Tania Rascia Web Design and Development

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How I Made a Career Change into Web Development

How I Made a Career Change into Web Development

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I’m Tania, and I made a career change into web development in 2015. Before that, I worked as a chef. I often get asked how I did it, and if I have any advice for new and aspiring developers. I’ll start by sharing my own story:

  • A little about myself
  • How I fell into the wrong career for me
  • How I decided on the right one
  • Steps I took to land my first job in the field

Throughout this story you will find the answers to some of the common questions I’ve received, such as “how did you land your first job?”, “what was the technical interview like?”, “what technologies did you know starting out?”, “how long did it take?” and “what was the hardest part?”.

I will follow this up with an article that focuses on you instead of me. I will share some guidance and resources I used and would recommend, a road map of the order I think it makes sense to learn, and my answers to common questions from aspiring developers.

The beginning

I was born in ’89 and grew up a shy, eccentric girl in the suburbs of Chicago, where I spent most of my childhood playing Super Nintendo and drawing. I discovered the Internet in 1998 when my brother Nick took me to the public library, where they had computers running Netscape Navigator.

I still vividly remember the first day I ever used the ‘Net (that’s what we called it back then) – that very day I learned the meaning of “lol”, made my first E-Mail address, and discovered how easy it was to meet new people who share my interests. My brother taught me a few basic lines of HTML and I took it from there. Thanks to free hosting on GeoCities, I could make websites about anything I wanted – myself, Digimon, Animorphs, myself, clans and guilds for the silly games I played, obscure ’80s music, accordions, and more. I discovered I could even draw on MS Paint at home and transfer it to the Internet via floppy disk. And a new hobby was born.

So how did I learn to make those websites? I would just copy the source of other websites I liked, open up Notepad and randomly change things here and there until it started doing what I wanted. Complete trial and error. In the beginning, I couldn’t figure out how to copy and paste the source code, so I had to type everything out myself. I never once studied coding in any capacity in this time, and I couldn’t tell you a CSS class from an ID, what a variable is, or the definition of an HTML tag.

My life mostly continued along the same path until the end of high school.

Falling into the wrong career

At seventeen, right out of high school, I certainly didn’t have the slightest clue what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. Making websites as a career wasn’t even a shadow of a thought in my head. I always assumed I would go into some sort of artistic or graphic design career, but what I wanted to do much more than that was travel and see the world. Since there was no official job that pays you to explore other cultures, I wasn’t content with any career path, and I didn’t research any options for myself.

Yet whether we put a great deal of thought into our future or not, life moves forward, and decisions are made. Since I had no plans, I took the first offer that came along, which was a “free ride” to a university’s Culinary Arts program based on some test scores I had. I didn’t really know anything about the culinary industry, but I enjoyed cooking a lot, and maybe I could even use it to travel, so why not?

I did an accelerated Bachelor’s program, graduated and worked several jobs in the field from prep and line cook to banquet chef to culinary manager and chef. I won’t bother going into detail about working in the kitchen, but I will say it taught me an immense amount about hard work, managing stress, and being a leader.

After eight years wearing many hats in the industry, I knew it was time to move on. There is quote that roughly goes, “change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change”, and that’s the best way I can summarize my reasons for deciding to find a new career.

Deciding on the right career

Although I had never been unemployed, the situation for me at my final chef job in 2014 was bad enough that I put in my two weeks notice without having another job lined up. I knew I wanted to do something different with my life, but I had no idea what. I very quickly realized I didn’t want to any of the jobs that a culinary career would aid me in.

I bought the book What Color Is Your Parachute, a book about finding the right career for you through doing a lot of exercises and writing. I also found a book that had you take timed tests to find out your natural aptitudes (Discover What You’re Best At) and matches you to careers that fit well with those natural skills. I wanted to understand myself, and find a career I could be content with that would also sustain me.

Armed with those books and a ukulele, I drove to a campsite a few hours away and spent the next week in seclusion, hiking around all day and going through some of the exercises in the career books.

I will tell you right now – neither of those books told me what to do or gave me the magical answer. Soul searching is a lot of hard work and takes a lot of time, and it’s really difficult to focus and be honest with yourself about who you are, vs. who you want to be.

