My Unconventional, Self-Taught, Coding Story | Unedited
In this video, I’ll share my coding story, and how I learned to code and successfully changed careers into software engineering.
When I was first learning to code, I really found these “testimonies” helpful. The struggles, tips, and just hearing others succeed at learning to code served as a huge encouragement to me.
I’ll discuss what I did before coding, my first exposure to code, learning to code, and the various jobs that followed. We’ll discuss what I learned in each step, my successes, and failures, and how you may be able to apply the same tactics to help you in your journey.
Recommended ResourcesCareer Path Coding Tracks
Web Developer - https://geni.us/jBigBd
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DevOps Engineer - https://geni.us/MgHtJ
TranscriptWhat's up, everybody? Travis here from Travis.Media. Today is gonna be a little different. I have no notes. I have no outline. Today I want to share my unconventional selftaught coding story. Now, I know what you might be thinking. What does this guy think? He's a celebrity or something? Like we care about his life? No, I don't. I've been all over the world.
I’ve never once had somebody be like, hey, you’re that guy from YouTube, travis Media. Never once. Only one time in Hong Kong. This lady was like, are you Chris Martin from Coldplay? And I was like, what? Chris Martin? I’m Travis Media. And she was like, who? And I was like, but when I was learning to code, one thing that really, really helped me was listening to other people who made it, other people who did that, and were way ahead of me. So I was learning to code. I was facing a lot of struggles, juggling time, juggling my job and my family, and the struggles of learning to code and then eventually trying to get the job, finding work, facing impostor syndrome, all of those things. And I would listen to other people’s stories and would learn from them and would get encouragement from their lows and their highs and their tips and tricks.
So I feel like many of you are in the same boat. You’re learning to code or you’re somewhere along that journey, and you just need some encouragement. And so that’s why I’m making it today. I want to share my journey to help you on yours. So, as always, grab some coffee. I don’t have my tea. I think it’s in the other room. Grab some coffee, grab some tea, make some time, kick back and find some encouragement.
So prior to learning to code, I had no coding encounters. I always thought it was for those really smart people that had degrees, and you had to be really good at math. I could never do something like that, so I never even attempted it. Nobody ever told me it was something I could do. We didn’t learn it in school, and it just never crossed my mind. So as a teenager, I worked as a park ranger. I scooped ice cream, and I stocked shelves at Target. About 19, I moved out, I got my own apartment, and I started working at a restaurant.
In fact, I worked at the same restaurant chain in two different locations. So I worked in the morning at one restaurant, in the kitchen, in the evening in another restaurant. Same chain in the kitchen. And in between that, I worked at a radio station. That’s what I really wanted to do at the time. But unless you’re a personality, you’re not going to make money in radio, right? I was at an Am station. I was the afternoon producer. I got to do a couple of shows.
I got to do the weather and the sports and all that cool stuff, but I was making, like, minimum wage, and there was no room for advancement. Radio is a tough job, so I worked at that for a while. I had three jobs. I got kind of worn out. I had saved a bunch of money, and I decided, hey, I’m going to go traveling. So I went traveling internationally. I eventually got married to a wonderful lady, and I ended up back in the city without a job. So I went to a temp agency to take the first job I could get, and they put me at labcore.
Now, if you know anything about labcore, people take drug tests, and the samples are put in a box along with the paperwork and sent to us. And I’m sitting there 8 hours a day, flipping through these pages, punching in data. So I’m a data entry guy. I’m working, like, five in the morning to 130, and I’m just flipping through papers. And in fact, we didn’t even have a full keyboard. We just had the number pad. So I’m punching in data, I flip the page. I punch in some data.
I flip the page all day long. I did that for about six months, and we found out we were expecting. So we moved back up to Virginia. And again, I took the first job I could get there, which was answering phones at a hospital in a health information department. And the job kind of sucked, but I was like, Look, I’m going to stay here six months. I’m going to figure out what else to do. I’m going to get out there, I’m going to get a better job, but I’m going to do this for a little while to get on my feet. Well, that six months turned into ten years, and many of you guys may be in that same situation.
