How to hang in there: 4 lessons from a self-taught developer and solo-founderFeatured

Hey I'm Allison! I'm a self-taught developer and solo-founder. I battled the ups and downs of learning how to code and breaking into tech all on my own. It was hard, but eventually, it happened. Becoming a developer had a huge positive impact on my life and gave me the skills to eventually start my own business. Doing it all on your own is tough, but for some people, it's the right choice. I wanted to share the most important lessons I've learned from my journey in hopes they can be helpful to you too! Control what you can control Learning to code is an overwhelming experience. And when you're doing it alone, looking for your own resources with no one to ask for help, doubly so. My goal was crystal clear: switch careers and land a job as a developer. But the path to that goal? Clear as mud. At times it felt impossible. I decided to approach this much like a coding challenge: I broke the problem down into smaller ones until it became clear what I needed to do next. Unknowingly, I became a master at breaking abstract goals into tiny, tangible to-dos. Take for instance "learning to code." How does one learn to code? I decided to tackle this by working through free online tutorials. But there were so many tutorials out there. So many things to learn! Even that task felt overwhelming. I decided to re-frame it as "study for one hour after work each day". Now this was doable. When I started to apply for jobs, I broke "get a job" down to "apply to three jobs a day". These tasks were helpful because they were small, measurable, and I didn't have to rely on anyone else to complete them. Nothing felt “impossible” anymore. I ground away at my tiny, achievable to-do list and finally made real progress. Exploit your strengths When my learning began to plateau, I took a stab at getting what I truly wanted: my first dev job. I started applying on job boards thinking it was a shot in the dark. Lo and behold, I got some responses. In a couple of months I started getting interviews. And a few months after that, my first job.At the time, I didn't understand why this was working. My technical skills were mediocre at best and I certainly wasn't the most qualified candidate for the job. But clearly, some employers were looking for more than just technical skill. Instead of focusing on what I lacked, I chose to lean into what I did have: a willingness to learn, good communication, and a self starter attitude. Turns out, this was enough.I didn't need "rockstar" coding skills to get an entry level job, just a good foundation and an eagerness to learn more. The skills I had were enough to get what I wanted. Learn through osmosis In 2018, after working professionally as a developer for four years, I quit my job to pursue an idea I couldn't get out of my head: Fantasy Congress (, a fantasy sports website for politics.I knew I had a lot to learn in order to make this work. I spent a lot of time Googling, "how to start a business," and found dense articles about applying for bank loans, working with lawyers, and hiring employees. None of it seemed to fit what I was trying to do. So I booked a consultation with a local non-profit specifically aimed at helping women build businesses. I asked how to do market research. They told me to go to the library. I asked for book recommendations. They said they couldn't think of any. * facepalm *I was trying to ask for help, but it was clear asking wasn't enough. On some level, you need to ask the right people. Eventually I found helpful online communities like Elpha and Indie Hackers ( Now this was what I was looking for. But joining these communities had an unintentional side effect: I was learning without actively trying. Just by being in the proximity of people doing what I wanted to do, I was absorbing information. This introduced me to terminology and concepts I was previously unaware of, which in turn, allowed me to ask better questions. As a true beginner, there's this problem of, "you don't know what you don't know." For instance, I was well aware I didn't know anything about starting a business. But I also didn't know what to google to fill in the gaps. Surrounding myself with people doing similar things helped move me closer to my goal before having any idea how to get there. Embrace the journey I see this advice passed around often: "Learn to love the journey." This means finding enjoyment in the process of reaching your goals, instead of fixating entirely on the end game. When I first started Fantasy Congress, I thought everything would be figured out within a year. I'd know who my audience was, how to reach them, how to generate revenue...basically everything necessary to make it profitable. What a joke. Building a business takes time! And experimenting! And you're probably going to make mistakes. I realized if I wanted to see this through, I couldn't put a time limit on it. Was I willing to grind away at the same goal for three, five, or even ten years?Admittedly, I'm still figuring out how to "love the journey" instead of fixating entirely on my end goal. But here are some things I've tried that are helping:Blogging - I write monthly recaps ( about what I accomplished and what I need to do next. This has helped keep me accountable and organized. And if I ever feel like I'm not getting anywhere, I look back at past entries and see just how far I've actually come.Competing against myself - Everyone's journey is different. Comparing myself to others made me feel like a total failure. I decided the only person I really need to compare against is my past self. Did revenue increase from last month? Did I generate more leads? If I'm not moving as fast as others, that's fine. What matters is that I'm making progress. Taking breaks - I often feel guilty for not hustling enough or not putting enough hours in. But I've realized that building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. You can't go full speed the whole way to the end, and a sustainable pace is different for everyone.Hope folks find some of this helpful. Feel free to share things you've learned on your "journey" below! And if you’re a code newbie looking for a job, check out my free resource for more stories and tips on how to break into tech.
