January 2nd, 2021 · 32 min read
For the past several years, I have been writing a guide (this is last year's edition) that goes viral every year which gives you step by step instructions on how to become a Web Developer from scratch, for free. Thousands of students have followed these steps since then and have gotten hired. However, a lot has changed since last year's edition, so I wanted to share with you the updated guide and changes for 2021 (with new resources)! The focus is on efficiency: Learn the right topics that are in demand right now so you can get hired as soon as possible.
These are the steps that you should be taking if you want to learn to code in 2021, change your career, and become a Web Developer (or get into the tech industry).
This is part 1 of a 2 part series. You can read the second part here.
If you are a complete beginner, junior developer, or are curious about this industry, this post is for you. However, if you are an established developer, you may find some useful links in here as I list the best free resources to supercharge your skills, but I also wrote a post on how to become a senior software developer that may be more useful to you.
If you find this post too long, you can skip over and start from the 5 Months, Step By Step Section. But you’ll hurt my feelings… so you know, you can live with that guilt.
Ok you’re still here. Great! I like you already. Let’s keep going…
Using only free online courses, tutorials and free tools, you can gain a valuable skill that will allow you to be employed in a great industry that is rewarding, challenging, and with a lot of options to move around the world (more on this later). Best part? You don’t need a college degree or an expensive bootcamp. Nor do you need to give away part of your income once you get hired which some new schools are doing (which sounds great until you have to start giving away some of your paychecks).
Important note: The post may seem like a step by step guide of what to do to become a developer, but if you look closely, it is a strategy that you can apply to any sort of learning.
Also... no pressure, but I don't want you getting mad at me for not telling you that if you want a downloadable version, you can sign up below and I'll email you a full PDF version of this guide that includes the month by month checklist!
Before we get into the steps you can take to become a developer, we must first dive into why you would want to go down this path. Every decision that will require a significant time of your life should be justified. Time, after all, is the most important resource we have:
A. You want to be working in an industry where there is a high demand for the skill and many possibilities to be in important roles at the top of the food chain.
B. You love being location independent. You want a skill that allows you to go anywhere in the world and still be able to find a job easily. If you decide to move to Iceland tomorrow, you want to make sure that you won’t have issues finding a job.
C. You’ve noticed the difference between 2010 and 2021 and how much technological progress we have made in those short 10 years. You want to be at the forefront of an industry that is impacting the world.
D. The biggest industry growth in the last couple of years has been in the artificial intelligence (Machine Learning), bio tech, autonomous cars, blockchain (Bitcoin) space. We interact with technology on the daily, and you want to not be left behind in the dust as these take over our future. You want to understand and be able to pick up the skills underlying all of these: programming. Web Development is a great foot in the door to these industries.
E. You think change is good, and learning should never stop. So why not do something new?
But I don’t have a computer science degree and I don’t even know how the internet works! Don’t worry, we will use that to your advantage. Keep reading…
When choosing a new career path here are some good must-haves and nice to-haves:
1. It must be relevant for the next 10+ years. This skill should be valued many years in the future guaranteeing your job security.
2. Demand for people with this skill must be higher than the supply. The smaller the available pool of skilled workers in the industry, the more control you can have over your job and the companies you choose to work for.
3. Ability to have a high salary regardless of your number of years in the industry. You don’t want to spend many years climbing the corporate ladder until you make a decent living.
4. An industry that doesn’t require a specialized degree from a college or university. You don’t want to spend the next 4 years getting into debt and going to a graduate program before you start making money. And yes, I also think there are better alternatives than going to an expensive coding bootcamp.
5. Ability to catch up to the top performers in the industry in the shortest amount of time. Can little experience still get you employed? And can you close the gap as fast as possible to be considered a senior or an expert in the field?
6. It must allow you to build foundational skills that will give you multiple career options no matter what the future holds. For example, by learning to code, you’re able to better understand new upcoming technologies like distributed applications, data science, machine learning (AI), and cloud computing. This allows you to choose which field you want to jump into next.