Don’t let it happen. Six months was all I intended. I went from 24 to 34 in that dead end job. I didn’t have any ambition. I didn’t have any skill to fall back on. I didn’t have anybody to encourage me and say, hey, you have these other skills, or, hey, you should go this direction, or get this kind of training and do this. I just had the job. I was brought up in a kind of non entrepreneurial family.
They told me to get a job, stick with it, retire happy, and that’s what I thought I should do. So I ended up staying there ten years. I started out answering phones. Eventually they were like, man, this guy could type. So they started letting me do medical transcription. They gave me some easy reports, and then I learned the terminology, and I started typing all the time as a medical transcriptionist. And it was kind of neat. It was like, the more you type, you can get to this level where you make extra money.
So I was making extra money, but it still wasn’t a lot. I had a salary, I had benefits. That was great. But I still wasn’t making a lot of money. And eventually, just to give me a little extra pay, which wasn’t much, they changed my job title to analyst, and they let me do some speech recognition stuff, which wasn’t much, but I was basically still typing. I just got, like another thousand or 2000 a year pay, and I was just kind of stuck there. But while I was there, I had this idea that I had things in my head that everybody wanted to know. So I started a blog, and I started blogging regularly, and I had this WordPress theme that I wanted to customize, and I was like, I want to change this color.
And I’m thinking sure. No worries. After you lay everybody else off, what happens to us? We work another three months and then we’re laid off. I mean, transcription work can easily be outsourced. Why would they keep me around much longer? So it got me thinking, and it was really the first time in my life I’ve been pushed up against the wall like that. I really didn’t have any skill set. I had really nothing I could do. I had no past jobs to fall back on.
I had no degree. I had no path to move forward. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to have a better job. But what do I do? I have no skill set. What am I going to go back to the restaurant? I’m going to go back to data entry at Labcore? I don’t have money to go back to college. By this time, I was like 33, 34 years old. So I started thinking, what do I like to do? What is something new and fresh that I can put my full effort toward and make this a point in my life that I’m actually going to shift completely and succeed at something else.
I’m actually going to make some more money and be happy in my job. And I started thinking, you know what? I love writing that code, that HTML and CSS that I’m sent, or that CSS that I’ve learned. I love doing that. I wonder if I can learn to code and switch careers. And at the moment, I was like, no way. You can’t do that without a degree. You can’t do that without math and all this other stuff. But I started googling around, started checking YouTube, and there were people doing it.
So I decided, I’m going to go all in on this thing. If they can do it, I can do it. And by that time, I had three kids, and I wasn’t making a lot of money. My wife was like, Travis, you got to do better. You got to bring home some more money. And I just had lots of motivation. My family needs me. I need more purpose in my job.
I need more money. I’m going to do this thing. So I decided I couldn’t do it on my own. I couldn’t just go and learn the stuff. I need to do something drastic. So I joined a boot camp. Boot camp was super expensive. It was like 15 grand.
But I was like, I don’t care. Whatever it takes. If I can pay 15 grand, change into the programming career as software developer, that’s way worth it. I’ll make the money back. I’ll pay that off. And so I did that. So I was still at this company, and I decided, I’m going to do this boot camp. It was called Block at the time.
I think it’s been bought out by another company. I don’t know the name of it. I don’t know if they’re still doing boot camp things, but Block was like one of the leading boot camps eight years or so ago. And I joined them, and they had the whole package, the front end, the back end. They had the mentors and all of the good stuff, the projects, the portfolios. They had everything you wanted. So I would work from like eight to five full day. And then by like 05:00, in 30 minutes, I was on my computer coding.
I took every opportunity to code that I could. I coded right after work for like an hour, hour and a half. Then I would go to dinner. I’d play with the kids. I’d talk with the wife. And then about 10:00, I’d get back on the computer for two or 3 hours. I’d wake up. I’d do the same thing the next day.
