Listen to This If You're Working on Your Developer Portfolio, with Alex from TechRally

Meet Alexander Lee 🇺🇸! Alexander, also known as TechRally, is a front-end engineer at Amazon. He's also a developer coach, Youtuber, and career changer. In this episode, TechRally teaches you how to solve a number of challenges you might face as a junior developer trying to break into the industry.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (00:00):
The idea of, "Oh my goodness, I'm not going to get a job because the markets are tough so I should give up." I really don't like that perspective of just thinking that something's not going to work and everything is outside of your control. There's so many things you can control in the context of trying to get your first job in tech.

Alex Booker (00:17):
Hello, and welcome to Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I speak of successful developers about their advice on learning to code and how to get your first junior developer job. My name is Alex and today I'm joined by Alex. Yes, after 92 episodes of the Scrimba Podcast, it finally happened, my guest and I have the same first name. Alexander Lee or TechRally as he goes on Twitter, is a junior developer coach, author, and frontend engineer at Amazon. A first name isn't The only thing that Alex and I have in common, because helping aspiring developers is very important to both of us based on our own experiences.

In Alex's case, he is a career changer and boot camp graduates himself. And since those early days he's had a fair share of challenges and he knows firsthand how it can feel. Don't you worry though, because he's going to show you how to sidestep some of those big challenges in this interview today. Since Alex coaches junior developers and is always participating in events like Twitter Spaces, hearing it from both sides, I present him some hypothetical scenarios like what he would advise to do if you're applying for jobs, doing everything right, it seems, but not hearing back from companies. These type of questions led to a bunch of unique advice about how to stand out based on how companies and hiring managers think without any further ado, you are listening to the Scrimba Podcast. Let's get into it.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (01:48):
Yeah. How did I get into tech? I studied mechanical engineering in college, and in there I really wanted to work on cars, or airplanes or something along those lines because I really liked physics, I really liked math and that's kind of what I thought engineers were supposed to do. Funny enough, after I graduated, it was really hard to find a job, and it came to a certain point where I just took any job that was willing to take me. And I ended up in this electrical engineering route, specifically related to semiconductors and manufacturing. And if you're asking me about semiconductors and manufacturing now, I'll tell you I have no idea, because I did that for three years and I did not enjoy any bits of it at all. And it came to a certain point where I was trying to figure out what do I want to do with my life?

And I did a bunch of different things. I actually applied for law school thinking that I wanted to be a lawyer. I somehow was coding a little bit here and there trying to figure out if that's what I wanted to do, but it came to a certain point where I realized that doing part-time coding while working full-time was just really, really difficult. So I made a kind of an internal business decision to try to do a coding bootcamp. This was back in 2015 where I said, "Hey, let's just try this out." And I applied. I got in and then once I started coding for about three months and just attending the school, I was able to eventually find a job three months after that. So it took about six months for me to break into tech.

Alex Booker (03:16):
You mentioned that this was quote on quotes "Internal business decision." for you switching from electrical engineering, leaving that job to focus on learning to code full-time at a bootcamp. What do you mean by that?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (03:26):
Right, so traditional education, generally you have the decision to go back into grad school and grad school takes about two years. I didn't really want to go back to school and number one, spend a lot of money, and number two, more importantly, spend a lot of time on something that I potentially might not have liked. So at the time when I said that I was going to commit to coding full time, I actually didn't know if I actually wanted to be a software engineer, because you don't really know until you actually do it.

And I looked at it from a kind of time perspective. A coding bootcamp only takes three months, while a grad school, if I did computer science or whatever, took two years and I was like, "Crap, two years is a really long time. What if at the end of the two years I'm not going to actually really like this?" So I just thought that a coding bootcamp was kind of that sweet spot where it wasn't too expensive, but at the same time, I was just more looking at it from the time perspective and three months felt like it was more than enough time for me to know if this is what I want to do as a career.

Alex Booker (04:28):
I guess, businesses, instead of putting all our eggs in one basket, they might do an experiment to see if this is a pathway of pursuing. Sounds like you applied a similar thought process but to your career?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (04:37):
Exactly. And again, I even applied to law school and I got into a few of the law schools, but it wasn't ideal from a perspective of it's going to cost even way more money than grad school. And after I finished law school, I would end up making the same exact money that I was making before. So not only would I be making the same amount of money, but I would have a huge debt. So these are things I think about before I make certain decisions, for sure.

