These days it seems like more and more aspiring programmers are choosing the mentorship path by entering into the coding bootcamp frenzy. However, there are still some young coders who have managed to skill up without a college degree or apprenticeship program. One of them is Nicole Dominguez, a 20-year-old, completely self-taught senior product designer (you heard that right) who works for Sawhorse Media, the umbrella company over Muck Rack and the Shorty Awards.
Nicole recently sat down with SkilledUp’s “Fearless Careers” host Ander Frischer to tell her story from getting into coding as a little girl via neopets (remember those?) to being featured in The New York Times. Check out the podcast or read our five takeaways right here.
Code It and They Will Come
The New York Times recognized Nicole’s coding skills when she was only 13 years old.
“So by the time I was 13, I had a website that was more of a design resource and tutorial blog,” Nicole said. “And it was also about my teenage life and, you know, stuff like that.”
This website got The New York Times’ attention while its staff was writing a series of articles about girls getting into coding. It was one of those cases where putting out a great product and letting people come to you was more effective than pitching.
Turn a Hobby into a Career
Nicole was coding even before she turned 13. It actually started with a fun children’s game.
“I was introduced to it by a website called neopets.com,” Nicole said. “It’s basically an online place where you can have fake pets and your pets can have websites, so they had a tutorial about how to make your pet a website.”
No matter how old you are, something simple and fun can be an opportunity to delve into a career as long as you’re passionate about it.
Learning to Code is Not as Hard as You Think
For someone who has never coded before, looking at the chunks of code under the hood of a web page — even simple HTML — can seem daunting. Nicole gave an analogy for making it easier to grasp.
“If you think about the structure of an HTML page, it’s head, body, footer,” Nicole said. “So those were concepts I understood.”
We all learn to write pages of text with body paragraphs, so this is helpful logic to apply to HTML. When gaining new skills, sometimes it’s best to analogize what you already understand to the new material.
Reddit as a Career Tool?!
Reddit is probably one of the last social media platforms you think of after hearing the word “career.” Despite this, Reddit actually has a large and highly active community of professional programmers, some of whom hire via Reddit. Nicole wisely took advantage of this.
“In the summer after my junior year I posted on Reddit and I’m like, ‘OK, guys. I have these skills. I want to work for a startup in New York. Someone hire me.’ And then someone did!” she said.
The Power of Meetups
Sometimes the best way to find your dream job is to just go out there and meet people, rather than applying online. In Nicole’s case, she began online with a meetup site called Jelly, which allowed her to meet her future bosses in a Williamsburg apartment.
“That’s how we were introduced. and a few months later they hired me as a freelance designer, and then a few months after that, they hired me full-time,” Nicole said.
Nicole eventually worked her way up to being a senior product designer at their company, Sawhorse Media. This points to another advantage of meetups: You get to meet and socialize with your co-workers before you start the job, allowing you a chance to know whether they’ll create a positive space for you. She may have had success with her other applications, but she said this job ultimately made her happiest.