#004 - PHD turned Backend Developer with Simon B

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# Backend Banter - Simon B

**Simon:** [00:00:00] I was a developer there working on a new platform that they were creating. But it wasn't core to the business. The business got bought and the new people coming in only cared about the consulting arm. So suddenly I was working on a product that I knew while it was tech first and was useful, it didn't align with what the new owners of the business wanted from the business, even though it looked like it should be because it was a pure out and out tech product.

So that was disappointing.

**Lane:** Welcome Simon B to backend banter. Great having you on the show.

**Simon:** Yeah, hi. Very pleased to be here. I actually had to force myself to not do my own podcast introduction as Riversides counting down. Then I was like building myself up. I was like no. Wait. You don't have to do an intro on this one. So yeah, I'm happy to be on somebody else's podcast

**Lane:** I was just on your podcast, all the code a week ago, which is how I found you to be able to bring you onto backend banter. Why don't you take a second to just introduce yourself, introduce all the code, [00:01:00] and yeah, tell us what makes you important?

**Simon:** According to my wife walking the dog twice a day is what makes me important in this household. And according to the dog, giving him his meals twice a day. But outside of that, yeah. So I am Simon b Simon Barker. I am a web developer and c t o based in the uk. I have a platform, it's not a community cuz I don't have a discord or anything.

So I have a website and social media presence under the branding of. All the code. The podcast is all the code. The website is all the code dot code. I started this during lockdown as a lot of things got started, which was just starting to talk about code, but on Instagram, which back then was an unusual place to talk about.

Code. It is not so much an unusual place. To talk about code anymore because everybody jumped on the Instagram bandwagon. And then on top of that, I've been coding for 15 years. I'm a career switcher, got a PhD in electrical engineering. Never actually went off to be an electrical engineer.

Have worked in and around startups of various. Forms, shapes and sizes. I've had some [00:02:00] real jobs in between there. And I'm currently the c t O for a venture back startup in the UK called Peak Home. We do online architectural designs for UK homeowners. So there you go. That's like everything.

**Lane:** That. Yeah. Okay. That was a lot. I want to break down. Oh, okay. There's a, first I wanna focus on your background. So here on backend banter, we talk about backend development and specifically careers in backend development. So your background as a PhD in, was it electrical engineering?

**Simon:** Yeah, electrical electronic engineering was my PhD.

**Lane:** That you essentially, you got the degree and then you were like, Nope.

And then you wrote software. Tell me about that.

**Simon:** Yeah okay. So from a career perspective, the first thing that I should say, getting a PhD in the UK is a lot quicker than getting a PhD in the United States. So I would imagine it's a lot harder to walk away from a, from finishing a PhD in the US when you've put in, I remember, see, I remember meeting us students saying, oh, I'm on like year six of my PhD plus a masters, [00:03:00] and I'm like, Oh Lord, that sounds horrible.

No. I did a Bachelor's of electrical engineering three years and then I skipped masters. Went straight into who my PhD and I got the PhD wrapped up with 11 publications in two and a half years basically. I actually had to wait. To submit my thesis because they don't let you submit your thesis in less than two years, seven months or something in the uk.

But I was ready to be done with academia. Yeah, all in, I was only at university for five years, eight, nine months,

**Lane:** Oh, okay. Yeah.

**Simon:** Not that horrendous to walk away with a bachelor's and a doctorate. I think in the US that can be the better part of a decade.

So yeah. But that was when I taught myself how to code. I started with C because that is basically all electric. Oh, back then that was all the electrical engineers were expected to know how to write bit more with c plus. And I think even rust now is becoming more of an embedded language.

Wrote a lot of code for if you can call it writing. Wrote a lot of code for LabVIEW, which is like a graphical programming language for [00:04:00] controlling like lab equipment, likes, scopes and multimeters and all that kind of thing. And then from there I was like, oh, what am I gonna do? My wife has another year on her PhD, and then we wanted to move away from the region.

So I was like, oh, let's do this like startup business thing. So I met a guy who had an idea and we raised a bit of funding. We set up a factory we made a physical product. I built the website. I wrote some code for that business. And then, Eight years later, I was still running that business, writing different bits of code and apps for it and stock management stuff, and all sorts of automations to basically make up for a fairly shaky business model.

