Yea so this is a long story. Long. But it is worth telling because maybe it can help one of you guys.
First, a little bit of background
I’ve been someone without a lot of money for a long time and by not a lot of money I mean below the poverty line since I stepped out on my own.
Warning: This will not be a rah rah or woe is me post. Stuff happens and sometimes it happens to good people. I am not here for sympathy, just a direct telling of my circumstances.
I spent a lot of time in school. A lot. I was young and directionless, picking up an electronics engineering degree program at the local community college, then physics, then humanities and then I moved 200 miles from home in my mid-thirties to go to Pitt for computer science.
I had and have no family obligations so this is probably something someone at that age or my age currently would not be able to do, and in this way, despite the poverty and lifelong hardships, this is a privilege I have that a lot of folks do not.
I am also disabled. I won’t get into specifics but it is mainly the reason I have struggled financially for most of my adult life. Taking out school loans allowed me to have a bit of luxury as I struggled to make it through college as a 30-something disinterested in extraneous courses that weren’t going to get me where I needed to be and I wasn’t getting any younger.
So I quit. And I started freeCodeCamp, Codeacademy, Udemy, and the like.
A struggle results in good things
I struggled through freeCodeCamp’s algorithm challenges, I struggled through the frontend projects on the first iteration of freeCodeCamp; I’ve been a camper since literally the beginning and while I have no certifications I did work daily for the most part on the curriculum.
It was around this time I got offered an internship at a company you may be familiar with. I was ecstatic; my first real dev…job? I thought so. I thought that when all was said and done the job was mine.
But it didn’t turn out that way.
Failure to plan, failure to succeed
I started out of the gate fast picking up Rails and making small changes relatively quickly. But I didn’t take notes, Slack was hard for me to stay in as I just wanted to work and not get into chats in Slack so I wasn’t communicating at all. Needless to say my mid-internship review was pretty bad.
I couldn’t build things in the proper way, partially because I was new to Rails and partially because I didn’t take notes which resulted in poor planning. I was remote and this made it hard for me to pick Rails up quickly as there was no one down the hall and Slack was our main mode of communicating.
To add to this, I was being thrown out of my apartment because of renovations. I had a month to find a place and Pittsburgh has a dearth of affordable housing which meant I needed to move back to my hometown. I was devastated and completely shutdown, not communicating hardly at all with anyone. I saved around $6,000 and moved home last year in April.
The search begins
I got back and vowed to leave again because I hated this place when I left it and I didn’t want to be back here.
I started searching for work. I interviewed with big companies like Microsoft and Automattic and while I made it to the final round of Microsoft’s interview, I needed more practice with established algorithms that I really can’t talk about here because I am still under NDA.
I was broken for the rest of the year. Literally not caring about anything at all. Lost. I gave up looking for work as it had been years since I started this journey and nothing was happening.
I burned out and basically had a nervous breakdown. Money was really tight. I wasn’t eating well at all because I didn’t have the money to, as well as gaining weight because of it.
A new year and new sense of purpose.
I wrote a blog post detailing how I was going to pull myself up out of that funk I was in: I programmed very little last year after the failed interviews. Over the years I watched my friends drop out of the whole learning to code endeavor and I felt bad for them. Of course, they all had families and work and I didn’t have any of that, again, my bit of privilege despite being underprivileged in many ways.
I laid out the groundwork for getting a job this year in Notion and began work on doing just that.
I increased my streak on freeCodeCamp from 4 to 36 consecutive days with 579 points.
I applied to more positions but nothing turned up.
Taking a shot on DEV
DEV Listings is a new endeavor by the DEV team to help prospective coders to get a job/mentor/collaborator, etc by allowing you to put up basically an ad/listing to share your links and tell them why they should hire you.
I took a chance on this and waited.
The build up
One day on Twitter I complained that I wasn’t getting anything at all and that seeing people start their tech careers was weighing on me.
Shortly after that, the VP of a company contacted me on Twitter. We talked over the phone and we set up an initial phone screen. The person screening me that day really, really liked me and what I was about.
This lead to the second and final round of interviews which were technical. These interviews were video interviews that would last for two hours total.
I tripped up on something simple like fetching data from an API to lazy load some content from a server; I complicate a lot of things and while I knew it and eventually got around to the correct answer, I thought too much about it and I felt really stupid.
I then talked to the backend dev and the project manager and they were really impressed.
My mentor and I felt like this was it. Everyone I talked to about if felt like this was it but I had been through the process so much I didn’t get my hopes up at all.
I was outside waiting for some packages and I got the call. My recruiter from the company said they wanted to offer me an entry level frontend dev position making quite a bit more than the market rate if I’m being honest. I felt…relief. I had been breaking out in hives from all the stress.
I am now a junior frontend dev at a great company and I couldn’t be happier.
It has been years, years since I decided to switch majors to software engineering from humanities, drop out of college, and start this process.
People I’ve cared about and started the journey with have come and gone, with three of us left standing.
I did not quit and it is mainly because I couldn’t afford to. Literally.
If you have been through the hell of having your life derailed from no fault of your own but maybe just faulty genes, like me, it is really, really tough to want to start this journey when you are constantly hungry or depressed because you’re hungry. It is a vicious cycle of despair that is hard to break. The statistics for us don’t look great.
But tech allows people like you and me to break the shackles of poverty if you’re stubborn and consistently persistent in the pursuit.
It’s doable. I did it.
Don’t quit. Not now, not when life is good and especially not when life is bad.
Put in the work. It may take a long time but the payoff is better than the alternate.
Good luck. You got this.
I’m an entry level frontend engineer. I’ll be working with a myriad of tech on the frontend of the stack. The skills most relevant to me getting this were: