Why Coding? How’d I Get Here?

For the longest time, I struggled to find my niche. After graduating high school, I did an accelerated graphic design program to get my BS degree, only to discover that I didn’t enjoy the field as much as I had hoped. Not ironically, the only courses I really liked were the HTML/CSS classes where I built a mockup of a spa website. Because I liked those classes so much, it made me seriously think about switching to a web development program, but it wasn’t realistic at the time to take on more student loans. So, I pushed through to the end and ended up working as a freelancer for a year.

A few years later, I still wasn’t satisfied with where I was in my career. At that time, I was a practical administrator for a physical therapy company working with insurance authorizations and doing mostly clerical work. I’m intelligent and have confidence in my abilities to learn and adapt to new opportunities, so I decided it was time to start digging around again and not stopping until I found my passion.

Growing up, I had an affinity with animals and watching an assortment of TV shows on Animal Planet. Naturally, I thought about becoming a vet but still didn’t want to go through more school to get there. Not to mention, science wasn’t my favorite subject. I decided that I wanted to try and become an Animal Control Officer — basically an animal cop. All I needed was a years worth of experience working with animals and I could apply. At the age of 25, I became a part-time dog walker to get that experience. Very glamorous. Not to mention, most of my dog-walking peers were much younger than me, and thought that minimum wage was just groovy. I lasted 3 months. From that, I learned that working odd hours outside doesn’t work for me, among other things. Also, it’s more fun to take care of your own pet.

Because of the dog walking disaster, I was starting to learn more about myself and what I realistically would want in a dream job. This time, I decided to go in the opposite direction and try to work from home as an influencer selling workout products and packages from Instagram. Now, I knew this was a pyramid scheme going in, but I love fitness so I thought I could be successful anyway. I went at it for a couple months — didn’t sell a single product. I’m not a saleswoman and I didn’t believe in the products I was trying to sell. I would feel guilty even selling to strangers on the internet, so obviously this wasn’t a fit for me either. Taking pics of myself for the gram to “build my brand” wasn’t really on brand for me.

Shortly after the pyramid scheme is when I found my saving grace. Back when Snapchat was in its prime (yes, I said Snapchat), I would find myself reading articles in the app and came across one that was about a group of coding bootcamps which peaked my curiosity. I wish that I could find the article for reference, but basically it boasted about these programs that were available to teach you how to code in a short amount of time and at lower cost than your typical college degree. The Flatiron School was among the list and also close to me in NYC, so I started doing my research. I was able to realize that this would be right for me because the Flatiron School lets you try out the bootcamp program for free before deciding. It only took me about 2 weeks of tinkering around before I was sure, so I applied and was accepted to the program. It also helped that I received a scholarship from Flatiron that reduced the tuition by half.

While learning how to code, I like that I have become more independent and resourceful. I now know how to learn how to learn, if that makes sense. Being able to learn on my own is not only financially helpful, but also will help me when I start learning new languages like Python or Java. Learning has become a fun part of my life now that I know that it doesn’t have to be boring and so strictly followed like how I remember high school to be.

Another one of the reasons why I love coding is because I love math and problem solving. Math was always my favorite subject in school. Nerd. I would stay after class to get extra help when I was already getting above 90’s on tests to make sure I’d get closer to that perfect 100 the next go around. I approach coding in the same manner to strive for more and the possibilities of what’s next. Knowing how to code has helped me improve my approach towards problem solving and logic based issues. Both like and unlike math, there are multiple answers to the same problem. It all depends on the tools you use and I plan to use everything I can.

When you think of programming, you think about computers and things that are exact or matter of fact, but it is much more creative than that. Yes, we are essentially making requests to our computers in a way that only a program will understand, but that is really the endpoint. There are so many different languages and inside of those languages are tons of different frameworks and libraries and tools that are used within. As the software engineer, you decide how to get to that endpoint. Your choices in the tools you use and how they are used are what makes programming such a creative and individual process, like art. Not only that, but we have the ability to build anything we want to. That makes it so exciting, knowing that each project could be drastically different from the last, or one more important that the other.

Being able to work in a software engineering role will be financially rewarding as well. The money ain’t bad. Now money isn’t everything, or even most of the things, but having it provides you with financial freedoms like food, having a home, whether you can put gas in your car, etc. Basically, I’d rather have it than not. The tech industry, in general, seems to be doing quite well for itself and provides stability and possible job security that not all industries can provide. Given the current COVID-19 crisis, I have recently learned just how important that is when you have bills and other responsibilities. There are countless people that have been laid off, myself included, but I at least have the ability to apply to the open tech roles since I graduated recently. Moreover, remote work and flexible hours are common in this field which makes me extremely lucky to be part of that community now with the current quarantine situation. Not everybody is in a position such as that, so I am grateful.

Struggling is a natural occurrence that all people face multiple times in their lives. It is up to you to pull yourself out and make your situation match your needs. I feel grateful for all of the struggles I faced before I realized that I would become a software engineer because I wouldn’t have gotten to this point where I am now. I am doing a 180 and completely changing my career path which I wouldn’t have been able to do if it wasn’t the right time. I needed to go through the trials and tribulations to get here and I will continue to struggle in the future, but I will persevere.

Full Stack Software Engineer | manda.m.johnson@gmail.com

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