprentice. As an adult responsible for my own livelihood, it is nothing short of amazing to have the opportunity to work full time on what I like doing and get paid while still learning. As soon as I got the offer, I dropped everything and moved to Cincinnati to start a new chapter of my life where I can completely focus and learn more, without having to worry and wonder if I’m going to be able to cover my expenses this month. This all adds up to a more productive and comfortable living.

Development Is a Way of Life

Before this apprenticeship, I never had the opportunity to work at a place where most people (actually anyone at all) loved their job. In my previous jobs, I can’t remember meeting anyone who loved what they were doing. Now I get to experience the opposite. Everyone I work with loves and is very proud of what they do. They have submerged themselves into their careers and they all seem to love it. To them, it is not a huge issue to stay an extra hour at work and not get paid extra for it because they find it fun. They also stay connected to the development community and use their free time to learn new technologies, attend events, etc. They have developed this way of life, which has many positive qualities and mottos, for example:

  • They believe no problem is too big to solve. It just depends on how much effort you want to put into it.
  • They are always learning and getting better.
  • They love to teach others and understand that sometimes teaching others is a way to reinforce your own knowledge.
  • They love taking on big challenges because it will make them better and more experienced in the end.
  • They work as a team and trust each other to do their job.
  • They are very understanding and have sympathy for others in work-related situations.
  • They worry about their own business. They aren’t worried about whether a coworker is actually sick or just wanted a day off. They understand they work with trustworthy people.

One example of the many examples of this is when one time I had to pair with a developer who specialized in Java and databases (the back end) and had no experience with JavaScript. He willingly chose to fix a code issue in a JavaScript codebase just because he thought it would be fun and interesting to learn JavaScript. I witness him fix the issue, effectively; simply by using his previous programing knowledge of other languages and searching Google for the things that he didn’t know. This shows just how valuable and important it is to live this lifestyle where you can literally do and accomplish anything you want if you’re willing to put in the time.

Final words.

This apprenticeship has been great for me to learn and put my skills to use right away but also to get myself involved in the developer lifestyle and the positive behavior and habits of good developers. Becoming a good developer is my goal and a new chapter of my life. The Gaslight apprenticeship has been the biggest help I could ever ask for at this stage and I feel lucky and excited about this opportunity and I am determined to make the most of it.

For more info about me: www.surielmedia.com

(This post can be found originally at medium.com/@omarsuriel)

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