And I would try to code like 20 hours a week. And I had my family on the same page. I told my wife, look, this is the big step up for us. I’m going to do this. I just need some support. I need some time to get it done. She was on board. The kids were on board.
Actually, they were pretty small, so they didn’t know. But I made time for coding. Very intentional time for coding. I cut out all the weekend fun. And I told everybody, look, for about six months, I’m going to be doing this thing. I’m going to be busy, and it’s going to change my life. And I got really focused on this mission. So I joined them.
And it was hard. And right when I started getting it, they were like, let’s take this whole app and refactor it with Jquery. So I had to learn jquery And I wrestled with that for a while, but I eventually got it, and I still loved it. I still loved coding and seeing things being built on the web page. Now, around this time, I jumped on Upwork. I wanted to make some extra money on the side. I jumped on Upwork, I created a profile, and I started taking these really menial jobs. Like, people were like, hey, can you install this theme for me? Like WordPress theme.
And I was like, yeah, I can do that for $5. And then somebody else would be like, I need the color of my menu changed. And I was like, yeah, I’ll do that for, like, $10. I did. That it. And I started getting work on there. And I realized, you know what? I can kind of make money with just the front end of this programming. So I finished the front end track.
I finished all of that, and I got ready to start the back end of the bootcamp. Now, the back end of the bootcamp was in Ruby on Rails. You learned Ruby. Then you learned the Ruby on Rails framework. And I started looking in my area for jobs that used Ruby on Rails, because at that time, you didn’t have all the remote jobs you have now. Everything was kind of in house. So I started looking at the hospitals and schools and warehouses, factories, things like that. In my area, nobody was using Ruby on Rails.
So I started thinking, why am I going to learn Ruby on Rails if nobody’s using it? And I’m already making money on Upwork, and my boot camp is expensive. If I stop, like, if I drop out halfway into it, I can get half my money back. Like, if I stop now, I get my 8000 back. And so I decided, based on all of that, I would just drop out of the boot camp. So I dropped out. I got my money back. I immediately started learning WordPress in PHP development. So I got a WordPress course on udemy and learned PHP.
I learned WordPress and started picking up upwork jobs for WordPress development. Now in your journey, you’re going to have these moments where things fall into place. You don’t know when they’re going to happen, but they will happen. For me, I was on upwork and I saw this one job ad from this web agency in Colorado. They were looking for a part time WordPress developer to come on board and help, like full stack WordPress developer. So I wrote them, I told them all of these things, like, I’m this WordPress developer and I did this boot camp, and here’s some things on GitHub that I’ve done. I’d love to have this job. And they wrote me back and they said, hey, I think you’d be a good fit.
Do you want to join us as a full stack WordPress developer? Working part time, it can be up to 30 hours a week. And I was like, absolutely. So I took that and I worked that 30 hours a week while I worked my full time job. Now, granted, everybody over here in my job had been outsourced. I was having to work double the effort because people were gone. They were like, let’s just give it all to Travis. And then over here, I was having all this fun as a real developer working for this agency. So there was a senior developer and then there was me, and they would assign us work in asana.
I think it was Asana, or bitbucket. No, it was bitbucket. They were assigning us work and we were working on all these WordPress sites, and it was so much fun, and I was making enough money. So I decided, hey, I’m just going to leave this job. It’s uncertain. I shouldn’t have been here for ten years. I finally found some kind of direction in my life. Career wise, I’m out of here.
So I quit that job and I started working for this company, and I learned a lot, and I was so new to it, right? I was learning while I was working. Like this one ticket, I was supposed to take the gravity forms plugin and add this hook to where it’s send an email when somebody submits the thing. And I remember thinking like, I don’t know even where to begin. And I talked to the senior developer, and he was like, oh, here’s some documentation, here’s how you do it. And I just sat there for like hours and hours, like, not even knowing where to start. I eventually told him, I can’t do it. He wrote it. It was like 25 lines of code.
