how to become a programmer with no experience

Ivan sharing how to get a programmer job

If you are someone who’s looking for quick tips on a quick win, this is not something you would want to read. However, if you belong to any one of the following bunch, read on and let me be part of your motivation to get you to somewhere beyond your imagination.

  1. Underdog
  2. Didn’t have the luxury to receive professional training in any industry
  3. Want to achieve above and beyond, but feel stuck at where they are
  4. Always being lowballed by HR and companies because of less famous Universities or only worked for less well-known companies
  5. Want to have bargaining power in the professional scene
  6. Job-hopper with difficulties at landing on programmer job opportunities that are available to “cleaner” CV owners

What you will be reading is how I made opportunities available to me. All my working experience have been totally different from my university studies, and radically different from one and another. However, that did not stop me from getting on opportunities that are almost unimaginable to me at the first place. So, what I’m about to picture for you is a road map where you can use as a guide to fall back on even when everything is not in your favor.

As I always tell other people, that my resume and my project history is like “Where is Waldo”. It sorts of tell a story when you are far away enough from the book, but if you look carefully, everything is on their own, having their own story and reasons behind them. Every HR and headhunter get puzzled by how unconventional my working history is and confused by how I can help them reach their monthly target without creating a cloud of chaos.

The best thing about my approach is, you don’t need to be a prestige student, nor a fancy background to make things happen for you. Becoming someone who you want to be, has little to do with who you are, but more of how much sacrifice would you be willing to take up to become who you want to be.

Where everything started

Without further yapping, here is a highlight of my starting point:

  1. Second last final grade of the year back in High school
  2. Failed in a final year course by telling off the professor that her class was useless and boring
  3. 0.5/10 in grammar test in year 2 of University
  4. Failed 5 times level 5 piano theory
  5. Took an extra 1.5 year to graduate from a business bachelor’s degree
  6. Have a working history as messy and unfocused as the beloved book “Where is Waldo”
  7. Got rejected countless time by all sizes of companies
  8. Got fired without getting paid more than once
  9. Was working 4 different part times after college because no one wants to hire me full-time

What lies in between

Over the years, because I must do whatever to stay alive. I’m not ashamed of where I were, because of all the precious experiences I gain from every position I’ve been in, where they all contribute to making me a better person than I can ever hope for. Nevertheless, here are the breadcrumb of my working history.

  1. Kitchen help
  2. Cashier
  3. Restaurant server
  4. Tax return specialist
  5. Private English Tutor
  6. Private club waiter
  7. Hardware (Window and doors) sales
  8. Translator & Interpreter
  9. Digital Marketer
  10. E-commerce Manager
  11. Full-stack programmer job

Where I am now

I’m still not happy about where I am at, just because I realize the world is so much bigger, and I have no intention to stop and be satisfied by where I am at this moment. Yet, this is where I am at after thrashing in the swirl of directionless swamp.

  1. I run an independent digital studio agency called “Cohort 6 Productions” in Hong Kong
  2. I went on a business trip with Tencent and UNESCO
  3. I am a mentor at Startup Weekend; helping teams to refine their business ideas and investment pitches
  4. Receives invitations to do company training on digital marketing

How to get there

The difference between before and now is huge but knowing what’s the result without the how-to is just yapping. Before I bring the entire experience together without losing you, here’s the gist of my story, and what I think are the most important things to keep in mind and doing no matter where you are aiming.

What to keep in mind (Mental compass)

  1. Sympathetic

You also prefer dealing with friends rather than strangers that do not understand you at all, so make sure you treat and understand those who you come across with patience and honesty.

  1. Listen

People listen to themselves, but not the others, and you’ll be surprised how much people can talk about themselves because most people are the advocate of themselves. Yet, you will find this to be most helpful because answers lie between lines for most cases. The more attention you pay, the easier to grasp what the situation is.

  1. Stay Real

Show it, don’t fluff it. I cannot stretch enough of how important this is. You are a brand, you are a product, what you say represents who you really are. Whatever you deliver is part of the integrity and reputation of your personal brand. I’ve seen too many cases where people pulling fancy words and projections out of thin air and never deliver. That’s just bankruptcy for your personal brand that’s beyond salvation.

  1. Apologize when thing goes wrong

Knowing your own position is basically the fundamental cornerstone of improvement, also showing that you can see past your own fear and ego is a form of true courage. Not to mention, it takes less courage and powerful to look chic and cool comparing to acknowledging your own weakness and looking for a resolution to the shortcoming.

  1. Be Generous

Life is a long-term investment, not a Saturday-night gamble. Put it this way, what you do won’t always be helpful now of encounter, but it would be a trade of impression. Also, I truly believe that the true meaning of being powerful is how much lives are being improved or changed by that person. You don’t change anything without providing an inspiring, which both can only happen when you are the giver.