Yeah so I guess. I never really wanted to be an electrical engineer cuz I just went straight into doing kind of businessy preneur stuff and writing code for that. All sorts of code as well, like not front end backend apps, embedded stuff like all sorts.

**Lane:** So did you did you write that website and see?[00:05:00]

**Simon:** No, that website was not written. See that was on the that was on the classic. What would've been the map stack, which would be Apache or lamp if you're running it in the cloud. So Linux, Apache, my sequel and php and that was like version one of the site. And then version two, cuz we were doing e-commerce.

I just got really good at liquid. Templates in Shopify and did all sorts of weird and wonderful things in Shopify back when shop, we were early to Shopify. We're talking like 2011, I think was when I spun up my first Shopify site. And it was very limited back then in what you couldn and couldn't do.

And so yeah, we were, I was writing a lot of like front end Java script to put together check out cart links that would automatically populate things and basically making up for not having a backend. Because that was, back then, that was the thing with Shopify there was no access to backend.

Then in the meantime, I wrote some stock management software in Python. So that was interesting. I [00:06:00] wrote a command line interface to manage all of our factory stock and help me send out purchase orders and give me warnings of when I should create purchase orders and all of that kind of stuff.

And then that turned into a Swift app that I've released back in crikey, 2000 and. 16, it was Swift two. So that app doesn't work anymore if I try and compile it, cuz Swift is on five now. But I always kept going back to Backendy stuff cuz I just really enjoyed just crunching numbers and working through data and not able to worry about the fact that I couldn't write a drop shadow to save my life on a button.

Or more to the point I don't like drop shadows and everybody wanted me to put a drop shadow on a button. So yeah, I just quite like backendy stuff just cranking through data really.

**Lane:** Yeah, I definitely get that feeling for a long time. As a developer I just avoided c s s, like everything else. Nothing else really bothered me about front end JavaScript, html, it's fine we'll render stuff, but the actual styling of everything drove me absolutely [00:07:00] insane.

**Simon:** Yeah, I think I think c s s is that classic, like everyone puts it on their resume, but no one really knows it. But you've gotta put it on there, cuz if you don't then it looks peculiar. But when he really boiled down to it, none of us really know. C s s and this is something that Josh, have you heard of Josh Kimo?

He created his course like two years ago now. CSS for JS devs. And it just went to the moon. I think he made half a million dollars on his on his presale. I remember him, he wrote up about it on Indie Hacketts and I bought the course and it is, It's an incredible course and I actually now say I know c s s because I've done I think something like 70% of that course or something.

Yeah, but like I learned so much and I was like, I've been writing CSS for 13 years. How did I not know about all of these weird wad of ledge cases? The judge is don't worry. Nobody knows about these weird alleged cases because it's c s s.

**Lane:** Yeah, I mean I think the majority of us, especially if you come from like a, so for example, I come from a CS degree background. It's like I didn't learn a lick of CSS in school. [00:08:00] So I just taught myself whenever I needed it and I'm sure I haven't learned, the vast majority of useful things that would be good to know about.

Before we jump into the why you like backend stuff, I wanna talk a little bit more about your education. And how it relates to, I mean you, so you got your PhD in electrical engineering and then you jumped directly into the world of startups. So like you said, it sounds like maybe was that even remotely the plan?

While you were still getting your education, were you like, I'm gonna build a startup someday? Cuz you did mention it was a hardware startups, like that kind of tracks.

**Simon:** Yeah, so my education is quite peculiar. I went to a military boarding school when I was 16 years old, I decided I wanted to join the British Army as an engineering officer. And there was a school and a program in the UK at that time where basically if you could pass the Royal Commissioning Board at Sandhurst at 16, You would go to a military boarding school for two years, they would then [00:09:00] fund you through university and then you'd have a guaranteed place at Sandhu.

So I went to this this I guess it would be the equivalent of the last two years of high school in the us. So like right before college. So I went there and what I learned during that process in time was like, I don't like authority and being told what to do, but I figured it was military authority.