Alex Booker (05:02):
2015, I would say that's around the beginnings of boot camps. I can't imagine there were that many around, at least not as many back then as today. I know as well on your YouTube channel, TechRally, which we're going to link how I'm proud of the show notes, you've interviewed various boot camp students to see how they're getting on. I'm curious, based on your experience, what's your assessment of boot camps? Are they a good path to take for people learning to code and breaking into tech? I'm hoping we can get a balanced views of the pros and the cons.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (05:30):
I could only give my personal experience during 2015, and I could give you a different perspective now in 2022, because I do work with a lot of coding boot camp grads. There are some things that still work, but there are things that kind of lack in a general sense with coding boot camps. But at the time when I attended coding boot camps, there really wasn't many options. I think at that time there was that bootcamp, Flat Iron School and maybe this other school called Maker Square.

It made the choice really easy, right? Because you only have three choices. And one thing that really attracted me to the bootcamp that I went to, which was Flat Iron School, was I always wanted to live in New York and they had a campus in New York and that was their only campus. So I think I just got really, really lucky, because the teacher that was teaching the class was also the dean and one of the people that started the coding bootcamp at that time, maybe some back history of Flat Iron School, was that it was started by two people, one was more tech focused and the other one was more business focused.

And the teacher at the time was a tech focus guy, so he really knew what he was talking about, and I just got all that great information the way he was teaching and ironically enough, it was the last class he was ever going to teach, because he started to move towards dean duties versus actual teaching duties. So I would say, I got very lucky in a sense of I got the best version of teaching that I could have possibly had because those were actually the craters themselves. From that perspective, the decision making was relatively easy. Fast forward to 2022, I talked to a lot of coding boot camp grads now, and from a learning perspective, I think it does a somewhat sufficient job. But one thing that really lacks in 2022 with coding boot camps that maybe 2015 it thrived, was the career service support. Back in 2015, I had a lot of career service support where people that were working at Flat Iron School was actively reaching out to employers and trying to get those interviews for you.

2022 coding boot camps, they are kind of in the business of getting a lot of students, if I could just be fully transparent. And when you have too many students or when you have a large amount of cohorts, it's really hard to prioritize each individual person, let alone trying to do introductory calls for each individual people. So a lot of times my one-on-ones, it really revolves around how do I help you find a job now that you know how to code? And I think with coding boot camps these days, they still prioritize the learning how to code, but they don't really help you transition from learning to actually finding a job.

Alex Booker (07:59):
That's a good point. You offer one-on-one mentoring services with aspiring developers. We can link that as well. I'm sure every answer is tailored and it depends on the person's circumstances, but say someone is in this position where they have free months or equivalent of immersive coding experience, could be a boot camp, could be a self-taught route, and they're wondering how to get their first developer job. What are some of the best advice you can offer? What are some of the, maybe I'd call it hygienic things that everybody should be looking at if they want to break into tech?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (08:27):
Funny enough, even talking to these coding bootcamp grads, there's just a lot of holes, and it just shows that there is a bit of lack of accountability to say the least with these students, right? Because number one, you are paying a lot of money for these bootcamps. And what I would recommend also is, if you just want to learn how to code, there are a lot of different free resources out there, but to actually find a job in coding, you need to do a lot more. And there's just so much to break down here, but the few minimums that you really need to have is a great LinkedIn profile.

There's just so many good resources out there that I can refer to. The second is having a good resume. Third is having at least, one good project, strong project with authentication, maybe some type of relational database management plus a good front end. And then lastly, just really doing your interview preparations well. I think those are the four pillars that are super important. If you don't have one of those four, then it's going to be really hard for you to stand out as a developer, especially if you're coming from a non-traditional education, you're going to be a little bit somewhat behind in a sense of the computer science degree might add more weight. So you got to really just figure out ways to shine in a relatively tough market.

Alex Booker (09:39):
I couldn't agree more with those points. I think there are a lot of things to choose from when it comes to prioritizing your job search, but LinkedIn and a strong resume are probably, that's a better word than hygienic the minimums. I wonder what advice you would offer to someone who seems to be doing everything right but still isn't making the headway they want with their career. For example, they have a really nice LinkedIn profile, good picture, good tagline. They've filled in all their relevant experience, their numbers and specific things they've done in their job descriptions or the descriptions of their jobs and likewise their resume follows all the best advice, they've got a nice clean, ATS friendly templates that prioritizes the right information, they're applying to jobs every single day, but they're just not hearing back. What would you say to those people?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (10:24):
I would say number one, good job. If you are doing all of those things. More often than not, I always feel that when I do look at their profile, they're always missing something. But internally in their head, they think they're doing everything right. "I apply to a hundred jobs, I apply to a thousand jobs, but no one's responding to me." And then I take one good hour looking at their profile, "Why is this link broken? The UI here doesn't really make too much sense. This link that you shared, when I go to it doesn't go to the actual page that you said it is, that's describing the project." So sometimes take a step back and look at your profile from a pretty objective perspective and just not think about just the action of applying to jobs, but maybe you should also think about why I'm not getting responses.

