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Tristan
Tristan

Posted on

How I started earning $35/hr at 19

Sick of splashing around in the water and not knowing where to swim? Yeah... I was too

Imagine programming for 6 years, having more software development skills than 98% of graduates, and not landing a job. That was me at the beginning of this year

Not too long before landing my current job I was sending out CV's left, right, and center. Time and time again I would get the "Thanks for applying, but...".

I was pissed off, I knew I was good, but people tended to believe that a good 18-year-old developer is a myth. I don't blame them.

It got to the point where I literally told them I would work for free, just to get my foot in the door. But even after offering them a gold mine of free value they still decided "no". Something needed to change.

The following are key epiphanies I had before I got the "Thanks for applying, I would like to offer you..."

Understand why people bother offering you jobs

Theory

It may seem obvious now, but sometimes you need to be reminded; employers hire you to make money.

Less obvious is when people hire developers, they want you to be better than them at the job.

When you go to an interview, there must be a social dynamic there that "you know wtf you are doing, and you will make them hella $$$". If HR gets the vibe that you are "new" and "ready to learn" they will be scared off.

My Experience

When I saw the listing for a web developer offering $30 - $70/hr I scoffed. I couldn't even land a $20/hr job. I passed by the listing initially.

Going by it again I thought it would be funny to just apply and be cocky to see what happens. So I wrote my cover letter

"I am an extremely talented developer. I have over 400 hours with PHP. I'm your man, call me [my number]"

I didn't even bother saying thank you or "Hi There, my name is ...", I cut the crap and told them I'm the shit

I got the interview

If you think people will hire you because you know a programming language, go ahead and just delete your computer now

Theory

Today, no one is looking for a "JavaScript Developer" or a "CSS Specialist". They are looking for someone familiar with "Angular", "React", "Unit testing" e.t.c.

Today you learn programming languages so you can use frameworks so you can develop quality applications that generate value for the company

My Experience

When I started out with web development I created a social networking website for my college with raw JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and PHP

16-year-old me thought I was on some next level, I then started looking for developer jobs. I searched "PHP jobs", up came "Looking for Drupal Developers", "Laravel developers wanted ...". I thought to myself: "Wait, knowing PHP isn't enough..."

The more you know the dumber you look

Theory

The magic that makes teams so valuable is the economic principle of comparative advantage. When one developer is better than another at a particular skill they have a comparative advantage, they can do something at a relatively lower cost because they can do it faster and better.

This is why in all situations a dream team is one where you have a multitude of individuals with very specialized skills because they can let the best do what the worst can't, and the worst do what the best can't

HR wants the best frontend developer, the best backend developer and the best interface designer. They dont want 3 people who are all mediocre at all three

My Experience

When I first started sending my resume's I would often brag that I know "all of these programming languages". I never said I was a master at any of them. I effectively paraded myself as the dreaded "Jack of all trades".

I then decided I would hone in on one skillset - Frontend Developer. When I sent my resume to my current work I didn't even talk much about my experience with PHP, something they were looking for, I just stated exactly what my strength (not plural) was and my experience with correlated technologies.

The more specialized you look, the more professional you come off.

I got the job

Other (almost essential) tips I recommend

  • Use a CV generator to make your resumes, they do all that formatting hell for you and help outline what you need to provide
  • Bloster your GitHub with projects - only after I started adding all my personal projects to GitHub did I land my job (he even mentioned being impressed by it)

tldr; Pick what field in the land of software you want to specialize in, choose a framework you want to master, create 2 - 3 projects using it to help with your correlated skills, upload them to GitHub, create a pretty CV that is very concise, know that when you contact HR for a job they win if they choose you

Discussion (30)

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davidmm1707 profile image
David MM🐍

Congratulations Tristan. You are earning more than I do, having almost half my age (We live in different countries though...).

I want to add something to your post:

Going by it again I thought it would be funny to just apply and be cocky to see what happens. So I wrote my cover letter

"I am an extremely talented developer. I have over 400 hours with PHP. I'm your man, call me [my number]"

More than cockiness, I believe that they were impressed by how you speak to them. Beginners tend to be super polite, like they are saying thanks for everything, as if the (would be) employeer were making them a favour.

It is not. You have a set of skills, you change your time for their money. That's it. They are not making you any favours by "letting" you working with them. If any, it is the opposite (but that's a topic for another discussion).

You came as if you didn't care too much about the job, because if they didn't hire you, you would have more jobs alligned.

No "OMG I would be #blessed to work with you 🙏🙏🙏" crap. You have a skill, you sell your time to them. If not, to other company. That's it.

I then decided I would hone in on one skillset - Frontend Developer. When I sent my resume to my current work I didn't even talk much about my experience with PHP, something they were looking for, I just stated exactly what my strength (not plural) was and my experience with correlated technologies.

