Sebastian Neferu Finance My Journey to Full-Stack Developer: How I Learned To Code In A Year

My Journey to Full-Stack Developer: How I Learned To Code In A Year

Looking Up: The Journey Begins

You want to know the makings of a web developer?

Fours hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year.

Multiply that by ten, and you’d have a world-class developer…but until you can find one, you’ll just have to settle for me.;)

And why do all this?

Because of curiosity.

The allure of uncharted territory, the skill of virtual wizardry.

Because of the rage-to-master.

The challenge of a new topic to feed on, fresh prey for the mind to rend asunder.

And, of course, there’s the money.

If you’ve got it, throw a glance the way of my CV website.


Standing Straight: The Codecademy Keyhole

From January 1 2018 to February 1 2018

Ah, good ol’ Codecademy .

What coder wouldn’t rememeber their kindergarten?

Especially one that takes the shape of a robot teacher.

But then again, so do its competitors: Treehouse Team, FreeCodeCamp, Pluralsight…

(Don’t get me wrong here; their support and community are quite good, but not built into the courses themselves)

Yet, its courses are unique: “Introduction to HTML”, “Learn CSS”, “Introduction to JavaScript”, “Make A Website”, “Deploy A Website”…they were all worth the cost of my free Pro trial.

Their strength lies in structure: step-by-step explanations, concepts building upon one another, exercises to test each increment of understanding; neat, orderly, precise.

Their weakness is also structure: static, simplistic, conveying no passion, inspiring no action; the anatomy of dead code, not the physiology of a living program.

To become a web developer, I needed more; I needed to be immersed in code as it emerges into being.


First Steps: The Udemy Doorway

From February 1 2018 to March 1 2018

Udemy claims the lion’s share of my education: a couple Franklins for a couple dozen of its best masterclasses.

Its flimsy certifications break down under such brand-names as Coursera, Edx, or LinkedIn Learning.

But at ten bucks for a seventy-hour complete bootcamp from a certified academic instructor, it fits the bill like no other.

(Hint: Watch out for the sales. Or buy through your company.)

Certified or not, I had great instructors. Fun yet professional, comprehensive yet concise, smart yet modest. Some more smart than modest, some more the other way around. But all pros who knew their stuff, and knew to teach it well.

Their courses delivered. Projects built from the ground up before my very eyes, often by my very hands. The nitts and grits of web development, explained with the minute details that you can only hear from a pro. High-brow concepts that boggle your mind, used together in techniques that blow it away. What can I say…I was hooked 😉

Their support rocked. The Q&A is a treasure-trove, and I’m a treasure-hunter. So much so, in fact, that I became a Teaching Assistant myself, adding jewels to the coffers of Jonas Schmedtmann, my first instructor. (He adds some to mine too :))

Take for instance Jonas’s “Build Responsive Real World Websites with HTML5 and CSS3“. There you have semantic HTML, organized css, a bag of jQuery tricks, the best web design resources – fonts, icons, favicons, packages etc. -, and basic responsive design, blended together into a one-page company site. You have the philosophy of coupling quality code with quality design. And to top the cherry, you have me, in the Q&A (limited time offer! ;).

Oh, so you want more than the basics? Then I’ll see you in Jonas’s “Advanced CSS and Sass: Flexbox, Grid, Animations and More!”. Now that’s some cutting-edge css skill-set you’ve got now: using Sass with best practices, enhancing your workflow with Emmet, laying out your sites with grid and flexbox, creating complex timed animations with Bezier curves, and doing advanced responsive design and cross-browser compatibility – with ease. Now that’s like drinking true, quality, well-aged CSS wine, with a fancy flex-box of fine Sass-chocolates, and the bezstier Grid-e oranges.

Does all that moving around of files and folders by hand bother you, and do all those other boring, repetitive tasks seem undignified? Well then, look no further than Brad Schiff’s “Git A Web Developer Job: Mastering the Modern Workflow“. With a straightforward, even-voiced and clear-headed approach, Brad teaches the command line, working in Git from the command line, task automation with Gulp, postCSS, modular file organization, useful NPM packages, mobile-first development and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Now, do you think you’ve got what it takes to do front-end web development? Think again; all you can do for now is static sites with no buzz; no sparkles. So, what are you missing?

Whether you plan to stick with the front-end, or are ready to dive into the back-end, PHP is a versatile, in-demand, and quite useful language. LinkedIn Learning  has a neat one-month free-trial, which should give you enough time to dive into some of its many excellent PHP courses.

Alas, PHP is not enough; to create truly dynamic, interactive websites, you’ll need an audience with the king of the web.


