How JavaScript Helped Me Land A New Dream Job



If you talk to a group of junior developers, you’ll likely receive one of three main answers to the question, “Why are you a web developer?” Many—if not most—are motivated by what they don’t want to be: a waiter; a bartender; a sales rep; a broke artist. Others lucked into computer science in college. Still others will say they just wanted a job that was more flexible than the average 9-to-5.

And then there’s me. I became a developer because of a PDF.

It wasn’t part of my five-year plan. Actually, it’s somewhat laughable: I studied journalism in college, with an emphasis on print media. Thus, I came out with zero web development skills—pretty unusual for a journalism grad. Today’s young journalists graduate with an arsenal of digital skills that extend far beyond “being good at reporting.” A reporter needs to be good with a camera, skilled with video, and—in order to get hired at big-name publications—be able to execute on his or her ideas for digital stories.

In other words: The best and brightest of today’s young journalists and content marketers know how to code. Needless to say, I did not—nor did I think that I needed to learn.

Who Needs to Code, Anyway?

I had come to D.C. and landed an awesome job as an editor and digital marketer at a startup incubator. My job was to source and create content that highlighted the amazing innovations taking place in the world around us. It was my dream job.

Or so I thought.

I quickly realized that my goal to create compelling digital stories was meaningless. After all, I was only pumping out words, publishing static, black text on a white screen; the format of these stories wasn’t compelling or innovative. Still, I had big ideas about the kinds of content my company could create—if only we had a web developer on our media team.

I spent an entire year wishing that the money to hire a media-minded web developer would magically appear in our budget. It never did. I finally hit my breaking point when my company produced a 100-page report on innovation last spring. We had the option to create some interactive JavaScript graphics; instead, given the extra cost of developing the graphics, other members of my team elected a cheaper option: to simply format the report as a PDF.

That PDF broke my resolve. Three months later, I quit my job and enrolled in GA’s full-time Web Development Immersive. If my company couldn’t hire a web developer to make my life easier, then I would become a developer myself.

Learning to Code

I had no idea that would be such a difficult commitment to make. I entered WDI with no real programming background—the closest I came to computer science in college was embedding a tweet in WordPress—and it felt like drinking from a fire hose. As it turns out, learning JavaScript is hard.

Yet, throughout the course, I found a way to stay motivated: I created opportunities for myself to merge my two big interests, JavaScript and journalism. As a result, the rewards of using JavaScript came fast and furious: I used it to build a website that sorted articles based the time it would take to read them. At a hackathon—just 4 weeks into the course—I used AJAX to read from an API and create a tool to help determine a photo’s copyright data; my team won first place. My final project, a source and story management app for journalists, ran on Node.js.


For her final project, SourceFourth, Melissa used JavaScript to create a custom search function to let users search for different contacts’ names. She also used JavaScript to enable ‘privacy’ mode by adding a click event that activated a special CSS class.

Then, four days after the course ended, I parlayed those experiences into a job offer from the Washington Post.

A New Dream Job

These days, I’m still writing—code, not journalism—and my new job tests my skills every day. My behind-the-scenes role is to build features that house the work of the Post’s talented news reporters and graphics editors. They’re creating exactly the kind of content I had always envisioned—and I get to play a role in it.

My role is small for now, but I learn more about JavaScript every day. I don’t know everything in the language yet, but I do know this: The initial struggle of learning JavaScript is worth it.

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About Melissa Steffan

Melissa Steffan is a web developer at the Washington Post and a WDI D.C. graduate. She is proof that you don't need to meet all of a job post's "required skills" in order to get hired because she still doesn't know Java. Prior to the Post, she worked as a digital marketer, content editor, and reporter—sometimes all at once. You can view her personal website here, or read more of her writing on Medium.