From Learning to Earning: A Comprehensive Guide to Navigating Your Tech Career

February 15, 2024
February 16, 2024
February 15, 2024


In this special guest issue, tech industry experts Matt Lawrence and Mike Karan are thrilled to share insights from another industry expert who has significantly impacted the tech world, James Q. Quick! With a wealth of experience and an engaging teaching style, James has helped countless individuals navigate their tech careers. In this comprehensive guide, you will learn from his expert advice, from starting your tech journey and landing your first job to planning the next steps in your career. Whether you're just beginning your tech journey or looking to level up, you'll find invaluable insights and actionable tips to accelerate your path from "learning" to "earning" in the tech industry!

Topics covered in this article include:

  • Starting your tech journey
  • Choosing a tech job role
  • Selecting a learning path
  • Time management for learning coding
  • Benefits of online courses
  • Building your own projects
  • Creating a portfolio
  • Differentiating yourself in the tech industry
  • Building your network
  • Expectations from your first tech job
  • Career growth after getting hired
  • Planning the next steps in your tech career
  • Building your online presence
  • Sharing what you learn and content creation.
  • Introduction to Astro framework

About James Quick

James Q Quick is a seasoned professional in the tech industry with a passion for teaching and has over 20 years of experience. He holds a degree in Computer Science from Vanderbilt University, served as a Technical Evangelist at Microsoft, and is currently a full-time content creator.

He is well known for his weekly programming videos on his YouTube channel, which boasts nearly 200K followers! In addition to his YouTube channel, James co-hosts a popular weekly podcast called Compressed FM, which focuses on web design and development.

His commitment to the programming community is evident in his motto, "Learn, Build, Teach!" which encourages continuous learning and knowledge sharing. As a frequent guest speaker and attendee at various tech conferences, James has built a strong reputation in the developer community.

Your path to landing your first tech job

So you want to become a hirable web developer, but where do you start? You've most likely heard you should get plenty of practice coding, but what exactly do you code?

James begins his valuable advice by guiding you to "do your research!" There are plenty of tech job roles to choose from, and even tech-related paid positions such as mentorship and even writing articles! πŸ˜‰

Another great tip James gives is to check your local job market to see what tech jobs are available and their knowledge and skill requirements.

A common entry-level tech job is a Front-End Web Developer if you are still undecided.

Once you have decided on the right tech job role for you, you can successfully lay out your learning path, and you will know exactly what coding you should practice!

For your learning paths, you can choose from the three main, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

Learning path options:

  • Self-taught: This path involves independent learning, usually through online resources, books, and tutorials. It allows for flexibility and self-pacing, but it requires discipline and motivation. No formal credentials are provided, and learners must seek out their own opportunities for practical experience.
  • Bootcamps: Bootcamps are intensive, short-term training programs that aim to equip students quickly with the necessary skills for specific tech jobs. They often include hands-on projects and have a strong focus on job placement. However, they can be costly and demanding.
  • Schools: This path refers to traditional education, such as obtaining a degree in Computer Science from a university. This route provides a comprehensive education and recognized credentials, but it is time-consuming and can be expensive. It often includes theoretical knowledge as well as practical skills.

Now, before you reach into your pocket and make a huge financial commitment, let me advise you to start with the FREE self-taught learning path. With this learning path, you will have the financial freedom to find out if a career in programming is right for you! Also, if you eventually do choose a BootCamp or school, you will already be ahead of the class!

We've already got you covered on starting your self-taught coding journey with the following detailed articles:

Once you have chosen a learning path, James advises you to be proactive in ensuring you stay on track! With all the distractions of being bombarded with new technologies and your regular day-to-day challenges, it's easy to veer off course in your learning journey.

Make the time to learn

As James wisely states, we are all busy, so there are no excuses for you not having the time! Be mature and arrange for studying time. I know it's hard, especially as an adult with family responsibilities, but view it from a positive perspective: you are investing in bettering yourself!

Tips for finding time to study include:

  • Before or after work
  • While commuting to work (audio lessons)
  • During your lunch break
  • Listening to educational podcasts or audiobooks during exercise or chores.
  • Dividing study time into manageable chunks using techniques like Pomodoro
  • Swapping your non-tech-related social media time for study time

I listen to tech-related audiobooks and Podcasts while commuting to work, turning my drive into learning class sessions! I also continually listen to content to become a better writer! πŸ“ (Hopefully, it's noticeable πŸ˜…)

Online courses

Taking structured online courses is a great way to learn how to code! These can include YouTube videos, coding schools such as freeCodeCamp and Scrimba, and even paid courses from platforms like Udemy.