Going For A Walk: The JavaScript Deep-Dive

From March 1 2018 to July 1 2018

For starters, let’s just breeze through Anthony Aliceea’s aptly-named “JavaScript: Understanding The Weird Parts“. Here we’ll peel away layer after layer of JavaScript to get a good look at how it works under-the-hood. We’ll also deconstruct jQuery, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to take a look at other libraries on your own to get a feel for great code.

I know, I know. Theoretic, monotonous, no exercise, no project. Don’t worry, Jonas has you covered once again with “The Complete JavaScript Course 2018: Build Real Projects“. Feel that? The clarity of explanation, availability of practice exercises, multiple great projects, not to mention the great support (ehem). That’s what a complete course feels like. From ES5 to ES8, from the old workflow to the new – including Webpack, Babel, and more -, it’s the go-to course to learn JavaScript from. I went through it twice, the second time just for the pleasure of it; that’s how good it is.

Eager for that next course? Not so fast. Courses only take you so far. After a while, you find that nothing beats a good book (or ten). Now it’s time to pick up “Eloquent JavaScript“ : an expanded, updated variant of Anthony’s course. If you want to know the limits, check out “JavaScript: The Good Parts“. Now, since limits are there to be broken, there’s no better tool to revolutionize your understanding than the “You Don’t Know JS” series. Really, if you only read one thing about JavaScript in your career, this is the one that will help you the most. But since you don’t want to settle for the theoretical minimum, the next best thing to read is “Design Patterns in JavaScript”.

Books, books, and more books…when will we get to chew on the meat of programming: actual problem-solving? You ain’t gonna be interviewed on book references, you know.

Alright, fine. Take what you’ve learned, and go play on CodeWars. Just beware the 4- and 3-kyu katas; they can be a bit addictive.

Oh, now you need help? Fine, let me introduce to you Colt Steele, one of the greatest teachers at Udemy. When his “JavaScript Algorithms and Data Structures Masterclass” was released in mid-August, I grabbed it the second it hit my mail-box. And it was a masterpiece, indeed: take it if you think you’ve got what it takes, which is turning into a problem-solving beast.

You need more help? Well, if you didn’t do much math before, it might be time to start thinking math now. Grab a copy of George Polya’s “How To Solve it: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method”, and learn to think like the best problem-solver: a mathematician. (Polya’s other books are also worth a glance)

If you’re into maths, check out Unizor as well. It’s a gym for the mind, just what a programmer needs to get into shape, and a good warm-up for the weary code warrior.

Now do you feel more confident in your skills? I did too; but how do you go from here to building a thousand-module app? Enter the awesome nirvana…of frameworks.


Picking Up The Pace: Front-End Frameworks

From July 1 2018 to September 1 2018

Angular. React. Vue. Take you pick; or let your ideal job pick for you. Once you’ve learned one, you can learn any other.

I picked Angular to be my first because I could then work with a friend of mine, I liked the versatile data binding, rigorous use of TypeScript, and other details of the technology, and because it opened up great freedom of design.

How so? Just as there’s no big leap from JavaScript to Angular, there’s even less of a leap from Angular to Ionic, and from Ionic to Cordova. That combination, in turn, enables the use of custom-written html and css while developing a cross-platform app, and the integration of native mobile features – like fingerprint id, camera and geolocation – into the app.

Anthony Aliceea proves helpful yet again with his “Learn and Understand AngularJS“. I know what you’re thinking – “that stuff’s out-dated, man!” However, it’s as good an introduction as I’ve ever seen to the core Angular concepts, terminology, and documentation, and the contrast between old and new enables a better grasp of modern-day Angular.

Now, Udemy and I go way back, but this time I gotta hand it to Todd Motto over at “Ultimate Angular” , he knows to teach his stuff better than any Udemy instructor I’ve come across. Covering the latest Angular, TypeScript and NGRX, his courses remain the golden standard for learning Angular to this day.

Since old friends often cross ways, we’re bound to get back to Udemy to learn Ionic with Paul Halliday’s “Learn Ionic 3 From Scratch“. That’s some hands-on learning you got there Paul! Each section accompanied with a small app to see it all in action, and an excellent main project to weave it all together. Nice bonus lectures too.

We’re not satisfied with the basics though, are we? Time to hit the nail on its head again with Paul’s advanced class, “Master Ionic 3 with Ionic Native and Cordova Integrations”. It shows us how to use Cordova in order to integrate native mobile features into our apps.

