In today’s episode of the Learn to Code With Me podcast, I talk with Alexander Kallaway. Alexander is a frontend web developer, the creator of the #100DaysOfCode movement, and a freeCodeCamp community leader.
Alexander was introduced to coding at school, but he thought developer jobs would be boring and so didn’t do anything with what he’d learned. After studying business administration at college, he worked as a digital marketing coordinator. Through his work, he saw how exciting development work could be. He then started teaching himself to code.
In our conversation, Alexander explains why he doesn’t recommend relying on tutorials when learning to code. He tells us what the #100DaysOfCode challenge is and why he started it. By talking about his involvement in freeCodeCamp, he also reminds us of the importance of surrounding yourself with people who can help you.
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos. Laurence Bradford 0:06 Laurence Bradford 0:18 Laurence Bradford 0:35 Laurence Bradford 0:52 Laurence Bradford 1:18 Laurence Bradford 1:40 Alexander Kallaway 1:42 Laurence Bradford 1:45 Alexander Kallaway 1:48 Laurence Bradford 2:14 Alexander Kallaway 2:29 Laurence Bradford 2:31 Alexander Kallaway 2:37 Alexander Kallaway 3:52 Laurence Bradford 6:10 Laurence Bradford 6:21 Laurence Bradford 6:26 Alexander Kallaway 7:08 Laurence Bradford 7:10 Laurence Bradford 7:49 Alexander Kallaway 9:22 Laurence Bradford 10:56 Alexander Kallaway 10:57 Alexander Kallaway 11:47 Laurence Bradford 12:30 Laurence Bradford 13:19 Laurence Bradford 14:49 Alexander Kallaway 15:02 Alexander Kallaway 15:57 Laurence Bradford 17:35 Laurence Bradford 17:42 Laurence Bradford 18:27 Laurence Bradford 18:45 Laurence Bradford 19:47 Laurence Bradford 20:48 Alexander Kallaway 22:00 Laurence Bradford 24:11 Alexander Kallaway 24:34 Laurence Bradford 24:39 Alexander Kallaway 25:01 Laurence Bradford 26:11 Alexander Kallaway 26:28 Alexander Kallaway 27:40 Alexander Kallaway 29:05 Laurence Bradford 29:56 Alexander Kallaway 31:11 Alexander Kallaway 32:13 Alexander Kallaway 33:20 Laurence Bradford 34:05 Alexander Kallaway 34:33 Laurence Bradford 34:37 Alexander Kallaway 35:01 Alexander Kallaway 36:09 Laurence Bradford 37:10 Alexander Kallaway 37:39 Laurence Bradford 37:40 Alexander Kallaway 37:43 Laurence Bradford 38:07 Alexander Kallaway 38:09 Laurence Bradford 38:16
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Hey listeners, welcome to the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host Laurence Bradford and today's episode, I talk with Alexander Kallaway. Alexander is a front end web developer as well as the creator of the 100 Days of Code Movement. He's also a Free Code Camp Toronto community leader, and overall super avid about helping beginners learn how to code. I really think you're going to enjoy the conversation I have with Alexander.
Remember, you can get Show Notes for this episode, plus more information about Alexander at learntocodewith.me/podcast. If you like the show, make sure to subscribe on whichever podcast player you listen on. And if you're feeling particularly generous, a review would be amazing as well. Enjoy the episode.
Hey, Alex, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Hi, Laurence. So this is yeah, Alex, as you mentioned.
So could you introduce yourself to the audience real quick.
So a little bit about myself. I'm a front end developer. And some of the other things I'm involved with is Free Code Camp. Actually. One of the Toronto Community Leaders for Free Code Camp. And also I've created like to help myself initially have created the hundred days of code challenge. So that's, that's about it so far.
Yeah, that's so awesome. I'm really excited to have you on and we had Quincy the founder Free Code Camp on the show last season, Season Two. Yeah, he's one of the guests. And I'm definitely sure we've had other I've had other guests in the past, I've gone through the Free Code Camp program.
I find it very useful.