πŸ’‘ Tip: Udemy courses have frequent sales for under $20.

Code and build to learn and reinforce your learning

While taking courses and completing the exercises and projects are rewarding, there is no better way to learn how to code than "taking off the training wheels" and building your own projects!

It's easy to fall into what is known as "tutorial hell πŸ”₯," where you end up taking course after course but are still unable to create your own projects without assistance.

What helps me concretely learn a topic covered in a course is creating a project based on that topic and writing a coverage article. Admittedly, it is a lot of extra work, but it is in your own best interest to have the mindset of "you're learning to code," NOT "earning a certification," when it comes to taking these courses.

Create a portfolio

James, Matt, and Mike unanimously agree you must have outstanding portfolio projects! You need to prioritize creating unique and passionately inspired projects to help your work stand out from the crowd of standard weather app tutorials.

James tells us that, all the way back when he was interviewing for Microsoft, the interviewer wanted to see his "hobby projects." You see, it's not enough to showcase projects that are requirements for completing courses. Employers look for motivated individuals who go beyond the call of duty, creating unique and inspired projects that showcase their skills and coding abilities!

James created a Harry Potter trivia app that adequately showcased his coding skills and his passion for creating, which he talked about during his interviews! πŸ‘πŸ»

Differentiate yourself from others

On the subject of creating uniquely inspired coding projects, it is paramount that you successfully differentiate yourself from others! It's currently a tough market and economy, and unfortunately, James informs us that some of his friends have been getting laid off.

James was not immune to this, as he himself was laid off from PlanetScale! However, he managed to transform this unfortunate event into a victory by becoming a full-time content creator, earning as much or even more than he previously made working for other companies! πŸ’Έ

I believe the best way to set yourself apart from others is by building your "online presence." Your online presence is one of your most valuable assets, as it accompanies you wherever you go. Whether you move from job to job, freelance, or start your own company, the people you connect with through your online presence will continue to follow you every step of the way!

You can build your online presence by:

  • Building and maintaining a professional website
  • Active participation in online communities
  • Sharing work on platforms like GitHub or LinkedIn
  • Writing and publishing industry-related articles
  • Creating a YouTube channel or podcast
  • Engaging on social media platforms
  • Contributing to open-source projects
  • Hosting webinars or online workshops
  • Networking through virtual events

Build you network

There is a popular saying: your network is your net worth! Building your network has so many advantages that the topic deserves its own article. To put it simply, networking can be summed up in one word: opportunity!

Shortly after being laid off from PlanetScale, James shares that his DMs were flooded with job offers from people in his network! To be clear, these messages weren't just "There's a job opening at our company." Instead, they were, "We want you to work at our company!" Networking has led to an abundance of job opportunities!

Yes, I understand that James, as a college graduate with a successful YouTube channel, has an advantage when it comes to networking opportunities. However, let me encourage you by sharing my own experience. As a self-taught developer without a college degree, I also receive numerous networking opportunities, including earning a side income from writing articles and providing code reviews. And I am still a student myself, currently learning React!

Following the same advice for building your online presence in the previous section of this article will organically build up your network. βœ”

πŸ’‘James has a philosophy: Work towards doing more of the things you enjoy! By working towards doing more of the things you enjoy, you will also do less of the things you don't enjoy! If you do not consciously follow this, you will be doing yourself an injustice.

When you've landed your first tech job

When you land your first job, you'll be coding every day alongside a team. As a positive outcome, you'll be immersed in coding and all the responsibilities of an employed developer, leading to exponential learning growth! James emphasizes that there is no comparison between spending forty hours a week coding independently and working forty hours a week as a hired developer on a team.

Should you still be learning once you are hired?

So, now that you have made it into the tech industry and are part of the workforce, should you continue your code-learning education? James tells us that it depends. It's going to be a personal decision, depending on your life responsibilities. If your current knowledge level is adequate for your job and no longer worth spending your extra valuable time learning, then you're good. However, if you are career-focused, you should continue learning relevant topics and coding languages.

Pursue dedicated learning time on the job

James firmly believes that you should have dedicated learning time on the job. While it may seem like all your time at work is spent learning when you're new, it's important to have time to explore and learn new things not directly related to your job. You should have allocated time and resources to further your education, such as funding and access to Udemy courses during your work shift.