However, the books gave me some guidance and helped me ask the right questions and learn some things about myself. I started coming to the same conclusions over and over again. Exercises would ask what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at, and what you can do for long periods of time without noticing it, and “making websites” was always among my answers. My greatest skill according to the timed tests is quickly scanning information, which made me realize I have a natural aptitude towards finding syntax errors in code, and fast problem solving.

All of that eventually helped me eventually land on “some sort of graphic design, web design, or coding, as long as I don’t have to go back to school”.

Steps I took to land my first web job

At this point, I was newly unemployed, without a plan, and with a resume full of culinary work experience and schooling. While I was still figuring out a basic idea of what I wanted to do, I started applying to all sorts of jobs – data entry, temp jobs, manufacturing, warehouse work – literally anything that wasn’t a kitchen job or retail that I might be able to do without a related degree. Despite filling out dozens of online job applications, I didn’t get a single response to anything. Although this was madly frustrating at the time, I can look back on it now and be happy I didn’t settle for just any job.

They always say you should never burn any bridges, always maintain a good relationship with your employers and leave on good terms, and I’m glad I always did. My money was running out, and I had no job prospects, but I called one of my old companies up and they gave me a chef job right away. Although this was a full time, 60-hour-a-week job, I was determined to change careers eventually.

I started going on Craigslist and looking for the cheapest logo design, graphic design, or web design work I could find. I had no portfolio and no experience, but I was persistent and eventually I found someone who would pay me to make some websites and do some odd jobs. I built a few one-page websites, for which I was paid $200/$300 dollars each. I also designed a logo, which made me $100, and did some little updates here and there for a small fee.

I was doing this after work, between the hours of 9pm and 4am, before the next day’s 10 hour shift. In order to make a living and do something new, I had to sacrifice a lot of sleep and social activity. When I began all this, I had a very limited amount of outdated knowledge on HTML and CSS, and had simple Photoshop skills. During down time at work, I would browse Quora questions and answers about web development, and without even knowing it I was learning all about the industry.

The tipping point for me was meeting someone who had their own small business, and was willing to take on an unpaid intern. Joe Martin, at the time a weekend bartender at the restaurant I worked at, offered me the internship. I did something that was extremely difficult for me, and left my stable chef position to intern in the morning at his company and work a night job cooking at NAMCO’s Pac-Man themed restaurant.

During that time, I learned about WordPress, Git, Sass, setting up local server environments, basic PHP and JavaScript, and using the command line – all things I had never experienced before. I began this blog during that time to document some of the things that I was learning. I continued applying to jobs online, still through Craigslist, and now I had a few websites and an internship to put on my resume. I applied for a junior web developer job, and after an interview, some personality tests, and a weekend coding test, I received my first job offer!

For my coding test, I had to make a responsive navigation from scratch. This was a huge challenge for me, because I was only vaguely aware of responsive design and had only ever used Bootstrap to create navigations. Instead of just creating one, I made three separate designs, going above and beyond what was expected of me and showing the company I was willing to learn quickly and put forth extra effort.


Here’s the tl;dr of my story:

  • I had a bit of an edge over somebody starting from scratch with web development, because I made websites for fun as a child.
  • I went to college for a career that wasn’t right for me, but I learned a lot about myself and life, as well as having a great appreciation for what I do now.
  • The hardest part of all was doing the necessary soul searching to try to figure out what would be the right career for me, both in natural aptitude and enjoyability.
  • While still working my original career, I found odd jobs through Craigslist in the web development industry to begin building up my resume and learning, while still making money.
  • I did a three month unpaid internship while working a night job when I became really serious about my career change.
  • The biggest thing that helped me was making a blog to document everything I learned, and I would recommend the same to anyone who wants to learn.
  • I applied for jobs online while continuing to study, learn, and create, and eventually I was able to land a full-time junior web developer role.
  • The seed of an idea for a career change began in August, 2014, and I began my first job in June, 2015, making my career transition 10 months long.

I would not necessarily recommend the way I learned to anyone else, and I’m sure a lot of self-taught developers would say the same.

My dream is to summarize everything I’ve learned into an effective web development course from scratch for beginners, so they don’t have to search through as many poor and outdated tutorials as I did. However, problem solving and putting yourself out there to build things will always be an essential part of becoming a web developer as well.

Stay tuned for the follow up, which will focus on you instead of me.

