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How I Made $5K My First Year Learning to Code (and How You Can, Too!)

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Lots of people start learning to code in the hope of getting a well-paid job further down the road. But what if you could actually make money coding while you're still a beginner?

In this guest post, Joe Previte tells us how he was able to make $5,000 in his first year of learning to code, despite only spending $30 on his education.

Here’s Joe!

Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for some of the resources mentioned in this article. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!

Last year, I made the decision to leave my graduate school program and pursue a career in coding. While spending less than $30 on online courses and resources, I earned close to $5,000 in my first year. I also recently landed a full-time job as a front-end engineer. I proved that it's possible to make money coding even if you're a beginner.

Here’s a breakdown of what I earned in 2017 using my programming skills. These numbers are before taxes:

$3,510 – From an internship with a web design agency ($25/hour)

$1,338 – From TAing/instructing for a local meetup ($15/hour for TA’ing and $25/hour for instructing)

Total: $4,848

Getting paid to code

The purpose of sharing these numbers, which are by no means impressive, is to show you that you can start getting paid for your skills sooner than you think. You can actually make money while learning to code.

By the end of this article, you’ll know how to start learning to code, where to find your first paid opportunity, and how to keep yourself motivated. Along the way, I’ll share everything that helped me to develop my skills and make money while learning to code.
 

How to Start Learning to Code

Before you can start making money, you need to begin learning to code! The first question you’re going to ask is, “Where do I start?” I asked myself the same question, but ultimately settled on using freeCodeCamp because it’s free and well-organized, and has a strong community.

freeCodeCamp is a website where you learn to code by completing challenges and projects to get certificates. They organize their curriculum in an easy-to-grasp manner and break everything up into challenges. It feels like a game and the structure provides a clear path to the end goal of a certificate.

Supplement Free Resources With Paid Products

There are so many free resources out there, but there are also resources definitely worth paying for.

I bought a few courses, but the only one I actually completed was The Web Developer Bootcamp by Colt Steele. If you’re looking for a great starting point, I recommend that course. It teaches you HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Bootstrap, jQuery, Node.js, Express.js, and MongoDB in a short period of time.

Make money while learning to code

It’s important to supplement your free resources with paid resources, because the free resources will only take you so far. Usually, the free pieces give you an introduction. The advantage to a paid course is that it will go into more depth. They will take you beyond the beginner level and help you advance more quickly.

Join a Community

Community, community, and more community. I can’t stress this enough. Learning to code is tough and the best way to overcome challenges is with the support of others. Knowing people who are facing the same struggles (or have already worked through them) makes it 100x easier for you. Find a few people or a group with whom you can connect.

Chingu is one of my favorite online communities. It’s a small, focused community that developed from within the freeCodeCamp community. After taking a placement survey, you join an online cohort of people at a similar skill level.

Thanks to joining this group, I made new friendships with people who held me accountable on my journey. We built projects together and grew together. Even today, I still keep in contact with some of them.

My other personal favorite is the #100DaysOfCode community on Twitter, which you can learn more about in this interview on the Learn To Code With Me Podcast. I’ll talk more about this later, but so many coders use Twitter. If you don’t have it, check it out.

Get paid to code

Meetup is a great place to start for in-person groups. If you want one on Facebook, check out the Newbie Coder Warehouse, CodeNewbie, and freeCodeCamp groups. Some are location-specific too.

If you’re serious about getting paid to code, surround yourself with other coders. You’ll learn more, you’ll progress faster, and you’ll be happier.

Listen to Podcasts

When you can’t find time to sit down and learn at your computer, turn on a podcast. It’s a simple way to do some off-screen learning. You can make also better use of your commute time–even if it’s only 10 minutes. You’ll at least be hearing and thinking about code, even if you can't be writing it.

Here are a few to help get you started:

Make Coding a Habit

Habits are hard to make and even harder to break. What if you could make coding a habit you never wanted to break? Imagine where it would take you.

The best way to create a new habit is by doing it every day. This is why Alexander Kallaway created the #100DaysOfCode movement on Twitter.

The basic premise is to code every day for an hour, for 100 days. Sounds impossible, right? You could never find the time. I thought the same thing. So I changed the rules and only coded for 30 minutes a day. You can read more about my first #100DaysOfCode experience here.

Even if you can only do five minutes a day, do it. It will be worth it.
 

How to Find Your First Internship or Job

Some of you are probably thinking, “Yeah, I can relate to everything you’re saying, but how do I actually make money while learning to code?”

When I was asking that question, I decided to seek advice from a well-known developer. His advice completely changed my entire perspective on getting paid to code.

I asked, “How will I know when I’m ready to start applying for jobs?”

