Expert Advice
How I became a Shopify Developer: Aaron Cohen
Tim
|
June 10, 2022

Speaking with the brilliant developer Aaron Cohen, the man behind some of our favorite websites like IpsaMarco collaborator to legendary design studio: Alright Studios.

Welcome Aaron! When were you first exposed to coding?

My first exposure to coding was in high school. I did a program at a community college, but never really stuck with it. It was interesting, but I was much more artistically wired and I didn't see code as something creative at the time.

I then went to college, where I studied Literature: So pretty much as far away from software engineering as you could get!

So which career path did you venture into after graduating college?

I walked a strange path. Let's put it that way. 

I spent a lot of time working in the restaurant industry in various capacities. I'm an avid cook, and for a while I really wanted to pursue being a chef. So for many years, I was cooking or managing kitchens in restaurants in Richmond, VA and New York City. 
Over time, I transitioned from working in the kitchen to working in operations and accounting for those same restaurants. That’s when I started doing more numbers based work; solving problems in Excel, automating certain tasks etc. 

And it was around that point that a light went off my head. I saw an avenue  to combine a newfound passion for programming and problem-solving with my visually creative side. I was able to revisit my artistic teenage years & connect the two. 

That’s fascinating. So when and how did you actually learn to code? 

By the time I was working in operations-focused roles, I was just about 30 years old. I was doing a lot of self-education & learning from maintaining the existing website for my employer at the time, Roberta’s; mostly HTML & CSS. I reinforced those learnings with online courses like CodeAcademy in a very informal sense. That’s when web development really began to pique my interest.  

Soon thereafterI left my full-time position  and  began freelancing as a bookkeeper for various restaurants and bars in New York City. That gave me the time and space to go even further in my coding education. 

I then enrolled in a coding bootcamp — led by a fantastic instructor — and started to take on basic contract dev work. And bit by bit, the projects got more and more complex - and here I am 6 years later. 

Tell me about your freelance business today. What types of projects have you been spending time on? 

Initially, I set my sights on eCommerce projects. It was a segment that was growing rapidly and from a technical perspective, these types of projects also felt like a sweet spot for me as a newer developer: They were more complex than something like a simple marketing site, but also not necessarily as complex as a full-stack application. 
I quickly realized that I wasn’t attracting the type of clientele who had the types of projects I wanted to work on — design-forward with more refined UX. That’s when I linked up with small design studios like Alright Studio.who were producing a steady stream of incredible work. As luck would have it, they needed a hand with development.

I’m extremely grateful for those collaborations. Partnering with the team at Alright Studio  really helped me gain exposure as a freelance developer and I still partner with them today. 

Alright Studio

On the business side of freelancing; Have you ever considered building your own studio? Or has it been a very deliberate and conscious decision to remain a solo freelancer? 

It’s been a pretty deliberate decision to stay solo for the time being. 

I’m now at a point where I certainly feel like I have enough traction to keep busy. It took a while to get to this point  and find a balance but now I’m really enjoying the flexibility that comes with being a solo freelancer. 

Often, I will work in 3 month non-stop sprints — almost getting to a point of burn-out, skipping weekends and the like — then take off a full month to recharge and reflect. That’s not a rhythm I would necessarily recommend to others, nor is it conducive to a studio structure. 

I’m an avid traveller as well. These past few years I’ve lived more of a “digital nomad” lifestyle. This, combined with my more extreme working / not-working routine, also make it more difficult to hire people directly. If I were to bring on anybody under me, I would take that responsibility very seriously.

So for now - I’m enjoying things as they are. 

What's exciting to you from a technology standpoint? Especially around Shopify. 

I definitely think Shopify is making a step in the right direction with Hydrogen and increased support for headless style builds — a stack I really enjoy working with. Conversely I'm curious to see, as Shopify has eaten the market, what will happen in the next few years with challengers. 

Finally: What's one piece of advice you would give to younger freelance web developers?

One thing I’ve realized over the years is that success is 50% hard work, 50% luck. There’s only one half you can control - so you obviously have to work hard to make things happen.

The world of web development quite literally feels never ending. It’s also incredibly fast-moving — especially so in the case of JavaScript and front-end development. To more junior developers, I’d say focus on  a language or framework which you already enjoy, and build from there. You can’t learn everything, nor should you try. 

All said and done, build things that make you happy and you’re proud to show off.


Thanks for sharing Aaron. Really great to meet you and can’t wait to keep up with your growth.