The Author

Thank you for reading! I'm Tania Rascia, and I write no-nonsense guides for designers and developers. If my content has been valuable to you, please help me keep the site ad-free and continuously updated with quality tutorials and material by making a donation. Any amount helps and is greatly appreciated!

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  • tomi says:

    hi …I found your websites because had difficulties to understand about flexbox. After read your articles, it makes me understand how to apply flexbox. Actually I also make a career transition right now. I was a mining engineer once, but I feel it was not for me, I always wonder which career suit me well. I dont know about web development before, I dont know html, css, js. so , after resign from my job a couple years ago, I try to find something new to learn. I landed in a online coding tutorial about javascript, and from there I selftaught about javascript. it really hard but there is something about it that make me want to keep learning about it.then I decide to take courses about web development. and here me now where I learn to become web developer. And I read your articles about career change which inspire me when I had a hard time to learn about coding. Thank you for the articles, it’s really good. and keep posting.

  • Amie says:

    hey just wanted to let you know that i stumbled on your website after looking for tutorials on html/css. I was reading your story and i realized that i remember reading something similar on reddit just a few days ago and the story really stuck to me. I can’t believe I ran into your website. Thanks for sharing your story. It is very inspirational. I am trying to teach myself programing and your story gives me a lot of hope!

  • Hanja Kohli says:

    i’ve got a lot of lessons which i learned from you.

    Thnk you

  • Pedro says:

    You’re inspirational. I’m 21, learning JavaScript by my self with the fream to be a developer one day.
    Stories like this make it easier.

  • Matt says:

    With a career in Infrastructure Support, I presently help the State of Ohio to support their Microsoft Office 365 products…its not my dream job by any means…but it’s providing a steady paycheck at the moment, but will soon be coming to an end. The inevitable unfortunate down side to Contract-only work. Over the years I’ve had an interest in finding an occupation where I could work in a field where I could look back on my work and point to a finished product that would give me a sense of career satisfaction. I decided to begin taking a full stack web dev course on Udemy a few months back. Im enjoying it so far…but the studies haven’t gotten into JavaScript yet. These stories are motivating and helpful especially as I’m thinking about how I might transition into Web Dev as a full time career. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences. I hope to be able to share with you my success story in the not too distant future…hopefully in the next 6-12 months.

  • Anthony says:

    Your story is extremely similar to mine. I have been in the software sales field for like 8 years but was always drawn towards the technology aspect of the product more than I was at selling it. I had taken an HTML class in high school that dabbled in Javascript, and about 2 years ago while well employed at a software sales job I would frequently get reprimanded to digging to far into the technical aspect of the job I was laid off about 2 months ago when the division switched, but had already begun creating my freelance site https://mainfram3web.com .

    Once I got the full time to go after it I finished it and gained some clients right off the bat. I spent 10-12 hours a day on Mozilla Development Network learning Javascript becuase I kind of assumed that was the next logical step ater re-learning html and now CSS. I’m glad I took the time to learn Javascript because it taught me the fundamentals of programming like loops, conditionals, functions, objects and classes. Spending countless hours on Inkscape and GIMP (adobe illustrator & Photoshop forthose that are unaware) made me the jack of all trades full stack web developer I am now.

    It was basically your site that guided me towards my current focus which is PHP and MySQL as well as WordPress. I can’t express to you how grateful I am to have found you. Not only the PHP, JSON, and WordPress theme development blogs have been helpful but also the CSS focused design turorials regarding Flex-Box and display: border box have helped me understand responsiveness on a page even more then bootstrap has. Fine tuning my aspirations and honing my PHP skills has landed me an interview with the #1 web design company in Boston in which I did very well and am eagerly awaiting their assigment assesment for me to complete.

  • Muhammad Adil says:

    Again an inspirational article.

  • Emmanuel says:

    Your story is inspiring. I am courage filled as I am learning the hard way

  • Godwin says:

    Inspiring! I am a self taught developer, though had I had a higher diploma in computer science equivalent to a first degree. However, nothing I have experienced equals your article, which I find not only inspiring, but also motivating. Keep up the good job, this is my first time reading your blog, I will be sure to follow up. Cheers!

  • Satu says:

    Our stories are surpisingly similar – I’ve even read What Color Is My Parachute and one of my “favorite knowledges” is creating websites on WordPress (I started using WordPress in 2009 when I started blogging). 😀 I even created WordPress websites for money years ago but working as a freelancer was not a good fit for me so I gave that up.

