Today’s post comes from Lei Zhu, an upcoming graduate of the Front-End Nanodegree. Read on to find out how Lei is moving from tech coordinator to professional Full Stack developer.


My first job after graduate school was working for a small college in New Jersey as a technology coordinator. I lasted in that job about two years, right up until the time the webmaster for the school decided to quit. It was my job to fill in for her, as I had previously worked with her on a few web-related projects.

This was the start of my new position as a junior front-end web developer, working quickly to maintain and improve the user experience of various departmental websites. But honestly, because of my limited web development experience, I felt underprepared for the job. So as part of the role, I sought out new opportunities to improve my coding skills. I enrolled in computer science courses and online tutorials, and independently read technical books and engaged in online code forums when I had a free minute. In addition, I joined Women Who Code NYC in an attempt to meet more people in the industry, and the experiences, difficulties, and interests we shared in web development only strengthened my resolve to become a professional web developer.

“…my studies had strengthened my coding skills, but at times I felt my training lacked direction.”

After a while, I had acquired a solid understanding of HTML, CSS and jQuery. I helped the college with some major redesigns on homepages and department landing pages, and  I converted the old Flash-based site to a responsive, mobile friendly website.

While I was happy to make it this far on my own, I soon encountered even more challenges. To create interactive front-end applications, I needed to improve my knowledge of HTML, CSS, as well as JavaScript. Perhaps more importantly, I needed mentorship and a guide to take my skills to the next level. Yes, my studies had strengthened my coding skills, but at times I felt my training lacked direction with no senior web developers working above me to guide my progress.

I decided to join Udacity in October of 2014 after coming across an article on the Front End Nanodegree program. Upon enrolling, I immediately began working on a number of projects. I was originally concerned with the large number of students—numbering over 700—as I was hoping for a learning experience that reflected my own professional goals. However, I soon learned that each of my projects focused on strengthening a certain set of skills, and allowed me to work on core web development areas such as web testing and performance. Even at times when I struggled with my projects, I was able to draw upon the experiences of my 700+ peers in the program, as well as the one-on-one support from Udacity, to ensure I was making progress.

Specifically, I’d like to talk about two projects I worked on. The first was to make an interactive resume. My goal was to make this project an entry point to showcasing all my subsequent projects and to introduce my web-related experience. I needed to make this entirely my own, and make it prominent enough to catch people’s attention as soon as they visit the site. I personally believe that simplicity is more. I researched many resume designs, and eventually chose the color and layout: a clean and simple two-column layout with a blue theme color. I also integrated Chart.js and D3.js to make the resume project more interactive and graphical. I fine-tuned the look of the site until I was satisfied with the final result.

The second project was cloning a classic arcade game. Though I could go on and on about this project, to put it simply, it immensely helped me overcome the challenges of writing JavaScript from scratch and gain a firm understanding of how object-oriented programming works in JavaScript. This ended over a year of frustration of on-and-off learning with JavaScript—in the past, I read books and tutorials, but projects would often stall because I lacked real guidance and support. I never truly knew how to make my own applications until completing this Udacity project.

“…when I struggled with my projects, I was able to draw upon the experiences of my 700+ peers in the program…”

Four months since starting the Udacity Nanodegree, I have completed six solid projects that demonstrate my front-end ability. Although I’m preparing to graduate from the program, I’m also working on additional web projects for my college and learning MongoDB, Express, AngularJS and Node.js stack. Going forward, my goal is to one day become a professional full-stack web developer in a team environment. I feel I’m getting closer to my goal each and every day.

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Chris Morell
Chris Morell
Writer, content creator and storyteller dabbling in code. Tweet me with your favorite coffee brewing techniques and/or quotes from The Wire.