He said this:

“It’s worth applying now instead of waiting for the right moment. Because by the time you feel ready, in reality you were ready months ago.”

The point is, you can start way sooner than you think. My first internship started in June 2017. I’d only been coding for six months. Although I found the right opportunity at the right time, it was the decision to start looking that helped me get there.

The worst that can happen is someone says you’re not ready, in which case you keep coding and try again later.

Join Local Slack Groups

One of the best places to find jobs is in your local Slack groups. If you do a Google search for tech organizations in your area, the chances are they have a Slack group.

Since I’m based out of Arizona in the US, these are the groups I found:

  • ArizonaWP – local WordPress community
  • #yesphx – local startup community
  • azwebdevs – local developer community

I found two jobs through Slack. One was my first internship as a web developer in the Arizona WordPress Slack group. They had a #jobs channel where I saw a posting for an internship. After messaging the person who posted it, introducing myself, and sharing my portfolio, I landed the internship.

Get a job in tech

The second paid gig I found was a Meetup TA/Instructor position through the #yesphx Slack group. I did the same thing as before–messaged the person asking if the opportunity was available, sent my portfolio and then was hired!

There are lots of opportunities on Slack channels out there! Do some research on the tech community where you want to find a job, join them, and get chatting.

Share Your Progress on Social Media

Share what you’re doing; it’ll benefit your job search and ability to find work. It shows your friends and family that you know how to code, and they’ll think of you when they need help or know someone who does.

Four friends have reached out to me for help with websites. Two offered to pay me.

This wouldn’t have happened if I’d kept my coding journey to myself. They knew because I shared my progress on Twitter and Facebook. I recommend doing the same. Even if you help them out for free, it’ll get you exposure and help you find your first paid gig!

Be Open to Other Opportunities

My first full-time job in tech was in digital marketing. How did I get it if I didn’t have previous experience or a degree in the field? Simple: they hired me because I knew how to code.

When offering me the job, my boss wanted me to serve in a hybrid role of marketing and web development. I even negotiated a higher salary because of my self-taught tech skills.

When you’re looking to make money coding, be open to opportunities that aren't only coding-related. You might find something you weren’t even looking for because of your new skills.

Front end skills checklist

Download a free checklist that will walk you through all the skills you need to become a front-end developer.

Don't worry. I'll never, ever spam you! Powered by ConvertKit
 

How to Not Give Up

Whether your intention is to change careers or bring in extra money, it can be frustrating when you don't hit your goal as soon as you’d like. But don’t give up! Here are a few ways to keep pushing through.

Keep a Growth Mindset

This field of programming is one where you’ll always be learning. Keep a growth mindset. Remember, intelligence is not fixed. You are not born smart or dumb. You can always learn more and grow.

Always keep an eye out for something new to learn, and remember the words of Gandhi:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Wake up Early to Make More Time

If you’re not progressing as fast as you’d like, see if you can make more time to study by waking up early.

When I didn’t have enough time, I started waking up at 5:30 am to get in a half hour before my day started. I don’t do this anymore, but it was a key piece in helping me progress faster.

It wasn’t fun, but it was worth it.

Do Another #100DaysOfCode

I was close to finishing my second round of #100DaysOfCode and my friend asked, “What are you going to do once you finish?”

My answer? “Celebrate, take a week off, then start the next round.”

Coding

The beauty of the field of programming is that there will always be a new framework, tool, or technology for you to learn in the near future. It is a forever-changing industry. There will always be more to learn, more ways to improve, and more ways to grow. Remember, you don’t have to know everything to start getting paid to code.
 

Key Takeaways

After reading my article, I hope you can leave knowing these three things:

  1. You can learn to code on your own. I spent $30 on Udemy courses (and only actually finished one of them) and still launched my career. Anyone can learn to code–at any age, with any amount of time. All you need is motivation and a desire to challenge yourself.
  2. You can make money coding sooner than you think. You’re probably ready now. If you can solve an issue or build something for someone, you can get paid for it. Don’t be afraid to offer your skills up and see how you can help someone.
  3. You can’t give up. Coding is tough, and finding your first paid gig can feel impossible. But it’s not. Stick with it and keep learning every day. The more dedicated you are, the sooner you’ll get there.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Please reach out to me on Twitter @jjprevite if you’d like to stay connected, share your story, or say hello. I love meeting others who are on a similar journey. And if there’s any way I can support you on yours, please let me know.

About the Author

Joe Previte is self-taught and works as a full-time front-end developer. An avid traveler, he's visited 11 countries and has studied four foreign languages. In the summer of 2016, he rode his bicycle down the coast from Seattle to San Diego raising money for a nonprofit. In his spare time, he does freelance work, teaches basic coding skills at a local meetup, and leads an online meditation study group.


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