Yeah,we're definitely going to talk about that in a bit. But first, I kinda just want to ask, like, when did you start coding?
So initially, I think it started when I was in high school, and not even high school, I think was like seventh grade. And for some reason, or it's like a specialized, specialized school. And one of the subjects that we covered in depth was information technology, but that's happened only for one year, unfortunately. So I really liked it. We were doing some basic things in Pascal. I know it was dated even even then. But I really enjoyed it. I even got to run the lesson once again because of my progress. But however, the problem was that they didn't really show us how we could apply that technology, what we could do with it. So it never went really far for me. And I just didn't think of myself ever of becoming you know, a developer. And in those times, for me, a developer was someone who's sitting behind a computer all day just writing just what I think of now is like binary or assembly code, something like this. Nothing visual. So that was my first introduction to technology and coding.
And then I've dabbled a lot with HTML and CSS over the years. With me No particular, like end result up until, I think my first real job after finishing college, which was I've kind of studied for Business Administration. It was a co op program. And I had some experience. So after that I was able to get a job as a digital marketing coordinator. And in that job, I got exposed to some like, code. on the site, I was just doing simple things like adding pages, there were WordPress sites, there were dnn sights, which are a bit older. It's like a dotnetnuke platform, which I've never seen anywhere else after so far. But it was just yeah, some basic HTML CSS, but that was something that sparked my interest again in learning how to code because I'm even one in my second Co Op. I I've worked closely with the developers there, and they saw how excited how exciting that work was. And I wanted to be a part of that. So I've asked them, How could they like learn it? Could they become a developer without going through the full like full four year program in university, and they gave me some exercises and referred me to go Academy, as well as giving me they gave me a book eloquent Ruby, of which I think I've only read like one page. And I didn't get really far. I went to the Code Academy course on Ruby, but also, I didn't see how I could apply it. So it was up until that point later on at my digital marketing coordinator job, where I've just instead of only asking a few people I personally knew I started reading articles online about it, and then I kind of started itself educating myself more and more and more. There's a lot of words for just one question, but that's how I got to really making a decision to start learning.
Yeah, I think a lot of people start off or they kind of have a windy journey and detect like, as you said, You started was it in high school or like middle school? You said you first were introduced?
First introduced in a I'm not sure if it's middle school or high school. Seventh grade.
Yeah, yeah. That well in the US. That's cool. Yeah, maybe different in other places. But yeah, that's considered Middle School. So yeah, that's quite a young like, I feel like that's very young to be exposed to something like Pascal but, but that's really awesome. And then you became like, reintroduced to it later after finishing college and getting this job as a digital marketing coordinator and having these like different projects and working with developers at the company. And yeah, I feel like I felt that is quite common to sort of like be introduced and then kind of go away from it and then come back to later on, like when there's yeah, through your own job or whatnot. I also feel like a lot of people I know I certainly can relate to this start with Code Academy.
Yes. That was the first step.
Yeah, I feel like I guess it's because also when you like Google learn to code, it shows up, I think first at least it definitely used to, and, you know, several years ago, and yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, okay, so I really love thank you so much for sharing that. And okay, so you're at this digital, you're I have this other job as a digital marketer. And you're slowly like learning more, you're doing Code Academy, you're reading other like blogs and articles online. Like when did you kind of make that choice? Like, what did you really dedicate yourself to learning how to code you're like, Alright, I'm doing this I want to become a developer. I'm just gonna like totally commit to it.
So I was kind of thinking about it. I'm just to make the decision I think took me like a month or two of reading articles, because I had No idea. And I had no one to tell me if it was possible or not to do it without the degree. So, and also, I had to find out if it was possible to do without the bootcamp because I didn't have an opportunity at that point of time to just, you know, leave work for three months, and I didn't have just like a financial cushion to, like, can utilize that opportunity. So I thought, can I do it? And without wasting time, while I, you know, gather resources and make time for the bootcamp, can I start now and get somewhere without that? So I started searching for those kind of, you know, personal stories of people who learned to code and if they were successful in what they were doing, what they were kind of researching what resources they were using. That was the biggest part for me. And I think, how I started seriously thinking about learning to code. Also, there were two articles that helped me. One was a very, very short article, I still remember it. And it's by some kind of some VC. So not directly a tech person in the article says in the title, if you're not technical, get technical. And that's basically what it is about.