And for me, it was like, how did he even come up with that? That’s mind blowing that he could even do that. Now I look back and I’m like, that’s easy, why couldn’t I do that? But I was learning as I was going, so I was playing the impostor. I was taking the tasks that were super hard, and I was getting most of them done. That one I just mentioned, I couldn’t do. It was only one or two of those. But most of the things, I did it. And he would tell me, hey, this code, you can refactor it this way. And was very gracious toward me.
So I was really thankful for that job. At the same time, I was picking up more work on Upwork. I started building websites for people, and those people would come back to me, hey, we need this fixed too. And when they did, I would say, hey, let’s take it off of Upwork, because Upwork charges a 20% fee. So I would get that client, I’d do the work for them. Then when they came back, I would take them off of Upwork. So I had the Upwork work, and then I had the work going on outside of Upwork. And I reached out to a local web agency in my area, asked them if they had overflow work, and they did.
So they started sending me work too. So I had good, steady work going on, but I wasn’t making still a lot of money. I was making more than at the company. But when you combine the lack of health insurance and all of those things and there’s no vacation time, things like that, I was probably making the same. But I was free over here. I wasn’t having to go into the office. I was able to stay home. I was able to do things that I like to do.
Now, I did this for two years. I freelanced for two years. And while doing that, I started documenting my journey on the blog. So if you go to Travis Media and go to my oldest posts, you’ll see the very first one is when I started the boot camp, and I just went through, here are the things I’m learning. Here’s where I’m at, and I documented my journey. I’ve still been writing new things that I’m learning, but I also started to do YouTube. I started to explain topics that I was learning, and they’re really, really bad quality. Like, if you go back to my early videos, it’s like me in a closet.
The rest of the time, I’m on the phone, I’m writing proposals, or I’m budgeting or sending out some invoices. And I kind of got tired of that. I started thinking, I just want to code. I just want to sit down and code and not have to deal with all this administrative stuff. And at that time, I realized that a lot of people were working from home, and maybe it’s time for me to get back into the corporate space as a software engineer. I can make more money. I could still work from home. I could have benefits.
And so I decided to do that. I looked on LinkedIn. I started applying for jobs. I started sending out my resume, had some coding interviews. Some went well, some didn’t, completely bombed some coding exams. But this one company reached out and asked if I could speak to their senior developer. He could go over kind of what their technology is and talk to me and find out kind of where I’m at. So I met with the senior developer of this company, and he basically showed me their app.
Here’s their app. Here’s all the templates. This is what we’re building. This is how we do things. And I kind of just, yeah, that’s great. Oh, yeah, I like that. And I asked questions, and we kind of hit it off. And then he said, here’s their Ruby on rails.
App. It’s a data app. And we pull all of this data, and we send it all back to WordPress and populate the page. And it was golf.com, by the way. So it was this monstrous site run on WordPress. So there were all these templates. They really did a good job of putting it together. But I talked with him, and I really didn’t have to do anything.
I had to listen to him kind of discuss a couple of things, ask a couple of questions. Afterwards, when we were finished, he was like, Well, I’ll relay all this back to my boss, and we’ll get back to you. So I thought nothing of it. A couple of days later, the boss called me and said, hey, Travis, we want to make you an offer. And I was like, really? We want to offer you a job with the company as a full stack software developer. And then he asked me, how much are you expecting to be paid? Like what’s your range? And I’d been preparing for this. I didn’t want to ask for too much and scare him away, but I didn’t want to ask for too little. I’m already making this much.
I want to make more than that. So I thought a good conservative answer was like 60,000. I was like 60,000 thousand, maybe 65,000. And he was like, okay, well, I’ll get back to you. I’ll talk to the team and get back with you. And I was like, oh. I remember telling my wife, like, oh, I asked too high. They’re not going to call me back.
Well, they did call me back the next day. And the guy said this. He said, Travis, the senior developer liked you. We like your blog content and YouTube content. We see that you’re competent, that you like to teach, that you know the material. And by the way, that helped me a lot in this scenario. Having a blog, having YouTube that demonstrated that I knew the material, I was able to write about the material. I was able to do the coding on my YouTube videos.