Too often than not, we are just in this moment of just doing without actually thinking about, "Hey, do I want to hire myself?" Because the reality is that you are competing with a bunch of different people and that also is equivalent to looking at a thousand, 10,000 resumes. If you're already disqualifying yourself by having broken links, you're obviously going to be ignored. So I would say number one, just try to take a step back, maybe get it evaluated from a friend or someone that is familiar with job searching, just to make sure like, "Hey, am I doing everything correctly?" And I say that with a caveat because I'd even argue sometimes that software developers aren't the best people to get recommendations from, because they don't really know what it's like to be a junior engineer anymore. So to them when they see, see a resume and they probably just glance at it or they don't really know how tough it is to get your first job because they probably are in their third, fourth or fifth job.

So try to get some feedback from people that actually know the pains and struggles of trying to get their first job. So maybe someone that's done software engineering for a year or two kind of thing, so they can share with you their struggles. But at the end of the day, it is a bit of a luck game as well. You just got to be lucky and get that first job offer and once you do, it does get a lot easier after that. I think there's a bit of persistence and try to think outside the box when what you're doing is not working and you just consistently are doing the same thing over and over again. I think it's kind of insane that I see on Twitter sometimes people complaining about, "No one's responding back to me and I've applied to this many jobs." It's like, "Why are you doing the same thing over and over and over again?"

Alex Booker (12:43):
Yeah, expecting different results.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (12:44):
You have to change it up. So I think be willing to adapt and change is also really important.

Jan Arsenovic (12:51):
This episode of the Scrimba podcast will make you think about your portfolio. If you're also curious about building a personal brand, have we got a show for you.

Madison Kanna (13:00):
I ended up tweeting out that I was laid off and the response I got was so overwhelming and now I view getting laid off is as truly one of the best experiences I've ever had. The tweet itself, it was liked six or 7,000 times, it was retweeted a thousand times. I had hundreds of DMs. My parents really impressed that upon me at an early age that the internet and these online courses and having a personal brand were going to become really valuable over time. And so I remember even when I was 16, I was started blogging and thought it could be really important in the future.

Every junior job that I looked at would say something like, "You need up to a year to two years of experience." And so it's kind of that hilarious catch-22 where you need the job to get experience, but in order to get the job, you have to have experience. And so it's this place where you're stuck. I realized that if I just got some sort of experience, I would be able to have more job opportunities. I looked at all of these different paths and then I started focusing on the one that I kept being interested in. Because you can pick something up and then put it down a week later. I think a great way of figuring out what you're really interested in is what do you still spend time on when you have no time?

Jan Arsenovic (14:10):
This was an episode with Madison Kanna and I'm linking it in the show notes.

Alex Booker (14:14):
I will be right back with Alex in just a second. But first Jan the producer and I have a quick favor to ask from you.

Jan Arsenovic (14:21):
If you're enjoying the show, can you maybe share it with someone? Word of mouth is the best way to support a podcast that you like. And if you're learning something from this episode, chances are somebody could find it useful as well. If you're part of a coding community on Twitter or Discord or on LinkedIn, we'd be really thankful if you share the podcast there. If you're sharing it on Twitter, make sure to mention Alex, Alex the host, but also Alex the guest. You can find Alex the host's handle in the show notes. He does read it all and he also replies to it.

If you're feeling super supportive, you can also leave us a rating or a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. A big shout out to all the people who've done that already. I've read the reviews recently, you kind of have to jump through hoops, because Apple localizes it so you can only see the reviews from your own country. But yeah, I managed to read them finally, and it's really great. Thank you for your support and we will keep doing what we're doing. One week we're talking to an industry expert like Alex and another, were talking to a recently hired junior developer.

Sylvia Favello (15:35):
I had to get surgery and then during that time I needed a little time off because I've been working nonstop to save up money to have the surgery. I wanted time for myself just to have a break. And so during that time I got bored and I was like, "Ooh, I need to learn something." I went on YouTube and I watched a video on how to speak and for some reason that kind of kicked off a desire in me to continuously learn. I saw on TikTok that there's a thing called I went on the website and I saw a stage and I saw these red curtains and it looked very dramatic and then I just pressed play and that's kind of how I got into coding.

Jan Arsenovic (16:16):
That was Sylvia, she's Scrimba student and she's on the show next Tuesday. So subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, so you don't miss the upcoming episodes. And now we're back with Alex and Alex.

