Interview with Stephen Mayeux–English Teacher turned JavaScript Developer

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Stephen Mayeux


What do People do When they Go Back Home?

Ever since I moved to Korea to teach English 10 years ago, I’ve been curious about what people end up doing once they return to their home countries. These days with Facebook, it’s easier than ever to do a little casual stalking to sate my curiosity.

Now that I myself have decided to return to Canada in a few short months, I’ve levelled up my game and it’s turned from curiosity to more of an obsession as I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it takes to make the transition home with the least amount of stress possible.

It’s a Big City!

Stephen, a fellow Busanite and I ran across each other on Facebook a few months back and have kept up a bit of a running conversation ever since even though we’ve never met in person. Busan is a big city! I often see his events on Facebook where he organizes a meetup group for people who want to learn how to code.

Who is this guy, I thought to myself. He seems rad.

He’s going to make the transition from English teacher abroad to a person back home with an awesome, in-demand job and I think he’s someone we can all be a little bit inspired by. Like I always say, Use your time in Korea to make some great things happen for your future, post-Korea. He’s making it happen for himself and I really admire that.

I asked Stephen a few questions and he was kind enough to give some very detailed answers to help out my readers. I hope you enjoy the interview!

Who is Stephen Mayeux?

Stephen Mayeux is an ESL teacher turned JavaScript developer. He’s currently wrapping up his final teaching contract in Busan, and he really likes hip-hop. Want to know his stage name? Shoot him a message on Twitter: @ESLhiphop

You are changing careers after teaching English for 7 years by learning computer programming. Why did you choose this particular field? Were there any other ones that you considered before making this choice?

I chose software engineering for a number of reasons. Job growth and security is a very important factor for me, and software development has always been a growing field. Technology changes at a rapid rate and consumers are constantly demanding smaller, faster, and more intelligent products.

So it only follows that consumers’ demands correlate with the demand for software and web developers, and there are more jobs than available coders right now. That alone spells job security to me, and I think individuals who are comfortable with change and eager to learn will always have a high-paying job in the tech industry.

Fun and Interesting

It’s also very fun and interesting! I created a number of blogs and websites that were related to ESL and teaching English, and setting up the technical stuff was always more fun than the content creation, marketing, and customer acquisition side of things.

Believe it or not, I was actually considering becoming a Registered Nurse. That’s another very secure job because there will always be hospitals with sick and dying people in them! And my father is an RN, so I figured “Like father, like son.” I would very much like becoming a nurse, but it doesn’t really work out for me because that career path requires going back to school and becoming a full time student for a year or two. I really can’t afford to take on more student loan debt.

Do you have any regrets about not getting started on this path earlier?

No regrets, none whatsoever! Teaching English has allowed me to travel all over the world and meet a lot of incredible people. I don’t regret any of that. That being said, the tech industry is very young, and a lot of the senior engineers and developers who are my age started learning when they were in high school. They have spent a long time acquiring and practicing new skills, and now it’s a game of playing catch up!

It’s so daunting to transition to a new career in your 30s and start from scratch, but when you consider that the average starting salary for a JavaScript developer in the US is more than double what an experienced ESL teacher makes at an American university, any remnants of regret fades away.

Teaching is an active job that is all about people. Don’t you think you’ll be kind of lonely sitting at a desk all the time doing computer stuff?

Teaching also has its lonely moments: the lesson planning, grading of assignments, responding to student emails, submitting reports, drinking alone at the bar (just kidding!)

I’d say coding is akin to teaching. Yes, there are a lot of solitary moments, but software developers who work in an agile environment usually meet and debrief at the start of each day (known as a ‘scrum’), collaborate online and in real life with other coders to design systems and products, and work very closely with testers to find and eliminate any bugs.

Learning programming and even finding a programming job is an especially social endeavor. Pair coding is a common practice where learners of similar ability to work together to solve problems. Finding a job usually means attending hackathons and networking events, meeting people, and getting your name out there. It’s really not as lonely as people make it out to be.

Someone says to you, “I have no idea about computer programming, but I want to learn how to code.” What advice do you give them?