And they liked that. So if you’re thinking about blogging your journey or YouTubing your journey, do it. It can’t hurt you, and it probably will help you. But anyway, he said, so we talked about it. We want you to stick around. We want to take you on as a developer, and we want you to stay around and grow with us. So we’re not going to offer you 60, we’re going to offer you 90. And I was almost passed out in the driveway.
I was like, what? And he said, yeah, 90, because we don’t want you to come and then find another job and leave us. We want you to stick around, so we’re going to offer you 90,000. How is that? And I was like, Where do I sign? And so I took this job, stopped my freelancing, and this job introduced me to a lot, right? We had some very professional developers. It was golf.com. It was a massive site. We had developers that built out all of these templates. And so I learned so much by how they did that. We had a Ruby on Rails app that pulled data from these APIs and sent it all to WordPress.
So that was neat. But what I really learned was the Scrum methodology, or Agile methodology. So we had Daily Standups that was new to me. We had a scrum master. We had stakeholders. We had tasks that we were assigned during Air Sprint. We also had a DevOps team. So we had OpenShift.
We were running all these containers. We had CI, CD, and GitLab. These were all new things. So as a freelancer, I’m just focused on WordPress web development in my own little bubble. I get out here and there’s all this new technology, technology you don’t really get to mess with as a freelancer a lot of times. But here I am, all of this new technology, I’m surrounded by these great programmers. There’s DevOps, there’s scrum, and I’m learning so much. Well, three to four months into this and this company does a lot of government work, I was the only person doing the non cleared work.
About three to four months into this, I left this job. Now, the guy that hired me ended up leaving the company, and the two other people ran out of work for me. They kept saying, yeah, Monday we’re going to have some new work for you. You’re going to be on a new team, you’re going to be doing this kind of thing. Well, Monday would come and there’d still be no work. So the golf.com thing ended. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I ended up taking vacation time. I used all of my vacation time.
There still wasn’t a job for me yet. So I was thinking, this sucks. So I was uncertain where I was going there, but all of a sudden I get this message on LinkedIn from a company, a software company in my area. This is another one of those moments you don’t expect, but you’re kind of in the right place at the right time. This guy writes me, he’s like, hey, I’m with this company in your city. I’m looking to hire 30 people. I got this new contract. I need 30 people quick.
We’re a company that likes good people that can learn the material. We don’t want the super smart people that are hard to work with. We see that you know this technology, that you work at this place and we know that you can learn the stuff. Do you want the job? So the guy called me, we talked. He was a great guy, great company, great philosophy. The position though, was a site reliability engineer position, which was brand new to me. And I liked the challenge and I liked the DevOps from my previous job, the DevOps that I was exposed to. So I decided, hey, this job didn’t give me any work.
This job is very promising, it’s local, and it’s a chance for a raise because obviously you don’t take a new job without getting a higher salary. So I left this job. I started working as a site reliability engineer. Now, a lot of us on the contract were new. Some of the people were like super smart, senior level. And then a couple of us were just like people they needed quickly. So I worked with one guy. He was an electrical engineer that just coded on the side.
He took the job too. So me and him kind of hit it off. We both have nontraditional backgrounds. In the first week, four of us, okay, one guy was really smart, the three of us weren’t. Four of us were tasked with deploying the Elk stack on a Linux server. So that was new. Okay. I have a mac.
I use the Unix terminal. So the Linux terminal wasn’t too bad, but the Linux system was brand new. Second, we were in the cloud. We were in Azure. So I had to go in Azure and be like, what is a VM? And third, the Elk stack. Like, I thought Elk was an animal, but Elk is elasticsearch log stash in cabana. So I had to learn that. I had to learn Linux.
I had to get in the cloud. I had. To learn about SSH, public private Keys, all of that stuff, right away, within my first week. And within a few weeks, I started feeling good about that. I started feeling good in Linux in the Cloud, and I got on a contract where we’re deploying containers to Kubernetes. That took me months and months to figure out. I actually worked for a couple of months building helm charts, kind of copying other people’s charts. Still didn’t know really what was going on.
