How Jessica Chan went from photography student to successful freelancer and content creator (Podcast)


This week, for our last podcast episode of 2019, I got to chat with freelancer and content creator Jessica Chan – known as CoderCoder on social media – about how she got into tech and started her educational website and YouTube channel.

Jessica grew up around computers, and her mother was a software engineer. But she didn’t take a serious interest in coding until a bit later in life.

After studying photography in college, she held a series of odd jobs before taking a contract data entry position. That data entry job happened to be at a small web dev shop, and while she was there she learned the basics of the trade.

Once she’d honed her beginner’s skills for a couple years, she got her first proper job as a web developer working for a small ad agency. She jumped in the deep end, learned a ton of new skills on the job (most of which she taught herself and figured out by googling and asking questions on Stack Overflow), and gradually got over her intense feelings of imposter syndrome.

“When you’re going up against these people who have degrees in computer science and engineering, it really creates strong imposter syndrome. And unfortunately I think the only real cure for imposter syndrome is simply time. Just learn one new thing every day and in time you’ll keep progressing in your skills. Just try to make incremental changes and improvements.”

Jessica realizes that part of her difficulties in learning how to code came from the fact that there weren’t as many resources out there online when she was learning. The bootcamp explosion hadn’t happened yet, freeCodeCamp didn’t exist, and it was a lot harder to figure things out. But she pushed through.

And she gained some important perspective on learning to code – which, she admits, is really, really hard. But after sticking with it for a while, she learned something important:

“Over time, I learned that if I just spent time googling, asking people, finding and reading documentation, I knew I’d be able to figure out pretty much anything. So that realization that I could teach myself was a big confidence boost.”

After about four years with the ad agency, she moved across the country and started working remotely. Which led her to realize she wanted to be her own boss. She also started her educational website and blog, Coder Coder, around that time.

“I felt really passionate about coding – I really love web development. And I think seeing how many other people were struggling learning – I was part of these groups for newbie coders and I saw all these questions I had when I was learning to code. So it stemmed from my desire to help beginners and add my own voice and style to the other resources out there.”

To give herself more time to work on the site and her side projects, she decided to strike out on her own and get into freelancing.

Now, Jessica writes articles for her blog and other sites (including Developer News), posts tutorials and info on Instagram and Twitter, and has lately started live streaming on YouTube. She focuses on CSS, responsive web design, and other web dev topics.

One of her goals for the coming year is to grow the YouTube channel and work on creating super high quality videos with her video editor/animator husband. And she’s working on another huge project: a course on responsive web design for beginners. She has all sorts of fun ideas about how to make it engaging, so be on the lookout.

In this episode, Jessica discusses so many valuable skills developers should have, like

  • how to teach yourself to code
  • how to beat imposter syndrome
  • how to be your own mentor
  • how to work with clients as a freelancer
  • how to get the most out of online tutorials
  • and how to tackle the job hunt

among many other beginner-friendly topics.

Regarding the job hunt, and building your portfolio, Jessica offered this perspective:

“First of all, focus on learning the basic skills. Then once you have the skills to create portfolio projects, that’s a huge thing that can help you even if you don’t have actual clients. You don’t have to have an actual working website – but you need to be able to demonstrate to a potential employer what your skills are. Because if they can’t see what skills you have, why would they hire you?”

And she’s all about encouraging new developers to keep going and not give up. She knows how hard it is to learn to code – again, it’s really hard – and she offered a treasure trove of helpful advice (like setting sustainable pace for your learning, having realistic expectations of yourself, and finding an online community).

Check out the episode to hear all of it first-hand. It’s a one-hour listen in your favorite podcast player app – just search for “freecodecamp” and you should find it.

If you have an Amazon Echo, you can just say “Alexa – play the freeCodeCamp podcast.”

Or you can listen to it right here in your browser.

You can find Jessica on Twitter here.

Check out her website here.





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