Meet Mark: Financial Analyst Turned Front-End Developer

Mark Palfreeman realized he could combine both his creative and analytical side in a career in front-end development after working with data-centric and creative departments early in his career. He shares about the ups and downs during the course and what he’s doing now at Deloitte Digital.

Mark Palfreeman
Image source: LinkedIn

What were you doing before Code Fellows?

After graduating from [the University of Washington] with a business degree, I spent three years working in financial analysis and reporting, and eventually transitioned to project-managing a graphic design team in a larger multidiscipline creative department (I know, it sounds random). In college, I took one intro to computer programming course and a couple of information systems classes, which gave me some insight into programming and web languages.

Why did you decide to apply?

After assessing my future goals, it made sense to take the risk and shift my career path, and Seattle’s growing tech market seemed to offer great opportunities well into the future. . . . After being accepted [to Code Fellows], I haven’t turned back.

What interested you in front-end development?

People have told me I’m neither purely creative or analytical, but some mix of both. The interests I’d had in the past swayed from one side to the other and always left me wanting more. Front-end development interested me because I could put my hands to building something beautiful with a user in mind but still think logically about problems.

Regarding the industry, I’ve found it to be a whirlwind of activity, learning, and growth because the web is always in flux and new ideas are passed around constantly. The open-source nature of everything is fascinating because things we use every day are not one person’s work but the combination of the best ideas put together.

Tell us about your time in class. What were the highs and lows?

Highs: I’m not sure I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time. We were taught real-world tools, practices, and modern web development trends. Equally important was a community of people to learn with. Having people around you all in the same position, sharing the same struggles, and being able to teach and encourage one another in their education was invaluable to me.

Lows: So much content, so little time. At certain times I would feel so over my head with no idea how to solve something, and I knew the next day I’d walk in and learn something new. It’s like a cross-country trip by train—you can only rest briefly for the night, but the train’s going to continue on the next morning with or without you.

What was the hardest part for you?

Feeling inadequate at times. Knowing that I wasn’t going to master something but I had to keep going.

What was the best moment?

Finishing our final project and building something we thought could actually be useful to future students and others. All the late nights and hard work culminated there, and to say our team put a functioning web application together—from scratch—in just a few days, was meaningful and reassuring.

Was the course what you expected it to be?

I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know the breadth of knowledge, tools, and constant learning required to keep up in front-end web development, but now I embrace it and do the best I can with the time I have.

In what ways did your background help you?

A couple of my business school information systems courses and some previous exposure to graphic design helped to an extent—part of our course explained the interaction of design and development, and I already had an eye for design and user advocacy. I also came into [the course] with about four to five months of self-teaching via online tutorials and Code Fellows Foundations I, so I didn’t go in completely foreign to the web languages.

What are some of the projects you created?

Ordr: a one-stop portal to track your job search, applications, interviews, and communication with recruiters, etc. Another front-end developer and I partnered with three Ruby on Rails developers to build a full-stack web app. I focused mainly on the user stories, UI development, templates, and Sass.

Code Union: a place for developers to post categorized learning resources that can be up/down-voted by the public community. It’s somewhat of a Reddit just for code, where you can filter resources by medium or development language. Again, two front-end developers joined a team of Rails developers to improve an existing Rails application from a prior class. We added UI development and UX assistance.

Both projects were built in just a few days and haven’t been maintained much since completion.

What are you up to now?

I am a front-end developer at Deloitte Digital working on multidisciplinary teams to build websites, applications, and prototypes for large clients. I began primarily writing HTML (Jade) templates and modular CSS (Sass) with some JavaScript interactions, but I’ll be joining Angular web app projects in the future. I’m always trying to learn, stay up on front-end application technologies, and attend meetups and conferences to learn from industry leaders.

Any advice for future students?

  • You’ll never fully grasp everything in [the course], but take note of your weaknesses and never stop learning.

  • Immerse yourself into a community, whether it’s just with Code Fellows alumni or something else. An encouraging network of people is invaluable when changing careers, looking for jobs, and navigating a new industry.

  • Follow developers and tech on Twitter. I’ve gained new-found interactions, awareness, and relationships there that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  • Attend local meetups about technologies that interest you. You’re likely only a couple conversations away from some pretty influential people.

  • Don’t get caught up with every latest tool. Keep an eye on them, but knowing the basics will give you a more foundational understanding.

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