A New Web Developer's Lessons Learned
On May 25, 2018, I received some important news. Nearly a year after making the decision to pursue code, after waving goodbye to my old life, after joining Flatiron School’s Web Development Immersive, I had finally received and accepted a job as a web developer.
I cried some when I heard the news, and who could blame me? It was the first external validation of the choice I had made, and it felt marvelous. A ton of messages went out to share the news with family and friends.
One particular message that went out to a friend and former coworker was laced with gratitude; he had encouraged me to chase my passion, to pursue code, and volunteered himself as a resource in case I got lost and had questions. I wanted him to know I had made it. This friend, we’ll call him “McCormick” (like the spice!), offered warm congratulations along with some sage advice that is the crux of this post:
Share your experiences. They just might help others.
Before You Read
For the sake of organization, I’ve broken down this post into subsections that reflect a theme - something I felt and/or learned over the past year. Although I can’t guarantee everyone will feel the same way I did, I will hope that this can be of use to someone out there who is:
- Thinking about pursuing a life dedicated to code
- Pivoting but having second thoughts
- On the precipice of a major life change
Fear is the Mind Killer
(For the record, I’ve never read Dune. I imagine this is anathema to some of you, and for that I am sorry.)
Before Flatiron School, I was a moderately successful SEO. I’d been part of large projects at amazing companies, worked in just about every area of search (except link-building, nooooo thank you), and generally felt I did my job well. So even though I was not satisfied with where my career was, deciding to leave it was not an easy choice and it scared the heck out of me to just dump 10 years of progress.
At the same time, I was afraid of a future that left me feeling unfulfilled and bored. To my way of thinking, both then and now, SEO was a bit of a deadend and the chances to learn seemed fewer and further between. I enjoyed the part of my job that involved solving problems but found myself more an evangelist, communicator and presenter as I progressed in the field. I didn’t relish the need for some sort of political acumen. It was work I wanted to do, and more and more, SEO was feeling like work - the four letter word kind.
My conflicting fears pushed me towards a place you might be familiar with: impasse. Complete decision-making shutdown.
For nearly three years, I toyed with the idea and backed away, dabbling with code in my spare time but never committing. I was afraid of the change, and it was making me do dumb things like not taking risks. That’s a regret I carry with me now.
Fear is normal and even okay, but who says we have to let it shut down the voice in our heart that says “what if” and dares us to push onward? If I can volunteer one piece of advice from this experience, it is this:
DO NOT LISTEN TO YOUR FEAR! MOVE IF YOU ARE UNHAPPY WHERE YOU ARE!
++CUE SELF-HELP VOICE++ We have to evolve to grow as people and sitting still is a recipe for stagnation. It’s move, adapt or die, and although I’m still scared now, at least I can feel the momentum as I move forward toward a goal.
Making a Decision Isn’t an On/Off Switch, It’s a Dimmer
Maybe the subheading here is a little stupid sounding, but it hopefully represents the hesitation, trepidation, and various other -ation words that are built into complicated decision-making. What I want to approximate is the feeling of constantly shifting land beneath your feet. When you’re making these decisions, a simple “yes” or “no” can feel impossibly far away.
And that’s how I felt at the start of Flatiron School. Every day, I questioned my motives, my resolve, everything. Every day, I had to remind myself of the reasons for my decision to pursue code. Every day, my wife would cheer me on, lovingly coaxing me ahead. Every day, my cohortmates and my instructors were there to remind me, too. There was an amazing support network there for me, and all I had to do was reach out and take heart.
I’d love to say it was that easy, but in truth, even with the support network in place, it was best to take it one day at a time.
Some days I was almost certain I had made the right move. Some days, especially when I struggled and lost a lot of sleep, the whole thing felt futile and stupid and me along with it. Rarely if ever did I settle on a solid “yes” until graduation.
I think it’s normal to feel a sort of “buyer’s remorse” for deciding on code and pivoting away from the familiar. It’s normal to question yourself, too. For me, that was part of the process of realizing I really could learn to code. It’s also part of my process, and yours may be different, but I needed to bring doubts forward and then crush them with my effort.
The point is, unsteady ground doesn’t feel great to stand on, but you can do it, especially with the help of those around you. Don’t give up and rely on the people that you care about (and that care about you!).
You Have the Tools… Now What?
Another important moment in my “road to code” came after graduating from Flatiron School. I had been working so hard, pushing toward this goal of completing the immersive and becoming a programmer and then, suddenly… nothing. Call it a lack of foresight or maybe just ignorance, but after I was done, I experienced a complete loss of vision, motivation and drive.
Maybe it’s stupid, but it felt like something special should happen at that point. I wanted to believe that what should come next would magically become clear after graduating, but it didn’t. Instead, my feelings were overwhelming. I was losing my cohort, leaving my school. All the structure that had been built around me crumbled in the face of open, empty space and uncertainty.
What I struggled with was a sense of loss and the confusion that comes with it.
I don’t know if others felt that way - my cohortmates didn’t let on if they had had similar experiences - but the feelings of uncertainty and loss of focus were a serious challenge for me. It was the closest I came to giving up and going back to SEO. This time it was my school, Flatiron, that brought me back. My career coach reminded me that I had to start my job search by a certain date or I’d forfeit the support I paid for, and I didn’t want to go it alone. You could say that it was the fear that saved the day. That fear gave me my focus back and reminded me of the goal: to live my life with code and find fulfillment in it.
I don’t think I’ve captured exactly what it was I felt, but it was the hardest part of the whole process. You can go through Flatiron or another code bootcamp and learn a ton. Code is amazing. But the true goal is further ahead. Use those tools and become what you were meant to. Become a professional and continue to grow.
The Future, New Fears and The Unknown as a Goal
Cheesy as it may sound, after months of effort (and years of dreaming about it), when I received my first job offer to be a FE Developer, I had a tough time believing it - Impostor Syndrome is real and it’s a bastard - but when it finally hit me that it was real, I was leveled.
This is recent. I’m still not sure how I feel, all told, but there a few things that I can share.
- Self-sabotage is always inches away.
The decision to drop your old life isn’t an easy one, and that means the desire to turn back is a tag-along. We don’t have to listen, but acknowledging that you want to run away is valuable.
- Failing is kinda part of the deal, and that’s okay.
Trite, no? We have to fail to learn why we failed to begin with, and programming encourages failure to a degree. How else can we discover what code is brittle or what design choices don’t make sense? I fail a lot and imagine it’ll keep on going that way, but that’s okay. You can’t shy away from it.
- I’m still afraid, even in the face of achievement.
The main difference now is I’ll be afraid of letting my new teammates down and letting myself down in the process. I want to be a great developer, you know? A smart one that puts out well-tested code, keeps learning, encourages people to do awesome things, and can help others grow all the while. That’s no small goal, I imagine, and that’s scary. Scary can sure be exciting, though :)
If for any reason something in here resonates with you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. A DM on my Twitter is probably the easiest way. And while I can’t guarantee to be anything more than a sympathetic ear, listening is often enough to let a speaker clarify their feelings and maybe even temper their resolve.
Thank you for reading.