7. Have fun. This is the most important one. Can you see yourself doing this 40 hours a week for a long time?
In my experience, coding hits every one of the points above. Warning: Your mileage may vary.
One of my favourite books is titled So Good They Can’t Ignore You. The author argues that passion is a myth. You shouldn’t go into the travel industry because you are “passionate” about travel. Most people find passion by struggling and working hard to master a skill. Once people start acknowledging your valuable skills and you are able to feel respected for these skills is when you develop a passion for what you do.
Still with me? I haven’t scared you off? Ok, we shall keep going then…
IMPORTANT POINT READ IT: keep in mind that the first 2 months will feel like you are climbing an insurmountable mountain. Every tutorial, course or lesson you do will make you feel like you are the only person in the world that doesn’t know this stuff. Stay strong. You will get there and you will have more and more ‘AHA!’ moments as time progresses. We call this the Impostor Syndrome: you feel like you are the only one who doesn’t know this information and you are surrounded by self-doubt. Rest assured, we all feel this way when we learn something new. This is good. This is how you know you are stretching our boundaries.
What you will learn at the end of it all is that being a good developer isn’t necessarily memorizing a whole bunch of documentation. It’s about learning how to solve problems using all of the tools that are available to you. It’s about being a problem solver and getting from a state of not knowing, to knowing. This guide will help you get those skills.
Wow, you’re direct, but I guess that’s a fair question. First off, I’m a Senior Software Developer that has worked in various locations including Silicon Valley and Toronto at some of the top tech firms. I’ve been very fortunate in my career and for the past 3 years I have taught 500,000+ people around the world how to become developers from scratch. Many of those Zero To Mastery graduates now work at companies like Google and Amazon. But I wasn’t born a computer wiz. I didn’t graduate with a computer science degree. I am completely self-taught.
P.S. This part is all about me, so if you don’t care (totally fair point), just skip this section. I’ll get over it eventually.
It all started many years ago… I wanted a career change and decided to teach myself computer programming.
I spent the first month avoiding any coding tutorials or programming courses or books. Instead, I spent this month looking at the best way for me to learn and get hired. I wanted to be efficient and not waste my time learning outdated technologies, or learn things that I would forget after a month. I studied other people’s experiences, looked at job postings, spoke to established developers, reviewed online courses, looked at bootcamps, and even read articles by futurists on where we will be with technology in 20 years. Based on those, I created a curriculum for myself focused on efficiency: The critical amount of learning in order to be employable in the shortest amount of time.
If you love the works of Tim Ferriss as much as I do, you’re going to love this. The curriculum isn’t focused on doing the least amount of work. Instead, it is focused on working really hard at the things that matter most in order to be employed in the most optimum way. This doesn’t mean doing the bare minimum and being hired as a junior developer. If you can work hard and skip the line by jumping straight into an intermediate developer role, that is a better outcome. Luckily for you, I have already sifted through everything for you.
Although I spent one month planning my studying instead of actually studying, it was a benefit in the long run because I wasn’t running blind. I knew where I was going, and I had a clear roadmap to the finish line. You will too.
So yes, I have been where you are and I know what it takes. When I was getting started, I wish there was something like this that outlined things for me step by step. I also found many tutorials were taught by people with a lot of technical knowledge but without being able to properly teach a beginner. Alternatively, some courses were taught by people who took advantage of beginners not knowing much about the industry and selling them a course that sounds great but doesn't actually teach you how to succeed (we call these superficial skills). I’ve read and studied every single video, tutorial and course that time permitted, and I still continue to do so to try and find the most efficient path to succeed. I'm obsessed with the art of learning and even developed a system around efficient learning.
Since then, I have consulted for Fortune 500 tech companies, ran coding workshops, consulted on published tech books, given technical talks, and I have helped those with zero experience in programming get jobs in just a few months. Mainly because I think bootcamps and colleges overcharge you money. Don’t worry, you can also learn to code for free as you will see below. I am now in a position where I don’t have to work for anybody. I love this career and I think many people would enjoy it and benefit from it as well. So I’m on a mission to help others who want to make this jump no matter what their economic situation, age or background.