Yeah, the Odin project.
And I think it's one of the good things, good decisions behind Free Code Camp. Is that eliminate eliminating that question of what language should they learn because people who started learning to code. It's kind of a resistance point for for for us, right? You think to yourself, okay, I'm going to learn Python then two months later, you read something about iOS, how it's so simple and you know, elegant and you start on it, and you go and like, divert your path toward learning iOS, and then something always comes up. And you think, Oh, I'm not on the right path. So eliminating that question, at least for the beginners. I think it's very, very important.
I do think they're great for some people. But I think for everyone, they should try to learn on their own first and take advantage of the free resources before making that kind of financial and time commitment to a coding boot camp?
I think so too. I find that and I also get approached sometimes during the free boot camp meetings about that exactly that thing about the boot camps. And people ask me like, should they go for boot camp? Do you know which boot camp is the best one? And I honestly tell them, I have no idea. And I tell them you have like if you decide to go for a boot camp, you have to do your research. Because it's not just because it's a financial investment. But because of what you have to have your goals clear in your mind. What kind of job do you want to have? What kind of technology so like, like you said, if you go into a boot camp blindly, without knowing what react GS is or what Rails is, you kind of get thrown into that curriculum that they teach, and not necessarily the one you will enjoy the most. But that's not the problem.
The problem for me is how do you find, how do you determine if the boot camp is credible? Or if it's actually doing what it is doing? And I think an elaborate application process is one of those indications like or indicators, that it might be actually a good one, because they take pride in the take kind of responsibility for what kind of people like people, meaning what kind of determination of the applicants they're looking for. And not just to, you know, take anyone in, collect the cash and just go? No, it's, it means that they're in for a little long term strategy of, you know, having cohorts of people that have graduated. And that's another great thing to check. If you can just reach out to the people that have graduated from the boot camp you're looking to get into and not have just recently graduated but maybe graduated six or 12 months ago. If you can see What they're kind of not post-mortem, but like what they're the outcome was of that, like learning and that if they can afford it, I think it's a it's a great way to like accelerate the process, of course, but definitely we can try like to all the people that don't think is the best option for them right now to do a boot camp. It is, you know, a pleasure and a bliss to know that it is possible to do it on your own. And there are resources.
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Yes 100% I love the advice you gave me about talking to graduates that's something else that I always tell people to whenever they're considering a coding boot camp because there's so many now it's you know I get asked about XYZ you know boot camp but I've never even heard of it. But the thing is, if you Yeah, if you speak to past graduates, that I love your advice, you said like six to 12 months, maybe even at the coding boot camp has been around for a while, like up to two years afterwards, asking them about their experience, like what they're doing today, if they thought it was like a good investment, all good advice. And I also love I never even thought about what you said about the application process being more difficult is probably a sign that the boot camp is better. And I totally, I totally agree. I feel like it should be almost a red sign, like a red flag if you go try to get into a coding boot camp, and they kind of accept you right away without any kind of coding test, or any kind of interview or any kind of prep work. Like I think those are all, as you mentioned, really good signs. And also, I'm actually I'm taking a course right now, it's not code.
I mean, it's tech related. It's not coding. It's a product management. So actually, by the time this episode comes out, I'll be done with it. But at the time of the recording, I am still Oh, yeah, yeah, thank you, but one of my favorites. About the class is the people that I'm with. And like the, I'm not trying to have the sound bad, but like the quality of the people like because everyone in this course, has a full time job already in tech. And they're doing this after work, because it's like a night class. So it takes a certain kind of person to commit to that, you know, after work, you know, these hours every week and homework and like, you know, at people have families and jobs and all this stuff. But likewise, I think with a good coding boot camp, it's the same thing like you're going to be around smart people, motivated people driven people, because they went through this application process that was rigorous. Also, the financial commitment means are serious. So I do think it'd be a great experience. But anyway, I don't want to talk about coding boot camps too long because I want to talk about the hundred days of code. Yeah, definitely. But I know a lot of listeners are going to find this valuable because a lot of people are considering coding boot camps. But anyway, let's totally like transition here and explain hundred days of 100 Days of Code because you are the creator of that.
