Computers Life Stories Programming

Is two years too long to become a web developer?

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I first learned that you could become a developer without formal education in that particular field when I met a good friend who is a Swift developer.

At the time, I was struggling with the demands of society to finish my masters in English literature. I had started -and failed at- holding a normal desk job, and I was terrified of the prospect of working in an office setting (thanks to some drama and bullying I had experienced in the aforementioned desk job). I was working as an assistant teacher for children with special needs, and although it was a very fulfilling job, it was a tough job, and I felt culturally alienated from everyone I worked with. Mind you, they were nice people, and I liked most of them, but I felt as out of place as a circle in a group of triangles and squares.


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My developer friends, however told me that there was a whole world out there and that it would be pretty cool if I could explore it.  they said I could totally teach myself how to do this coding thing, even if it was just for myself. This was at the end of 2015.

I was not a complete computer noob, but I was pretty close to that. I had done a few Codecademy tutorials in markup language, but there were two things that happened that year that changed my life:

The Free Code Camp is this amazing website that helps you get better at javascript and other web technologies. It’s often better to pair it up with other resources but it gave me a good curriculum to work through by myself.

The Django Girls is this one-day event where they teach a bunch of women about how web development works and all the best practices. their tutorial is one of the best Django tutorials (and one of the best tutorials-period), I have ever encountered. In my case, my acceptance to this particular Django Girls led to earning a ticket to the biggest python conference in Spain.

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There I was, teaching myself and meeting people and feeling like everything was way over my head. People would ask things like “are you planning on learning as a hobby? Or will you make it a career?” and to be quite honest, that first year, I didn’t know.  I was so close to getting that masters degree it felt like a waste of time and money not to finish. I only needed one thing: the thesis and that was it. Also, working in an office was a scary thought. It meant having to deal with my demons and that scary voice in my head that tells me “I’m not good enough!”.

Time passed and soon it was already one year after I started learning how to code, and nothing much had changed in my life. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a MeetUp and talked to a woman who was very surprised that it took me that long from the moment I started to the moment I got my first job.

What can I say? I guess it was difficult to make the decision to throw away everything I had built up until then. Some people start with computational linguistics, or mathematics or some sort of engineering. I think that kind of background makes for an easy transition. As an English literature major, I remember going to a talk from the university about employability and prospects and having a university representative say “well, if you had wanted to get a job, you wouldn’t have studied what you did”. That was it, that was all I knew. It’s hard to think you’re worth something after being the butt of the joke for so long.

So then my second year rolled around and I decided to focus on this coding thing and a second issue showed up: what language to learn? There were so many languages. I had experience enough to know most people tell you to stick to one language and go for it. Some others ask you “what do you want to accomplish? Use the language you need to get your idea working”. I have issues with both these pieces of advice:

First, if you focus on the first shiny thing that comes across, you might end up learning a lot about that one shiny thing, but then you’ll get into this annoying mentality of “I have a hammer, and I will hammer everything in sight”. You see, different computer languages have different strengths and weaknesses. I know many people who have that one thing they know, and they know it very well, but can’t really understand anything else. I don’t particularly think it’s wrong to be a specialist per se, but I think it’s a bit shortsighted to ignore everything else in favor of the one thing you know. Sometimes you need one type of app, sometimes you need a different type. Learning about languages and how they can work together gives you a bigger toolbox than just a single hammer.

Second, if you already have a product in mind, I think it’s great to think about a language that will help you accomplish that. However, if you just want to learn how to code and don’t have any idea of where to start, it’s a bit scary to think about a project. I mean, you could potentially want to build the next facebook for cats, but somehow get stuck at the part where you’re supposed to add the meow-recognition login page. How much is too much to tackle? Are you good enough at assessing how good your skills are? Are you confident you can find all the information you want online? And once you find your answers in Stack Overflow, will you even be able to understand it? But hey, if you have the idea and the drive, I think it’s okay to go for it. My one advice would be to start small, with the stuff you know how to do, and then go deeper into small aspects you can tackle and so on.