Ok that last sentence was a wee bit dramatic…🤔
Trust me, it is a great community with a lot of demand.
Enough jabber, let’s get started. Below you will find what I believe are the best resources for you to get the most out of your time. By the end of 5 months, you should be able to learn to code for free and land your first real non-entry level programming job. No coding bootcamps. Just you and your determination.
Important note: I get a lot of requests for a downloadable version of this step-by-step guide so that you can print it off and check things off as you go or be able to send it to your Kindle. Sign up below and I'll email you the full PDF guide with the month-by-month checklist!
We will be focusing on the most employable and in-demand skills in 2021. No time for outdated technologies like PHP or jQuery. There is nothing wrong with them and I have total respect for them. But based on many of the emails I have received over the years from students, a lot of people are in financial need and have families that they have to support. Time is important to you and you want to be employable as soon as possible and learn the most modern skills.
Big question to answer: How do computers, the internet, and websites work? How can I build a website?
Throughout the months you will be building lots of projects. In order to help you, I have compiled a list of assets like free images, icons and logos you can use to make your projects look nice. Bookmark this.
Watch the real web developer roadmap to understand the full web developer industry so that you understand how all the skills fit together. When you first watch this, it will seem very confusing. At the end of the 5 months, watch this again and you will see how everything makes sense now.
Follow this Harvard course on youtube. This is just pure gold from probably the best computer science instructor there is. No need to do the exercises. They do a new one every year but this one from 2017 is the best version of the lectures. If you have time, you can watch the lectures from 2021 as well.
How to use the command Line: this book by Zed Shaw.
How to build a website, get a domain and have it up and running: LearnCode.academy video.
Learn to build websites with Bootstrap. Start with this Bootstrap 3 tutorial then go to the Bootstrap 5 documentation and add components you see there to a sample website. Understand the benefits that it provides vs writing CSS yourself. BUT don’t get stuck on this, because instead we want to focus more on the next two that are more employable skills:
Learn how to use Flexbox. Watch this playlist and then go and do this 5 minute exercise. Now that you know Flexbox, go and learn CSS Grid for more website layouts. Then do Flexbox Froggy and CSS Grid Garden exercises. Build your own website layout from scratch.
If you have time, you can do a few of the courses on the HTML and CSS Responsive Web Design sections at freeCodeCamp. It's 300 hours long so I wouldn't say this is the best use of your time but a nice thing to skim through.
Learn Git and Github with this 40 minute tutorial (yes, that’s me). Create a Github profile and start making commits every day. Start developing a sample website. Use Github pages to put your websites online for free. Also use this Git Explorer to practice and then learn more about Git Branching here.
Terminology/Jargon: use this tool.
Big question to answer: Can I build a professional looking website and understand the entire process?
Google Developer Tools → learn how to debug your programs and websites using Google Chrome. Finish this short little course. Dive deeper into this skill because it is very important: do this course (sign up for the free trial).
Learn about Promises, and Async Await in ES7 here.
Download node.js and npm. Download lodash from npm and use browserify to use CommonJS imports. Learn about it in this tutorial. Understand why npm is such an amazing tool for developers. Now learn about why we no longer use Browserify, and learn about native imports and exports.
Now using the above knowledge, learn a skill often overlooked by beginners: how to read documentation. Learn to use Parcel by reading their documentation and see how it bundles your code.
Big question to answer: What problem does React solve?
I’m heavily biased. I love React.js. As a matter of fact, I teach it to others and run workshops on it. So just trust me on this one. React dominates the industry when it comes to job demand. In 2021 this trend is even stronger. There is also Svelte, Angular and Vue.js as an alternative, but you want to stick with React for the best outcome. For example, check out the average salary of a developer that knows React.