Alex Booker (16:31):
Once you get your foot in the industry, a couple of things happens. You kind of just serendipitously run into opportunities, maybe someone you used to work with joined this new company, there's an opportunity there, your resume isn't as important. Also, the funny thing about tech is once you've been in the industry for a year, two years, free years, recruiters start reaching out to you. When you're on your developer, your resume and your portfolio and those kind of things, they never have to be more perfect. With resumes, it's the little things that add up, take LinkedIn for example, sometimes a good bit of advice is to add a custom URL to your LinkedIn profile rights. And I'll even take your example of a broken link because, obviously if that's a bad experience, but is it the thing that's going to make or break your job hunts? What would you say to someone who's doubting the importance of all these little things?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (17:15):
It really just depends on where you are in your career. As you become more and more experienced, the developer portfolio and the resume is really not that important. I'd say the most important thing if you're an experienced developer is your LinkedIn. Because your LinkedIn is going to be where recruiters reach out to you. So if you have experience and you have an awesome LinkedIn, then you're going to get a bunch of messages. And the resume is kind of like a moot point. They do ask for it but they ask for it after they've already reached out to you. So it's just something they want to keep on file or record and that's all it's used for. If you're a new engineer or someone that's trying to get their first job, everything is important, everything is important because you just never know why someone will say yes or why someone will say no.

And I've seen people that put four or five, six projects on their resume or their LinkedIn, and I totally do not agree with that, unless all six projects are awesome. As in it makes sense, no links are broken, all of those things. But sometimes I see people putting broken projects just because they think quantity is better than quality and it's just such a backwards way of thinking. I tell them stop giving reasons for recruiters and managers to disqualify you. If you're openly giving broken links or you're openly giving apps that don't work properly, what else do you expect for them to do?I wouldn't want to hire that person, because number one, attention to detail is pretty poor, and then number two, the quality of the app is not quite what we need at the end of the day. So again, it's a business decision for the manager to hire this person and they're already taking kind of a risk on you especially, because if you're an engineer or someone that's trying to get their first job without any work experience, you just need to really wow them as much as possible.

And that's why I say sometimes even just having one good project is better than having three okay projects or three projects and one extra broken project, if you know what I mean. You're just trying to create a highlight reel of yourself and based on that highlight reel, someone will say, "Oh this person is good or this person is bad."

Alex Booker (19:19):
You've built a very successful career in my view, in one of the toughest places in the world for a developer which is New York City. You have an awesome job as well working as a front end engineer at Amazon. Amazon strikes me as a company, which is on the more difficult side to get into. I think to get a role there, you really have to demonstrate your ability and approach the interview process very specifically, like how you structure your resume, how you apply, whether you maybe get a referral and of course the whole interview process is a different discussion. But what are some of the things you did to optimize your profiles, resume and that kind of stuff before pursuing a job as a company like Amazon? Does anything stand out as having a big impact on your success there?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (20:01):
That's a really great question. And I don't really know what stood out for me to get messaged by recruiters specific to Amazon. I just know that my portfolio, I'm not talking about my web app portfolio, but my portfolio on my LinkedIn, my portfolio on AngelList, it just shows that I know what I'm talking about, if that makes sense? In a sense of, I am a front end engineer, I use modern front end technologies and I've done modern front end technologies to optimize for this. So at the end of the day, when you get past that first job, no one is really looking at your portfolio, no one's really kind of fact checking I guess, in a sense, of your skill sets from a pure online presence like "Hey, send me three websites that you worked on." No one really does that. Everyone's kind of going based off of your LinkedIn profile or your angel list profile or your resume.

So as long as it shows that you know what you're doing, you'll get messages from Amazon, you'll get messages from Google, all of those things. But once you get the message it doesn't mean you got the job. There's like a whole can of worms at that point that requires a lot of preparation. But in terms of getting noticed, especially after you get your first job, I mean, there's even a running joke that once you update your LinkedIn with your first job, like 10 recruiters start messaging you and filling up your inbox. It's so true because the word experience is so important and vital that it's a game changer. So getting notice is not as difficult once you get your first and second position.

Alex Booker (21:28):
I noticed someone on Twitter, maybe it was on LinkedIn, writing that a lot of recruiters were reaching out to them earlier in the year, especially around the summer. But in the last few months especially the number of inbound messages has gone down. That kind of mirrors my experience on LinkedIn. While we have you, I'm curious to hear your perspective?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (21:46):
I definitely agree. If you have been watching tech Twitter news or news in general, hiring freezes have definitely kicked in and on top of that, layoffs have been occurring as well. Big companies like Twitter, Meta Google, and I believe Amazon is doing about 10,000 employee layoffs. If big companies like that are doing it, I'm pretty sure it's affecting a lot of startups as well. So I don't want to sound super negative or anything like that, but the reality is that markets have been a little bit tougher and that's why recruiters haven't been messaging out as much. And unfortunately during layoffs, if you are a recruiter, they tend to be the first to go.

Alex Booker (22:26):
Yeah, good point.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (22:27):
And That's probably why you may not be getting as many messages because they probably don't work at that company anymore. I laugh, but it's a really sad situation. And usually those are signs that once recruiters are gone, it kind of trickles down to other employees as well.

