Learning to code is the ultimate career-booster, whether you’re looking to elevate your current skill set or make it your full-time work. Having software engineering skills can land you a job in nearly any industry, including tech startups, financial services, media, and beyond.
Coding knowledge is power — whether you’re an independent business owner, creative professional, or simply someone with an interest in the web. When you know how to code, you can build your own website and have full control over your web presence. If you work regularly with your company’s web team, you’ll be able to speak their language and improve communication — and you’ll be able to make some changes yourself instead of calling on them to do it.
Austin-based developer Mike Dang found his passion for software engineering in an unlikely place: a college economics class. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, he dabbled in the startup world before going on to develop websites for organizations like the U.S. Air Force, Pepsi, and Nokia. He’s now a software engineering instructor at General Assembly Austin, where he trains future generations of passionate web developers.
We spoke with Dang about starting out in the field, building a great portfolio, and getting involved in the Austin coding community.
What can a person or business accomplish with strong web development skills?
Being able to code and develop websites is a skill that can carry across to many disciplines. You can pursue paths like mobile development for iOS or Android, use the programming language Python for data science, or create standalone desktop applications. There are also indirect benefits for other jobs, because to be a successful programmer you have to be a great problem solver. This is a skill that requires time to develop, as every new project is a new puzzle to solve.
What are some of the job roles you can land or types of companies you can work for as a web developer?
In addition to developing websites, you could work in mobile development, product management, QA testing, or managing infrastructure and supporting other developers in development and operations (DevOps). You’re not just limited to technology companies. For example, a lot of my background is with advertising and marketing agencies. These days, you won’t have to go very far to encounter a company with software engineering needs.
How were you introduced to software engineering?
I fell in love with software engineering during my junior year in college. I had to build a website, and no one in my group wanted to learn how to do it. I took it on, and while putting it together I knew right then and there that this is something I wanted to continue learning about and working with.
What are some common misconceptions about the field?
A lot of people go into software engineering thinking it’s laid back. That’s true to a certain extent, as developers often enjoy relaxed dress codes and many are able to work remotely or from home. However, keep in mind there will be many nights and weekends that you’ll be devoting to becoming self-sufficient. I don’t recommend that new developers work remotely. It’s important that you’re able to communicate and learn from more senior developers, which you don’t get to do if you’re operating in your own bubble at home.
What resources would you recommend for someone interested in pursuing coding and software engineering?
Online resources like General Assembly’s Dash are great for building a foundation when starting out. Also consider taking classes or workshops to expedite learning and make sure you’re on the right track in regards to what you spend time on.
How can aspiring web developers get involved with and break into the community in Austin?
Take a look at local Meetups and find a few that sound interesting. Start talking with other developers — it doesn’t have to be formal. I’ve struck up conversations at coffee shops with other developers I notice writing code as I pass by. Attend events, like at General Assembly, and network there also. For example, General Assembly’s website has a section with great upcoming events.
What advice do you have for aspiring web developers?
More than anything, just start coding. Build out a personal website, a friend’s website, or a business idea, or even take one of your favorite websites and try recreating it yourself. There’s so much you can do, so eliminate excuses and start building!
Nothing is more important for an aspiring web developer than a portfolio. This might sound counterintuitive because you don’t have much to put into it yet, but it gives employers a lot of insight into your capabilities and where you’re at professionally. When you come across a photographer or artist you absolutely love, you don’t stop to ask, “But how much experience does this person have?” You just know they’re capable of doing work you like and that’s what matters. The other reason I say focus on your portfolio is because it’s also one of the few projects you get where you control everything from the idea to execution. Use it as a chance to have some fun and show off your personality.