Entrepreneurial Music-Lover Finds His Groove Building Mobile Apps

Credit: Danny Diamond

What kind of career can a music major pursue these days? It’s always been hard to support yourself as a professional musician, so you need to get creative. And that’s what New Yorker Dan Gurney did, expanding his skills with help from Udemy in order to take his craft in a new direction.

In 2010, Dan used his love of music as inspiration for launching a startup, Concert Window, a service for artists to live stream their performances. He and his cofounder didn’t have the money to pay someone to build the site, so Dan taught himself HTML, PHP, and CSS by reading online tutorials, blogs, and sites like Stack Overflow.

Fast-forward ahead to 2016, and Dan had spent six years with Concert Window, though he wasn’t busy coding like in those early days. The company had hired a CTO, and Dan was mostly working on sales and recruiting. He was also ready for something new.

Dan realized the importance of having up-to-date coding skills, especially for mobile development, and he was confident he could learn on his own again. “Being in the startup world, I’d been following how online courses were getting really popular,” he recalls. His roommate knew about Udemy, so “when I decided I wanted to learn iOS, it was my first place to check. I thought it would be cool to have skills to code so I can build whatever ideas I have.”

Upskilling on Udemy

In the Udemy marketplace, Dan found Rob Percival’s course to learn Swift and, when he heard about React Native, he took “The Complete React Native and Redux Course” from instructor Stephen Grider. Later, he took Grider’s advanced React course.

Despite never having taken a “legit” online course before, Dan describes his first experience with Udemy as “totally natural, especially for coding.” In fact, he actually found it to be really fun. “The way the courses are set up, there are challenges but never any roadblocks,” Dan says. He liked being able to review the Q&As tied to each lecture as he went along and appreciated how quickly both instructors responded to his questions.

After the Swift course, Dan published his first app, and then, after the React Native course, he rewrote it and released an Android version. “I was looking to put the knowledge I’d learned into action,” he explains. “The best way to reinforce it is trying to do something yourself and seeing how far you get.” That’s how Dan identified his next project.

Applying skills in the real world

Dan’s father, James, is a successful artist and author with a very large fan base. He always has a sketchbook with him, and people are fascinated to see the details of his work. This presented a great opportunity for Dan to practice his coding skills while creating an app that already had an eager audience.

Dan’s “Living Sketchbook” apps for iOS and Android have five-star average ratings and more than 1,000 paid downloads. Users can peruse a digital facsimile of James’s sketchbook, pinch and zoom to see brushstrokes, and listen to recorded narration for each image. There’s also background on James’s process and behind-the-scenes videos. Dan even chronicled how he developed the apps in a blog post.

Never stop learning

At this point, Dan is confident enough in his coding skills to pursue a full-time position as a junior developer while continuing to build his mastery of React. “The more I get into it, the more courses get published, so I can keep going back to Udemy to continue my learning,” Dan says. His lifelong learning attitude is certainly a huge asset too.

“A lot of my friends have been thrown off course job-wise and don’t know what they want to be doing,” Dan explains. “I recommend coding as the most foolproof path, and I see Udemy as the best way to reskill and retrain.”

Currently, in addition to making music, Dan is freelancing and working on his own development projects, thanks to the skills he’s picking up on Udemy. He feels like his professional possibilities are now endless: “Once you know how to make something, it expands the range of ideas you can think about.”