If you have the time and you want an even more in-depth tutorial on React here it is
Optional: Learn Redux → Watch this course. Don’t let your head explode. Then read the documentation for it as well. Learn why managing state is a big problem that all large applications need to solve.
Build a sample React application using create-react-app. Create-react-app will blow you away. It will open up a new world for you. Command Line Interfaces (CLIs for short) are now becoming common practice with all frontend frameworks and lets us set up a project quickly.
Deploy your React app on GitHub pages. In the future, you should deploy all your projects on Github pages to show off in your portfolio.
Deploy your React app on Heroku.
Deploy your React app on Netlify
Start building your online resume. There are people that give better advice than me on this. Check out this blog, this article and this one. Or you can go all out and check out this course... but this post is already getting too long and you’re starting to give me evil eyes 👀.
Big question to answer: Where do servers, databases, and raspberryPis fit into all of this?
Once you are done with this, use a fun API found here and build a simple app.
Subscribe to the computerphile youtube channel and watch their videos as they come. Even though topics may be difficult, it will introduce you to some amazing things.
Optional: What is a Computer/Server/OS: buy a raspberryPi. Look up different projects on youtube you can do with your raspberryPi. Finally, build a simple script that makes lights attached to your raspberryPi blink. Follow this course. Host your website on the raspberryPi. Be amazed at how cool you are. I know I said this is supposed to be all free, but when I was starting out, this was one of the best "Aha" moments I had.
Learn basic Web Architecture concepts by reading this article.
If you have the time, spend a day building this chat application using react hooks and sockets. Add this to your portfolio.
Learn the difference between server-side rendering, client-side rendering and pre-rendering (static site generator).
Start practicing for interviews by trying to answer all of these questions. If you get something wrong, learn why you made that mistake and learn from it.
I can already hear people screaming at me with the above suggestion. “Are you out of your mind?! You don’t think < Enter topic in the last part here > is important? Only 1 day to learn each of those?” But hear me out. I do agree that these are important topics to cover in order to be a good developer, and everybody should learn the skills. However, we are trying to build a trunk of foundation here. It is easy to start diving deep into a topic, but without the foundation you won’t actually know why it’s important, or how it relates to what you are doing. Additionally, in most job postings I found, there was very little mention of the above skills. Just save learning these until you are on the job.
REMEMBER: your goal is to get employed in the most efficient manner.
By the end of the 5 months you should have the below requirements completed:
1. Learn HTML and CSS. Then, buy a domain, buy hosting from a place like BlueHost or HostGator, get the cheapest option, make a website, and put it online. You can skip this option if you would like to use Github Pages which is free or using something even more bare bones like Digital Ocean. My personal favourite is Netlify. But if you can afford it, actually buy one of the above hosting platforms so you understand how they work. This is going to be your portfolio from now on. Learn how to update it and make edits. As you learn new things, continue to make it nicer and nicer. Don’t spend too much time on this. Just enough to show that you’re able to put something online and make it look nice. Focus on having 1-2 really good and big projects in your portfolio instead of 30 small ones that anyone can build in a day (since employers won’t find this impressive).
3. Start pushing your little projects to GitHub. Employers will look at your GitHub profile and how active you are on there. Try to make commits 5 times a week on your personal projects. Also, try reading through this article and contributing to some open-source projects like freeCodeCamp or zerotomastery Open Source (we set up the projects here so that you can participate no matter what your level, or when you join. You can read the getting started guide here).
4. Learn to google and use StackOverflow when you have problems. 99% of the problems you will encounter when you start out can be found online. Or join a Discord or Slack server for developers and ask questions when you are stuck. You can pick one from this slack group list and talk to other developers. The key is to figure out how to solve your own problems and not always follow a tutorial and watch somebody else answer your questions.
5. Become comfortable using a command line to do things. Always have it open when practicing and try using it instead of the GUI (graphical user interface).
7. Attend local meet-ups and start talking to people. You will be really overwhelmed and confused by all of the things you don’t know. Don’t worry as this is natural. Just start meeting other programmers and coders so you can be surrounded by the lingo and jargon.
