Sohail Saha
Sohail Saha's Blog

Sohail Saha's Blog

Zero to Hero in Two Lifetimes

My journey from being a nobody to a developer at Polygon

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Sohail Saha
ยทJun 30, 2022ยท

10 min read

Zero to Hero in Two Lifetimes
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Table of contents

  • Foreword
  • Before it began
  • The crash
  • Becoming better
  • Winning
  • Going forward

This post would be a little different compared to all the technical stuff I keep posting about. What follows below is a long story of me becoming a Web3 developer.

Foreword

Before I start with my story, you should know why I wrote this. I have two objectives behind writing this post. One, to answer the most commonly asked question by every newbie/wannabe Web3 developer -

How do I become a (better) web3 developer?

And two, to abstractly summarize the lowest episodes of my life. Starting to prepare for a career is not easy, and it becomes harder to believe in yourself when your mental health is chronically compromised. This story is to make you believe that odds can be conquered.

You should never take advice from someone without knowing where it's coming from; advices form as a consequence of living through something, and not everyone has lived the same.

So instead of just giving advices, I'll tell you the story of how I turned my life around, became a developer, transitioned to Web3, and landed a job at Polygon. If you're only looking for the "advice" part, just read from this section.

However, I suggest you take some time, and read from the beginning. You should know the man behind the tweets and posts.

Before it began

I started developing an interest in coding from 9th standard. I was 14 then. We had this mandatory subject - "Programming in C". Most of the class was plain uninterested, and the teacher did not do a good job of helping that either.

I was always a self-taught person. Combine that with someone who's withdrawn from people, and you get someone with heightened inner conversation and introspection. I always found ways of making the subjects easy for me, simply by "indulging" in them, and not by burdening myself.

Of course, people around me did not look towards education with such a perspective. It was always about "Who studied longer?", "Who scored higher?", "Who had more tutors?", and such. To me, it was the equivalent of "Who did it the worst?". Ironically, although I put in the least efforts, I kept scoring higher than / equal to most of them.

But there was a negative consequence of me not taking studies competitively - I was never cut out for competitive stuff. In our country, India, the tests you must pass to get into "good" colleges are ridiculous!

Picture this: you want to pursue a career as a developer, but they judge you based on how quickly you can conjure up the mathematical equation to find a body's angular momentum. And you are labelled "better" if you can do it faster than anyone. That's what the tests were.

But unfortunately, JEE (Joint Entrance Examinations; the ones you give to enter colleges) doesn't judge you by how deeply you know something, but rather, by how you can repeat solving the same kinds of problems you'd solved ten times before. That isn't science, that's a circus - same tricks, everyday!

I did not get into a "good" college, and there was not a day my "family" did not shame me for it. This was the darkest period of my life. Unfortunately, "mental wellbeing" does not exist where I live. I did not even know what I was suffering.

The first year of my college started changing my life though - I made new, genuine friends for the first time in my life. For the first time, I wasn't seen as a competitor, I was just seen as someone to laugh with, for the first time in a really long while, I'd been smiling.

The crash

This high did not last long though. I messed up things, and not being able to understand what was actually good for me, did things that led to me being worse off than ever before, mentally.

Then came 2020 - the year where everything took a turn. The world went into lockdown. You know why. There are many reasons (which I will not be stating) why my life went sank to the lowest ever during this time. For months, I felt like I was "zoned-out" of my own life.

Despite that, I've been doing something else too at that time - studying cybersecurity stuff, and I really liked it. I was taking lessons on Web security. It really changed how I looked at security.

I started fumbling around TryHackMe, HackTheBox, and other platforms, rooting boxes, understanding vulnerabilities, and developing an intuition. I kept this a secret from everyone else.

I joined Reddit, and after weeks of asking around and reading, I began understanding a lot of things, about relationships, careers, and life in general. I began understanding what "mental health" even is.

Society really expects college students to take all their life decisions correctly when just a few years back, they had to ask permission to go to the washroom. Mind is the most complicated thing that exists, yet, no one deems it necessary to actually stop to learn about it, and keep it healthy.

Becoming better

One day, I came across a web portfolio of a batchmate of mine. It looked really cool. I noted and immediately Googled the framework behind it - "React.js beginner tutorials".

I'd already gotten an offer-letter for a job in cybersecurity at that point, so, I did not mind going through React. That was the day my journey started, even though I did not know it at that time.

I spent the next few weeks studying React.js, understanding the Web in general, and encountering countless pitfalls along the way.

I fell in love with web development, something I'd never thought I'd grow to like. I'd always liked logic, and hence, loved the backend more. And I took a decision - to reject the offer-letter, not participate in college placements, and find my own way.

After ending an internship (as a frontend developer) in just 2 weeks (after I realized that all the interns were being unethically overworked and verbally abused in team emails), I took time to really develop projects that could further my understanding.

Pausing my story for a while, here's my answers to 3 questions that you should be asking in your mind.

"How do I start learning Web development?"

What I did wrong in my time was, I started directly with React.js first. What I should've done was to first thoroughly learn and use vanilla HTML/CSS/JS first, before moving on to an UI framework.