The more specialized you look, the more professional you come off.

This is something I had backwards until a few months.

I knew a lot of languages and frameworks. PHP, JS, Java, C#, Angular, Laravel, etc... I learnt a lot of stuff in two years.

But I REALLY learnt it? In reality, I was doing tutorials, and switching to the new shinny thing after one week or two. When I came back to a thing I did a tutorial 3 months ago, you know how much I remember?

Nothing.

Then, I read John Sonmez (I recommend you to read his soft skills book) and he introduced me to a concept it blew my mind. And it is so simple.

I believed that the more languages you know, the better job you can get. More things you can do, more money you should earn. Right?

Instead, employeers want somebody efficient and focused in one thing, more than a jack of all trades.

You nailed it here:
HR wants the best frontend developer, the best backend developer and the best interface designer. They dont want 3 people who are all mediocre at all three

For example, you need surgery. Would you rather select a surgeon with 15 years of experience, or a doctor that has dabbled as a surgeon, but also as a pediatricist, ophthalmologist, dentist, etc for 15 years?

But then, I read about the T-Shaped developer.

The concept is that a developer should have a shallow knowledge on a broad set of skills (backend, frontend, deploying the project, testing, etc) and go really deep in one of the skills (for example, a backend developer that knows vanilla JS, a bit of React, unit tests, how to deploy on Heroku but a LOT of backend stuff)

T-Shaped developer is an interesting concept, I wrote this where I go deeper on that: letslearnabout.net/blog/what-it-is...

Regarding the Github, I want to recommend to ONLY put there things you want to work on. For example, if you want to become a FrontEnd dev and you play with Angular, React, Vue, vanillaJS, jQuery, etc, you can put your projects there. But don't put your Laravel/Node.JS/Django/.NET/etc stuff you're experimenting with there, because somebody might see it and wanted you to work with that. Another mistake I did 😅

Your tl;dr is spot on. Focus on some Framework and become the best on that, not on that guy that "knows a bit of Angular, Vue and React" but can't do nothing past the basic stuff.

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William Cantin • Edited on

Nice post, but the more you gain experience, the more you also realize that being ''full stack'' is actually quite essential. Highly effective teams have people that can do just about anything from dev to ops to architecture and testing. List goes on.

You usually want fewer people that know only certain things, you want people with good knowledge in many topics and that can switch between all the aspects of software development. Thus creating fewer silos and impediments when trying to deliver value to customers. It's especially true in corporation that really adopts DevOps principles as the core of their value streams.

Like @davidmm1707 wrote about in his comment, T-shaped devs are a must nowadays. You can't deny it.

I'd recommend this book to everyone, its really great and goes in greater details on how DevOps and the so called ''fullstack dev" is not just a buzzword, it's what value driven teams are made of.

amazon.ca/DevOps-Handbook-World-Cl...

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bramzijp profile image
Bram-Zijp

One will be seen a jack of all trades but a master of none when they claim to know each of the trades at the age of 19. Heck, even at older ages it is highly unlikely one will be a master of all trades. I'd specialize at one trade and practice the full stack by creating your own applications. Add some spice by automating with CI/CD pipelines and using Docker, Kubernetes or Terraform for instance.

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wilomgfx profile image
William Cantin

Absolutely, learning by doing is the best way to learn IMO.

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davidmm1707 profile image
David MM🐍

Thanks for the link to the book, I might give it a try

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Davmi Jose Valdez Ogando

I'll give it a try to specilizing in a niche. As of now I jump too much between languages and can't call myself an specialist in any. C#, Php, JavaScript. I can defend myself in all of them and I guess adding that to my resume is not helping as much as I thought

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David Hedderwick

"It may seem obvious now, but sometimes you need to be reminded; employers hire you to make money." - I think this is the most understated piece of information in the entire article.

You are employed to make the business money. The business may do their best to make a welcome, awesome, and motivating environment, but they are there to make money. Never forget that.

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Bjorn Micallef

First you said to not just learn one language (If you think people will hire you because you know a programming language, go ahead and just delete your computer now) but then you said the more you know the worse it is (The more you know the dumber you look). A little bit contradicting there...

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tristanmastrodicasa profile image
Tristan Author

The first part refers to people sometimes having a lack of depth, and the second part refers to people having too much breadth. The two combined is basically reaffirming the idea of the T-shaped developer.

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bramzijp profile image
Bram-Zijp

It isn't if you read the article from top to bottom. You just read the headlines, didn't you? Try reading it again and afterwards you could give another shot at being a wise ass.