    Now I’m trying to build my web developing skills with the goal of getting a “real” job at some point. Finding good tutorials/courses is certainly crucial – I just started with Know the Code.

    Anyway, are you able to give any advice on how skilled you have to be in order to land an internship in web development?

  • Uri F. says:

    A little nostalgia there with all the drawing, video games, Digimon, Animorphs, etc. references at the beginning. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing. This has given me some great ideas as to what I can do to enter the field.

  • Anthony says:

    where is the best place to learn about dynamic sites that change its variables and URLS based on user input? That’s the next step for me.

  • Jimmy Olano says:

    Only hard work and tenacity lead to success. In our case while working at night, I programmed with the then-modern 286 company computers that were in network with coaxial cable, I had my own test bench. In the day I wrote down my lines of code in a notebook and craved the night to try them out.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  • ALLAN CHANG says:

    You have any suggestion for me? I am learn web-development so far i learned html, css, jquery and some bootstrap, but i just do not know how can i make myself step into a new level

  • ALLAN CHANG says:

    Really inspiration story, i am try hard now to to pursue my dream on web development.

  • Susan Wies says:

    Your content is very good on your site. I just wanted to add another note…There is an organization called SCORE which hosts speakers to do seminars on topics like yours. I’ve gone to two of them and the quality and content has been very good. The speaker I saw today did such a great job, that she sold a CD with her slides for $10. So, I think the speakers can leverage new consulting opportunities and also sell their slides to attendees.

    • Tania says:

      Hmm, interesting. I’ve only ever done one presentation so far. It was an interesting life experience for sure! I’ll probably need to practice a bit more before I can sell the slides, haha.

  • dinesh says:

    Landed your blog by chance at a 5am sleepless wake up.
    My story has a strange twist. 15 years of IT career was a senior executive while I quit and started a restaurant business and lost all the money. Now back to software coding. this time as a entrepreneur. I don’t make enough money but life in front of computer is not bad compared to the restaurant kitchen.
    BTW – liked your life story. You rock.

  • Derick H. says:

    We share a similar story. I entered the culinary industry with a BS in Graphic Design, and after 15 years of cooking, managing and traveling, I burned out and lost the love for it. After realizing that I wasn’t happy and I chose the wrong path, I took the plunge last year and walked away. I am now enrolled in a Computer Science program at my alma mater and learning about web development. The last few months have been stressful because of the uncertainties mentioned in your story (unemployment, starting over, changing my identity), but the future looks so good. Your story was very motivating, thanks for sharing.

  • Ronnie says:

    It is really inspiring 😉

  • Michael Martin says:

    By the way, you should do a blog entry for web design purists who hate CMS platforms like WordPress, and its ilk, who have decided to start using WordPress after years of hand coding HTML and CSS. The only real CMS that I learned to like was Magento and Joomla by the way. I still look down with disgust at WordPress, but seems to be the wave of the future.

  • Michael Martin says:

    I would conclude that you were a pioneer in the tech industry who was distracted by the Evil and Brutal Restaurant and “Hospitality” industry. You were always software developer material.

  • Alex C. says:

    Thanks for the inspiring post! I’m just starting my career transition as well, so it was insightful to see how you worked towards your final goal. Motivation and perseverance are definitely key traits that you need as a beginner developer, which I’m working on myself I’m digging your tutorials as well!

  • H.S. says:

    Would you say that most employers interviewing applicants would frown upon developers who are good at building something with a framework but are unwilling to build something outside it, or developers who can build something inside a GUI environment (ex. Design View in Dreamweaver CC) but have difficulties working only with a code editor? My hunch is that those types of people probably have no chance, but just curious what your experiences have been.

  • Anonymous says:

    If your tutorials are any clue as to what your web dev course would look like, sign me up! Looking forward to your next post.

  • Anonymous says:

    This came at the right time for me! So glad I found your website!

  • Curtis says:

    Great story about your career change. Did you make up a roadmap for your end goal? Or did you just do whatever you could think of or any opportunity that came your way?

  • Precious Opusunju says:

    You’re an inspiration! i always point your blog to my friends who are beginners! ^_^ <3

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My tutorials, guides, and articles for web designers, developers, and autodidacts, sent out once a month or so. No bullshit, ads, or tricks.