Nick Ang

What's the biggest advice you'd give to people learning to code for the first time without a tech background?

March 11, 2020

advice to people learning to code for the first time nick ang blog

Photo by Brett Jordan

Someone asked me this at a Q&A recently and my answer was this:

Don’t think too much about the difference between you and someone who has a Computer Science (CS) degree.

It’s not that CS degrees don’t matter, it’s just that they don’t matter in most of the situations that we think they do. So letting go of that fear of being “less qualified” is one of the easiest things you can and should do to learn to code bravely.

There are exceptions, like when you’re applying to the mega companies of our time like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google (FANG). I think it’s because these companies already have a high concentration of applicants who are from the Ivy League universities like Stanford and MIT. As a result, the interviewers have become lazy at identifying real potential. The difference between you and a CS degree holder in this situation will be more pronounced.

Even though I think it’s human nature to rely on labels to quickly identify people’s potential, any company with some experience of interviewing software engineering candidates will tell you this: “CS degree from Stanford” does not equate automatically to “can work with others to write clean, scalable code”.

At the end of the day, having been a developer before, I can tell you that developers don’t want to work with people with just the credentials but can’t work in their team and write quality code.

One last point on your competitiveness as a bootcamp graduate or self-taught programmer - we tend to heavily discount kindness and other social traits when we evaluate ourselves. If people consistently answer “yes” to questions about you like “is this person nice?” and “is this person receptive to feedback?”, that’s a strong start. If you can combine your good nature with an a decent ability to code, then I can confidently say that you will probably get the job.

Seasoned interviewers know that the social traits are actually more important than credentials or even skills. That’s because attitude enables smooth team work and growth on the job, which makes everyone happier and more productive because it means shipping code faster to achieve the business’s goals. Everything else can be learned.


Nick Ang © 2020

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