Alex Booker (22:42):
That does not necessarily mean that the jobs aren't there, it might just emphasize in this climate why it's so much more important to apply and really nail your resume or whatever the application for masks of you. In my view, tech is gigantic as an industry and of course, when you look at companies like Meta doing layoffs, Twitter and so on, it's hard as a new developer to not shake this feeling that, "Oh my goodness, all these amazing senior developers who are good enough to work at Meta have just entered and saturated the market. How earth and May is a junior developer going to get into the field?" I think that the job market is huge and I don't think just because there are more senior and experienced developers in the market, the companies are all of a sudden, who are looking for juniors going to say, actually no, we are not going to get a junior anymore. We're going to hire a senior developer. Because even still that senior developer's going to be 2, 3, 4 plus times more expensive essentially. I don't think that's how it works. What do you think?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (23:36):
It's a tough question. And I really don't know. I'm not coming from the hiring perspective side and I also don't really know how markets are outside of the US. From a outside looking in perspective, it does kind of look like Meta engineers, Twitter engineers are going to be competing for certain types of jobs, but I do agree with you, maybe they're not competing with the same jobs that junior engineers are trying to get, they may be just competing with each other trying to get into Google or some other type of fame companies or whatever you want to call, "Top level companies." But I really do think there still is a market for junior engineers and it shouldn't deter people away from coding. And this is just my opinion. Obviously, I haven't fact checked how many startups are looking for junior engineers or things like that, but-

Alex Booker (24:23):
That's Okay. This isn't BBC News, we can talk about our opinions.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (24:27):
Yeah, exactly. But this is my opinion is, I think one thing is just you just got to do what you can to make yourself very, very appealing for companies to want to hire you. And there are a lot of times with junior engineers, where I try to coach them in a way that outside of just looking from a pure code perspective, you have to also do a lot of research about a company and those are the types of conversations you want to have with these potential employers, right?

Because with juniors there's less of a decision making in terms of, "Oh, will this person save my company?" And more about, "Is this person coachable? Does this person know about my company and do I want to hire this person based on just how eager they are?" Versus maybe some of these Meta and Twitter engineers, they might be just competing just based on pure skillsets and we just need some kind of engineer to do very, very complex tasks for us and that's why we'll hire you kind of thing. So different markets, different job descriptions, different jobs in general. And I think you just got to do what you can and to try to get that foot in the door.

Alex Booker (25:24):
You've been at this for... I mean you graduated the bootcamp in 2015, so at least seven years. In your anecdotal experience, are there trends in the job market? Would it be fair to say that hiring slows down towards the end of the year anyway?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (25:39):
That's something that I personally haven't really been tracking too much, to be honest, because I just consider a whole year as I get to... Or let's see if what jobs are out there kind of thing mentality. But from my feedback, talking to other people who are more familiar with this, they do say that there is a tendency for hiring to slow down during the winter months, and then it starts picking back up again in the February, March, April time. So I'm just going to go based off what others have told me because they probably have a lot more familiarity with it.

But as someone that just always is curious about what's going on in the market area, or try not to let a season define like, oh well I guess this is not a good hiring season. I think there's always opportunities out there. My recommendation for a lot of even juniors is like, yeah, it may be December and people are on vacation, but maybe you'll be applying when others aren't. Your resume might get through the grapevine and then you'll be able to get notice even more possibly. I try to take advantage of every season or that's the kind of model I try to instill on people that I do talk with at my one on ones.

Alex Booker (26:43):
And I also like to bring a positive vibe here and look at what we can control, because whatever's happening in the job market, as a new developer entering the industry, there's really nothing you can do about it, to be honest. That's not going to change, you can't will that to change. But what you can change is your perspective and also how you approach the job search and building up your skills. And I just like to remind people as well that in the summer when there was a lot of hype, I would say, around tech, senior developers in particular were earning an awful lots of money. This is because across the board people agreed there was something of a senior developer shortage. Because during the pandemic there was a huge influx and people spending time online, a lot of developers got hired to do that. Likewise, companies had a bit more in their reserves, so they could afford senior developers and so they would choose senior developers over junior developers.

In the summer months, junior developers were thinking, "Well, that doesn't sound good for me. Because if a company can hire a senior, they probably will." And if it's hard to onboard and train juniors remotely, they probably will go for a senior. But at the same time, now we look at the job market and there's a possibility that all these senior developers have reentered the market that kind of negates that. And if companies are being somewhat reserved in how they spend money and what they commit to their run rates, they might find it incredibly alluring to hire a cheaper, don't forget as a junior developer for all the things you still have yet to learn, you are cheap compared to senior developers.