So he got to the end of that school that I was like, yeah, no, I'm not gonna take up that funding or that place at Sandhu. Thanks very much. I had to write a letter to the Commandant Sandhu he's like a. Brigadier general Colonel or something, and say I'm like 18 years old, I'm like, I don't want to come here anymore.

So then while I was doing my degree, I really enjoyed the technical stuff. And I was due to graduating 2008 and you remember 2008, it wasn't a good time to be graduating or doing anything in 2008. And so I'd like, had a fairly good dissertation. We actually managed to get a research paper out of my third final year undergraduate project, [00:10:00] and the supervisor for that department was like, Hey, I've got some funding for a PhD.

Do you wanna do it? And I was like, look for a job in 2008 as a fresh graduate

**Lane:** Okay, this is starting to make

**Simon:** funded. Let's do a PhD that's funded. So I didn't have to pay for it. It was funded. It was like slightly worse pay than a graduate engineer would get in the uk. And graduate engineers in the UK don't get paid very much anyway, so I was like, oh, let's do that.

And at the same time, my wife got a, she got onto a paid Program for a master's and a PhD. She did neuroscience she did electrical engineering and then neuroscience. And so I was like let's do this. This is fun. And basically being a PhD student when you are funded is like being self-employed with all of the resources you could ever want.

Basically no expectations on you to achieve anything apart from write 200 pages at the end of the three and a half, five years. And you get to n around for a few years and that kind of taught me, huh? I quite, I'm quite self-motivated. I quite like noodling around and making things. Academia's really boring.

So what's the middle ground between [00:11:00] boring academia where you have freedom and the military where you have no freedom? Felt like startups was where I was gonna get that kind of middle ground. And so that's what I gravitated towards. And plus I had a year where my wife was studying her V H D.

Most businesses fail within the first year. We figured ours would, and then I'd wrap it up after a year, she'd be done, and then we'd move probably to the outskirts of London or somewhere like that, get normal jobs and carry on with our life. And like I said, eight years later we finally wrapped that business up after eight years.

Yeah, that, that's what kind of. Brought me to startups. Also the social network. The film had just come out. People were we were what we were three years after the massive recession. There was no real financial end in sight in Europe. I think the US had started to work out how to dig itself out of the hole, but the UK really hadn't, and the government kind of saw startups and entrepreneurship as this escape hatch, and so lots of people were gravitating towards that.

There was funding available. And yeah, I just got sucked into that world. Still not sure if it was [00:12:00] financially, it wasn't the best decision I ever made because it's an unstable world. We were making a physical product with cash flow issues and we'd go months without getting paid and then we'd back pay ourselves, but not always, all of it.

Whereas my friends that went into real jobs, they had a rough two years, two, three years, but then they all their careers started to go up and to the right. However, they all looked like. Bored, shallow husks of themselves now. Whereas startups is like fun and exciting and a little bit stressful.

So if you can operate in that uncertainty, then it leads to some interesting stories.

**Lane:** Yeah the, in my experience working at startups as a developer, it's like almost always, so if you're a betting person, it's like statistically pretty much worse to work as a startup in terms of like your financial return, right? If you adjust for averages and medians and that sort of thing.

But it's just so dang fun. I really that's why I do it. You'll make more money at a bigger company. Unless you get laid off this year. I don't know this year's been wild.

**Simon:** Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But I think if you are a [00:13:00] mid-level engineer at Meta and you were on 250,000, you've probably still done fine, even if you got laid off this year. Yeah, I don't think yeah I think statistically you will always do better if you can just go onto the normal, slow, steady career path than if you go into the startup world, but, It can for certain personality types, it can be just soul destroying and you never really know why you need.

You find people who never tried the startup thing for many good reasons, really don't know what they're doing with their job, but they've been, in their 10 years, they've got a mortgage, they might have a kid or two. They're trapped and they really don't know what else they could do. And so they missed out on the opportunity to do the startup thing.

And I think that's a shame because it is a very fun, interesting career path if you can deal with the fact that you might not get paid next month.

**Lane:** Yeah, absolutely. I wanna reverse engineer our education. So the part of the reason I [00:14:00] started boot dev right in regard to backend development is, I went the traditional CS route and there was a lot of good things about that, but there was also a lot of bad things, mostly time sync, right?