  1. Be Helpful

Not only you are helping others, but to make it clear of how other people can help you as well. The fact is, I grew up in quite a traditional family setting, where people in our household are not great at communicating about our needs. Silence treatment, yelling, emotional blackmailing, expecting the other to read one’s mind, these are the things that happen all the time.

Perhaps, this is the case for a lot of people as well, where clients expect you to help them, and they get mad when they don’t get what they wanted. The thing is, if you are in a position where you feel trapped, don’t expect everyone would share the same experience as you do. We might have a similar experience, but we might not feel the same thing.

The only way to approach thing is that patiently walk those who wanted to help you through, of how they can help you to get out of the sticky situation under reasonable circumstances. Never take anything for granted.

  1. Focus and prioritize

The world is filled with noise and distraction. The focus is one of the most precious skills that one can have in growth, especially when everyone in the age of digital is screaming for your attention like a 2-year-old.

  1. Everything is personal

When you are working, and you think that “work is nothing personal”, that’s when you are done for. Yes, professionalism is an attitude, but if you think of it, there is no such thing as professionalism. It physically does not exist, the only thing that exists was part where everything is the interaction of human and the exchange of knowledge.

  1. Read, read as much as you can

The more you read, the humbler you will become. For someone who does not read, or just cannot read for some reasons, it’s alright to pick an alternative method to absorb knowledge. Never let your mind sit at a tiny, moldy corner of the world, blurred by the illusion that is “stability”.

What you should be always doing (Execution map)

  1. Collaborate on different projects

The world is large, and it’s a real pleasant when you find out there are people that can help you grow while you help them grow at the same time. Never waste time on pondering whether you should do something or not, but to connect with those that are passionate and show the world what you can do. Life is not worth when not explored, but you don’t really have to explore the world all by yourself.

  1. Show me your thoughts

This is somewhat controversial against the “result-driven” mentally, and for the reason why I mention this is because after all these years of doing different projects and working in different industries, the one common factor that contributes good work is the people and how they think.

There are a lot of ways to success, and sometimes there are hitchhikers that got real lucky with where they are, however that does not guarantee good work. To be able to tell whether someone is the real deal, where they really spend time on perfecting their crafts and skills, all you must do is to find out how they come up with the answer. Even it might not be the most optimal answers of all possible results, you’ll always be surprised by what you can find in the details.

  1. Connect with people

There is no point of building a castle inside a cave without anyone knowing how beautiful it is. It’s crucial to also let others know what you’ve been up to, and how you can be part of their plans as well.

  1. Ask for feedbacks

Well, there are just far too many learning gurus talking about this, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

After listing out all the quick overview of what can help you land on your dream career, I think sympathetic is the fundamental foundation that brings this thanksgiving-y, gravy-thick stew together in one sitting. It helps one to open doors that are not obvious to anyone, granting power to connect to anyone who you encounter, or just simply be able to invest resources into somewhere besides yourself and be able to benefit from them in the far future by surprise.

But it’s hard to convince you that this has anything to do with building a dream career, so here is an interaction with a customer that I had in my earlier days, where I opened doors that are not obvious, landed on opportunities that were not there before.

Story time

I remember back when I was still working at Home Depot in my university years, a young hot-headed fella just trying to make dues. Got rent to pay, trying to get out of school while trying to not fall asleep in class after a 52-hour of “howdoyouturnthison”. Money and work was only a mean for me to pay my dues.

It was a Friday night, the blasting Justin Bieber and the piercing smell of cheap alcohol reeks through the school dormitory. When everyone is getting on with their Friday rave with legs wrapping around with one and another, the only two things were wrapping around my waist was my unborn ring of fat and an orange apron with my name written across.

Back then I was working at Home Depot where I’m responsible for selling hardware, ranging from shades and windows to bathroom doors and garage gates.

When I was ready to clean up the aisles, a ferocious monster we call “customer” crept up to one of the screen doors, staring at it like it was painted over with the newest issue of Playboy. If it was true, I would be the one staring instead of him.

Perhaps die young and early was by death wish, so I sneaked up on the monster with a deadly dosage of “how can I help you”, following up with a killer smile hoping to disarm him without putting up too much of a fight.

“I’m fine to thank you.” A standard response to a standard courtesy, yet it’s almost as cold as the silence treatment when your wife/girlfriend tells you that everything “is fine”.

The moment of awkward where you know you can be excused, but you sort of already invested into the relationship that you’ve just built over the one sentence, and you are too invested to just leave without a fight. Any sane person under that circumstance would be happy to stroll away from the customer. But since there was no sane in me, I soon find myself standing side by side with the customer, ready to make some stupid comments that I’ll regret one day.

“I can see myself buying those beautiful screen doors for my house, but it would be a great disappointment when the installer finds out, they will be installing two screen doors onto a townhouse built from pure imagination and an hourly wage of $10.55.”

It’s not that difficult to imagine what is going through the customer’s mind, to list a few, “what the hell is he talking about”, “why is he still talking to me”, “this is so awkward”, “why is he making a fool of himself”. I think this is the most reasonable reasons for my outrageous behavior.