While we’re in the habit of collecting frameworks, why not give Bootstrap a glance? If nothing else, it would let us rapidly prototype websites to be coded by hand afterwards. And we’re in luck; Colt Steele’s “The Bootstrap 4 Bootcamp” just came out in October. It’s so well-made, you can breeze through the whole framework in a couple of days, and have a cool project to show for it.

Building more momentum, how about taking a shot at Laravel, the go-to PHP framework? LinkedIn Learning comes to the rescue once again with its high-quality, on-demand courses.

Since PHP goes hand-in-hand with WordPress, let’s learn to hand-code themes, plugins and dynamic sites with the all-popular CMS. You’ll never run out of jobs with this one, so grab Brad Schiff’s “Unlocking Power With Code: Become a WordPress Developer” on Udemy, and prepare to spend the better part of month learning WordPress development.

I’d say we now know quite enough to be just about competent on the front-end. Just in the nick of time, since the back-end looks so enticing; and is just a little Node away.


Up And Running: Back-End Networks

From September 1 2018 to December 1 2018

First off, let’s attend a brief orientation session with Aliceea’s “Learn and Understand NodeJS“.His clarity of explanation remains unsurpassed (as does his talent for boring the Dickens out of me).

Next, let’s repeat the JS learning path by taking “NodeJS – The Complete Guide (incl. MVC, REST APIs, GraphQL)“ by Maximiliam Schwarzmuller (since Jonas is running a little late with his Node course planned for 2019).

The creme de la creme of Node courses I’ve flirted with, it earns Maximiliam a spot on my list of favorite instructors. While it beats Azat Mardan’s courses over at Node University , I think it’ll be beat by Jonas’s course once it’s released.

Since every good round deserves a second, Maximiliam had better deliver with his “Angular & NodeJS – The MEAN Stack Guide“ . And deliver he did, although I feel that he merely dipped his feet into MongoDB in this one.

I love deep-diving, so I couldn’t resist putting the last piece into place in the MEAN stack puzzle with Maximiliam’s “MongoDB – The Complete Developer’s Guide“.

Finally, I felt that I’d put off Colt’s “The Ultimate MySQL Bootcamp: Go from SQL Beginner to Expert” long enough. This, together with the PHP I had learned, really helped me crack the back-end in several places.


Taking Flight: Workflow Mastery With DevOps

From 1 December 2018 to 31 December 2018

Now we’ve done it, right? We’re finally there: a full-fledged, full-stack developer…right? Well…kinda.

There are always micro-skills to improve on, and they really make a difference in the aggregate. Throughout my journey, there are quite a few other mini-courses that got an A in my book.

Those include “Web Design for Web Developers: Build Beautiful Websites!”, “Introduction to Web Technologies”, “EMMET Faster HTML & CSS workflow – Best Tool For Developers”, “npm – Mastering the Basics”, “Chrome DevTools: Debug Code Like A Pro”, “SEO Training Course by Moz”, and “Writing With Flair: Become An Exceptional Writer” (what’s that last one got to do with coding? Well, you’re reading all this coding stuff right now ;).

And of course, from my main courses I got some hefty glimpses into cool tools, such as:

– Gulp for task automation, which allows for greater speed and ease of development.

– Git for version control, which allows for greater speed and ease of maintenance, as well as co-ordination between developers and teams.

– ERB – Embedded Ruby -, which allows for modular HTML file architecture.

– Emmet, which allows for greater speed of writing HTML code.

– SCSS, which allows for modular CSS file architecture and greater speed and flexibility of writing CSS code.

– Webpack 4, which allows for modular JS file architecture, and quite a few other things if really mastered.

On top of all that, one last piece kept nagging me. If I were to to nail this puzzle in 2018, I had to get DevOps-serious.

So, I took a trip to Linux Academy and Red Hat Developer , and got myself a couple of courses on Jenkins 2 and Continuous Integration and Deployment.

And that’s all folks: a developer’s one-year journey from code-illiterate to full-stack developer. Let’s give a vigorous round of applause to my Udemy instructors on this one. I might even add a course of my own to it one day.

You know that saying, more passion than time? Well, you do now: and it carves my next year’s learning path. It’s more DevOps, it’s Docker and Kubernetes, it’s React and Vue with all they’ve got.

What’s more, it takes us through the hot spots: Blockchain development skills, in particular as relevant to smart contracts, and Machine Learning knowledge, in particular as it applies to self-driving cars. They both seem fun, interesting, and pretty well paid.