Alright, so it's actually really quite simple. Um, two main things. One thing is, if you take on 100 Days of Code challenge, you kind of commit to coding for at least one hour a day. And doing like, during that hour, you're not doing tutorials or any kind of prescribed or pre determined pre made lessons or any kind of thing that kind of holds your hand and just, you know, does every like does all the work for you. Instead, it's all project based. So if you are at the level that you can start on the project, simple stuff, like building a page in code pen that you know that something like some buttons that would let it already count towards that. And so you do it every day, 400 days, and each day you tweet your progress on Twitter, using the hashtag and the reason in a way that is important, because there is a community that kind of rolls around the challenge that kind of helps each other, support each other. And people will be looking at what you're doing people will be, you know, helping you out along the way. If you're encountering difficulties, you can reach out to them on Twitter as well. And I think that's helpful. These are the two main points about the challenge. There are other things as well. For example, you can go ahead to GitHub and slash Callaway and you will see that there is 100 days of code repo that you can just clone and it contains already all the rules and all the FAQ about the challenge, as well as on like a template for your personal log. So you can put in the, whatever updates you do as you code and by the end of it. You'll have like a, you know, like a log of the hundred days, whatever you've done will be there, you can include the links as well. So it's kind of like a almost kind of like a certificate of your progress.
Yeah, that's so awesome. I will definitely include a link to this in the show notes and I'm actually on it now. The the hundred days of code on your on your GitHub, and I see that the sample log that you give and like the what else is here, the FAQ and the resources and the rules. That's, that's really awesome. So I'm just like, so curious. Because you started I don't what do you call it? Like a challenge? Is that the right word?
I think of it as a challenge. Maybe like a coding movement?
Yeah, I would. I was actually sort of thinking I was like, it's like a movement or a challenge or cuz it's not like you made a course right? Or something like freako camp, right, which has these courses, but it's also not like a blog. It's not that you know, it's kind of hard to categorize, but I think that's a really good way to call it. So in like your day to day do you monitor it or like do you interact with people? Oh, yeah. So explain. I'm super curious like, how how is that?
What I usually do is whenever I have time, I just look at what the people are doing you like using the hashtag, right? So just go to the hashtag. And I can see all the progress that people log and they like it on Twitter, right? And I reply to it when it makes sense. And just enter whatever questions they may have, and try to also kind of support them if they're either encountering difficulties or if they are, if they've made something, you know, I try to always congratulate them on that. And I hope the biggest value would be if everybody who's in the challenge would do exactly that to each other, like, like if you find two people every day, using that hashtag, and you just like their tweets. I think the overall impact will be just immense. And also, like you said, because it's a movement, no, it's like a project or a site or anything. So you I don't control it at all. I just like witness it happening. So it's it's exciting, but it's kind of like, you know, observing a waterfall. It just happens in it's it's beautiful.
That's so awesome and I'm on your now on your Twitter because I'm like clicking around the the different things you have. And I see that you are. This is like, February 28 like day 50, day 51. Are you like, doing it again, like cuz I'm sure you've already done that your first hundred days of code.
And by the time that they released the tutorial and make the videos, they've made all kinds of mistake in that mistakes in that app. They've, you know, encountered numerous bugs, it's been QC that's been like, reviewed by other people. And by the end you miss all of that and you get that perfect product. If you make one Mistake during like following the video, you don't know how to fix it. So that was my frustration. And we were having this conversation with my wife of like, I was just thinking aloud, you know, how can I really like make myself like create a habit, make myself work on the projects of the time and even now, frequent k. m, I was doing front end during my first hundred days of code, and now I'm working on react apps from freako camp. So and that's when I decided to just like put a little article on medium. just telling the world what I'm doing, you know, kind of, I've read a lot about how it's important to get social care, not approval, but social support, and commitment. So whenever I try to change a habit, I usually like talk loudly about it. Even though It might not seem great, but for me, it helps. Because I know that people are watching me.
