Hey all! It’s been a while since I’ve been back here but I want to jump in and thank Quincy, FCC, and all you wonderful people that work so hard to help students along the way. Why? Because I am now employed as a Software Engineer. I fully credit FCC as THE jumping point for me in this journey.
This is going to be a long one. TLDR at the bottom.
A Brief History for Context
I am a CS dropout. In my university back then, the 101 courses in my program were for weeding out students rather than recruiting/retaining them. I was struggling and my advisor “advised” that CS may not be the career for me. He implied in so many words that I lacked the capability and would not succeed in this path. That event left a significant scar because I knew I wanted to be a programmer since I was 12/13 after discovering “view source” on the family computer. It felt like the rug was pulled from under me. I was aimless and depressed for some time while I figured out what to do with myself.
I ended up double majoring in psychology and econometrics. That led me to work in a few different industries, primarily with data/data analysis plus other non-data responsibilities. During this time, I made many attempts to learn to code through books or community college courses, but I would quit as soon as it became difficult as I still believed that advisor. I did continue designing sites and learned to theme WordPress and even side-gigged for a few years in the mid-2000s. I got decent enough at this but I still didn’t understand programming and had to copy+paste to get things done.
After some time, I found myself with about 10 years of experience in education/nonprofit data/admin. Unfortunately, it got to the point where I was feeling trapped, unhappy, and was stagnating in my career. It felt like the only way out was to get another degree and I took the steps to make it happen. But once I had all my application materials ready to go, I could NOT submit it because it just did not feel right. On paper, it seemed like the logical next step, but I could not do it. I did not know why and agonized over this for months.
After some moping sessions, my husband gave me the idea to try to learn to code again. I figured, “Why the heck not?!”
So in early April 2019, I googled, “Is 36 too old to learn to code/change careers?” and I hit right on one of Quincy’s articles. Quincy pretty much said, “no, you are not too old to learn.”
But are you sure about that Quincy? Are you sure you’re sure? So I searched for and read more articles, Reddits, Quoras, blog posts, and forum posts just to make sure. The conclusion was a resounding “NO! YOU ARE NOT TOO OLD!” Now, if the internet says so, by golly, I will do it!
Thereafter, I went into a rabbit hole of reading, gathering learning materials, and developing a roadmap. I settled with starting the FCC curriculum and jumped into the #100DaysOfCode. Eventually, I picked up Toggl to track my coding/learning time. I track my time because I was already doing so in other vectors of my life. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to know exactly how much time I would be productively learning/coding and can make optimizations with data (I like data). I didn’t know it then, but this turned out to be one of the primary motivators for me during particularly rough patches.
The idea was to keep my full-time job while I learned part-time. I created a plan of 10 months because that sounded like a reasonable length to learn. It also ensured that I had the runway to start aggressively saving money for the future, whatever that may be. Once I hit the 10-month mark, I will know more and assess the situation for the next move, whether it is applying to a boot camp, to jobs, or both.
It was a whim for me, the super-careful-planner, but the appropriate safety nets were in place and it felt SO right.
I was up and running 2 days after reading Quincy’s post. The Responsive cert was easy enough for me to get through, but I got stuck at the JS algorithms section. That feeling from the advisor came back, the fear of failure, the thought that I was too dumb for this creeped in. But instead of giving up, I continued because I wanted to log my day on Twitter and my time in Toggl, dammit! The power of a habit can be very strong, and also, screw that advisor! I was SO over letting this man continue to haunt me. I don’t even remember his name!
Now I was about 3 weeks in and that 10-month plan was already taking a turn. I knew I needed more help in trying to understand the concepts and looked into other tools and resources.
These are primarily video-based code-along courses that handheld the student quite a bit (see: residual fear). Even so, I made sure to type out every damn character because I know that you cannot learn to code by osmosis. And I do believe it helped develop a bit of muscle memory, even though I was just copying what the instructor typed on the screen.
After going through the motions and finishing some courses, the advice at this stage was to “BUILD A PROJECT!” But how do I do that without feeling so scared and overwhelmed? How is this even good advice? Do they know what they are asking here? It’s not that I didn’t want to, it just felt like I had to climb Mount Everest with nothing but a fanny pack. I tried building little projects like a mad libs game or console log calculators, but anything more than that felt like it was too much.
It wasn’t until Lighthouse Labs (a boot camp in Canada) ran a very simple 21-day algorithm-style coding event where I realized that writing a single function, no matter how simple, is still coding! Combine that event with the day job getting busier/more stressful and preventing me from devoting long periods to projects or lengthy courses, I started using Codewars and Edabit to complete coding drills. Working on small problems was the best I could manage due to the drain from work. But before I knew it, I found myself getting better and I gained more confidence by writing my own original code, one function at a time. The secret sauce to Codewars is that there is a rating system that lists the highest-rated answers first. I will use that as an opportunity to research how and why their answer worked best, practice it, and gain a deeper understanding. This served me well for my learning when the day job got too demanding.
