How I became a professional iOS developer in 12 months

In this post I’m going to share my story with you. If you plan to change careers and go into IT, it might serve you as an example. I’m sure there are many ways to go into IT, and the way I did it might not be appropriate for you, but anyway…

My previous profession

So, let’s start from the beginning. After I graduated from university in my home city of Stavropol (Russia) I went to work as a civil engineer at a company located in the same city. The work was all about oil field development. My job was to design all sorts of structures that are needed on oil fields like foundations for different modular buildings, structures that support oil pipes and many others. It seemed like a cool job at first, but I soon realised that there was no place for creativity in that  job. After you learn the basics you just repeat the same process over and over again, copying the same stuff (with little modifications) from one AutoCad drawing to another. I worked there for 2 years. All this time I lived in my parents’ house.

Then I decided to move to Moscow. How I did it with just 50000 rubles in my pocket and what  misadventures I had to go through is a whole separate story. Let me just tell you it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I couldn’t find a job for 4 months.

Finally I was able to get a job. Now my job was to design so called structural health monitoring systems. It was more interesting than my previous job, and I liked it at first. But after some time it became pretty much repetitive. It also didn’t pay well.

By the way, what I hated most about my two engineering jobs is that they were not intellectually demanding. I always felt that I wasn’t  realising my potential. I did the work that can be done by people who are not so bright as I was. And what’s irritating, those people got promoted all the time, not me. Because I don’t have people skills, I’m not talkative and so on. Basically, I felt that I was in the wrong place.

How I decided to go into IT

I have a friend in Moscow who works in IT. He’s a product manager. And he’s always  been telling  me that I could become a good programmer. He advised me to take courses on programming, which I did. The idea was simple: I would learn programming, find a job as a programmer and eventually start to make 2 or 3 times more money than I was making at that time, plus programming is more intellectually demanding activity than filling spreadsheets and editing Word files, so hopefully I wouldn’t be bored all the time.

So, for almost one year in 2011 – 2012 I attended a university on weekends. I was studying Java development. Actually the courses were more general than that. I would learn a little bit about everything in the IT field. As for the actual Java development, there wasn’t a lot of practical stuff in those courses.

Towards the end of that studying I caught a entrepreneurial disease. I watched some YouTube videos, read some books and was convinced that I needed to become a businessman. Immediately. I quit my courses even though I had only one month left to finish them properly and get my degree. I became what is called a wantrepreneur. At first I tried to do MLM. After four months I decided that was not a good idea. Then I tried to do infobusiness for several months. It went a little bit better, but still I couldn’t make money: I was paying more money for the ads than I was getting money from my customers. So eventually I quit that too. I did all this stuff as I was working at my day job.

Finally, after all my attempts to start a business failed, I found myself in a pretty nasty situation. At that point I’d been working at my job for 4 years. I had no new business ideas left. The initial plan to enter the IT was long forgotten. I remember that all I could think of at that time was how much I hated my job.

Luckily, at the very same time I had saved a large amount of money. Since I hated my job so much, for years I’ve been getting myself ready to quit it by saving money. Finally, I quit my job when I had enough money to live in Moscow unemployed for 2 years. I mean no buying stuff, no entertainment, just paying rent and buying food.

You might ask why save so much money in order to quit the job. The reason was that I didn’t just want to quit my job to immediately find another one. I needed to do something different. I didn’t know what, exactly. I needed time to think.

After one month of thinking (while living in Moscow, which is costly for an unemployed person) I still didn’t know what to do, so I started looking for a job. I really didn’t want to get another job as a civil engineer so I was kind of depressed at that time. Actually I didn’t really look for a job, I was just reading through job postings on the internet thinking to myself how sad it was that I’d learned to earn my living by doing things that I hate.

Just at that period of time I met with my friend I told you about a while ago. The IT guy. And while we were discussing my situation he reminded me of my intention to enter the IT. I’d totally forgotten about it, by the way. For some reason I didn’t remember about the IT thing during the whole month I was unemployed in Moscow. But as soon as my friend reminded me that I still had that option, I knew that moment that was exactly what I’d do.