I guess we both know how true it is that “there’s more to do than can ever be done” in web development, much less in a year. But I think you’ll also agree that we’ve come a pretty long way in quite a short time 🙂

But wait, did you actually still think we were “done”? Oh boy, we’ve barely begun on that nice career. Because once we’ve got the skills, we gotta put them to good *cought:auction…ehem…action.


Looking Back: Parting Questions

Let me spare you the trouble of asking: “what would you do differently if you could take another shot at it?”

In a nutshell, I’d keep my eyes on the greens. That is:

1) After having coded-along each course’s project(s), I’d apply my new skills to an independent project of my own. Experience is the best teacher, and I haven’t been its best student it pains me to say. I bet the recruiters can feel my pain when they see my portfolio.

2) As soon as I gained any worthwhile skill at all, I’d make waves in social media – LinkedIn, Stack Overflow (perfect fit for a TA!), Twitter etc. -, cuddle up to recruitment agencies, streamline a dozens-by-the-day job application process, pitch and bid on projects like a maniac, and show off my expertise on my own blog with a gazillion posts.

3) I’d learn the darned language of the place I live in (Germany). Just cuz’ I adore Goethe and Nietzsche, you know? (And apparently so do German employers; some seem to expect me to know them by heart…)

Oh, you meant how I’d go about learning differently if I were to start over?

I just can’t help myself, I gotta brag a little here, and I feel I’ve earned the rights to it: I kinda got it down pat right off the bat.

There’s just this one thing. I loved kindergarden as much as anybody else, but instead of going to Codecademy, I’d rather take one of the following, in order of preference:

b) Colt Steele’s “The Web Developer Bootcamp” and “The Advanced Web Developer Bootcamp”

a) Rob Percival’s “The Complete Web Developer Course 2.0”

c) Andrei Neagoie’s “The Complete Web Developer in 2018: Zero to Mastery”

And if you’re too penny pinching to shell out ten bucks for one of those, the last course’s author has a great article called “Learn to code in 2018, get hired, and have fun along the way” . He just goes right over and spills the beans on all of his course’s sources there. It’s a bit like this article, only way better (hat’s down to you, Andrei Neagoie. 🙂

On the other hand, if you’ve learned to be penny-foolish and pound-wise, grab a view of my CV website. You’ll be happy you did 😉

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8 thoughts on “My Journey to Full-Stack Developer: How I Learned To Code In A Year”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I could not resist commenting. Very well

  2. Will says:

    Thank you for the good writeup. It was actually a
    fun account. Looking forward to speaking with you!
    By the way, how could we communicate? I could not refrain from commenting.
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    1. Hello Will,

      Thank you for your interest; I appreciate you letting me know that you found my post entertaining.
      We can communicate right here on this page, via an exchange of replies. I hope to hear from you.
      Concerning the design of the page, I barely customized the theme at all; I merely chose a lightweight, developer-friendly theme, and chose to focus on content first, with a plan to customize it afterward. But thank you for your veto of amazement with my choice of theme 🙂
      Would you like to share your coding journey here by any chance?
      I welcome guest posts as well, but a comment will suffice. Thanks!

      Kind regards,

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    1. Hi,

      Thanks for the offer!
      Yes, I approve of and in fact encourage others commenting on their own experiences on my blog, including and especially via guest posts. 🙂
      Nevertheless, I would need such posts to meet some minimum quality standards, including the use of accurate grammar, and to have the author’s real and verifiable name attached to them. While I do accept a link to their own website in the post content, I would prefer that it not stand in place of their name. Otherwise, it just looks like spam to me. I hope that makes sense!


  4. Laura says:

    I read through the whole article and really enjoyed your way of infusing fun into the otherwise dull and tedious facts. I also found the information quite useful, with a well-structured outline of the course-marked progression through the levels of knowledge required of a developer.
    Your style is friendly, like sitting at a cafe with your visitors. A subtle dose of nonchalance, as well as a speck of humorous irony, transpires through every paragraph. It was worth the read by itself, doing a good job of inducing interest in development. So, I think you’ve reached your purpose with the article; it’s relevant to the theme, well written and, therefore, accessible even to the layman :))
    I’d be interested to see some of your other, more literary writings, if even out of this technical topic you could make such an entertaining read. Where may I do so?

    1. Hi Laura,

      Thank you for the great review; it’s refreshing to witness such a well-written comment, and I might just want to see some of your writings myself…especially as guest-posts on my blog 🙂
      I have been planning a website dedicated to my literary writings alone, and I’ll be sure to include a link to it here once it’s done. In the meanwhile, check out some of my other articles; some include short samples of a children’s stories book I am writing at the moment.

      Warm regards,

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