7,93
15,86
23,8
31,73
39,66
47,6
55,53
63,46
71,4

Speaking with the brilliant developer Aaron Cohen, the man behind some of our favorite websites like IpsaMarco collaborator to legendary design studio: Alright Studios.

Welcome Aaron! When were you first exposed to coding?

My first exposure to coding was in high school. I did a program at a community college, but never really stuck with it. It was interesting, but I was much more artistically wired and I didn't see code as something creative at the time.

I then went to college, where I studied Literature: So pretty much as far away from software engineering as you could get!

So which career path did you venture into after graduating college?

I walked a strange path. Let's put it that way. 

I spent a lot of time working in the restaurant industry in various capacities. I'm an avid cook, and for a while I really wanted to pursue being a chef. So for many years, I was cooking or managing kitchens in restaurants in Richmond, VA and New York City. 
Over time, I transitioned from working in the kitchen to working in operations and accounting for those same restaurants. That’s when I started doing more numbers based work; solving problems in Excel, automating certain tasks etc. 

And it was around that point that a light went off my head. I saw an avenue  to combine a newfound passion for programming and problem-solving with my visually creative side. I was able to revisit my artistic teenage years & connect the two. 

That’s fascinating. So when and how did you actually learn to code? 

By the time I was working in operations-focused roles, I was just about 30 years old. I was doing a lot of self-education & learning from maintaining the existing website for my employer at the time, Roberta’s; mostly HTML & CSS. I reinforced those learnings with online courses like CodeAcademy in a very informal sense. That’s when web development really began to pique my interest.  

Soon thereafterI left my full-time position  and  began freelancing as a bookkeeper for various restaurants and bars in New York City. That gave me the time and space to go even further in my coding education. 

I then enrolled in a coding bootcamp — led by a fantastic instructor — and started to take on basic contract dev work. And bit by bit, the projects got more and more complex - and here I am 6 years later. 

Tell me about your freelance business today. What types of projects have you been spending time on? 

Initially, I set my sights on eCommerce projects. It was a segment that was growing rapidly and from a technical perspective, these types of projects also felt like a sweet spot for me as a newer developer: They were more complex than something like a simple marketing site, but also not necessarily as complex as a full-stack application. 
I quickly realized that I wasn’t attracting the type of clientele who had the types of projects I wanted to work on — design-forward with more refined UX. That’s when I linked up with small design studios like Alright Studio.who were producing a steady stream of incredible work. As luck would have it, they needed a hand with development.

I’m extremely grateful for those collaborations. Partnering with the team at Alright Studio  really helped me gain exposure as a freelance developer and I still partner with them today. 

Alright Studio

On the business side of freelancing; Have you ever considered building your own studio? Or has it been a very deliberate and conscious decision to remain a solo freelancer? 

It’s been a pretty deliberate decision to stay solo for the time being. 

I’m now at a point where I certainly feel like I have enough traction to keep busy. It took a while to get to this point  and find a balance but now I’m really enjoying the flexibility that comes with being a solo freelancer. 

Often, I will work in 3 month non-stop sprints — almost getting to a point of burn-out, skipping weekends and the like — then take off a full month to recharge and reflect. That’s not a rhythm I would necessarily recommend to others, nor is it conducive to a studio structure. 

I’m an avid traveller as well. These past few years I’ve lived more of a “digital nomad” lifestyle. This, combined with my more extreme working / not-working routine, also make it more difficult to hire people directly. If I were to bring on anybody under me, I would take that responsibility very seriously.

So for now - I’m enjoying things as they are. 

What's exciting to you from a technology standpoint? Especially around Shopify. 

I definitely think Shopify is making a step in the right direction with Hydrogen and increased support for headless style builds — a stack I really enjoy working with. Conversely I'm curious to see, as Shopify has eaten the market, what will happen in the next few years with challengers. 

Finally: What's one piece of advice you would give to younger freelance web developers?

One thing I’ve realized over the years is that success is 50% hard work, 50% luck. There’s only one half you can control - so you obviously have to work hard to make things happen.

The world of web development quite literally feels never ending. It’s also incredibly fast-moving — especially so in the case of JavaScript and front-end development. To more junior developers, I’d say focus on  a language or framework which you already enjoy, and build from there. You can’t learn everything, nor should you try. 

All said and done, build things that make you happy and you’re proud to show off.


Thanks for sharing Aaron. Really great to meet you and can’t wait to keep up with your growth.

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7,93
15,86
23,8
31,73
39,66
47,6
55,53
63,46
71,4