“Hahahahahahaha, that’s is very true. I think I’m looking for what you are talking about. Can you tell me more?”

Oh. My. God. The “monster” has spoken, and the rest is history.

We got to chat about why he was staring at the screen door so hard without S-line models, and what’s at the back of his mind. For about 30 mins into the conversation, he made a purchase of 2 white solid screen door and a garage door for his garage.

What just happened

To me, landing deals, building businesses, carving a career is equivalent to building a relationship. If you strip the whole world down to the bare bone, companies, and positions are just people getting together while aiming for a common goal. The only difference between a tribe trying to conquer the entire map riding horses and a multi-trillion-dollar company trying to conquer the entire internet with black Friday sales, is scale. Don’t get me wrong, I have mad respect for those who can scale it up beyond imagination, but the essence has never changed since Adam and Eve.

Back to the story, here is what I did to connect and build my relationship professionally, hence building my career by interacting with my customer.

I want to be helpful without the thought of pushing the customer to buy anything from me, and to achieve that, I must consider what he really needs at the point. Is trying to get him to land on a solution is THE thing that he really needs or someone that he can trust to help him untie his tangled thoughts? While being someone outside his messy thoughts, one thing I can do for the customer is to help him find out what the priorities are. Buying isn’t always the solution, because money doesn’t really solve many problems unless you understand where to spend it. Hence, helping the customer to understand what his problems are was my way of approaching the problem.

Now, there isn’t much for me to fluff because the goal for me is to be helpful in the long run. I want to build a rapport with who I talk to just because I want to be treated the same way when I’m in the same position. I don’t want someone to start pushing products onto my face without even knowing the reason why I was looking at the first place. It hurts me more when I spend money on things that don’t help me at all, rather than making up my mind later than I was hoping for. So, taking my time to just chill and strike up a casual conversation seems to be the most appropriate options, other than chant naked while bathing in door hinge lubricants to draw attention.

A man strolling in Home Depot in a time where only people without company would kill time, the only sane thing left for me to do isn’t really selling, but to chat and chill without the Netflix or beer. Obviously, cracking a joke while relating to the person goes a long way, just a nice little gesture that comforts the other person without asking for anything to build the connection.

You can always be the bigger person and be generous even it means giving out happiness to the others without expecting anything in return. As soon as we connected, all that’s left for me to do is to listen to the situation of the helped and figure out how I can be of help within my reach and capability. Just because you should not treat every encounter at the last encounter of your life, but an initiative of your life-long relationship with who you are trying to help. Just chill and be there for them. Also, you don’t help others because you want something in return, because most of the time they return in the most unexpected way.

At last……

The world is your oyster, opportunities are for those who are willing and ready to take things above and beyond.

Also, I know it’s not easy to find the lighthouse of yours, so don’t you hesitate to connect with me if you have any questions, or you just need some pointer to get things started. I’m more than happy to help as long as I know how I can be helpful to you.

P.S. List of reading and resources that I come across over the years

This is just opinion, but I don’t really enjoy books with MSG, because I don’t believe in quick wins in life. Everything lies in details and foundations, the more details that you pay attention to and the more solid the foundation you build on, the closer you are to succeed.

Thinking

Thinking fast and slow – Daniel Kahneman

When to Rob a Bank: …And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants – Steven D. Levitt

Do You Still Think You’re Clever? Even More Oxford and Cambridge Questions! – John Farndon

The Art of Thinking Clearly – Rolf Dobelli

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe

The Design of Everyday Things – Donald A. Norman

Management

Zero to One: Notes on Start Ups, or How to Build the Future – Peter Theil, Blake Masters

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days – Jake Knapp

Writing skills

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction – William Zinsser

Interesting reads that gives you a unique flavor

The Funniest Thing You Never Said: The Ultimate Collection of Humorous Quotations – Rosemarie Jarski

Green Eggs and Ham – Dr.Seuss

I am a Product / Marketing geek in tech, currently running a digital studio in Hong Kong focuses on web experiences that converts customers.

I believe in creating memorable user experiences and working effectively. You can always connect me through LinkedIn. I enjoy writing about personal improvements, programming and digital marketing on Medium from time to time.

Also, I like to spread my imaginations throughout projects, where you can find them on my Behance or my homepage.

Ivan is a full-stack programmer and a digital marketer who based in Hong Kong. He facilitates collaborations with programmers and designers to powerup startups and SMEs by building web products and applications as a service.

Ivan is passionate at writing about personal improvements, business mentoring, programming and digital marketing on Medium or LinkedIn, also does projects from T-shirt designs to 3D modeling during spare time, where you can check them out on Behance. For breadcrumbs to his recent activities visit www.ivanoung.io. Do not hesitate to drop him an email on any interesting ideas or opportunities, he promise he won’t bite.

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