Disclaimer: I have now been a software developer for only two years…
That being said, I thought some might benefit from some insights from my journey so far. There are several paths to take towards becoming a developer, and all have their perks and drawbacks. I took the road less traveled by.
I don’t have A.D.D., but barely. School has always been challenging for me, mostly because it often didn’t present much of a challenge and I found it hard to maintain focus. I have been in and out of various colleges three times now, usually for a year or so before dropping it for a work opportunity that was “too good to pass up”. Believe me, if you can relate to this, this is a judgement free zone! I get it. I feel you. It’s OK. I do believe that there are some huge benefits that come from higher education. But I won’t get into that here. What I want to talk about is how I went from a grill cook to a software developer while working full time, supporting a family, and doing my best to maintain my sanity.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term “Something’s gotta give”, right? Well that’s where I was. I had been working in the restaurant industry my whole life. Low barrier for entry, flexible hours, enjoyable social aspect, it had a lot of things that appealed to me. Then I met Karina. Ahhhh Karina. It was not love at first sight. We got on each other’s nerves, we challenged each other’s authority, we were both strong-willed individuals with chips on our shoulders. But, as these things go, we wound up falling in love and soon after got married. Best decision of my life. But let me tell you, working in restaurants as a single guy living alone is awesome. Working in restaurants as a married guy with a kid, a wife, responsibilities, and a family who wants him around is challenging at best. The hours were long and varied, the work was exhausting, and I came home sticky and smelling like grease. Something had to give. So I started looking for other options.
I’ve always had an interest in technology and computer software. I was the guy who was making html files on his home computer just to see what they looked like. I love puzzles, I love challenges, and I love learning new things. So software seemed like the way to go. I was fortunate enough to be part of the team working towards testing a new software product that our restaurant would be using. During this process, I met Rob Reagan, then of IronHorse Software. I didn’t know it at the time but Rob would wind up being the key to my transition. (By the way, Rob is now a founder of an awesome company TextRequest. Check them out at https://www.textrequest.com)
Once we had become more comfortable working together, I approached Rob with my quandary and asked his opinion. I explained that I was not going to be able to quit work to return to school full time, and I still needed to financially provide for my family. That basically I was looking to learn how to be a software developer in my very small amount of free time. His response was basically, “It’s possible, but really difficult. Only a handful can make that kind of transition”. Fair enough. I like a challenge.
We discussed a few different options, and eventually I landed on Udacity (whom I highly recommend https://www.udacity.com/). Udacity offers nano-degree programs which are geared towards real-world job prep. I enrolled in their Full-Stack Developer program and loved it! I would wake up, go to work for 11 hours, come home, spend a little time with my family, then hit the books. Udacity is self-paced and subscription based. So it will take however long to complete as your lifestyle and situation allow. The more time you put in, the quicker you will get done, and the less it will cost. The courses were comprehensive, easy to follow, and really did an outstanding job of preparing me for real-world programming environments.
I completed the Intro to Programming nano-degree (6 month benchmark) and Full-Stack Developer nano-degree (12 month benchmark) in just under 10 months. I was highly motivated. Now the hard part, finding a job. I got my resume updated, put together my Github (do yourself a favor, keep your Github up to date!), and started searching. I wound up landing a PHP gig within the first month of looking, and almost exactly a year from when I enrolled at Udacity, I left the restaurant industry behind me.
As of the writing of this post, I have been with my current firm for 14 months and have learned a ton in that time. I’m always looking for new ways to push myself and stretch my skill set. It’s been a hell of a journey and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
No matter what your situation, no matter what your age, no matter what your level of education, no matter what…..if you have the drive, the determination, and the tenacity to stick with it when it gets hard, there is absolutely no reason you can’t do the same thing. So if any of this resonated with you at all, I encourage you to go and do. At the end of your life, you will always regret more the things that you didn’t do than the things that you did.