So, with that goal in mind, I kind of put up a little article on medium and because I've previously written a couple of articles for free code camps medium and they were accepted things to Quincy, I was like, I'm just gonna, you know, submit it and be be whatever. And actually, to my surprise, Quincy weakly accepted it. And we worked on some ways of how we could make it better. So we released it, and I was just amazed and how much it how many people followed it. I didn't expect anyone to follow. I thought maybe like, oh, people will just, you know, like, read about it and kind of watch me after, you know, like, so I would be tense on not stopping and like not breaking my hundred days. Um, and after I finished yeah, I'm just now doing the second one.
No, that's so yeah, no, it's great. I'm also now clicked over to the post you wrote on Medium and I do remember like, when that came out what yeah, back in June. And I see it has tons of recommend. So that's really that's really awesome that also so many people were supportive and decided to join along. And I definitely get what you're saying about putting, like your goals kind of out there in the public because it helps you stay accountable. I think when you when you have all these people watching you, right? And you said, you're gonna, you know, do 100 days of code. And so it's like, Sure, I have to do it. I feel like that was pretty It was so many things. It's like, once I say I'm gonna do something, especially if I make it public. I feel like almost like this guilt if I don't do it. You know, or like, shamer or something like not not not in a bad way. Obviously, if you're doing something productive, that's a good thing. You know, yeah, exactly. Exactly. So yeah, that's really that's really cool. So we actually, I can't believe we were already almost at 30 minutes if you like this conversation flew by. But I also just want to quickly get into your involvement with Free Code Camp because I know you are a community leader in the Toronto area. And like, could you just share, like how you kind of got involved in the community and what it's like to be a community leader?
Yeah. So I'm not the is the leader we have, like, I'm one of the leaders. We have around five or six people now, just because I'm going to talk about that. When I first discovered Free Code Camp, I was surprised to see that there wasn't a group yet created for like the Toronto chapter of Free Code Camp. So I quickly went to Facebook and I created one and I was like, Okay, I now have this pot. And then people just started joining in and maybe two weeks after we had our first meetup. So we just went to a cafe and we called it coffee and code. somebody suggested it. I know it's been used, but for us, it was something fresh and we're like, we're here at the coffee shop. And recoding, so coffin code. And now I think we are at our 57th or 60th years to beat like soon, and Nita. And essentially in the beginning, we're doing it bi weekly.
And then maybe I think in the end of last year, we moved to a weekly schedule. And one or two years, Justin, he's also one of the, you know, people on the core team of Free Code Camp now he's the Global Management manager of communities there. He was able to help us to find, like our own location. So now, lighthouse labs here in Toronto, kind of host hosts us every week and thank them for that because due to that reason, we had, like twice, many people show up to our meetings. And it's been really great journey to you know, meet. Just the kind of people that go to these events is the people that are are interested in, you know, learning, self educating, self improvement. And they usually have such like crazy hobbies. And they're like, car racers, and there's people who make robots. And there's people who, you know, Justin also is a car mechanic or not, it's very bicycle mechanic.
So the interests vary so much there, photography enthusiasts and more and more and more. And I'm just happy to be there to meet all of those people. And I'm glad that you know that we can help each other because people sometimes come to these meetings. And they are just in the start of the journey. They have the same questions that we had only we can help answer them, answer those questions. without them having to spend a month or two just reading articles online, we can just tell them for from our own experience. And also, I'm glad that we helped a lot of people here to find jobs in tech. So It's all very exciting for me and I'm glad I got that opportunity. Definitely.