I spent time taking an acting class music classes, like all these things.

**Simon:** Yeah, US education's quite different.

**Lane:** Yeah. Yeah. Just nonsense. You on the other hand I don't wanna put words into your mouth, but I would argue that a PhD in electrical engineering probably isn't the most streamlined way into starting startups.

So looking back, would you do it differently now? So if you started again as say, a 16 or 18 year old and you had to re-engineer the path that you're taking into startups or software development what would you switch up?

**Simon:** Yeah, so it's a, it's so the first thing I would say is in the UK we don't have the concept of like minoring and majoring in that kind of thing. We have a much more streamlined university experience. So you start and you are going to do what you're going to do. Whereas my understanding is the US is you go across [00:15:00] a broader array of subjects to eventually settle on one thing.

Whereas that's incredibly unusual in the uk you wanna do a CS degree, you'll just do CS classes, you wanna do electrical engineering degree, you're just gonna do electric. You might do some maths or something, but you are certainly not gonna do art, anything to do with art history and that kind of thing.

That being said, the UK's education system has changed a lot since I went, so now students have to pay quite high fees, whereas when I went, it was like, I think 3000 pounds a year or something like it wasn't very much at all.

**Lane:** Oh, okay.

**Simon:** it's so my, my, my whole university education intuition feast cost 9,000 pounds,

**Lane:** Wow. Okay. And those are publicly funded? Partially. I'm assuming.

**Simon:** Yeah, so that they're publicly funded universities. There is one true there was one truly private university in the uk. Still there's truly private and it's the only one I believe. Whereas now it, it costs between 10 and 15,000 pounds a year to go to university in the uk. [00:16:00] So if you go to what, like a red brick university, like a Russell Group One, which is the sort of equivalent of Ivy Leagues.

So I went to a Russell Group University Newcastle. It's gonna run you 15 grand a year. So you could be talking 60 K in fees, which is a lot different from nine 9,000 in fees. And our loans are still structured quite differently, so our loans are supplied by the government and PE pegged like the base rate.

So they're not very expensive, but it's still quite a lot of debt to be laing on now With that in mind, I don't think I would have now got, I don't think I would go to university because I was a very practical, engineery minded person. So if I hadn't gone to university to do something practical and vocational electrical engineering, I would probably have gone in to be a trade.

Most likely electrical I'd have been an electrician most likely. Because that's just the way my mind works. I find that relatively comprehensible and [00:17:00] understandable. And it doesn't come with, masses of student debt,

**Lane:** But assuming you had the goal of

**Simon:** being cs.

**Lane:** be or software development. Yeah.

**Simon:** I don't know because I loved my degree.

I, it was great. I really enjoyed my degree. I don't regret any of the time that I spent doing electrical engineering because, oh, this is gonna sound really pompous and it isn't meant to be. It's just I have an immense amount of pride. That I got a first in electrical engineering and a PhD in it.

Cause it's really hard. It's really hard. Like it, it's a ridiculously difficult topic and I nailed it. And so I got an immense amount of satisfaction in that and I, knowing how much satisfaction I got from doing that degree and working my like butt off to get through that degree, I wouldn't wanna take that away from my personality because I don't know if I would therefore still have the kind of persistence and.

Fortitude to then do the other things that I've gone on to do. But if I were to [00:18:00] look at it with completely objective eyes, not knowing the past I've had. Then, no, I don't think I would've gone to university to do it because it financially just doesn't make sense when there are so many other routes to learning how to code.

You can go to a bootcamp, you can self-taught through YouTube, you can do the middle ground where you pay for joining an academy boot dev. There's so many options, for. For literally probably 1% of the cost of a degree in the uk. Now, you could join pretty much every online learn to code platform for the same monthly fee, right?

Like you could just, yeah, everyone should call you, which one should I send $25 a month to. It doesn't matter. The value of the skills you are learning are so much greater than the cost of what these organizations are charging. It doesn't matter how many you join and what ones you go to.

Obviously, if you wanna learn backend dev. boot.dev is the best one to go for, clearly. However, like there are so many [00:19:00] options. No worries. I know what I know I'm here.

