Expat Teacher to Developer

Hi, my name is Zeke. I work with The Code Club. We make learning to code easy and fun for expats in Asia. Below I interviewed Stephen Mayeux @ESLhiphop on his experience, going from an expat English teacher in Asia, to becoming a full time developer.

Q: What is your story? How did you go from Teacher to developer?

I was an English teacher for nearly a decade. I started right after Undergrad. I was an English major, so I wasn't really sure what to do and what I would be qualified to do. I had a knack for teaching and I liked languages. I just found myself being an expat English teacher in Asia

Click for eslhiphop.com

Click for eslhiphop.com

I made a Wordpress site with the help of my friend. It was called ESL Hip Hop and it took off. A lot of English teachers really liked it, it got some attention from students too. I had a lot of fun making lessons for it and my students enjoyed it as well. That was one example of a website that I made. I also tried to teach English online and I branded myself with my own personalized website.

I purchased a template and it had html and the CSS. Back in the myspace days, you could customize your page with some html. I recognized a little bit of it but had to dig in a little bit deeper to personalize it. Making these websites for these endeavors, it was really fun and I enjoyed doing it.

“I felt very disappointed and unfulfilled as a teacher.”

I had a really bad day at work. I was working at a private language institute for adults and I was in Busan, South Korea. I just had so many classes and I was too exhausted and I felt disillusioned because I realized, wow, I'm not really a teacher in this private language institute I am more like a customer service representative. And it doesn't matter how effective I am. ultimately I just need to make students happy enough so that they can, re-sign a contract so that the school can keep making money. I felt very disappointed and unfulfilled as a teacher.


“I wanted to learn a new skill remotely in Korea, something that I would be good at and something that would make a good living back home in the states.”

I thought I'll stay in Korea for another year or two, but whenever I go back to the states, I never want to teach again. I'm going to do something else. but what could I do? I'm almost 30 years old and have all this training and these degrees. I don't want to acquire any more student loan debt because I acquired quite a bit getting my masters. Going back to school wasn't really an option. I wanted to learn a new skill remotely in Korea, something that I would be good at and something that would make a good living back home in the states.

I kept reading tweets about people learning to code. And right around that time bootcamps starting to become popular. I became aware of these intensive programs that were three or four months long and then you become job ready. I thought I can't do a bootcamp from here, but I have nights and weekends to myself. If I'm really disciplined than I could put in 20 or more hours a week and just teach myself with youtube, free materials, and books.

“Early on I realized I couldn't do it alone”

I quickly realized that learning on your own requires a lot of discipline and sometimes it can be lonely. Sometimes when you're learning, you just get stuck on a problem and just have no way to get over it. When you're just starting coding your googling skills are not that refined. Whenever you see your first error message in a console, you start freaking out and you get discouraged. Early on I realized I couldn't do it alone. I would have to start some kind of community.

One of the resources I was using at the time, and I'm a big advocate for today is freecodecamp. And if you complete it all, then you get these certificates, and you will know enough to be a junior developer or an entry-level developer.


A part of freecodecamp was that you should create a local chapter or join a local chapter. I started one in Busan. To promote my local chapter I was posting, articles and statistics like the average developer, in the United States right now is making $90,000 a year. and you don't even need a degree. You just need to know these skills.

I finished my contract in Korea. I went back home. After a couple of months arriving in the states back from Korea, I had found my first job in Austin, Texas. That's where I started my tech career. I am a junior or maybe a mid-level developer now. I'm working full-time. Every day I learn something new.

“I think tech is a great equalizer because anyone really can do it.”

A lot of teachers, myself included, we didn't major in lucrative degrees. I think tech is a great equalizer because anyone really can do it. You don't need to be some genius or rocket scientist, but you do need to have discipline, patience, and consistency. if you put in, a little bit of hard work every day for a long time and don't get frustrated and just power through the hard times eventually you'll reach a point where you get job ready.

Once you get your first job, everything changes. Getting your second job becomes easy. Money is no longer an issue. You can actually enjoy your life. It's just so unfortunate that teachers can't have the same lifestyle as a programmer. If you want to change your life, it is possible and you don't need to go to a bootcamp in order to make it happen you just need to put in the hard work with the right resources and the right direction. You can do so very affordably.

Q: let's say we are talking to someone who's teaching English in Asia and they want to become a professional developer. What would three to five steps be that you would give them?

it requires such a wide breadth of knowledge and there are no shortcuts to becoming job ready. And the boot camps, they delude you into thinking you can intensively study for three to six months and become job ready. That that is just not the case.

  1. Be prepared to spend a very good chunk of your free time devoted to learning to code. That could be, watching videos, reading books, doing algorithm challenges or working on projects. You can liken it to learning a foreign language. I was spending an average of 20 hours a week, sometimes I would peak at 30 hours a week with my full-time job. You have to prepare for the long game and you have to prepare to put in the hours. I would say about a year and a half of consistently 20 to 30 hours every week to get to a point where I was considered job ready and got hired.

  2. Pick one language and just get really, really good at it. If you're going to be in web development, I highly recommend Javascript. Pick one language and just go into a deep dive into it and learn as much about it as possible. Don't be tempted to switch to another language because the one you're currently studying is, is too difficult.

Q: What was hard and what helped you get through the challenges you faced?

“the biggest obstacle was, I was learning alone and I had to deal with these issues all by myself.”

I was learning alone. so getting stuck on a problem, could really set me back weeks. I remember making my first full stack app. A voting app. I remember that was the most difficult thing. I didn't know how my data schemas should look or how to set up a database. I was overwhelmed.

I had no idea what to do. The biggest obstacle was, I was learning alone and had to deal with these issues, all by myself. I did not have access to other people who were the same skill level as me. And I did not have someone more senior to help answer my higher level questions or help with specific questions that were blocking me.

How can readers start learning how to code?

I would recommend freecodecamp. I think it's an excellent start. You don't have to pay for it. It's fantastic. It tells you exactly what to study in little micro lessons. For someone who is unsure about coding and they want a little taste just start there.

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Thanks for reading. I hope this interview inspired you and I hope you learned something. The Code Club is a coding community in Asia. We hold free events and paid classes to teach expats in Asia how to code. Please join our free coding community on facebook or on wechat. If you have any ideas for another blog post or if you have any feedback please let us know by leaving a comment below.