Aspiring Web Developer
Greetings! I'm an 18 year old student currently enrolled in a Texas University and I wanted to ask the Web Developer community as a whole a couple of questions as an aspiring web developer. You see my dilemma is that I've come to the conclusion that college isn't for me. It's not that I don't think I could do well, (I've always done quite well academically) it's rather that I don't believe it is completely necessary in my goal of becoming a freelance web developer. I hated high school pretty much all the way through, and though I did very well, the public education system has never been very appealing to me. I've always been quite adept with teaching myself new things (for instance piano) and I'm quite disciplined and motivated to do well for myself. My goal right now is to teach myself the tools for web development (HTML, CSS, PHP, Java), build a solid portfolio and begin freelance work. I have no prior experience in this field besides a bit of website maintenance in college (EXTREMELY elementary things, not even applicable in real web development except perhaps in site organization). I have plenty of time to learn with no real responsibilities as I'm still practically a kid fresh out of High School.
As well as having an interest in the field I also find myself attracted to the fact that it is possible to do this work anywhere in the world, and I have an intense desire to travel extensively (in fact I plan to live out of an RV or camper as soon as I save enough money to afford one). From what I've gathered from other sources, it would be possible for me to attain the skills necessary to venture into this field within 2 years, keep in mind I would be avidly pursuing this and I learn new things rather quickly. I've talked my desires over with many of my close family members and they believe me capable of attaining anything I set my mind to, and I've received my parents blessing. My Uncle though (who I currently reside with in Texas) is a little bit opposed the idea of me forsaking a college degree and pursuing this (as I would be forsaking a scholarship as well). He strongly recommended me think long and hard about this, though he assures me the decision is mine and whatever I decide he will support me.
So I guess the main thing I'm asking is whether or not you as individual users believe that becoming a self taught web developer is a plausible path. From what I have read from other sources I believe it would be so but I would like to hear more opinions. Also how long do you think a rather intelligent person would take to learn the necessary skills to begin freelance work? What was your personal path into the field? Any tips, experiences, opinions, etc would be appreciated. Thanks in advance!
I think you should knuckle down and get your degree first. Why? Because I dropped out and never finished my degree, and regret it. Not that the lack of a degree has held me back, but I believe that a firmer grounding in the thinking and techniques underlying the web would have made me a better developer.
Just be aware that working as an independent, free-lance web developer -- and actually making any kind of decent money at it -- means you not only have to be good (and fast) at the technical stuff (and also artistic stuff if you plan to do the whole shebang), but you also have to wear several other hats: sales, requirements analyst, cost estimation, accounts receivable, customer account manager, QA/testing, etc.; as well as making sure you have crossed and dotted all the legal T's and I's. All the while, you'll be competing against someone in a 3rd-world sweat shop or some 14-year-old willing to work for a few bucks an hour to do the same thing.
Can it be done: I'm sure it can, but not easily.
If, on the other hand, all you're really interested in doing is the actual technical stuff, life is probably easier working for a dot.com or other company in the business where you can concentrate on doing what you do well, while other people do what they do well (sales, accounting, etc.). Yes, this may mean you can't make your own hours and work from wherever you want, but many tech companies are pretty flexible with schedules, working off-site, etc. Having a degree in an applicable field can help you get your foot in the door at such places, at least past the first resume screenings (though personal networking is probably more effective: an internal recommendation can be huge).
Don't mean to be sounding like you should forget your dreams: just go into it with your eyes open. If you still think that's what you really want to do, by all means go for it -- especially if you don't have to be responsible for supporting a child or other such responsibilities right now, in which case there's no time like the present. You could still take a class or two per semester and continue toward your degree, perhaps? For that matter, you could just continue with your present schooling, perhaps taking close to minimal hours, and spend your free time developing web sites for pay instead of spending money on beer.
Thanks for the quick replies guys. In regards to Jedaisoul's reply, yeah I've had a couple people tell me that, as well as a few who told me that they felt their degree was a waste of time. I find myself torn in deciding whether to knuckle down as you suggest or strictly self educating, I guess the only way to find out is to choose one. Thanks for the insight, but I still think I may choose to self educate, as this would afford me much more freedom in other aspects of my life (traveling for example), as well as allowing me more part time work opportunities as I learn. I may find myself regretting it one day, but I'm prepared to live with that. Another major turn off to the current University I attend is the way that the scholarship works. It requires me to enroll full time, as well as achieving an additional 6 credit hours per year in order to use/not lose the scholarship. This really restricts me in more ways than I care to list.
In regards to NoDog's reply, yeah I've heard about some of the not so desirable aspects of freelance work, but I think I'm capable of developing the skills to pull it off (I'll find out anyway lol). And if I had to work for a company for awhile it wouldn't bother me, and I've always had a knack at getting my foot in the door . Thanks for the tips and info.
What was you guys' personal paths into your professions? Have you been happy with it? How long did it take you to become proficient? What have been your personal experiences with companies who you've been employed with (in terms of flexibility)?
I took a rather long and winding road into it. My degree is a bachelor of fine arts in music education. I somehow ended up working first as a text editor and then customer service rep at one of the first computerized typesetting companies way back before the internet. That gave me just enough computer exposure to help me stumble into a job as a tester on a computerized wargaming system for the US Navy. (An interesting story in itself.) That led to about 15 years in a few software testing/QA positions, where I kept learning more about software and that new-fangled Internet thingy.
So, no, there's no one right way to get into the business. For that matter, don't take it for granted that you even know yet what you really want to be when you grow up. (And a good liberal arts education can prepare you for lots of different things simply by teaching you how to learn and think.)
Last edited by NogDog; 10-15-2013 at 10:44 PM.
Ah yes the rise of the internet, that's pretty cool that you had a close association with software development and testing as well as web development so that you saw the evolution of the industry close up. I only have vague memories of dial-up and floppy disks growing up lol, it amazes me whenever I think about how quickly internet technologies have evolved (and pretty much computer technology in general).
Do you ever consider trying your hand at freelance work again, or are you happy with your current set-up? As you mentioned, I can imagine that there are certain advantages for working with a company rather than self-employed methods.
I think I'm still going to withdraw right now and begin trying self-education for awhile, I may decide later that I want to go back to college but I will cross that bridge if I come to it. I'm also probably going to travel for a little while, try to open my mind a little. I just have to see how my Uncle reacts to this decision, he said that he'd support me either way, but you know how things people say sometimes can be unreliable. My immediate parents though have been supportive in whatever I pursue. Thanks for the advice guys, if anyone else has any thing they'd like to share please do!
I think I prefer what I'm doing now, as I enjoy (mainly) concentrating on solving technical challenges versus the non-technical things I had to deal with as a company of one. Also, it's nice being 99.9% sure I'll be getting the same pay check every other week. It also helps that I really like the people I work with, and it's for a product that may actually help other people around the country concerning their health care needs.
Just a thought: maybe finish out this semester, then see if for the next semester you can take a break and try to get an internship somewhere (which may be worth a few college credits, too)? That could give you a taste (albeit a very limited sample) of what it might be like to work as part of a company versus alone.
For my part, I've had a tortuous path to becoming a web developer, and I'm still on the way. I spent 20 years in banking, and hated it. A redundancy later I found myself working for an IT company, and loving it. I left it late to become acquainted with the web, and still have not cracked it commercially. If I was dependent upon selling my services to eat, I would starve!
I think that the most important consideration for you is not to close down your options prematurely. Nowadays, a degree could be a necessary intro to a good job, particularly if you find that you prefer technical challenges to the business ones of being an entrepreneur.
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