And so they have the opportunity to onboard someone. As you say, Alex, if you can demonstrate your teachability and potential and show your track record, even though it's not professional experience, I think there's every chance they could look at you as a bargain almost and somebody worth investing in. Yeah. With all that said, and accepting that there's not a lot we can change about the job market, what would you say are the things that junior developers can control?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (28:26):
The idea of, "Oh my goodness, I'm not going to get a job because the markets are tough, so I should give up." I really, really don't like that perspective of just thinking that something's not going to work and everything is outside of your control. There's so many things you can control in the context of trying to get your first job into tech. But sometimes I feel like we have this mentality where, "The world is out to get us." Or "The markets aren't good, so I'm not going to be a software engineer, so I should just quit coding." I've heard these jump to conclusion statements so much and I don't really know how they go from A to Z so quickly, but the things that you could definitely control, there's just so many things and we kind of talked about it a little bit. Number one, just really having a good LinkedIn.

I don't want to go into the itty bitty details of it, but there's some very minimal things you can do to make sure your LinkedIn is nice and presentable. And I always like to describe it to the people I talk to is, imagine your whole package is a museum and once you go into this museum, you're just showing all these really, really nice paintings. But these paintings are just your resume, your LinkedIn, your everything. It's a representation of who you are. And if you go into this museum and you look at this painting and it's all messed up and it doesn't look good, then obviously, we're going to say, "Wow, this museum is not very good." And you just leave it. Kind of similarly, when someone like a recruiter or a hiring manager goes into your museum and they see that your LinkedIn doesn't look good, then they'll just move on to the next museum or the next candidate.

Alex Booker (29:56):
They're not going to spend time giving you the benefit of the doubt necessarily in trying to pick apart the good bits. You have to make a really good first impression, even if it's just the vibe.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (30:05):
Exactly. So those are the things that you can control, right? You can control what's inside of this museum and what's inside of this museum is number one, your LinkedIn, and then number two, your resume, number three, just working on a really good project. I think people really neglect that. Work on a project that will just really showcase your skill sets. Because at the end of the day, what are we trying to do? We're trying to get a job as a software engineer. And if you don't have an app then I just don't understand how anyone would want to hire you considering that this is your first developer position. After you get your first developer position, having a site app or having some project app is not as important. But the first one, you really need to just showcase everything as much as you can.

And showcase everything that's good, don't showcase half finished projects or anything like that, but really be conscious about, "Hey, I'm going to give you five pieces of items for you to look at, but they're going to be my best five items." Imagine a dating profile, right? Would you ever show a picture of yourself in shorts and sweats or something on a couch watching TV, drinking a couple beers or whatever? I don't think that's a really appealing profile picture and I don't know anyone that would want to swipe right. Likewise, you want to have the best version of yourself as a software engineer that's presentable. And that is something that you can control.

Alex Booker (31:22):
I've resisted making this link between being an appealing junior developer and building a good Tinder profile for the longest time, Alex, but you've baited me.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (31:30):
Wait, why though?

Alex Booker (31:31):
No particular reason. I just feel like it could be misinterpreted somehow, but I don't disagree with what you said. And I'll only add to it that on Tinder and apps that people are sometimes thinking, "Well, I don't want to catfish. If I put my best version forward. I don't feel like that's actually realistic and then someone's going to be disappointed when they meet me." But the truth about dating apps is that everybody else is putting their best foot forward, they're making themselves 10, 15% better than they really are and they have to, to level the playing field. And if you don't do that and if you disagree with it out of principle or whatever, you're just not going to get many swipes. And I think the same thing applies to your developer portfolio and putting yourself out there, even though you have limitations, which is to be expected from someone who's only been doing this for months or a year or two at most, it's not your obligation to draw attention to these limitations.

I don't think you should ever lie, I don't think you should ever be dishonest, but you don't have to draw attention to it. Meanwhile, you should absolutely control the narrative. Such is your prerogative. And by the way, it's so possible to do on your portfolio, you choose what your headline is, you choose what projects you put forth, and it's very simple. Whatever you make the biggest, whatever you make the most colorful, whatever you put first in the hierarchy, that's what people are going to click and interact with.

And so you can literally control the impression someone these, your portfolio, whatever about yourself. But Alex, I want to bring this back to portfolios because I think you make such a good point. You said that one of the most important things you can do is to build a substantial project. They should probably have something like authentication and it should interface with a database and an employee should look at it and say, "Oh." They don't have to use too much imagination to see how you coul d do something similar for them or how they can drop you into their code base and you can go out and build a feature or a sub page or something.