What did I do instead of those two things? I allowed myself to have some time to go over everything I could get my hands on: Python, Ruby, JS, PHP, Java, HTML, CSS, Bash. I did a course on Linux administration, then Python, then JS and if you ask me if it was messy, yes, it was. I didn’t learn very deeply about any of those technologies but I started seeing patterns and learning about things I liked in languages, and things I didn’t like in languages. All the while, I kept going to MeetUps and helping out with events until I finally understood some of the lingoes a bit better. I discovered I liked Python as a language. I like how readable it is. I like learning about accessibility and clean code. My code might still leave a lot to be desired, but I could work in that direction.

Some people decide what language they want to learn based on which language is more in demand or what will give you a job. I’m an English major. Any developer language would give me more job opportunities than my whole life of academic endeavor. So I picked something I loved: Python and I started learning.

What happens next is not exactly what you are imagining right now. First, six months after I had started taking this coding thing seriously, I met some people who had set up a coding bootcamp for refugees. It’s called Re/start, and you should check it out. They’re lovely people. I am glad that I decided to participate with them. I learned a lot there. Personal circumstances made me unable to finish the whole curriculum, but those three months were a good investment.

After a month of code-induced burnout (studying 80 hours a week is not for the faint of heart), I decided to reach out and jump back on that horse. I also decided to start seriously applying for jobs. It just so happens that a friend of mine recommended me to do an internship type of thing at the company where he works and that’s where I am right now.

It took me two years. Most people will think it’s too long. I think that -without counting the time I was unsure about whether I should do this for real- I could say it took me half a year, that would sound better in this world where faster is always the way to go. But that would be discrediting all the personal growth I’ve done in between. I still have a long way to go, but at least I know where I’m standing.



Codemotion, here I come!

Codemotion Amsterdam is next week. Codemotion is a tech conference that deals with rather broad topics.  It covers Inspirational speeches, Security, DevOps, front end, Game Dev and a bunch of other things. Some of their talks look really interesting. I really hope I get to understand at least a fraction of it, but here I go again.

I had given up on the idea of going because I can’t really afford tickets to tech conferences. I knew there was a ticket giveaway with the GGC (Girl Geek Carrots), but I reacted too slow. Then, a friend told me Codemotion had a diversity program “why don’t you try applying that way?”.

Guys, I did. The answer was almost instantaneous. I have a ticket! I’m really excited!

You know what else I’m excited about?

The Django Girls Groningen! It’s going to be on the 20th. So I’ve been going through the tutorial again and scrutinizing every bit of it. The past two GitHub pushes have been all about it. I actually had a hard time uploading to GitHub because Windows had some saved credentials that clashed with my input from the console. I was really about to lose it. I had googled the problem and most of the answers were not cutting it. Then the hubby googled it and found the answer within 5 minutes. He’s a googling God, I swear.

It’s going to be on the 20th. So I’ve been going through the tutorial again and scrutinizing every bit of it. The past two GitHub pushes have been all about it. I actually had a hard time uploading to GitHub because Windows had some saved credentials that clashed with my input from the console. I was really about to lose it. I had googled the problem and most of the answers were not cutting it. Then the hubby googled it and found the answer within 5 minutes.

He’s a googling God, I swear.

He spoils me rotten.

What else can I say? I’ve been looking into some other Python tutorials. I keep on getting the feeling that I’m missing something. I really want to be able to solve things and answer questions when the next Django Girls Groningen comes around.

I’ll also practice a bit on the console. Typing in the bash always makes you feel like a h3xx0r, solving problems makes you feel like a genius. Having an error and banging your head for hours only to have someone else solve it in five minutes makes me feel sad.

So here’s to new habits, tech conferences, and googling Gods,

Enjoy the evening!


Computers Life Stories Programming

One Push Per Day

It will be two years ago since I started dabbling in programming.

Here’s the next step: I am hoping to start doing more with my Github and I want to build a portfolio, so starting today I am going to do at least one push commit to Github. Wish me luck!

So here’s the plan: First, I’m going to recreate the Django Girls tutorial, so I have it fresh in my mind when I go as a coach in 14 days. Then, I’m going to be doing some other project-based Python and Django tutorials. I’ll also be following some other non-project base python tutorials on the side (to refresh my memory when it comes to the theory).

If I can get things right, I’ll probably be streaming the whole thing, just for fun and giggles, but feel free to drop by and say hi. I’ll be posting the streaming times in a future post.

So, what do you think of the plan?

Enjoy the weekend,