Student Story: Journey to becoming a Rails developer at a startup

Name: Neil Patel
Background: Business informatics
Current: Developer at Sincuru

Neil Patel’s programming journey started off like many others – at a Startup Weekend event. Despite having the best marketing team and a solid business model, there were no developers in his group. This meant that no one could actually execute on the technology side of the idea. In fact, of the 50 participants at the event, only 3-4 people knew how to code. Neil ended up hacking together a basic landing page on his own and had a mentor help him host the site online.

By the end of the weekend, Neil decided he needed to learn to program. Being a developer at a Startup Weekend event was like being the hottest chick in the room – everyone wanted to court you and convince you to join them. He wanted to return the following year as one of the technical people who got their choice of the best projects.

Neil decided to learn Ruby on Rails, one of the more popular web frameworks for startups. Through Google, he discovered learn-to-code sites like BaseRails, One Month Rails, and Jumpstart Lab. Going through the tutorials one-by-one required persistence and the willingness to ask for help. He posted so many questions on Stackoverflow he got kicked off – multiple times.

That first month, Neil felt like a fish out of water. Everything was hard. Dealing with errors. The late nights. Getting distracted. Unable to figure out why the code didn’t work. The time it took to setup a rails web app for the first time. Nothing came naturally.

But looking back on it, he did a few things right. First, he had a real project he wanted to complete, which motivated him to continue coding no matter how slowly he progressed. Second, he made sure he was coding everyday, but only for an hour. He found it was difficult to process and retain information if he tried to code for 4-5 hours straight. Instead of putting in countless hours, he focused on understanding all the code he was writing in that one hour.

After completing his first project, a job board for analytics positions, Neil wanted to find a job as a web developer for a startup. He was already following Rails companies on Twitter and each time a job opening was tweeted, he would apply. But as a fairly new programmer, there were still many skills he hadn’t yet learned.  ”The only interview I did was an online code challenge which I failed miserably because it was too hard,” he says. “They were asking about other skills like JSON.”

Then one day, he saw a job advertised on Twitter that was looking for someone to build a two-sided marketplace with buyers and sellers (sound familiar?). Neil saw that the company only had a basic landing page, so he devoted the next day to building a prototype for their idea. When he got invited to interview with them, he was offered the job on the spot.

Since then, Neil’s company was accepted into a tech accelerator in London, where he’s now working full time. Despite achieving his goal of working as a developer at a startup, his advice for other aspiring developers is very pragmatic: “I think if you want to learn Rails, then do it because you have a side project you want to develop, not because you want a 9-5 job.”

When asked what kept him motivated all these months, he responds, “I think it’s because it makes me happy, I find it interesting and not a chore. I believe I have learnt something new from programming every day so it’s fun and it also gives me confidence in talking to other people about programming. Also I can help other people who want to learn Rails programming.”

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