How I went from Cowboy Coder to Professional Front-end Web Developer

unicorn coder

Ok so I quit a lot of jobs, I moved around, I’m a bad person for not picking one place to work and staying there forever. I moved not because I couldn’t sit still, but because I felt as though if I didn’t, I’d be stuck working dead end jobs for, and with, people with zero passion. This is a fate worse than death. Forty hours a week in a queue would be better than working some of the jobs I’ve had.

It took a lot of guts to walk away from places I’d been working. All the while loved ones, friends, colleagues screaming “What are you doing?!”

I learnt a lot, from friends, from strangers and from other people’s mistakes. I had no idea I’d end up in web development, but I’m so so glad I found something I’m good at that I can work hard at, and make a living from.

It all worked out for the best, and here’s how it all went, I even managed to get featured on teamtreehouse’s student stories section!


I’ll start at the beginning. Back in 2010 I was working a dead end job of 4 years, it wasn’t awful (I supervised the guitar department of a local music shop) but it paid peanuts, and I was fed up of hauling 10kg amps up 3 flights of stairs everyday and getting crapped on by higher-ups.

Normally what I would do is, check the job listings and move on. This time I just quit, handed in my notice and left after a month. With no idea what to do, I just knew I couldn’t keep working dead end crappy retail jobs. After a few months of being skint, I got an apprenticeship (read ‘slave labour’) at a local council in the finance department so I could get some admin experience. I picked up a lot of spreadsheet and basic querying skills. Still no idea what I was doing, just aimed for an office job — well, that was better than retail, right?

While I was there my friend asked me if I could give him a hand with “SEO and PPC” being as I was pretty good with data, and I found myself complaining about business utter lack of consideration for any proper marketing. I had no idea what either of these were and hit up amazon for some SEO/Adwords for dummies books and got stuck in, earning some cash on the side. (Thank you for all your help and support Mike, I miss chilling in the shed and working with cats and goats.)

Once I got good enough, I left the council and got a job working for a flooring company, managing their SEO and PPC. I got a whole lot more experience, and helped them to work on a large Magento store which was developed by an outside company. The people that owned the company were largely clueless about anything web related, and were dismissive of my ideas, help or assistance, which was essentially what I was there for. The owner told me he did not “speak geek” and that I was to just get on with the job at hand, and not speak to him any more about making any vital changes to improve user experience and conversion – which was reasonable if not for the fact that those changes were integral to progress!

“I applied for a new job, and was successful, I even managed to grab a small pay rise! Not only that, I don’t feel like a disposable resource anymore – I have skills, and skills which are in demand.”

Wash, rinse, repeat I quit again. Back to the dummies books. HTML & CSS. This time I freelanced and got into web design. I did the usual hack up some WordPress themes with no idea what I was doing, but scraped by. Eventually scored a job at a well known printing company as an in-house web designer. I was no way near good enough, but managed to wing my way through the first few weeks.

After some time – I ended up running the whole web department, which had mutated into a web agency and was immensely stressful, pressure from above and pressure from clients led to me being rather abrupt to a client. This client was awful. Would call me every day — would only follow up with hand-written notes she had scanned in and then emailed. Worst of all she wanted a 2000 product e-commerce store, her products were cremation urns, and she wanted each one in it’s own category. 2000 categories! We weren’t allowed to use terms and conditions, templates or any signed contracts – it was total hell.

I was relegated back to doing SEO for the company, I suspected they felt I wasn’t good enough at the web development and design I was doing, and had just lost the company the crazy urn lady (hooray!)

This is where Treehouse comes in. I was devastated. I felt like I’d take a huge step back. When in reality, I’d done pretty well considering the odds. A developer I had hired a month before introduced me to the Treehouse site, and I signed up pretty much straight away.

I wanted to prove the company wrong, that I could do it – and got stuck in.

Oh my. All the things I had been doing wrong, all the things I didn’t understand and had spent evenings and weekends looking up on the net, and trying to read through in books was suddenly pretty simple.

I felt like I had wasted so much time, if I’d just had someone to explain what they knew, rather than trying to waddle through elitist forums, verbose wiki articles and erroneous blog posts, picking up bad habits and an incomplete understanding of things. Treehouse was the total opposite, succinct and friendly. I didn’t feel stupid; I felt encouraged.

I spent around 4 solid months studying, and building up my web portfolio on the side, blogging and flogging the dead horse that was my company’s SEO campaign during the day, making websites for friends and family on the weekends. I finally got the courage to ask if I could go back on the web team. The answer was as I’d feared, a big fat no, with the reason I was doing a good job on the SEO, and they couldn’t afford to put me back there, which I suspected was only half the reason.

Last month I applied for a new job, and was successful, even managed to grab a small pay rise! From my meagre minimum wage days in retail, and being treated like crap, in just three or four years of informal education – I’d tripled my income. Not only that, I didn’t feel like a disposable resource anymore – I have skills, and skills which are in demand.

I have a massive opportunity in my new role, and it’s already making me feel like I have tons more to learn! I don’t freak out – I just come home and make sure I study hard online, and mostly, it’s with Treehouse. I love the Treehouse show too – keeping up to date is a whole other job in and of itself, and I’m really grateful for the info I glean from the videos and blog posts you guys put up.

So all in all, from total cowboy web designer to professional front-end web developer in 4 months thanks to Treehouse (and a lot of late nights). I’ve worked in some really awful places for awful bosses, and seeing the way Treehouse is run as a business, gives me hope that not all bosses are feckless halfwits and not all businesses will treat me like meat for the grinder.


Thank you to my Jonny & all my friends who encouraged me and never said “What the hell are you doing?!”  



  • You should! It helps if you find somewhere to work where people will help you, a lot of senior web devs are so knowledgable and helpful, if you can stand a bit of criticism. Good luck!

  • Hi Lauren

    Was just surfing the net, your story is more than an inspiration .it was progressive ,i just want to say it has made my day and i feel like i have learned a lot already . ~from KENYA~

  • Inspiring story, Lauren. Good to see you are in a position where you can grow and work with other people who are respectful of your skills and efforts.

  • Great success story, Lauren. I’m in the same boat as you being self taught. It’s a great feeling knowing you stuck through the hard times and made it out on the other end, a better and more knowledgeable person.

    Welcome to the Web Dev community 🙂

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