**Lane:** I invited you.

**Simon:** exactly. But there are so many options available now. No, it doesn't make any sense to go to university if you are going in with the sole intent of getting a CS degree to become a software engineer. But University gives you a lot more than that still got that bit.

**Lane:** Yeah. Yeah. I love what you said about there's something to be said about just doing something really hard, like when you are, especially like you just graduated high school in those years between 18 and 22 or 23 just doing something really hard, right? Because you have a choice at that point in your life, or at least for most people, where it's I just graduated from high school and I Do nothing.

Maybe I can stay at home, maybe I can go get, a part-time job. Or I could do this really hard thing, which is go to university. Depending on where you go and your degree, varying levels of heart. But yeah, I think there is definitely something to that. And it's funny, even though I started boot dev because I was dissatisfied with like the [00:20:00] way specifically computer science degrees are structured I think it can still be a good option for a good number of people.

So for example, I went to a small university probably one of the cheapest tuitions in the country. I think on the low end in the us it's two to $3,000 a semester in fees, like for like public

**Simon:** there's how many semesters A year?

**Lane:** two.

**Simon:** Two. Okay. Oh wow. That is cheap. That would be cheap even by the UK standards. Well done. Congratulations.

**Lane:** Yeah, like small university college. I actually went for free, so like I had scholarships, so it was like completely paid for. Obviously a lot of people don't get it for free, so you end up paying Yeah, six, $6,000 a year, $7,000 a year. Then obviously on the high end, in the US it can be insane, right?

Like you could be paying like 300, $400,000 for all four years depending on the school. Like you go to a private school, like all of a sudden it can get super crazy. But the reason I'm saying this is I think it can make sense to get a CS degree. If you're like 18 years old and you have a scholarship, like sinking four years into getting this piece of paper where you will learn all of these [00:21:00] other things, you will do this hard stuff.

Like I don't think that's necessary a, a problem where I have a problem. With a CS degree is there's all these people out there these days in their like late twenties, thirties, whatever, who are wanting to transition into tech or at least pick up the technical skills. And I think they can get tricked into thinking that going back to college to get the full four year degree in cs I.

Is the option. And it just like when you're at that point in your life where you're just trying to level up your skillset, where you're just trying to get that job, it's now is not the time for the acting classes. That I had to take. At least that's my perception.

**Simon:** Yeah. Yeah. No I think I agree and. Doing something later in life is also doing something new like that in later life is incredibly difficult because there's this thing I I'm very into weightlifting and the fitness world and there's a sort of a common expression of, oh, we all have the same 24 hours.

You see this in hospital culture as well, of we all have the same 24 hours. No, we don't. A single mom with two kids, Barely making a mortgage does not [00:22:00] have the same 24 hours as a jewel income couple with no kids and maybe a dog. There's just no comparison. So for both of them though, it's still really hard to go out and do something brand new, learn machine learning or backend ever.

It's a lot easier for one of them than it is for the other. But to then put your life on hold to go back to university for four years is one of my biggest criticisms of university is it's not an efficient use of the time, but that's okay cuz you're 18 to 22, it doesn't matter. You don't need to be efficient at that age.

You just, to be honest, you need to finish. If you imagine like you're like par baked at that point, like 18 years old, you're like par baked, right? You're like, you like that bread that you buy from the supermarket That kind of looks like bread, but it needs finishing off for 15 minutes in the oven.

That's what you are at 18 years old and what are the places you can go to get finished off is university. You can get turned into a kind of more functioning adult by 22. You don't need to be efficient when you are 28 or 32 and you wanna level up your skills. You need to be efficient. You need to have a [00:23:00] clear goal in mind of what you wanna do, what you wanna learn, where you're going.

University, absolutely not the place to do that. No way.

**Lane:** Yeah. Yeah I'm definitely with you there, and I think that's where I definitely at least draw the distinction. You mentioned offline when we were chatting before that you've worked at tech companies and non-tech companies, and what do you mean by non-tech companies?

And I'm assuming you mean you worked there as a developer or a backend developer?