Yeah, that's that's really exciting. It's so great that you have this like community and it is associated Free Code Camp and obviously it's also like in your local area. So it's like you're you're building this, you know, network of friends all around to learning how to code and even though people come from different backgrounds and different you know, industries and professions and whatnot, you know, all with a central goal. So yeah, I think that's really great. And just to clarify, you guys meet once a week for the coffee and code
Oh, yes. On Saturdays we found that the best day for some reason.
I can see that because I feel like I don't know for me my Saturdays like my chill day like after work during the week things to always be a little crazy and it's like hard to make something. I don't know if I can see how Saturday would be a good day though. So I want to ask you, as like the final like question, do you have any parting advice for people to teaching themselves how to code?
Mm hmm. So I guess I have a couple of pieces of advice. So one would be, don't worry if you feel depressed or you feel like you cannot do it. Like, I think everyone feels that at times, so just pass through it. Or better get support of the people who are also learning to go they go to meetups, and I think I was always afraid to go to meetups before, I've kind of made my own with the Free Code Camp because I expected there to see only like, full fledged, you know, professional developers there. And I was like, I'm not at that level. I think they're just going to be coding and they'll be like laughed at, you know, but there are also beginner friendly meetups as well. So just check out those and the other piece of advice is, like I said, try to divert yourself from being helped in being kind of on the hook of those tutorials and resources that really kind of chew everything for you.
And then you can just, you know, get the material already perfected for you just experiment and code on your own. And if you like encountering problems, ask people and don't just follow the, you know, the pre made resources only. They can be good if you're introducing yourself to new technology or just educating yourself on a specific piece that you have trouble understanding, but also work on your own projects. And these projects. Also, I wanted to mention, this will be something that will help you get hired, as opposed to like, you can say, oh, I've I've, I've done seven or eight courses have completed them. But what it is, is it to an employer, the projects that you made, then their life online, they can explore you can talk about it, you can tell them everything about Where you've implemented certain functions or functionality. And I think that's another great value of doing projects. So these are the two main advice, pieces of advice.
Yes, I love it you just to recap, he said, don't worry if you feel like depressed or are alone even better get support from others, go to meetups and try to like, not rely too much as tutorials, go off on your own and build your own projects because those are going to help you get hired. And I 100% agree with that last bit. I think building projects and how you worded it was perfectly like you can show a project you can't really show your knowledge from completing, you know, a bunch of courses. So thank you so much for sharing.
And lastly, where can people find you online?
So I'm at Twitter, @Ka11away with a K and, with 211 instead of double L. So if that's kind of, I can also give you the website, so it's kallaway.io and from there, it's kind of a match matrix themed because I'm a big fan. But from there, you can find other links as well.
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on.
Sure thank you so much for having me.
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Alexander. Again, the Show Notes for this episode can be found at learntocodewith.me/podcast. If you're listening to this episode in the future, simply click the Search icon in the upper navigation and type in Alexander's name. This is how you spell it, A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R, and his last name is K-A-L-L-A-W-A-Y. If you like this episode, visit my website learntocodewith.me where you can find even more awesome code related content like my 10 Free Tips for Teaching Yourself How to Code. Thank you so much, and I'll see you next week.
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.
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- Take advantage of free and cheap resources before investing time and money in a bootcamp.
- If you do decide to do a bootcamp, speak to graduates about their experiences and find out what they’re doing now.
- Don’t rely on pre-made tutorials; build your own projects. This way, you’ll learn how to handle unexpected problems and you’ll build up a portfolio to show to potential employers.
- Don’t worry if you feel like you can’t do this; everyone feels that way at some point. Just work through it or get support.
- Don’t be scared to go to meetups. There are plenty of beginner-friendly ones.
Links and mentions from the episode:
- S2E8: Starting freeCodeCamp with Quincy Larson
- Eloquent Ruby
- If You Aren’t Technical, Get Technical
- Viking Code School
- The Odin Project
- Join the #100DaysOfCode on Medium
- Lighthouse Labs
- Alexander on GitHub
- #100DaysOfCode repository on GitHub
- Alexander on Twitter @ka11away
- Alexander’s website
Thanks for listening!
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