Why do you want to learn coding? Do you want to pick up a new hobby or add a new skill to your CV? Are you looking for an intellectually stimulating hobby? Once you have figured out the purpose, then you can plan accordingly and follow a learning path.

For hobbyists or those who want to stay in their current field, I think a good start is learning HTML and CSS. You can build beautiful, modern websites and blogs with just these two technologies, and it’ll certainly give you a competitive edge among your peers. Now technically, these are not “programming languages” but rather “markup languages”, but they are the building blocks of all website you see.

Something More Challenging?

For those who want something more challenging, try learning the basics of JavaScript, Phython, PHP, and Ruby. These are very popular languages with tons of educational content. Pick one of these (I’ve chosen the JavaScript path) and learn the basics. If you really like it, then learn more!

Do you want to change jobs? If this is the case, then you need to make a long-term plan so that you learn efficiently and pick up the skills you’ll actually use in the job that you want. For example, if you want to make applications for the iPhone, then you’ll need to learn C, Objective C, and Swift. If you want to be a WordPress developer, then PHP and its associate libraries are a must. There are lots of categories and subcategories of jobs out there, and the best way to discover the path you need is by looking around job sites and taking note of the required and optional skills recruiters and companies are looking for.

No matter what your reason for learning is, there is a lot of great content (free and paid) for learning programming. Code Academy (free), Free Code Camp (free), The Odin Project (free), Code School (paid), Team Treehouse (paid), and so on are all great places to start.

Do you think that anyone can learn to code, even those who aren’t very tech-savvy?

I think anyone can learn syntax, which are the actual rules for writing the code. That’s essentially like learning grammar, except that there are no exceptions to the rules as there are in English and other human languages. Now applying the syntax in order to solve specific problems is an entirely different thing. You don’t have to be tech-savvy to do this, but you need to be a natural troubleshooter and have a voracious appetite for learning.

If someone is dedicated and willing to spend 20 hours a week learning these skills, how many months would it take for them to be employable?

I’ve been averaging about 20 hours of week for the last four months, and although my portfolio is a little lacking and I could certainly add more to it, I have enough skills to be hired as a freelance front end web developer or perhaps as a full-time webmaster for a business or organization.

All of my skills are “front end” right now, which means I can create static websites, but I can’t do too much with servers and databases. Making interactive websites with functionality such as creating a login/logout for members, ability to upload and share files, ability to scrape the web for specific information, etc, is known as “back end” development. A coder who knows both front and back end technologies is known as Full Stack developer, and this is what I would like to do.

So my rough calculations are: if an individual puts in 20 hours a week, they will have the skills to be hired as a front end developer after 3-6 months and a full stack developer after 9-12 months.

How’s the demand for programmers looking in Western countries these days?


I can’t speak specifically about other countries, but according to (which is like the ESL Cafe for developers), there are currently 65,000 JavaScript jobs available in the United States right now. That’s only one programming language in one country. The salary ranges are vast, but currently the average STARTING SALARY for a Full Stack JavaScript developer hovers around $93,000 in the US. Salaries for other programming languages are similar and even greater than that, especially if you have experience.

But the demand internationally is unquenchable too. Case in point, a Seoul-based company contacted me via LinkedIn inquiring whether or not I’d be interested in leaving Busan for the possibility of joining their company. I hadn’t even applied to any ads or done anything. They came to me. My fully employed coding friends have told me that they usually receive 2 -3 job offers from recruiters a week via LinkedIn and other sites, all without ever applying to the company.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

If you’re interested in making the change, come to one of the meetups I organize. They’re every second and fourth Sunday (when the big shops are closed) in Centum City. It’ll give you a chance to meet other people interested in code, and you’ll learn a lot from the group. You can find us on Facebook at Free Code Camp Busan.

Where can people find you online to follow along as you make this transition?

Twitter: @ESLhiphop


(It’s Jackie Again!)

Also making a transition to your home country? This is the book for you:

Life After ESL: Foreign Teachers Returning Home

Any Questions or Comments for Stephen Mayeux?

Anything you’d like to ask Stephen about? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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