It was the best thing I could do in that situation. I couldn’t stand a thought of just getting another job at that time. And I had plenty of money. So I could spent some time just learning to code. I decided to learn iOS development so I bought myself a MacBook Air. And I already had an iPad at that time. So that’s how I started. There was no reason to stay in Moscow while I was learning, so I moved back to Stavropol to live with my parents. There I only spent money on my food. I didn’t go out much. So I calculated that with that kind of living and with the amount of money that I had I could afford to be unemployed for about 4 years if I wanted to. But I figured that one year would be more than enough to learn programming.

How I learned the actual stuff

I started with the Stanford SC193P lectures on iOS development. I watched all those lectures in the first month of my studying while I was still in Moscow. Well, let me give you some timing.

I quit my job in the beginning of August 2014.

I decided to study iOS development in the beginning of September 2014.

I moved to Stavropol in the middle of October 2014.

I moved back to Moscow and got my first job as a programmer in the middle of August 2015.

So, for the first month I just watched lectures and did my homework. Then I did some tutorials. I released my first app to the App Store in November 2014, I believe. Then I spent several months till March 2015 making and releasing my other apps. Here are my apps, by the way, if you want to check them out:

https://itunes.apple.com/ru/developer/karen-grigoryan/id948320401

At the beginning I planned to become a freelancer. I didn’t like the idea of working in the office. And I wanted to travel. I even seriously considered the option of moving to Thailand instead of my home city, to learn programming. Good thing I didn’t do that.

At the beginning of 2015 I registered at oDesk (now UpWork) to become a freelancer. I even got a Payoneer card to collect my money that I would make there. But I soon realised that I didn’t have enough experience to get any serious offers. And the easy tasks were hard to get, because too many people could do them. So, I decided that after my study is over I should return to the corporate world for at least several years before thinking about freelancing again.

After March 2015 I started looking at the job postings. I made a list of common requirements for the iOS development jobs. And I started to learn the required technologies one by one.

At about the same time my IT friend decided to start a business. He created a hotel booking site, took a leave of absence from his job and started to work on his business. He told me that I could create an app for his business if I wanted. That way I could practise on a real world business app, and later I’d be able to show this app off on a job interview. So, I spent about one month working on the hotel booking app for my friend’s business. I never finished it, though. And my friend’s business never took off. But I still used that unfinished app during my job interviews when I was looking for my first IT job. And I learned a lot while making this app, so working on this app was not a complete waste of time.

How I finally got my first IT job

Couple of months later, in the beginning of August 2015, I decided to look for a job for real. The first hurdle that came my way was that there were almost no job postings, appropriate for me. All the jobs had very high requirements. At that point I didn’t understand one simple thing. If your skills don’t match the requirements listed in a job posting, that doesn’t mean you can’t apply for that job. You always have a chance. But I didn’t know about it. So, looking through job postings I felt kind of depressed. I even started to doubt if I could ever enter the IT. What if my entire plan was a big mistake?

Then I tried another approach. I found a list of top 100 Russian mobile development companies. About 20 of them were located in Moscow. About 10 were in Saint-Petersburg. Others were in a bunch of other major Russian cities. My plan was simple. I would send my resume to all the Moscow companies first (at that point I was still in Stavropol, the South of Russia). Then when I get job interviews I’d go to Moscow and live in a hostel there temporarily. If I wasn’t lucky and nobody wanted to hire me, I would send my resume to the Saint-Petersburg companies, then move there and repeat the process. Then, if nobody wanted me there either, I’d do the same approach with other cities. I would visit those cities one by one until I finally find a job somewhere.

It turned out everything was much easier than I expected. I got a job on my very first interview. I had a couple more interviews after the first one, but I went there only out of curiosity, because I already knew that I had a job at that point.   

And that’s how I became a professional iOS developer in 12 months. Maybe later I will add some concluding thoughts here.

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