I tried to look at the documentation, but a lot of times in those scenarios you have to back up and go back to the foundations. Like, I needed to actually go back and be like, what is a container? Learn about containers first. But I couldn’t because I was just stuck trying to move forward too fast. So I was building helm charts, I was kind of looking at other people’s, copying what they’re doing, deploying, having it fail, and eventually I caught on. And within a year of that gig, I felt pretty good with Kubernetes. I felt really good with containers. The next year, I got put on a new gig with a bunch of really, really talented, humble senior developers. And we were in AWS.
We were the infrastructure team on that project, and we used Active Directory for our authentication. So that was new to me, and AWS was brand new to me. We were spinning up EC, two instances, using infrastructure as code. We were managing things with SSM. It was really the best learning experience for me. I kind of just sat back. Of course I did my work, but I kind of just sat back the whole time and just watched senior developers at work. I did my work, I got things done, but the things I learned on that contract I just can’t describe.
Working around really good developers is one of the best things you can do, especially if they’re humble and they help you learn and they answer your questions when needed. So I worked in AWS for about a year. I got AWS certified. I learned a lot more about DevOps. After that was over, I got put on a new gig, and in this one I was building an API in Net. And this wasn’t just some hobby API like I’ve done hobby APIs, I’ve built little small APIs at home. This one was actually going to be scaled to hundreds of thousands of users. So it was massive.
It had lots of security protocols, and it was another experience where I can say I was a complete imposter, but I came out of it with a lot more knowledge. Another thing I did on that contract is I had to write a lot of SQL scripts. We used SQL Server, which again was new to me, SQL wasn’t, but anything beyond the SQL basics was. So I had to learn a lot about SQL and cursors and functions and all of that cool stuff, transactions. And I did that for about six months. But at that time I started thinking, where do I really want my career to go? Okay, I’ve been doing this now for seven years or so. Where do I want my career to go now? Well, I liked coding, but I didn’t like just sitting there all day just punching out code. I’m getting too old for that.
I could try to become a senior developer or get more into consulting or something like that. But I thought, I really love creating content. I really love creating blog posts and YouTube videos and teaching people new things. So I started looking into it and came across the Developer Relations Engineer job. And I thought, hey, that’s perfect. I can create content, I can engage with the community, and I can still write code. So I applied at different places. I bombed some interviews because I really didn’t have any experience there.
But this one place took a chance on me. I did an interview, and for this coding exam, I had to create an API, just a basic API that had a serious security flaw in it. I had to create that flaw, and then I had to containerize it, and then I had to write a blog post on the problem it has and then how it would be fixed, like, what code should I change? What should I do to fix this security flaw? So I did that. I wrote it. I thought it was really good. I sent it in and they liked it, and they said, hey, we like the way you wrote. We thought you explained it well and we want to offer you the job. So that’s where I’m currently at.
I’m currently a developer relations engineer. And I love it. I’m able to create content, I’m able to engage with the community. I’m able to go to conferences and travel, and I’m also still able to code and write scripts and all of that fun stuff. And I’m at a place in my career where I can do that, where I can sit back and say, what do I want to do next? Devrel is where I wanted to go next. And in this economy, I could be laid off anytime. They could let me go, and I have to find something else. That’s the nature of things now.
But look, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you found some encouragement. I hope you found some nugget of some sort to get you out of the next slump you might be in. And next week I’m going to release another video kind of related to this, about the top eight things that I’ve learned in my eight years as a software engineer. So I started learning to code at 34, and this year I’ll be 42. So be sure you look out for that video. It’s going to be next week. Go ahead and subscribe if you haven’t, click the bell to be notified whenever that’s released.
But I hope you found this video helpful. If so, or if you have any questions, then be sure to leave a comment below. If you did find it helpful, consider clicking that like button. And as always, I’ll see you in the next video.
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