How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Front End

I’ve been looking for my first web development position for roughly the past 3 months, and it’s starting to take an emotional toll on me. I’ll be the first to admit that making a career transition is hard enough as it is — let alone one into a deeply technical, predominantly male-dominated realm. I’ve been throwing a lot of things at the wall, seeing what sticks, and re-adjusting accordingly.

But something happened this past couple of months. Something bad. I started to feel apathetic toward coding.

At first, it crept up on me slowly with some coding challenges I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. Finding help was difficult, and with so many different ways to solve the same problem, everyone had an opinion. Then, I went to Grace Hopper, and was overwhelmed by the software engineering-geared theme of the conference.

I did meet a handful of web developers, but the vast majority of those represented at the conference were busy solving the world’s problems, one line of code at a time. Most were either students of Computer Science, or had graduated with at least one piece of paper related to CS or Engineering.

I reacted to this initially in a highly emotional, personal manner. Why was I not finding my people here? They EXIST, so where are they? Well, with more than 12,000 attendees and a bit of a natural introversion, I probably just didn’t have the opportunity to cross paths with them.

Furthermore, deciphering what a lot of these “sessions”, or talks, being held really were about was difficult, even with a brief abstract. Honestly, I could and probably should write an entire post on my GHC experience, but I have a different topic to touch on today.

Burnout is inevitable

When I got back home, I realized that I was no longer looking forward to my coding time. I had about 8 different programs I was working on that were broken, but no back-end projects that I was eager to fix, and felt largely disheartened by my inability to get certain things to work properly. Coding challenges were kicking my ass. Technical interviews came and went, perhaps with a follow-up email explaining that while I was a strong candidate, they decided to move forward with someone else.

I think this happens to everyone, regardless of what you’re doing. It’s called burnout, and it’s not the end of the world. I wanted to be creating the things I was mentally building already, but was becoming shy from the bite of repeated failure. Additionally, when you’re up against the wall financially, it’s going to add a layer of stress that enhances that shyness.

I took a couple of weeks to myself, did some more Treehouse classes, and then decided to make a change. I’m comfortable enough with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript/jQuery that I can create some pretty sweet websites. Why not focus on that for a while, and this time, really take the training wheels off? Get my hands truly dirty? Learn out of necessity, instead of by a pre-set “track”? I kept thinking back to my work in June on PHP, and how much I enjoyed the projects I was working on at that time.

Nowhere was it written in stone that I couldn’t switch gears, and focus on something I enjoyed more. So I did.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am re-focusing. My new focus is front-end web development, some freelancing, and I will be giving myself as much time as needed to learn the extensive skills required for back-end problem solving and programming as I need. No more rushing. When I am loving what I’m doing, I naturally move at a fast pace and immerse myself fully.

Front-end is a solid entry point

As most of you have picked up on, I’ve been talking about how much I despise front-end web development. That’s not entirely true.

CSS can be frustrating, sure. JavaScript can be, too. But I think that what I was really shying away from was the culture of software engineering itself. Learning to write programs that accomplish incredibly complex tasks is something that takes time, focus, and dedication.

As I mentioned in a conversation with Treehouse Student Success Coordinator Matt Krzyzynski recently, there is likely a good reason that most self-taught students go on to tackle front-end development first, and land their first jobs in this realm. It’s not only an excellent entry point, but also a very attainable goal. Developing some impressive websites is a solid way to prove yourself as a freelancer, as well as a programmer with a solid grasp of web technologies.

Speaking of portfolios, this is another issue that back-end developers run into. Github repositories are a great way to display your work, but aren’t as tangible as front-end work. As a hiring manager for a developer, being able to see and interact with a site is not only easier, but probably makes it easier to truly gauge a potential hire’s grasp on web technologies.

Also, front-end is one of Treehouse’s greatest strengths in terms of teachers. Guil Hernandez and Nick Pettit guide new students through their baby steps in creating their first website, and they do an excellent job of making complex topics easier to digest. HTML and CSS were my first two course topics on Treehouse, and I was very impressed, as have been many thousands of students since.

I’m not saying that this will ring true for everyone! Your mileage will definitely vary in your own journey to self-taught web development, and as I mentioned previously in “I Will Not Compare Myself to Other Developers”, everyone has to start somewhere. Perhaps you are a back-end savant, and can whiteboard your ideas as naturally as breathing within a month of learning a language. But for the majority of us, replicating a 4-year degree as a self-taught student is going to take at least a few years, if not more. After finding my first position with a company, I will likely be faced with a world of new challenges, along with mentorship and support I didn’t previously have.

Good money and lots of satisfaction can be found in front-end development, whether you use it as an initial entry point to web development as a whole, or as a freelancing career — or both!

Self-taught students: we are not alone!

I’ve been working closely with Treehouse to help make them aware of the issues that we face as self-taught coder, and channeling other platforms in the process. Back in October, I came across Free Code Camp, a free self-education platform that aims to help students build a portfolio and aid non-profits in the process. These types of programs are popping up left and right, and they don’t require a penny to get started with. Even paid bootcamps aim to send students out into the world with at least a handful of projects displaying their front-end knowledge.

Most importantly, I want to really get across the point that while burn-out is inevitable, your success as a self-taught coder is going to be largely determined by how quickly you can rebound from it. Have an emergency plan in case you find yourself beginning to feel apathetic about projects you’ve been working on. There is bound to be something that will get you excited again, and it’s up to you to find it. Perseverance and consistency are key when learning any new skill, and web development is no exception.

As such, I took on my first project of a brand new web portfolio, which is now located where the La Vie en Code blog used to be, at https://www.lavieencode.net. It’s not completely finished yet, and there some broken things, but I’m excited to get them fixed, because my livelihood depends on it. This is my new web home, and it’s important to me. So when you’re looking for your next project, really ask yourself: what’s important to me, and what am I going to find necessity in seeing to completion? You will amaze yourself at what you’re capable of!


Have you experienced self-educating burn-out? How did you realize it, and recover from it? I want to hear about your experiences! As always, you can also keep the discussion going on the La Vie en Code Facebook page, or via Twitter @lavie_encodeHappy coding!