It's interesting because the advice I hear more is, "Hey, make a portfolio." Portfolio means project portfolio. And I feel like so many people take this advice and it's well intentioned, there's nothing wrong with it really. But the trouble is people build their portfolio and prioritize their portfolio, but then all they have on their portfolio is three or four mini projects, it's just probably not as impactful as one really big chunky project in my view. I'm kind of curious what you would choose. Would you put all your eggs in one basket and just build one solid project? You might not even need a portfolio to showcase it because you only have one. You can just send the link or write a blog post about it, make a PDF, whatever. You don't have to spend time on making a portfolio necessarily then. Or would you build a portfolio and include three or four okay, projects? How would you prioritize that?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (34:01):
I kind of want to go back to the dating profile thing. I do agree, you should never lie about who you are as a developer, but at the same time, again, the market is so tough right now or just in general that you just don't want to again come up with reasons to disqualify yourself. And that's why I was kind of using that whole couch analogy thing. It's like you don't want to show the worst version of yourself, you just want to show versions of yourself that is good and where a recruiter would want to reach out to me and say," Hey Alex, I saw your profile and I'm interested in you." Not romantically, but professionally. Right?

Alex Booker (34:34):

Alex Lee (TechRally) (34:34):
And to your question about one project versus multiple projects, this might seem controversial because I know some people that really push for multiple projects, but I'm a big fan of just one really good solid project. Because one good solid project, you're killing two birds with one stone kind of thing, where number one, you'll have a very, very good project, hopefully. And number two, you're going to be learning so much because the bigger the project gets, the more complexity there is. And the thing about smaller projects is that you don't really run into those roadblocks as much. You kind of build very, very minimal viable product esque project and then you just move on to the next project.

So you don't really run into as many issues, but as your project is scaling, as your project is adding more things into the database, as you're adding more routing, you'll start to hit these roadblocks and you'll start to hit these errors that you may not have seen in a tutorial, but this is your version of learning how to build true applications that are kind of similar to what you would be doing at a company. Unfortunately, you probably won't get to that size and impact, you can't replicate that fully when you're doing it by yourself, in terms of the project scale, but at least you kind of committed yourself to build a bigger version of a project within the context that you can control.

If you're just building a bunch of smaller projects, it just doesn't... You just can't talk about it as much in a more familiar way because you only touch the outside surface. But once you actually get into the weeds of things of like, "Oh, I ran into this undefined error," or "I ran into this communication messaging error." Or "State updates weren't happening properly because I was using multiple routes." All of those things only happen once you really dive deep into a certain project. But until you do that, you're just only going to get this surface level understanding of how to build a project, then it's just not good enough in my opinion.

Alex Booker (36:26):
I also think it takes, honestly kind of enormous discipline to finish a project, that the best of times, let alone one for significant, you describe. I think when you're sitting at home by yourself, teaching yourself how to code and you're getting stuck all the time as well with no one to turn to, finishing these projects is really tough. I think at least. And to be honest, I speak to a lot of new developers, but this was my experience. What advice could you offer to someone who's struggling to complete these projects? Because they're by themselves, they maybe like that motivation and they keep getting stuck all the time. As you can imagine, that could be a little bit frustrating and it makes it very tempting to then just limit the scope and move on to a smaller project.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (37:06):
So many ways to answer this. Number one, I'd say that try to flip the narrative a bit and consider this as a great learning opportunity. My manager always says that to me whenever I'm struggling. And I'm like, "How did you trick me into working on this project?" But the reality is that when you're following a tutorial, this is a very safe space of no errors and nothing is going wrong and you just are going to be able to build a project in less than two hours. But when you're actually doing yourself, you are going to run into errors. That is actually how you learn and become a software engineer, because you couldn't... I'm just a really good error reader I guess, if you want to say. And read the errors and then try to figure out the solutions for it. So if you are running into errors and you don't know how to fix it and all those things, I'd say that that's a good thing because now you're actually doing it yourself.

And that's a switch basically, is that you don't have to rely on tutorials anymore. But now you can actually look into something and figure out how the heck do I fix this? And then the second thing I would say is, this is just my personal way of motivation is, how important is this to you? And I don't want to sound like one of those YouTube motivational videos kind of thing, but at least for me, when I was trying to break into tech and get my first job, I really didn't have a true backup plan. I saved enough money to attend this coding bootcamp, which was $12,000 and I think I saved about $20,000 at the time. So I had about $8,000 of wiggle room and leeway to figure things out. And my rent was at that time, a thousand something. So not a lot of wiggle room there considering it was a three month bootcamp plus three more months.

And I'd argue that survival is a good motivator to make sure that I have a roof over my head. So everybody has a different form of motivation. Some people I've worked with one-on-one coaching, this guy named Joel Hernandez, he was a restaurant manager and he had a kid, a family and everything. And he was learning how to code part-time while working a 48 to 60 hour job. And I'm like, "How the heck do you do it?" But he really loved coding and he really wanted to change his life.

