Day 24 – How can you become a web developer from scratch? Here is my story…

I was happily sleeping on my air mattress in my tiny 10x10ft room when my phone started to ring. At the time there were like 3 contacts in my address book – my brother and a few other Russian-speaking friends.

Remember I was selling pictures on the Times Square for about a year after I came to the United States and I had to get the phone so we could periodically call each other to check on cops.

Noone ever called me in the morning ever! The phone continued to ring as I stared at it from my air mattress.

Then I remembered last night when I submitted my web developer resume (first time in my life) and figured the phone call was most likely related to that. Still didn’t pickup because I didn’t really know what to say…

My usual phone conversations were either in Russian about the cops locations or very brief conversation with my bank in English, mostly to practice my phone skill (often with the machine) a little bit. I just wasn’t mentally ready to talk with someone about technical stuff like programming.

Remember, my awesome PHP book that I brought with me to the US was in Russian as well…

Finally, my phone stopped ringing and I exhaled with ease, maybe it was just random call after all. I was about to get out of the bed when the phone rang again, a different number this time! I was like, huh? What the hell is going on? I let it ring and went to cook some eggs for the breakfast.

When I returned to my room about 30 minutes later I had like 10 missed calls from different numbers! It started to sink in that I finally needed to man up and pick up the phone the next time it rings. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for the next call, the phone was alive again! No kidding guys, that’s exactly how it happened for me.

I waited a few seconds, picked up and said hello. Just like I thought it was about the resume that I posted the day before.

Honestly, my first conversations didn’t go too well. I was able to understand only a few words here and there. Fortunately for me, I had plenty of opportunities to practice as the calls kept coming in. And you know what, I got better real fast!

After talking with recruiters for a few more days I dramatically expanded my technical vocabulary and gained some confidence. Within a week of posting my resume, I was even invited to some on-site interviews!

Initially, I didn’t know the difference between the interview with hiring manager vs interview with the recruiter. Because of that, I had to go through a lot of face-to-face “interviews” with recruiters and vast majority of those were complete waste of time. I guess they just wanted to see if I could actually communicate with people… Sometimes they made me take some programming tests as well. Weird stuff. The was one common theme – not a single one of them offered me any job options. Probably I was REALLY bad! ))

About three weeks into the process I learned how to filter out real interviews from the potential time killers. When I was invited to yet another interview I started asking if that’s the interview with the hiring manager or a recruiter and simply said ‘No thanks’ to the latter ones.

Practice is the king guys. You just have to do the first step, then second and third. Do not try to skip ahead.

By the end of the month, I got my first real interview with the client. For that major occasion, I put on my best stuff, including shiny black shoes that I brought from Belarus. I will not be surprised if I still have them somewhere in my closet 🙂

Anyways, I should up about 20 minutes early and was anxiously waiting for my interview. About 40 minutes after the scheduled time, someone finally showed up. I was invited to a small windowless room and was asked just one simple question “What do you think about Craigslist and their website?”.

I thought I won a jackpot at that moment. Such an easy question! I used Craigslist a few times before and I hated it. It looked like it was made in 1990, with all the text and zero design. So many things that I could improve! That was pretty much what I said to my interviewer, then I offered to create a much better version with the new modern design (which I could do myself in Photoshop if they didn’t have a designer).

He listened patiently and when I was done, he got up, shook my hand and said: “Thanks for coming, we will keep in touch”. I never heard from him again.

It took me years to realize the brilliance of Craigslist. The power of simplicity and usability. I finally understood why they never called me back.

Then there was another interview, this time I went downtown. The office was so small and half of it were under construction, a lot of dust everywhere. They had like 3 desks in there and each of them had two monitors! I never saw anyone with two monitors before! Dust didn’t bother me much. I knew I wanted that job. I wanted my two monitors!

Surprisingly they didn’t ask too many questions and I felt good about the whole process. Seemed like my first web development dream job was not too far away. I was crossing Hudson River back to Brooklyn on the Q train, still pretty excited after the interview. I could see myself taking that empty dusty desk in the corner with two monitors. I was swelled with positive emotions and just couldn’t stop smiling!

All of a sudden my phone rang yet again. Unknown number? I picked up and guess what – another recruiter with potential on site interview on the following day. I started saying that I already found what I was looking for and that I was expecting the offer any time now. Not sure how, but he basically convinced me to give it a shot, saying that it never hurts to have more options.

I arrived about ten minutes before the interview on the next day. One of the firsts things I noticed were bright orange walls and a big sign “Oddcast”. The place was huge, with the foosball table in the middle and it was spot clean. I was greeted by the attractive receptionist and a few minutes later I was led to the spacious conference room with the glass walls.

I started feeling my nerves, the placed was clearly above my head. Things got worse when two guys came in, one of them seemed very serious and had glasses. I immediately sensed he was a very smart guy. The other one was less visually intimidating, but still scary enough.

They asked a few questions about my past projects and if I worked with high traffic applications before. I didn’t even know what was high traffic (or even traffic!) at the time, plus I was so nervous that forgot most of the new fancy technical words that I learned in the past month. I desperately wanted to sound cool, but all I could really do is wave my hands and throw some half broken English words here and there.

About an hour later they gave me a sheet of paper and a pen, asked to write the code for the imaginary login form with username and password and left me alone. I definitely didn’t expect that I will be writing code on paper, but I took a few deep breaths and started writing.

Fortunately, I had to code some basic login forms before, for my own site that I started back in Belarus. In about 15 minutes there was no longer any empty space on my sheet of paper, I had to cross some things out, made some notes, moved things around with the arrows and stuff. Basically, it was a mess. I stood up and went looking for my interviewers so they could give me another piece of paper.

Clearly they didn’t expect to see me so soon. We all went back to the conference room and they asked to interpret my mess. After I was done with the explanations they glanced over each other, silently exchanged a few words and then the scary smart guy in glasses stood up and said “We would like to make you an offer, but we want the answer right here and right now. You will get 55K and will start tomorrow”.

It was definitely something I didn’t see coming, especially with all the mess that I just did on my sheet of paper. Seriously, the 55K??!!! That was huge for me at the time. I had to make a decision and I had to do it quickly. Not going to lie, I was very scared. The place was clearly superior and more intimidating than the dusty hole I visited the day before. My biggest fear was that I wasn’t good enough to pull it off. I really didn’t want to be fired a week later.

Suddenly, everything became crystal clear in my head. There were two choices in front of me – one was relatively safe (the dusty place, I was very sure to get an offer from them, even though I didn’t have it at the moment), another one – very scary but with huge growth potential (and foosball table!).

The whole thinking process happened in a split of a second. I stood up, said “YES!!! I’ll take it. See you guys tomorrow!”. We shook hands and left shortly after. Sure enough, I got a call from the dusty place on my way to the train station. Just like I thought they made me an offer – 60K.

I didn’t bulk, even though 5K was a lot of money for me. My mind was made up, I shook hands with Oddcast guys and was already looking to my official first day as a web developer!

Was it a good decision or did I do a huge mistake? Do you want to know the only thing that really matters during interviews? (spoiler alert – it’s not your diploma and not your skills!) Well, you will need to subscribe to my list to find out. See you on the other side! ))

Wake up, Neo... The matrix has you...

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