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bjornmicallef profile image
Bjorn Micallef

Hey Mr. Bram-Zijp-Jumping-Straight-To-Conclusions. As a matter of fact I did read the full article and yes I still think that the way it's written is contradicting. It's great that this guy gave his own experience of interviews BUT you can't treat all interviews the same. Interviewing for a corporate company like a bank and telling them "I'm your man call me" won't work. Similarly interviewing for a start up and being a brown nose might not work either. Different people have different characters and the same goes for different companies which have different policies, ways of working and cultures. Being "new" and "ready to learn" can be an asset for some because some employers would want to mould you in their way of doing software dev and wouldn't say a thing because you don't know any better. Lastly, I would focus on bolstering my LinkedIn profile and not github because the recruiters are on LinkedIn and not github. I never got a job offer from github.

bramzijp profile image
Bram-Zijp

Cute nickname you gave me there :P. As experienced developer, it was trivial to make sense out the contradictions. However, this might not be very obvious to newbies. Perhaps that was your motivation to point it out.

The headline which states that knowing one programming language is not enough is substantiated with that one should also learn something like React, Vue etc. as frontender, besides JavaScript. The same goes for the backend and design. After the "the more you know the dumber you look" headline he explains that companies look for someone specialized on the frontend, backend or UI/UX design. Being specialized in one of those means you know more then just one language. All of the developer roles are coupled to a stack one should learn to improve ones chances on landing jobs. One shouldn't go out and state I'm an expert at the backend, frontend and design as this is very unlikely, especially for a 19 year old.

I totally agree on your statements in your reply. This article seems specifically aimed towards people struggling to land their first job/project. The best way to handle job interviews is indeed different per company and also varies on the demanded level of skill/seniority.

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Lawrence • Edited on

As a former tech director and now a software development business owner, I've got nearly 20 years of experience hiring devs. The real reason we look the other way at non college graduate s has nothing to do with skill. Hiring a college graduate is a crap shoot since there's no guarantee they learned anything useful in school. So why don't we hire people without degrees? It's because the person with a degree is much more likely to show up for work and follow through on commitments. Even with bad grades, sticking with school for four years when you could be out making money or partying is tough. That's not to say all college graduates are guaranteed to be more responsible. It's just a lot more likely.

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Alex Sarafian

On the knowledge and skills part absolutely agree. For the rest I want to add something.

University level education is an indication for more potential in terms of research and learning but only an indication. Kind of depends on the location. In Greece, where I'm from, it used to be that school made sure things got in your brain but University made no effort for this because you are an adult. This ability to go beyond your current limitations is very important in some jobs. This is also what i look for during interviews known also as potential.In Belgium where i currently live, they used to hire and train in it any University profile just because of their presumed ability to learn. And beyond it, higher educated profiles would easily find a job in any sector until the crisis arrived and offer flooded the central northern European countries.

Unfortunately, the era when universities were academia minded is gone and now they are more of technical specialization school. Master don't differ that much.

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yafkari profile image
Younes

I will try not to say thank you at the end 😂👌🏻

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José Muñoz

thanks for sharing this article, for POC/minorities "getting a foot on the door" is the norm, I think its important for every person to understand that job listings are wishlists, and if you think you'd be able to do the job, you should apply. Don't sell yourself short, know your worth!

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Matthew Hall

Hate to burst your bubble man but you didn't have more knowledge than 98% of CS grads. Stop exaggerating.

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vlom31 profile image
vlom31

"go ahead and delete your computer" made me lol 😅
Good article with some good insights, and congrats on landing the job 👌

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mindset profile image
Jayesh Tembhekar ⚡

I also want to make my cv.
Which cv generator you are talking about?

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tristanmastrodicasa profile image
Tristan Author

Personally, I use VisualCV

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mindset profile image
Jayesh Tembhekar ⚡

Thank you 😊

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bluenpurplethingy

What's a way to choose a niche or something to specialize in? Like if I wanted to devote much of my time to a language and framework how would I or anyone else go about it?

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davidmm1707 profile image
David MM🐍

You'll become great at that. You write fast, secure and professional code.

Instead, you can learn a lot of languages and frameworks, only to do something a bit more complex than a "Hello World".

The money is on specializing.

Learn how to write code on something. Then do it fast. Do it good. Learn the ins and out of that framework. Learn how to do tests to make it secure.

Learn the answer I wrote to Tristan, there I write more about this topic.

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Phillip Ollison

Great advice and tactics Tristan!This helped me so much! Thank you!!!

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tristanmastrodicasa profile image
Tristan Author

Good luck to you bro

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gcoppola8 profile image
Gennaro Coppola

Hello Tristan,
nice story and good luck for your future then.
Are you or do you speak Italian? Because I read "mastro di casa" in your name.

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tristanmastrodicasa profile image
Tristan Author

I am part Italian yes, don't speak it though :/

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gcoppola8 profile image
Gennaro Coppola

You have time to learn it :)

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Savannah Mastrodicasa

35$ isnt good enough

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tristanmastrodicasa profile image
Tristan Author • Edited on

Savage 😂😎

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