**Simon:** Yeah. So for the first eight years of my career after the PhD, I was running a manufacturing startup writing code. As a founder, I was the chief technical officer, chief technical director at the business. Then we shut that business down and then I had to go and get a real job. And so I was a full stack developer for a retailer here in the uk with the warehouse.

I was on their warehousing team. Then I went to a data science company. Then I went to an edutech startup. Cause we can't just have tech startups anymore. We have to prefix it with something. So education, tech, startup, and now [00:24:00] I'm back as CTO of of a startup that my old business partner founded. He just raised around a VC and bought me in after a couple of years.

So those three companies in the middle there were very different. Going from less tech to more tech in each step. So the retail company was not a tech business. This was, if you've read The Phoenix Project, which came up in our discussion on our podcast and I'm actually now rereading it that was very much a part unlimited company, right?

That was a company that did something completely unrelated to tech. It sold women's clothes. But it used tech to run the business and had them for the 25 years that it had been. It existed for they were one of the first UK companies to do e-commerce. Like they, they built it themselves. I think they launched their e-commerce website in 1994 or something, which was ridiculously earlier in the uk.

I once opened a SQL stored procedure at that company that was 22 years old. It was, that was how long that had been around for. It was terrifying. But anyway, so that was a company that was using tech to do something [00:25:00] that wasn't a tech first business. So therefore, Your engineering department is a cost center because while the engineering department make money for the business, they actually provide services so that other parts of the business can make money for the business.

So therefore, you are cost constrained. You are under-resourced. There's too many systems run by too few developers. Everything's on fire all the time. It's great fun. You learn a lot, but you are not working at the cutting edge. Then I went to a data science consultancy where yes, it was more technical, but the main bread and butter of the company was renting out data scientists to Bank of England office and national statistics, all sorts of other companies working with data.

I was a developer there working on a new platform that they were creating. But it wasn't core to the business. The business got bought and the new people coming in only cared about the consulting arm. So suddenly I was working on a product that I knew while it was tech first and was useful, it didn't align with what the new owners of the business [00:26:00] wanted from the business, even though it looked like it should be because it was a pure out and out tech product.

So that was disappointing.

**Lane:** So let me like, break this down and make sure that I'm understanding and I'll recap it for our listeners. In a non-tech company, you as a developer are working on some tech product, like some website or system or script or piece of automation. But the, that product that you're building is not for your end users.

You're not selling that product to anyone. You are not making money. On that product directly. Instead, that product is being used internally by the teams of the company to get their jobs done and it's actually their jobs that are creating value for that company's customers. Is that an accurate way to break down tech versus non-tech company?

**Simon:** Yeah, I think that's perfect. You did a much better job of highlighting that distinction than My Waffle did. And that key bit you said was what is how you make the money? The tech itself doesn't make the [00:27:00] money. It's what the tech allows other people to do that makes money. So it's like a second order.

Making money from the tech is a second order effect. You could make money without the tech. It would just be slower, less accurate, more manual. But it could be the same as we did 50 years ago when there were no computers. It would still, that business would still work, right?

**Lane:** So to give a har like a hard example for the listeners. So like Zoom, right? The video conferencing software, like that's a tech company because you're building Zoom and then you're selling Zoom so that other people can use it. Whereas maybe if you're working on, I don't know, a customer.

C R m customer Resource Management database for Walmart, right? Maybe that's not a tech company because you're building tech for the kind of internal usage of Walmart and Walmart's just going to retail products to end

**Simon:** Exactly. So my, we, we'd essentially built an internal e r P system, enterprise resource. Planner management system. I can't remember. Anyway, basically a ginormous piece of software that [00:28:00] ran the business and it was all, it was web-based. It was, every user and every employee had a log into the system that would allow them to access the tools that had been written internally to help them do their job.

So whether that was merchandising for planning, next season's releases and the purchases and that kind of thing. I was on the warehousing team, so we wrote all the software that would manage printing out shipping labels, doing, creating the pick and pack lists for the warehouse workers to walk around and grab the products they needed.

I worked quite a lot of time on the returns application that we had. So return came in from customer operator would scan it, would look at the reason, we'd process it all, and that would all feed into our great big central SQL database that had. Something like seven and a half billion entries in it or something.

