How to Become a Web Developer While Keeping Your Day Job

Alexandre Ouellette, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

How can you start applying for jobs in a new field, if you don’t have time to study for your new career? But, how do you find time to study, if you’re working full-time?

Trying to launch a new career can often feel like a bit of a catch-22.

In this article, I’ll share the habits I developed in order to juggle full-time work and learn to be a web developer at the same time. Hopefully my top tips and things to avoid will help any of you who are learning how to code.

  1. Schedule your learning time
  2. Find ways to use your new skills at work
  3. Have and use your support network
  4. Other things I learnt along the way

1. Schedule your learning time

Firstly, it’s good to acknowledge that it will be a challenge to find the time to devote to your new pursuit.

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of scheduling when learning to code and writing down your schedule and making it concrete. This tip is never more relevant than when you’re working full-time.

Your life is busy enough already and if you don’t take time to properly plan things out, it’s easy to put your studying on the back burner, again and again.

I’ve found that combining studying how to learn to be a web developer with other activities is a great way to make progress each day. Do you have a long enough lunch break to squeeze in a bit of studying? Can you listen to podcasts or video tutorials on your commute? Maybe now is the perfect time to start taking your allocated breaks at work and hit the books!

Having said that, you should make sure you are realistic about your studying time and give yourself some down-time.

Learning something new can be one of the most exhilarating ways to spend your time, but it can be easy to devote too much time to it. It is important to be realistic about the amount of time you allocate to your new pursuit, because it can easily become too much when you take into account all your other responsibilities.

You can open yourself up to burn out if you overbook yourself for too long. I often found myself scheduling studying sessions every day when I was learning to code, but I soon realized that it wasn’t sustainable.

Make sure you schedule yourself some time to relax and do something you enjoy other than trying your hardest to learn to be a web developer. This will allow you to learn more effectively and to more easily navigate your other responsibilities.

A great way of achieving this is by picking a passion project to set realistic goals by. This is actually one of Sam’s tips for learning to code, based on his own experience switching careers to become a developer at CareerFoundry.

2. Find ways to use your new skills at work

We learn best by practising our new skills often (and in novel ways), but it can sometimes be hard to find places to apply these new skills outside the confines of a course or a workshop.

Even more so when your time is taken up by work. So why not try to combine the two? Try to find ways to improve your performance by applying your new skills at work.

What better place to apply your new skills? Any opportunity to apply your new skills can be extremely beneficial and you might find it easier to apply them in a domain with which you are already comfortable. And who knows, you might end up making your job easier in the process!

Here are a few examples of how to do just that:

  • Are you learning to code? Maybe you can automate some part of your work by writing a small script or augmenting that huge spreadsheet with some nifty new formulas.
  • Are you taking writing workshops? Try to apply some of the techniques you learned to crafting your emails or that next document for your boss.
  • Are you studying UX design? Whatever your current role is, you may be able to add value to your company by conducting user research and identifying problem points.

3. Have and use your support network

In a previous post, I touched upon the importance of having a support network.

This never more relevant than when working full time and trying to learn to be a web developer. A good support network can help you learn more effectively by helping you to study, by pointing out some good resources, or by giving you opportunities to practise your new skills.

Alternatively, they can help you deal with everything else, giving you more time to focus on your studies. I know I couldn’t have been as successful in learning to code if it weren’t for my partner taking over some of the responsibilities at home, and I can’t thank them enough.

Working full-time offers you unique opportunities to build your professional support network. Try to see if anyone at your workplace specializes in the skills you are trying to learn. Does your company hire programmers that can give you tips? Are you friendly with that new marketing agent or accountant? Offer to take them out for a coffee, so you can pick their brain.

These professionals can often point you to great resources or help you out of a pickle. Plus, the little coffee meetings are a great way to grow your support network. Who knows, your coworkers might introduce you to other people who can help, or help you to practise your new skills at work.

If you’re really lucky, you might even find that your employer will allow you to spend some time in a different department, for example two days per week helping the web development team. This may be the case if you’re learning tech skills like coding or UX design, where you can already begin to add value as you learn.

4. Other things I learnt along the way

Finally, I wanted to quickly share a handful of small tips which I found really helped, if you want to work full-time and learn to be a web developer at the same time:

  • Find a way to reward yourself for a successful study lesson. It is harder to put off something if you know you’re going to get a reward at the end.
  • Take notes! I can’t stress this point enough. Working full-time will mean shorter, more frequent study sessions. You can’t succeed if you don’t remember what you learned in the previous session. I can’t recommend the bullet journal technique enough.
  • No promises on this one, but sometimes letting your boss know about your new venture can be helpful. You’d be surprised how many employers encourage and support their employees to expand their knowledge. Your mileage might vary, but it is nice when it happens.
  • Depending on the skill you are learning, don’t set yourself too harsh a deadline. Some skills will take a long time to develop. Just have a plan and a weekly schedule and stick to them. You will see the results.
  • As with most things in life, balance is key when trying to learn a new skill and work at the same time. Make sure that your studying does not negatively impact your job performance and vice versa.

I think personal and professional development is incredibly important and for those of us who can’t afford to stop working while we learn to be a web developer, I hope these tips will help you to be more successful!

Final thoughts

My final piece of advice for learning web development without quitting your day job would be to get started and see what works for you.

You will naturally find your own patterns. Maybe you work better in the morning before work. Maybe you need to do an hour of sport after work to clear your head and then study. Maybe your best work happens over your lunch hour, or maybe you’re a weekend crammer.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a web developer, these articles will interest you:

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