Know the insides out of a framework from a developer's perspective, study use-cases, and build your own projects to further your understanding.

"What projects to build?"

You should build projects that really interest you, where you feel challenged, and where you can apply something you recently learned.

Don't just create something because your university mandated it or because it's the easiest one.

If you're looking for ideas, just Google something like "frontend project ideas". You'll find tons of repos on GitHub or blog posts that can give you ideas.

Work on understanding the language, the platform (browser), the framework first before going head-first into applying for jobs.

"How to recognize toxic/exploitative workplaces?"

As an intern, I had my first taste of what working as a developer feels like. There are many ups and downs.

So how would you know if the place you're working at is actually positive for you? Simple. If your workplace is good, if your team is good, you might feel pressure at times but you will never feel uninterested in the bigger picture of the goals your company is trying to achieve.

If you feel like you don't belong there as a developer, then you really don't. Intuitions don't lie as often as you think. Some biases are actually useful.

I'm gonna get some hate for saying this, but I don't care. Most internships at early-stage startups are just a way for founders to exploit inexperienced newbies and have them build out the company while having to pay them the least, if anything at all.

If your company has more interns than full-time employees, you need to run.

And lastly, if you never feel healthily challenged at work, it might be time to look elsewhere. Introspect.

Read this thread. It reads funny, but all of which it says is true.

Winning

Till Feb 2022, I kept learning more and more about frontend in general. It was then that I saw that Twitter was getting filled with posts about Web3. I had no idea what it was, so, I thought to myself, why not read more about it?

The next few months, I explored Web3 as a developer, and learnt many things.

If you want to start out as Web3 developer, here's my advice - learn what blockchain is, learn about Ethereum conceptually (you can learn other blockchains too; Ethereum is just the one I studied), learn EVM-based blockchains conceptually, then find your interest and keep exploring and building.

It's a really long process, so don't beat yourself up, and don't set unrealistic deadlines. It took a long time to really develop the intuition for Web3.

Fortunately, I found LearnWeb3Dao then, and their tracks really spring-boarded me into Web3. If you need a roadmap, some sort of direction, something to tell you what to do next, I'd suggest, go through their tracks, join their Discord, and really interact with the other students there. It's all free!

Use their content as a roadmap by itself, and explore out. Do not stay limited.

Here's something else I started doing too: making myself visible on Twitter. I started talking about what I was building, commenting on and learning from works of others, and really just started being in the know-how space. You'd never know how important is to have an active Twitter and Discord presence as a Web3 developer until you've really gotten in.

I don't mean to say that you should become a dev-influenza! ("Dev-influenza" are a sub-species of humans found on social media who always post generic, stolen advices in threads. Their only mission is to get followers). Become exactly the opposite - a developer who influences others as a consequence of their work, and not the other way around.

You'd definitely meet like-minded people. Web3 is a budding field. Trust me, we've a long way to go. So, it's all about the community. Even if you feel like your work is nothing worth of sharing, still do. Talk to people, and learn from them. Again, this is not a straight line. It will take time.

Once you feel like you're ready, start applying for gigs/companies. For Web3, please stay away from LinkedIn. That place has nothing of value to offer. These are some platforms I used to search:

I got 2 big gigs at that time - one was a DeFi web-app, and the next one was a fully fledged NFT marketplace on BSC. With what I was paid, I purchased a gaming laptop, my first ever! I'd always wanted one, but I've never been one to just ask for handouts. I was more determined than ever to land a full-time Web3 role.

The next month, there was a hackathon - HackMoney (by EthGlobal). It was my first ever hackathon, and we won a few sponsor prizes! Throughout that month, I worked on our app day in and day out. It was tiring at times, exciting at the others. The things I learnt being in that space, are immeasurable. Web3 was not longer just a dream for me, it was within grasp!

Finally, after some more studying and building, I started applying to companies for full-time roles. Among others, I reached out to Polygon's hiring team via email, showed them my portfolio. I'd never thought that out of all the places I applied, Polygon would even see my email.

But they did! And they replied! And I'd scored an interview!

For the past 2 weeks now, I'd been passing each round, and knowing more about Polygon's teams and their work. Their interview process was the smoothest and most comfortable interview experience I'd ever had! A good interview feels like a conversation, a bad interview feels like an interrogation. Theirs felt like the former, honestly speaking.

And guess what? I got the role! I'd be joining as a "Software Engineer - I (Frontend)".

Going forward

The past few years have been terrible for me, and I had lost all hope. Being a developer saved my life, literally. I turned from a nobody to a somebody. Throughout my early life, I could not experience a lot of things that I deserved to.

Being brave about life opened up doors for me I'd never even thought existed. I understood myself. Preparation and consistency beats talent and fame any day!

Many of you are looking to start a new career into Web3, and being apprehensive of something new is natural. So here's my message to you: Be kind to yourself, caring to your well-being (physical and mental), and courageous to opportunities!

I'll end this with a quote that I live by. Interpret it well.

Freedom is never given, it is always taken.

~ Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

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