That was essentially, we were a great big wrapper around a database and it was the database that ran the business. But if you took all the tech away, that business could still fundamentally do. What it's set out to do. [00:29:00] It wouldn't be as profitable in a modern age. It wouldn't be as competitive, but it could still fundamentally do what it does without any tech involved.

Zoom cannot do what it does without any tech involved. Like we can't lean out the window and shout to America and have this conversation like,

**Lane:** If you reverse 30 years, that company would've existed. They just would've used paper and pen

**Simon:** It a hundred percent. Exactly. Whereas reverse 30 years Zoom doesn't exist.

**Lane:** Okay. Great. Now I want to take that conversation and I wanna frame it, or like for our listeners, what do you recommend someone who's learning to code specifically learning backend technologies, things like Python, go node, whatever, should they prefer to work at a tech company or a non-tech company for their first, second, third job.

**Simon:** So as always, it depends, says all seeded developer before they answer any question. But there is a reason behind this is I'm, let's assume that you are learning backend development with the specific [00:30:00] desire to get a job. You're not just learning it for fun, which is a valid thing to learn to code. There are many people who just code for fun as a hobby and have no intention of actually being employed in it.

But let's assume that you are. Looking to learn to code to get a job. And let's also assume that you're a bit older. So maybe you've had a few jobs already, you might have had a bit of a career or something, right? You're not 18 years old. Cause if you are 18 years old and you can afford it, go to university With that in mind.

The magic that somebody with a previous work experience has when they learn to code is that they are a subject matter expert in what they did before. You might not be an expert in being a developer. You're not because you've just learned to code. You've just learned what Python is. DACA is Docker is go.

If they've been a member of boot.dev, then. They have those skills, but they have junior levels of those skills, so they can't really compete particularly effectively with people who have coming out of [00:31:00] universities with four years of CS under their belt. But where they can compete is to apply to companies in their previous area of expertise, their previous industry.

The also hire developers because the hardest thing that a developer actually has to do isn't right code. Isn't to debug things, it isn't to write endless tests. The hardest thing a developer does is understand the problem space that they are working in. So if you have a history in running a warehouse or running a supermarket for something like that, or working in middle management, or even low level management in a supermarket, right?

You don't wanna be working in a supermarket for the rest of your life. But that first dev job, Go and apply to be in the supermarket chain. Go and be a developer at Walmart because guess what? You understand the problem space from the user's perspective and the business perspective. So what you lack in dev skills you massively make up for [00:32:00] in the understanding of how the business works.

And you will be the product owners or product managers, best friend and developer on the tape because you actually understand. What the space that you're operating is. Whereas many developers, particularly those who've only ever worked in tech companies or who are fresh out of university, the only experience they have is how to write code, which is really hard for them to wrap their head around some other area.

Do that for a couple of years, then apply for a tech company because then you'll have solidified your skills in an area you understand, and you will then be on a par with people who have come out of university.

**Lane:** I think this is some of the best advice. I absolutely love this. Thank you so much. So the idea that you can break down what a developer needs to get their job done in my mind, go one level further and say there's three things you have, like the theory. Of of computer science, let's say.

So things like algorithms and data structures. Then you have the practical ability to use tools that implement that theory. [00:33:00] So things like programming languages and frameworks and databases, right? And in a CS degree you're like heavy loaded on the theory side. You learn some of the practical stuff.

In a bootcamp or an online platform, you probably get a bit of the theory, you're more loaded on the practical stuff. But then there's this third thing. That we always forget that you brought up and I love it, which is like, what problems are you trying to solve? Every time I hired a new backend developer at one of my last companies, we were a software company, a tech company that built marketing software for marketers.

If I hired a developer who knew nothing about internet marketing, digital marketing they're constantly asking questions about that space and training up that developer on the problem space, on what we were trying to solve for our customers. I. Takes a while, right? Like you could argue it takes as long as learning, in some cases an entirely new programming language, right?

So I think you're spot on. Being able to leverage the advantage you have of being familiar with an [00:34:00] industry, with an end user gives you a huge leg up. So when you're competing I think it could definitely be an amazing strategy to go look for jobs in your existing vertical, right? If you had experience working at university, maybe you can be a software developer at a university.