Once work slowed down a bit, I started the Odin Project and was working on projects. Strangely, it didn’t feel impossible anymore! I also realized that many of the FCC projects for the FE cert were the same or similar so I started to work on them in tandem.
Around 7 months in, as I was starting my 3rd round of 100DaysOfCode and averaging about 15hours/week of coding/learning time, I started applying to boot camps, apprenticeship programs, internal tech-adjacent roles, and entry-level dev positions. Even though I certainly did not feel ready, the advice here was to “START APPLYING ANYWAYS,” and that’s what I did.
In applying to boot camps, one course I found incredibly beneficial was going through the Hack Reactor free self-study pre-boot camp course which cemented my understanding of JS data structures from the simple fact that the course required that you write (probably) hundreds of functions working with DS. I also had some interviews and was able to experience the dreaded whiteboarding and bombed most of them. But since I cast my net pretty wide, I got lucky after an exhausting 4 round interview and scored an apprenticeship that came with a full ride to a boot camp.
I did the crazy thing and quit my job and went for it!
The Bootcamp Experience
I want to take this time to point out that I am married and my husband was and still is employed. I live in the US and we have this dumb system where healthcare, a basic human right, one that can bankrupt you without it, is tied to employment. I absolutely would not have taken this risk had I been the sole earner providing health insurance for my family. Now with that out of the way, the fact that this was a $17k boot camp was a huge windfall for us since I was prepared to pay for such a boot camp out of pocket. We had a big cushion for expenses in an HCOL city that made the decision easier to make.
The Bootcamp started close to 9 months from day 1 of my journey. As far as the experience goes, it was honestly about 80% review for me since the boot camp was largely working with React, Node, Express, and Java. Many of the free/cheap resources/courses I went through during my self-learning and in building projects were using the MERN stack. By many accounts, I did very well during the boot camp.
As someone who self-learned for a decent amount of time AND was able to experience it as a boot camper, I can say this:
If you have the discipline and persistence to self-study and build projects, even if it is part-time, you do NOT need to pay a boot camp to learn how to code.
In hindsight, at the rate I was going before boot camp, I was probably another 2-4 months away from becoming a decent candidate for a junior dev role. Had I not done a boot camp, the particular gaps I needed to fill was to have a portfolio, some meatier CRUD projects, and to study data structures and algorithms for possible whiteboard interviews.
Some boot camps do offer career support and may have a decent network to provide opportunities for students to get placed. But YMMV due to the sheer number of them out there and the accompanying noise.
Now, that’s not to say that my boot camp experience was a waste. I still learned the Java Spring framework which was brand new to me, I learned about agile, scrum, and the git workflow. I learned that I learned best with text + code samples and that I am not a video learner at all (figures, right?). And most importantly, the boot camp provided an excellent opportunity to practice writing code, improve, and teach others on a full-time basis, with little distraction. Nothing really beats the ability to dedicate to learning full-time. I also made some dear friends who I would not have met otherwise at this boot camp.
Over 4 months later, my boot camp ended and I started working at the apprenticeship for an EdTech company. I’m almost 6 months into that job and am actually working on mission-critical tasks. I have never been so thirsty to learn, to get as much experience, and to extract as much knowledge from my colleagues as I’ve ever felt in any of my previous jobs. So the road continues on.
What About You?
As a nontraditional person trying to break into tech, no one person’s journey will be the same. Every person learns differently and many things will not be reproducible if you follow my particular path.
I am part of a two-income household with no kids, so I had fewer responsibilities and was able to take this risk (see: health insurance). I also credit the fact that I have worked in education and have a master’s degree that likely contributed to my current employer in the EdTech space giving me a shot at all. I know how difficult it is to get the first job and I took a pay cut to get my foot in the door. I am confident that I can make up the difference in time.
As a risk-averse person, what I chose was my path of least resistance. But given the option, it might not have been the right choice for someone else.
For me, it started with FCC and later branched to learning more about myself, overcoming my fears, developing a habit, and finding little tricks to keep myself consistent.
The reproducible parts are the tools, resources, and persistence.
So you can learn to code, learn about yourself, and find ways to keep walking down your path to your destination.
I’m glad you made it this far!
If you have any questions, let me know. I am also trying to be more active on Twitter by being an unofficial non-bot #GirlsWhoCode cheerleader while working on a never-ending #100DaysOfCommits. Feel free to drop me a line there as well @AnnCodes.
TLDR: CS undergrad dropout b/c I didn’t think I was smart enough; followed a data/ed admin type career, unhappy at my job, and felt stuck. Decided to learn to code at age 36. Got lucky with an apprenticeship with a free ride to a boot camp. Now working as an SWE.