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Hello World – I’m a Front-end Developer by AO’er, Craig Jones.

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From Primary School Teacher to Front-end Developer by Craig Jones

18 months ago I made a decision which has changed my life for the better. In September 2016, I decided that I was going to teach myself coding in search of a job in the tech industry. I was working in primary education, which I enjoyed, but I always felt there was another challenge out there waiting for me. I was always deemed a ‘techy’ person and have always had an interest in computers and tech. Before my career in education, I had built a few small single-page websites for people, but this was back in 2008 and the technology was extremely different. I knew I wanted a career change and that I wasn’t going to be able to compete for jobs with people who had studied coding at college or university.

Our IT team winners of the Kanban Cup 2018

I needed a plan! In my head, my goal was to spend 12 months upskilling myself enough to begin applying for positions as a junior developer in the industry. I particularly enjoyed changing the look and feel of websites, so after doing my research I decided the front end was the place for me. I spoke to a close friend who is a web developer and he gave me the advice to learn HTML and CSS as thoroughly as you can, so this was my first step on my journey from teacher to developer.

I looked into the prospect of studying evenings (I had a full-time job) but financially it wasn’t feasible. My next port of call was to check the web for online courses and I was amazed at what I found. When I dabbled in web development in 2008, online courses weren’t really a thing and I mainly relied on books. But by 2016 the scene had changed. There was a flooded market of online learning opportunities and the problem now was choosing the correct one that suited my learning style. I tried several free trials on online learning platforms, but Treehouse (https://teamtreehouse.com/) was by far the best for me. A nice blend or reading, videos, quizzes and coding challenges. So my journey began. I was trying to do at least an hour every evening and several hours at the weekend. My problem was that I started enjoying it that much, it became a hobby and I was jumping on it at every opportunity, and my knowledge was building quickly.

Fast forward three months and I started to have a pretty solid knowledge of HTML and CSS, but I had also played with some jQuery plugins. I was now wondering where to go next. I took a few small projects building static websites on a voluntary basis. This enabled me to build my portfolio, which I would eventually need. I wasn’t sure what I needed to learn next, so I began perusing Indeed and other job sites looking at junior positions and seeing what skills were on the person specifications. It was here that I stumbled upon a job at AO as a junior front end developer.

Left: AO Christmas Party. Right: Playing football on the Macron Stadium

I was three months in to my 12-month plan and as I looked through the person specification for the role at AO, I thought to myself “I can do all this” – I even met the desirables. It was also clear from the outset that AO hired based on values and personal qualities which I believed I possessed. I decided that it wouldn’t do any harm to send in an application. You never know do you? I didn’t think anything of it and to be honest assumed my CV would’ve been in the bin along with 300 freddo wrappers and some cans of pop (I read treats were free on Glassdoor). But to my surprise, during my Christmas break from teaching, I received a phone call from a recruiter who arranged a telephone interview with me. This went well and I was invited for a face-to-face interview in early January. Coming to the AO premises for the first time you can’t help but be impressed, but I was more impressed with my potential team and the interview process. I was used to intense teaching interviews, but I knew what I was getting with them. I was nervous as I literally had no idea what to expect. But within minutes of the interview starting I felt at ease. It felt more like a casual chat. I felt like they were genuinely interested in me and I could be myself! I left feeling good, but still felt it was a long-shot.

To my delight I got a job offer and I snapped their hands off and started my career in tech (and at AO) on 27th February 2017, a mere 6 months after starting to code!  Now the real journey would begin.

This was after an IT wide hackday held in our Manchester offices

My manager and team lead were very keen to help me develop and with this in mind, had drawn up a 12-month plan. My first few weeks were used for bedding in, getting to know the team and meeting people of significance (to my role) in the wider organisation. I also began the huge task of getting to know the codebase and learning about the build steps in stream that I would be working on. I quickly started to learn about gulp, nunjucks and how these technologies were used to make workflow easier. Before my time at AO, I had never been exposed to things like this so it was a bit of a game changer in terms speed of working.

A large part of my role at the beginning was to take care of onsite merchandising, which enabled me to get a good understanding of our CMS and see how the site was structured and how published material to the site. My role was on the marketing stream, so we mainly looked at how the page looks, merchandising, homepage changes, deals page changes as well as brand pages.

It wasn’t long before I was tasked with my first individual project. It was a brand page for AEG Laundry. I remember it well as it was great experience to tuck into a fairly meaty project on my own. It was a good chance to put my new skills to the test. Using nunjucks to template a web page as well as trying out a few new Sass techniques. Putting live product pricing on the page was something I required assistance with as I knew nothing about the catalogue

I was lucky enough to represent AO at the partners day cricket tournament at Emirates Old Trafford in 2017 + 2018

As the months passed by my skills grew. I learnt about version control, advanced Sass techniques, accessible HTML and really got a grasp on how our site works. Our team had a weekly JavaScript workshop and this allowed me to grow my skills in this area. JavaScript was the language that I really wanted to learn. On our regular hackdays, I would pair with more experienced colleagues and be amazed at the stuff they were writing. I did as much as I could in my spare time and it was slow going it first. I covered the basics and eventually I found myself decent enough at that. I then hit a bit of wall. Courses I found were either too easy or too advanced. It was at this point I just stared building stuff with JavaScript. I built an NBA predictor and a higher or lower card game. These were ‘hacked’ together but worked. I would then show them to my colleagues at work who gave me plenty of time and helped me refactor them and this was where I did my real learning. At AO there is always someone with a relevant skillset who is willing to help you. I would go as far as saying people go out their way. Now I am beginning to look at react and the static site generator Gatsby. AO genuinely is a great place to learn and grow as a developer.

Manc JS meeting held at our Manchester Offices

I am now the lead developer on the Marketing stream, helping to estimate and organise work. The amount I have grown in 14 months is incredible. I look back at work I did before I started and I cringe. My next steps as a developer are to continue to develop my JavaScript skills and learn at least one framework. I am also looking for innovative ways to drive forward the marketing stream, by improving workflow and reducing project times, or by making things more component-based to reduce the number of bugs and reducing testing times. The future is bright and I can’t wait to learn more!

Left: Partners day cricket 2018. Right: Yorkshire 3 peaks 2018

Tough Mudder 2017

 

Thanks for reading!