In fact, now that I say that, one of our top students at boot devs, I, I know that he's a PhD in Arabic studies, worked at university in academia, learned to code. Now he's a developer at that university. So definitely a

**Simon:** That is the career switches route is Yes. Switch career, but really change department like that. That's almost what you're doing is I change now? No, unfortunately no existing employer is gonna let you go from marketing to dev. A forward thinking one would, but many of them won't because you are probably going to have to take a pay cut, and that's always weird at an existing company and that kind of thing.

But yeah, that is your superpower as a career switcher, as somebody come into development a little bit later. Do you know what, even if you are, even if you are 20 and you've decided to not go to university, but you've got two years under your belt working [00:35:00] in data entry and some boring insurance job, or even working in a restaurant for a couple of years, if you've been a restaurant, if you work in a restaurant for a couple of years, you're probably a supervisor.

When you learn to code, when you feel that you're confident, go back and apply to those companies. Go and do something in that industry. Because even though you might think, oh, it's only minimum wage work, and it wasn't, it's not like I'm anything special at it. Yeah. You are compared to a brand new, fresh graduate, that also is what, that only wants to write code.

That's another blind spot that. New CS grads have is they just wanna write code and it's no, you need to, w why are you writing this code and who are you writing it for? And do you actually need to write code? Like maybe you could do some other system or some other way of doing things like that.

Is the, that is the career switcher secret weapon, I think.

**Lane:** Our job as software engineers is to solve business problems, right? Not necessarily sling code. I love

**Simon:** Exactly.

**Lane:** I love that. This has been amazing. Thank you so much for coming on. I want to ask you just one last question to wrap up. What is like the one piece of [00:36:00] advice, again, you're speaking to someone who is just starting out learning code.

Specifically on the backend, they're not gonna be doing H T M L and c s s um, or design work or anything like that. What's the one piece of advice that you would give them in relation to either their career or how they're going about learning to code?

**Simon:** So I'll do both cuz the first one's really quick. If it's about the Caribbean patient, get off Instagram. I shouldn't say that I'm I'm have a large Instagram following, but get off Instagram. Stop comparing yourself to people that are multimillionaires by 2223, cuz they got lucky. Basically, ignore all that.

Take your time. Be patient. Don't rush when it comes to actually writing code, if the code you wrote works and solves the problem you wanted it to solve, then it's good. Doesn't matter if it wasn't perfect. Doesn't matter if it wasn't best practice. It doesn't matter if you did it in 35 lines when you could have done it in eight lines.

Doesn't [00:37:00] matter the code you wrote worked, so therefore you solved the problem. If it turns out later down the line that it's a bit slower, it's a bit clunky, that's when you worry about making it perfect. Our industry is driven by people who work at the biggest of big tech companies. So all of the best practice that filters down into the industry, all of the, you should do it like this.

You shouldn't do it like that. All the spicy takes, all the opinions is all driven by a very small slither of the dev. Problem space that isn't all that reflective of writing real world code for mid-level, mid-sized businesses and small businesses. If the code you wrote worked and it solved the problem for something, it's good enough, it's fine.

Don't worry about it. Don't try and be the next X whatever creator of react. Don't worry about it. You're not falling behind. If you did it a different way from what they would've done it, it doesn't matter. You [00:38:00] wrote code, you solved a problem. You are a developer. Well done.

**Lane:** If the code works. It's good. You can always iterate on it later. That's great, Simon. That's great. Where can people find you online? Plug your stuff.

**Simon:** plug my stuff. People can find [email protected]. We also my podcast co-host and I, Simon Grim, Simon g from the Iion Academy and galaxy.dev. We have a podcast called All the Code. We are coming up to nearly our 100th episode, which I find slightly bonkers. So if you have liked listening to the.

Kind of stuff that I have to say. Then go check out all the code and if you are into the Instagram or TikTok thing, then find me as at all the code with, I think it's 101,000 other followers on Instagram. So go check me out there. Yeah, just find me all the code online. Say hi,

**Lane:** Amazing. Thank you so much, Simon. Talk to you later.

**Simon:** you too. Bye.

#004 - PHD turned Backend Developer with Simon B
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