Now, admittingly, this "learn at work" approach to furthering your education on the job largely depends on your current work culture. While some companies support this learning system, others might view it as absurd! πŸ€ͺ

If the company you are working for gives you a firm NO to dedicating learning time on the job, then that is essentially your "red flag" to consider working your way out of that job! 🚩

Although James is a college graduate with a Computer Science degree, he applauds individuals who climb the ranks and secure high-paying jobs without following the traditional educational path of attending school!

Your continuing path to landing your next tech job

Once you've settled into your first developer job and have been working for a while, it's wise to begin considering the next step in your career journey. Are you now interested in pursuing full-stack development, becoming a tech lead, or perhaps launching your own startup? Only you can answer this question, and the best way to determine the right path is to identify which tech role will bring you the most happiness.

The pursuit of career happiness

Will the higher-paying management position make your job more fulfilling? Or will the lower-paying UI/UX Design position bring greater satisfaction? James illustrates that more money doesn't necessarily lead to greater happiness.

Earning more money

Ideally, if you are happy at the company you work for, you should pursue working your way up the corporate ladder while negotiating pay raises along the way. However, James highlights the unfortunate reality that earning more money within a company can be challenging due to pay rate caps. As a result, the most effective way to increase your income is often through job hopping.

If you can earn more money doing the same work at a new company while enjoying the advantages of collaborating with a new team that offers fresh insights and career growth, then why not seize the opportunity?

Side hustles

James brings to light the empowerment you have as a developer, explaining the power you have to create and build, which provides you the opportunity to build your own product!

Companies not traditionally viewed as "tech companies," such as FedEx, actually incorporate a significant amount of technology in their operations. However, since their tech was developed some time ago, and updating their systems would be laborious, they continue to use that technology.

Savvy coders like yourself often learn and understand how these companies' systems work and then leave the companies to become entrepreneurs and build better products! James tells us this happens frequently.

Share what you learn

A common thread that James notices about the most successful people he knows is that they share what they are learning.

  • Blog post
  • Twitter/X thread
  • LinkedIn post
  • YouTube tutorial
  • Podcast

Although sharing what you learn is not necessary, James does credit it as a "career hack" that can help you excel!

Exploring Astro: A Modern Front-End Framework

Now that you're acquainted with James and have gained valuable insights on navigating your tech career from him, you might be curious about his preferred coding framework, which is significantly contributing to his distinguished career. That framework is Astro!

What is Astro? Astro is a front-end framework gaining traction in the developer community. It sets itself apart from other frameworks with a unique approach: it ships zero JavaScript by default.

When you're building a website, performance is paramount. A sluggish site can deter visitors, leading to higher bounce rates and decreased user engagement. This is where Astro shines. By not shipping any JavaScript by default, Astro ensures quicker load times, offering an improved user experience.

Astro provides the flexibility to write components using your favorite JavaScript framework, such as React, or even just HTML and CSS. These components are then rendered as static HTML and CSS during the build process. This means that even though you may use a JavaScript framework for development, the end product is a static site, marrying the benefits of dynamic development with the performance of a static site.

Not only does James utilize Astro, but he is also a thought leader on the subject and teaches it! Be sure to check out the James Quick Astro course!

James Q Quick links


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My other James Q Quick articles


To successfully navigate your tech career, James recommends first determining the job role that best suits you. Keep in mind that more money doesn't always equal more happiness! Once you've identified your ideal job, it's a good idea to research your local job market and remote positions that interest you to see what tech stack they use. This way, you can establish a clear learning path that includes the necessary frameworks.

Concerning your learning approach, you have three main options: self-taught, boot camp, or traditional school. It's highly recommended to begin with the self-taught route, which allows you to learn at your own pace with minimal financial commitments. Online resources such as YouTube, freeCodeCamp, and Udemy (during sales) are more than enough to learn web development. If you later decide to attend a boot camp or traditional school, you'll already be well ahead of the class!

To thoroughly understand and master the topics you are studying, it's essential to actively code and build projects, as this helps reinforce your learning. It's also important to allocate time for learning, as you will likely be occupied with other responsibilities. Consistency and practice make perfect!

Standing out from the crowd will provide you with a competitive edge in the job market. Distinguish yourself from others by establishing an online presence, sharing your journey through content creation, and developing unique, passion-driven portfolio projects.

James leaves you with this time-tested career tip: build your network! Share what you're learning by building in public and connecting with like-minded individuals. Attend events such as Twitter Spaces, YouTube livestreams, live Discord chats, and even in-person meetups and conferences. When you're ready to enter the workforce, your network could be your pathway to potential job opportunities, and people within your circle may even reach out to you with offers!

Let's connect! I'm active on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Written by...
Michael Larocca

Front-End Web Developer | Writer | Musician

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