From Minimum Wage to Senior Developer - Part 2

In 2013 I took a leap of faith, accompanied by a song, and applied for a position at a prominent Drupal shop. I barely qualified, having taught myself everything I knew about Drupal in the month prior, but I knew they needed front-end developers, and I was starting to get pretty good at this new Responsive Web Design thing. Even though my time there was cut short, it laid the foundation for which I credit my current success. Let me tell you about that journey.

Miss the first entry of this series? You can read Part 1 here

2013 64k/Year

Lullabot is a fully remote agency that does a great deal of work on the Drupal platform. They also have a Drupal training arm called DrupalizeMe which I was using to learn about Drupal as I read blogs, read books and listened to Lullabot podcasts. Through those podcasts I not only learned about their need for Front-end Devs, I learned that one of their owners used to be in a band called Orbit, and a many other employees had a musical background as well.

So when I went to fill out my job application, which required a video to introduce yourself to all of their remote employees, I decided to get a little ambitious. I wrote/recorded/shot/edited a music video. See, I don't have a computer science background, I went to school for audio production, and the job application suggested to get creative with your introduction video. Long story short, my video "Make Lullabot My Home" was an instant hit, and was one of the driving factors in my getting an interview, and eventually a job.

The Rise

This was a great time for me. At Lullabot I got my first taste of real version control, large teams, existing code bases, and well known clients like Pac 12, Intel and Martha Steward. In that year I attended my first conference, spoke at my first conference, traveled to Europe for the first time. It was a huge list of "firsts" for me. But it was also my first time getting fired...

The Fall

In the fall of that year I came in on a large project feeling pretty confident in my skills after several months of skilling up. While confidence is usually a good quality, it can quickly turn into cockieness. I started to mock the current codebase, constantly complaining about the work of others who were probably still on my team. In the end, I don't feel my attitude was so volitile that I deserved termination, but when the client decided to cut ties with my employeer and pin the blame on me, well I can't blame my employer for doing what they had to do.

So here I was, having just started my development career, with a second child on the way, and no way to provide for myself, or my family. Fortunately, instead of giving up, I decided to put myself back out there, taking everything I had learned and accomplished in the past year and putting the call out on Twitter that I was available for work.

The Recovery

There are several factors that contributed to my recovery, as well as the subsequent job I was offered.

  • I took getting fired serious, and was thankful for what I had learned. I could have simply gotten bitter and felt "better than all of them". But instead, I took some great advice from a colleage, swallowed my pride, and worked on converting my cockieness to humble confidence.
  • I'd spent the previous year doing more than just Drupal work to level up in skills and connections.
    • I'd gotten involved in the local development community, attending and eventually starting my own meetup group.
    • I continued to expand my circle of influence by attenging and speaking at conferences, and starting a podcast called SassBites.
  • The connections I made through all of my community involvement were my best source of leads when I started to look for a new job. In fact, it was one of my earliest community connections that lead to what would become my largest career leap yet.

The Lessons Learned

If you are starting your first professional gig, congratulations! Make the most of it. The more you put into your career at this point, the more you are going to get out of it. Dutifully putting in 5 years of 9-5 developing will get you some raises and promotions, but will never yield the dramatic jumps you could achieve by getting involved in this community and looking for opportunities to challenge yourself and skill up.

I'm not saying you need to work 70 hours a week for your employer, but after your 40 hours are done, find a few new areas that you are passionate about, and learn as much as you can. Learning new things is one of the best skills you can aquire!

If you just got fired, remember that you have a choice in what you do next. You can be bitter, and think that everyone was just out to get you, or you can be humble and recognize that you have an opportunity to learn and grow. If you've already accepted the news with grace, don't fear that you are damaged goods. You are not. You are just someone who has been giving an opportunity to show how well you learn, and how quickly you can adapt.

Before you go into an interview accept that you will be asked about your previous employment and practice an honest explination that highlights the lessons you've learned and how you plan to make chances in your next opportunity.

I can't promise it'll be easy. The pain and the fear are real, but the way that you handle being fired will speak much louder than the fact that you were ever fired.

Up Next?

Within weeks of being fired, I'd had several leads, and even an early offer. But I was fortunate to have the time and patience to see through several of the interview processes, as one of them was about to offer me a offer I couldn't imagine possible. I'll write about that next week.