As someone who is just beginning their “learn to code” journey, this is incredibly encouraging. I also struggled with the not even knowing what to google conundrum when I started my company. It’s not something I think gets talked about enough.
Absolutely. Best of luck on your journey!
Happy to send you some learning to code recommendations if you are up for it!
Yes I’d love that, thank you!
Could you please send it to me too? Thanks
I am please! If you could kindly share!Many thanks in advance!
Hey Allison,This is so great to hear your story! I am so inspired by people being able to teach themselves to code - from someone who went down the university route.So true about the osmosis effect of communities, I've never thought of them like that.
Thanks Sophie :) Glad you enjoyed it!
Love this so much. Thanks for sharing your journey ❤️
Thank you Allison for sharing your story! I’m currently on a self-learning journey and your insight on not needing ‘rockstar’ skills for an entry level job is very helpful.
Glad to hear that :)
Thanks for sharing this, it's definitely very inspiring!
Thank you for sharing this. I'm on the journey of trying to determine my next chapter after 25 years of being in a paid job. I love the 'comparing against my past self', it's so right. I've often dabbled with coding and then stopped and given the no-code revolution today I've thought there could be better things to do with my time but I'm curious to know which language/ course did you emabrk upon?
Hey Samantha, when I started out I was learning HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP on code academy. I think I used some resources from treehouse too. That was in 2013-2014 though. There are many more equally as good resources today. I'd say PHP has also fallen out of favor some and React, Node, Python and Ruby are probably better places to start.
Hey Allison! Thanks for sharing your experience! I started taking coding lessons a few months back and finding a dev job really seems impossible, your advice is really encouraging and I just signed up for your Getadevjob newsletter :)
Awesome! Yeah, finding your first job as a self-taught dev is a grind, but totally worth it. Feel free to reach out if you have any feedback on how to make the newsletter more useful for you!
This is definitely helpful. I’m more than two years in with a very long detour due to a health challenge that I’m only beginning to understand. The pacing thing has been so hard for me. I can compulsively compare and feel like I’m less than. My first things first is to get my health is a good enough place that I can start small again and build from there.
Absolutely. Comparing yourself to others is such a vicious cycle. There are so many factors to take into account, it's impossible to accurately measure your success against someone else's. Hope you find a good pace for yourself and start feeling better!
Hey Allison - thanks for sharing! I love that you share your monthly metrics on your blog as well. 😊Out of curiosity, how long did it take you to learn coding on the side before you were ready to start applying to jobs?
Thanks Mollie! I started applying about a year after I started studying. It took almost a year before I got a job though. So from start to finish, for me it took about two years to learn to code and enter the industry.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Allison! You mention you relied on good communication as one of your strengths. Could you elaborate on what that entails in the context of learning to code and becoming a developer? Any specific examples you could make?I also find that bit particularly relatable where you’re telling about how you went from not knowing what to google to asking better questions. What else did you do to bridge that gap except finding the right people to ask for help?
Good communication was one of the skills I emphasized when applying/interviewing for jobs. It can be as simple as keeping your team members in the loop by writing documentation, commenting code, talking out loud while collaborating, or just shooting them an email. At it's crux, it's about making sure everyone is on the same page and being agreeable to work with (aka, don't be a condescending a-hole). As an example, when I was given a thought experiment during interviews I would work through the problem out loud, allowing the interviewer to see my thought process or course correct if needed. As far as learning new things, asking for help has only taken me so far. Surrounding myself with other people trying to do what I want to do, and reading their content or just interacting with them, has helped me pick up lots of useful information I otherwise wouldn't know about.
Thanks for sharing this Allison. I started learn web development in October and it’s been tough but as you’ve said, making progress is all that matters. I also started a company in August so I’m having a crash course and trying to learn everything that I can. Taking one day at a time and surrounding myself with supportive people has been very helpful. And I love the idea of monthly reflections, I’ll start mine next year.
That's amazing! I'm sure balancing the two can feel like a lot, but you're absolutely right, making progress no matter how small is all that matters. Glad to hear you have a strong support group in place, that's also huge. Best of luck!
Love love love your post. I am also in the phases of dogged persistence with teaching myself how to code, even as I pursue a CS degree full-time (with almost no time left over to build projects, but I am doing it!). I love your story and how relatable it was. What technologies did you focus on in the very beginning to meet your goal of being able to launch your site, and did you find that you were more drawn to video courses/books/or just the tutorials and Googling?Awesome job on Fantasy Congress! It is such a cool concept.
Aw thanks! When I first launched Fantasy Congress, I tried to keep the stack lean and use what I was familiar with. At the time that was Flask, but I've since moved the application to Django. When I'm learning, I usually start with text either in a book or online tutorial. But I like to use all kinds of resources. Sometimes when it's not clicking when I'm reading, I'll switch to a video and things will make more sense.