An Interview with Real Tough Candy

Can you guys agree with me when I say:

Most programmers have wondered whether they can get a job without a degree.

Well it turns out that you can. And that’s just what our special guest, Real Tough Candy did. Real Tough Candy is a software developer, instructor, author, and musician with a Youtube channel of over 31, 000 subscribers.

And, she even has her own blog, which can be found here.


Her goal is to provide beginner-level programmers with real-world development and career advice.

I’ve personally been watching her videos for well over a year and they’ve helped me so much with my own portfolio.

And in today’s post, we’re going to take a look at her development journey and see what lessons you can apply to your own.


Journey Into Programming

When was the first time you realized you were interested in programming?

Back when I was a teenager, this was back in the late 90s, we had a computer class. I mostly worked with excel spreadsheets and stuff, but I was more interested in hacking and as a teen, in a computer class I didn’t get very far. But the idea of hacking into computers and overriding these high school filters was just a really cool idea for me.

But I never had a real interest in programming until 2014. I had a student subscription to the New York Times and I was reading about these boot camps and how programming was hugely in demand. And  I wanted to see what was going on. They had a link to this free Python course and I checked it out, but I didn’t really feel fireworks.

Then I moved to Minneapolis in 2015 to work on my master’s degree and I just felt this pull to get back into programming. I started going to conferences and meet-ups. I bought books and started studying up. That’s when I really got into it and I’ve never looked back since. 


I’m curious, what made you not want to take up programming in high school? 

I’d watch movies with hackers and it looked so amazing. But it was stuff like that in pop culture that really drove me to it. Yes, it made it seem a lot more exciting and lively then it really is, however, that’s not a bad thing because those movies made it seem like it was attainable.

And I’d read in those guidance counselor guides about how much in demand it was compared to other things. It blew me away, but I had different interests, too. I was a hippie at heart and I really loved music and all these artistic things. However, I never thought you could mix programming with art stuff. Turns out you can. And it’s a lot more creative and artistic than I realized. 



Image of ‘Freelance Newbie: Become a Freelance Web Developer’ by Real Tough Candy on Udemy

Were you ever interested in working for top companies like Google or Facebook or were you immediately drawn to freelancing?

Around 2014 when I was first experimenting with this stuff, I was originally interested in Google. I saw that at that time, they hired people with all these bachelors and masters’ degrees, so that was a little discouraging.

Then I realized that there were other companies besides Google that were working with some really cool technologies as well. The FANG companies are just a small percentage of the tech companies that are out there and what’s going on in the tech world. There are small towns that are in need of programmers. That’s when I opened up to other places besides California.


You give a lot of advice about freelancing, whether it’s on your Youtube channel or in your Udemy course. I was wondering, what do you enjoy the most about freelancing?

With freelancing, even working with small businesses, there are things they need like web apps, websites, static sites and there’s so much creativity with that. And with freelancing, there is so much freedom in creating that and getting paid for it. And that creative vision is really important and having it work for somebody else. I prefer to be a part of the scene and being more active in that whole development process. 

Most small businesses realize that they need a good website. As a freelancer, you have to explain why a custom solution is better as opposed to Wix or upgrading it from WordPress to Gatsby (etc). It can be a little harder for me because I am an introvert, showing them that process can be very beneficial to them. They can see that increasing the usability is really important and it can increase their traffic. And my parents own a small business so I understand because a lot of small businesses share a lot of the same pain points.



Why did you decide to start a Youtube channel?

Well, it’s kind of a weird story. So I started freelancing and I was living in Minneapolis. I had this vision of having a freelance business outside of Minneapolis so I moved to set up shop.

I really wasn’t getting any customers, and so I had a lot of free time. Then I said, Well, what if I start my own YouTube channel. At the time, I was learning web development and I thought, Well, what if I put on these videos about Free Code Camp solutions.

I signed up for FCC and yeah some of these challenges are really kind of difficult. So I did solution videos and then said, you know, these aren’t doing so bad. And then I just kept making more and more and then people started subscribing and I’m like, I should actually make a YouTube channel.


What motivates you to continue making Youtube videos?

I love meeting people who are going to college or going to a boot camp or are self-taught, whether they’re completely new in tech or not. I just love it. And that’s what keeps me motivated to make videos – different videos that maybe aren’t technically advanced, just something you can enjoy.

Photo of Real Tough Candy video archive on Youtube

It’s one of my favorite parts of my job just talking about tech and getting people excited for this career path. Tech brings people different things, whether it’s financial stability,  mental stimulation, or just something to do to keep the cogs turning. A lot of people just aren’t exposed to opportunities, even nowadays and I just want to share that for as long as people will watch.


You have a very engaged community of subscribers on Youtube -what has that been like for you?

You know whether it’s someone close to you or a stranger, someone’s not gonna believe in you. And a lot of times, I’ll get comments that your channel sucks or you’re not a real developer and they took up a lot of my mental energy. But then as I started to develop my channel, I started getting some amazing comments. And one of the things that’s so special to me and just reminds me that I am on the right path for my career is that I’ve gotten emails where people have said just thank you for showing people that there’s a different way of doing things or just thanks for being with us. It’s really powerful and it makes it really worth it. It’s very humbling.


Reflection & Advice

What was your biggest fear when you first got into the field?

I think one of my biggest fears was that this wasn’t a creative career field. I thought, oh,  you’re just typing all day. But in reality, you’re architecting these things. You’re creating these things. You can create things like music and beautiful images with code. This is actually a pretty creative field.  You can totally max it out with your creativity and be as weird as you want. You can be yourself and you can make it a career.

If you could go back and give any piece of advice to that person, what would you say?

I would say to myself, that there’s a place for you here. I’ve pursued a lot of different career paths. And first starting out I felt scared. I didn’t think there was a space for someone like me. I had these thoughts because I would see these really, really intelligent people, on Twitch or on YouTube coding 24 hours or building a self-driving car. I’m just like, I didn’t know what a JavaScript variable is like, I’ll never be a programmer. But you know, once you pull back that curtain and see all this stuff you can do, you can take it in whatever direction you want.

I’m not a brilliant, crazy computer programmer, but I still have something to bring. I still have these skills. And there’s no limit. You’re always learning about implementing these things and learning new concepts and it’s totally continuous. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s a lifelong journey.  Just keep your eye on the prize. 




I want to give a huge thank you to RTC for taking some time out of her schedule to do this interview.

She is such a nice person and she has given me,

….and hopefully you too

insight into the field I want to work in.

Plus, she’s given us some pretty stand out takeaways:


Takeaway #1: The FANG companies are just a small percentage of the tech companies that are out there and what’s going on in the tech world. There are small towns that are in need of programmers as well.

Takeaway #2: Software engineering is actually a pretty creative field. You can totally max it out with your creativity and be as weird as you want. You can be yourself and you can make it a career.

Takeaway #3: I may not be a brilliant, crazy computer programmer, but I still have something to bring. I still have these skills. And there’s no limit because you’re always learning.


Comment down below and let me know if you’ve ever considered doing freelancing?

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Real Tough Candy on Youtube and check out her book, Real Tough Software: A Journey from 0 to 1on Amazon.




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