9. Start applying to recruitment agencies early. We are going to use them as practice. Most of these have practice interviews with professional coders so they can rank your skill. You are going to leverage these to practice programming questions and ask these experts any questions you want, for free!
10. Start applying for jobs for which you are way under-qualified for. You will get some interviews. You should never settle for a job. If you never ask, the answer is always no. See part 2 for more detail on this.
11. Make your LinkedIn profile look nice. Join our group to help endorse your skills. Don’t spend too much time on your resume. Make it one page, make it concise, and write down all the skills you’ve learned in the previous months. Use a prebuilt template like this. Being self-taught shows a lot of courage. Remember that your resume is just to get you an interview, after which, they are as good as paper towels… ok bad analogy because paper towels are very useful. I spent less than 2 hours on my resume. What makes you different than other developers is the fact that you come from a different field and background. How is this going to differentiate you?
12. Interview and be amazed at how employable you are. Not all of them will go well, but then again, not many developers learned everything in the last 5 months. It shows ambition. ONLY apply to jobs on LinkedIn, and the rest should just be you emailing directly, referrals, or calling the company you want to work for. Don’t waste your time on sites like Craigslist, Kijiji, or Monster.com, or other job board ads. Finally, you can check out this handbook for some technical interview advice.
13. * Watch this roadmap again to understand the full web developer landscape and industry. Now that you have learned a lot, this should make sense including how all the skills fit together and give you confidence moving forward.
Most people have an idea that you need to get something 100% before they can move on to the next step. However, for most skills, including programming, the closer you get to 100%, the longer it takes to get there. You only have 5 months. The last 20% will be better served actually working in teams, on real projects (and getting paid). So we are only focusing on getting 80% of the knowledge to use our time efficiently.
Technology is always changing. This is especially true with web development. Things are moving so fast right now that it is impossible to know every single library, syntax, or framework. What you do need to know is how everything fits together and what each technology is trying to solve. Most importantly, you just need to know it exists so you can look into it and figure it out when the time comes on the job. Programmers are problem solvers. Learn to solve problems with the tools available to you. Most of us spend a lot of time on pages like StackOverflow or researching Google because there are so many resources out there. Once you build the foundation of your knowledge, you can go anywhere. You just need to know how to look for answers and ask questions.
Focus on efficiency. The reason most of us give up on a goal is because we don’t see results. By focusing on the things that matter, it makes learning fun. But it doesn’t end here. Learning never stops, and your goal was to get employed as soon as possible so that from that point on, every day you are receiving a salary to learn.
Coding gets more and more fun with each passing day and it’s even better when you are getting paid every day to solve problems and develop your skills. The real growth happens when you start working on real projects with real teams. That’s why I strongly believe that you want your ‘study’ period to be as short as possible, in order to avoid debt, and increase your time in the best environment for learning: working in teams. I wouldn’t even recommend freelancing to start off. You want to surround yourself in an environment where everybody is smarter than you and you are working everyday with them. From there, be a sponge and absorb all of the information.
We’re building that trunk. When that trunk gets big and strong, and the roots are all put into place, your rate of learning new things will be exponential. You’ll form leaves of knowledge faster and faster with each passing day.
Make 2021 the year that you took a risk, you learned a highly in demand skill, you were terrified, you had new experiences, and you received new opportunities. Good luck!
I created an online course: The Complete Web Developer in 2021 where I walk you through the entire steps I mentioned above if you want everything in one place, extra help with your questions, or you want to support my work. We also have a private community of thousands of developers going through the course and helping each other out every day. It’s over 200 HD videos and 35+ hours of content. It took an insane number of hours to make. But I’m really proud of how everything turned out. I strongly believe it is better than any coding bootcamp material or any other online course out there.
Go to Part 2 of this article: Don’t Be A Junior Developer
By the way, my full time job is to teach people to code in the most efficient way possible as the Lead Instructor of the Zero To Mastery Academy. You can see a few of my courses below or see all of my courses by visiting the courses page.