And I'd argue that when people don't finish or people kind of give up on coding, yeah, it's frustrating, but I'd say in some regards it's not a priority to you and maybe there's just other bigger priorities that are more important. And I don't really want to question people's motivation or what they're going through in life, because I know that sometimes you just need to have a job to support your family and that's why you can't code. But if it is a priority for you, then you should be able to persevere and go through it. Because these projects are going to be what makes or breaks you when you're trying to break into tech.

Alex Booker (39:50):
I was trying to find this YouTube video, which is like, "How bad do you want it? You want it more than you could breathe." And I was going to make a joke, but I can find it in time. Never mind me.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (40:01):
Yeah, I can make 15 minute motivational videos. But at the end of the day, it is just one of those things where it's like what pushes you to get to that next point? And I sometimes try to mimic that at my current career and it's really, really hard because not going to lie, Alex, life is very good here as an experienced software engineer. And how do I motivate myself to make more content and all of those things, there's like that survival instinct that I had back in the day that I don't quite have now, but survival is one hell of a motivation in some regards.

Alex Booker (40:31):
Do you know what the cost of success is? It's discipline, right? It's having a consistent study schedule, it's investing in courses when it makes sense, it's going outside your comfort zone to reach out to mentors on Twitter, for example. But it's sometimes helpful to remember the cost of failure. Why did you start doing this in the first place and what is the downside if you don't succeed at doing this thing? Maybe it means you have to keep working your job you really don't like, maybe it means you're not going to have autonomy, but you really crave. Maybe if you're like Alex here, you run out of money and you have to go on the street in New York City. That sounds like a pretty big motivator to me. Alex, thank you so much for all of your advice. What do you say, just to wrap up, we do some quick bio questions?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (41:13):

Alex Booker (41:15):
What do you prefer to drink? Tea. Your coffee?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (41:17):

Alex Booker (41:18):
How'd you make your coffee, Alex?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (41:19):
Any way possible. I have an espresso. I used to make ground coffee as well, but these days it's been an espresso and then I'd go out to get iced coffee.

Alex Booker (41:27):
Delicious. And what's your favorite front-end framework these days?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (41:31):
Still React. It's been React since 2017.

Alex Booker (41:34):
You're not tempted by Svelte or anything like that?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (41:37):
I think they're good, but for me, at this stage in my career, when I want to build something, I just kind of gravitate towards something that's familiar. There's a lot of benefits and knowing what's out there, but at the end of the day, it's what are you trying to do with this new tech? At the end of the, I keep saying at the end of the day, but it's still true, you're just building web apps and you could use PHP, you could use Next.js, you just use whatever you're familiar with. No one's going to be like, "Oh my God, you use Sprout this is awesome." So I still prefer React because that's just kind of what I've used a lot and most familiar with. And I'm still not good at it.

Alex Booker (42:10):
Yeah, you pick the right tool for the job. I like that.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (42:12):

Alex Booker (42:13):
Alex, what's your favorite cuisine?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (42:15):
I mean, I like Korean food.

Alex Booker (42:16):
Like Korean barbecue?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (42:17):
Yeah, of course.

Alex Booker (42:18):
What's your favorite Korean barbecue dish?

Alex Lee (TechRally) (42:20):
You can't go wrong with Galbi or Bulgogi, for sure.

Alex Booker (42:22):
I'm lucky to live in London where there's every type of food available, so I might have to love to see if I can deliver that for dinner. Sounds awesome.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (42:30):
Oh yeah, definitely.

Alex Booker (42:32):
Alex, thank you so much for joining me on the Scrimba Podcast. It's been a pleasure.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (42:36):
Oh, thank you for having me, Alex. And it's so funny that we have the same name. I think that was one of our early jokes when we first met each other. It's like, "Oh, it's good to meet another Alex." So it's awesome that we were able to have this kind of conversation and hopefully it helped some people get motivated to get into tech, and also some tangible action items of what they need to do to start to get noticed.

Alex Booker (42:57):
100%. Thank you so much.

Alex Lee (TechRally) (42:59):
Thank you so much.

Jan Arsenovic (43:01):
That's it for this episode of the Scrimba Podcast. Make sure to check out the show notes for useful links and all the ways you can connect with Alex. Alex the guest, TechRally. If you made them this far, please consider subscribing. You can find this podcast wherever you get your podcasts. And while you're at it, you could also leave us a rating or a review. If you want to connect with Alex the host, you'll find his Twitter handle also in the show notes. Make sure to mention him on Twitter if you're sharing what you've learned from the pod. And if you're no longer using Twitter, because that's still a thing, and you're on the lookout for a supportive coding community, check out Scrimba's Discord server. I'm also going to leave the link to it in the show notes. I'm your producer Jan and we will see you next Tuesday.

Listen to This If You're Working on Your Developer Portfolio, with Alex from TechRally
Broadcast by