Getting back to basics

One of my biggest disappointments with coding bootcamp is the scant amount of time we spent with vanilla JavaScript – only one week! By week four we were into Webpack and then React and Angular came quickly after. And while I was glad to get experience in those technologies, I set a goal in January of 2017 to practice a lot of vanilla JS. I stuck with it for a month but then I got a job and it required learning SQL and then a couple months later that job got crazy and it required learning C# and then I realized hey that language is fun and I even asked for (and got!) this book for my birthday and that ended up being a three-month side trip and then I had an idea to build an app for work and I thought hey I should use all these things I want to know in it! – so then came postgreSQL, graphQL, node, express, and vue and then October showed up and I was asked to help out with the local FreeCodeCamp chapter and I looked at all those algorithms in the course which I had never finished and always wanted to and I was sad and I also looked back on the goals I had set at the beginning of the year because fall is a great time to evaluate one’s life and I saw the ‘get super comfy with vanilla JS’ goal and I was disappointed in myself as usual but I was also really enjoying getting familiar with TDD because I think it makes me a better developer and I didn’t want to stop doing that and then Eureka! I decided this was the perfect chance to combine vanilla JS and TDD and put everything else on the back-burner for three months.

It’s terribly easy to get distracted by the shiny new thing in programming. I thought I would be better at not being drawn in because I’m that person who maps out annual and quarterly goals and checks in on the progress weekly but no – turns out, I’m only human! So this is me recommitting, in public view so I feel held accountable, to studying vanilla JS, to finishing these algorithms, and to learning TDD at the same time. You can check up on my progress here. I’m going to try my damnedest to not let anything get in my way, and soon it will be a year since I said I wanted something and we’ll see if I’ve accomplished it. BOOM.

From accountant to developer

Career changes. How do we come to the conclusion that we need to upend our entire life? To risk safety, routines, and having an idea of what the future will bring to take on the completely unknown? And what makes some people willing to do it, and others refuse? I’ve recently made a career change, and I’ve discovered that my feelings about it are not very cut-and-dried. I’m so happy I did it, and full of regret that I did it, and so unsure of how it’s going to turn out, and so cavalier about if it turns out well or not.

In the summer of 2015, I found myself in a cardiologist’s office listening to him say, “You need to find a way to reduce the stress in your life.” I was way too young to be having that conversation but all the same, it was true. For a decade I had made my career the first priority, and years of being in executive management of a company with constant growth and change had finally taken its toll. My Type A behavior didn’t help.

As I thought about what I could do to make my career less stressful (how in the world could I ask for a demotion now?), I spotted a bigger set of problems. I realized I wasn’t coming up with fresh ideas anymore. I had become accepting of problems because I no longer had the energy to tackle them. I was burnt out, and I felt stagnant. These things gnawed at me, but I couldn’t see a way out.

I had just received my BS in Accounting – four very long years of full-time credits, full-time employment, freelancing on the side, and raising two kids – and it wasn’t the most optimal time to be thinking, “Eh, I don’t really want to do this anymore.” So I persisted down the path I’d set for myself long ago: get my MBA, then sit for the CPA exams. I started looking at grad school and settled on two prospects. I had the transcripts sent, the recommendations written, and I filled out the applications. But when it came time to write the essays – that most simple of questions, why do you want an MBA? – I struggled mightily. Writing has never been difficult for me, and I can bullshit my way through plenty of things, but the only honest answer I could come up with was, “To make more money.” I realized I didn’t really want to be a CPA – it was just the next logical step and the way I could provide more for my family. When I weighed going $60-$80k in debt for something I felt only lukewarm about, I knew I couldn’t do it. And there was no more denying the truth – I had zero interest in being an accountant anymore.

Turns out that deciding to change careers wasn’t the hardest part for me – it was figuring out what else I’d like. It took months of exploration, and several bouts of frustration, yelling at myself, “WHAT KIND OF IDIOT DOESN’T KNOW THE THINGS THEY’D LIKE TO DO?!” I finally resorted to thinking about myself as a kid and the things I’d liked then. Two things bubbled to the surface: writing and programming. Writing was immediately slapped away as a too-frivolous dream, but programming…maybe there was something there. In middle school I’d had a BASIC class and adored it. In high school (think “You’ve got mail!” era), we had the chance to create our school’s first website, which I also loved. More recently, I’d taught myself Access, then designed and built a database for my employer – a hefty project I’d enjoyed immensely. Looking back on my career, I could see what I really liked doing was solving problems. And helping people. And that I needed to have an unending well of knowledge to keep drinking from.

I turned to Google. I found this amazing piece by Paul Ford and I read it through immediately, fascinated. I tried every little tutorial I could find to see if I was right, to see if this coding stuff would hold my interest. It did. But how to go about actually learning to program? I figured I could use self-guided online study, but I didn’t really want to – I’d earned my bachelor’s that way, and I wanted to be with people this time. Plus, my job as a financial controller was stressful and draining, leaving me with no brainpower at the end of the day to devote to learning. One day my husband told me his colleague’s brother had gone to something called a coding bootcamp; I googled it right then and there. After a couple of weeks of research, I decided on a school and a language, gave a three-month notice at my job, and traded one stack of books for another:

Sometimes, you’ve just got to make the leap, safety net or not.

That time my blog got hacked (or did it?)

You may notice there’s a bit of a lapse in time between this post and the one before. You may be wondering what happened to weeks six through twelve. Well, let me tell you a little story.

Bootcamp got crazy about halfway through and I could not keep up on writing posts. Every week, I would take notes and compose a quick draft, but could never find the time (or leftover brain power) to polish the piece.

Fast forward to the end of school (middle of December). We were given three weeks to create our final project and there I was, four days before demo day and thinking, “I finished early! Yay! Now I have time to get my blog up to date!” I try to log in and can’t. I quickly figure out my site has been blacklisted for phishing, which I find hilarious because I don’t have users on my blog, I don’t allow comments, etc. – it’s mostly just a place for me to lay down my thoughts and show people that I can indeed put sentences together. So, good job phishers! You picked a winner! I find out it takes about $200 to get a site ‘cleaned,’ which I can’t justify spending. I turn to the AMAZING Utah JavaScript community for input, and a complete stranger offers to log in to my site and clean it for free. Thing is, he can’t find any malicious code at all once he gets in there. So we ask Google to review it, and they say, “Nah, it’s still blacklisted.”

Meanwhile, school is over, then the holidays come and go, then job hunting begins in earnest. Why yes, I am still paying monthly hosting and domain fees, because annual contracts, don’t ya know! I spend a lot of my time coding and decide that since I can’t have the site cleaned, maybe I’ll just copy what I can to a web app I built myself. So just a few days ago I pull up my site to find a posted date, and what do you know, it’s not blacklisted anymore!! And there they all are, my 18 or so drafts waiting to be finished and published. Which maybe I’ll do someday, after I have a job 🙂

Specks of victory

They warn you to be okay with being uncomfortable. You read a hundred blog posts that say the same. YOU RETWEET QUOTES ABOUT IT. You think to yourself, “It’s part of why I’m doing this, because I was too comfortable in my previous life – I was getting too stagnant.” But no…you have no idea.

No idea what it will be like to go from having every answer you need, from being queen of your domain, from feeling good about yourself because in general you’re doing shit right, to experiencing day after day of failure, to being thrown so off-balance by the paradigm shift that it even starts affecting the rightness of stuff you do in your home life, to feeling afraid to do anything at all because recent experience has taught you the probability of getting it right is NOT GOOD.

And you thought you had this discomfort thing down because hey, you’d already survived letting down the ones who count on you by quitting your cushy job; and hey, you’d already gone against everything you believed about money in order to take a giant risk with basically your entire savings account; and hey, you’d already spent countless hours over the last 16 weeks alone, with yourself, dealing with the crazy beasts inside your head. But no…you had no idea.

No idea that this discomfort would tear you down, but it doesn’t build you back up, no – it leaves you to fend for yourself, leaves you to sift through the rubble looking for the tiniest speck of ANYTHING you can call a victory. Last week you were aware that you had strengths and weaknesses. This week you only have weaknesses and a keen desperation to not feel like a fool. So you search, and you search, and eventually your brain comes up with:

Weakness: Teaching others.
Speck of victory: Within that inability to guide/teach someone else, there lies a window for them to find their own way. And I do have the ability to support people as they discover their own best way of doing things, and encourage them, and help them feel safe making mistakes.

Weakness: JavaScript solutions don’t come naturally to me.
Speck of victory: My code is organized, detailed, and at least I do understand what it’s doing.

Weakness: Basically terrified of meetups.
Speck of victory: I still make myself go.

And your brain has to be satisfied with these three itty bitty victories it found, because you now have 5 hours to sleep before getting up and throwing yourself at failure again. And you’re not quite sure if the rest of your life will be this way, but it’s the decision you made, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

On risk

That thing where you get the final, legit notice that your financing for a coding bootcamp has been approved and you think to yourself, “Dear lord, this is really happening!?” Yeah, that.

Last night I sat at Whiskey Street with my love, drinking cocktails and catching Pokemon. Just across the way stood the building where said coding bootcamp will be starting in two short weeks. I stared at it. I tweeted about how this is the riskiest thing I’ve ever done. One of my inner voices popped up and reminded me, “Hey, you’ve remarried after a horrible divorce, are you sure this is the riskiest?” To which I replied, “Yeah, girl. Yeah.”

Then another inner voice proceeded to yell, “YOU ARE THIRTY FREAKING SEVEN AND JUST NOW DOING THE RISKIEST THING EVER? IT’S ABOUT TIME!”

Ah, my brain.

What makes this the riskiest is that I have people depending on me. I have kids, a husband. If I fail it’s not just me in the poorhouse, living in my car again, eating ramen and bologna sandwiches every day of the week. It’s my kids who’ll lose their own bedrooms in the traditional suburban home I’ve finally been able to provide after all these years; it’s my husband who won’t have the freedom to keep doing what he loves because there will be pressure for him to get a better-paying job with actual benefits. It will be all the savings I’ve painstakingly set aside over the last eight years gone in a flash and nothing to show for it.

Risk in this situation is a different ball game than risk on my own. As a teen, I took crazy risks even after thinking things through. Sure, I’ll take my friend’s Lotus up to 150 on an unfamiliar mountain road. Sure, I’ll get a jailhouse-style tattoo from a guy who was introduced to me over lunch at Denny’s. Sure, I’ll fall in and out of love with abandon because hey, it’s just my own heart I’m hurting. Then you have kids. Or you get married. Or you have family members you need to take care of. And risks, even though they’re not life-threatening and really sound quite safe, suddenly become about ten times scarier.

I am scared. I hide it pretty well. Most of the time, I’m confident I’ll succeed because career-wise, I always have. But often I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat (cliche but true), absolutely terrified of being a source of struggle for the people I love the most. God love ’em – they’re not even worried about it. I guess I’ve got that part covered 🙂

Also published on Medium.