I started working as a developer a year ago today. To this day, I still don’t understand how/why I was hired, but I was/am super happy to have the opportunity to do work that I never truly believed I would have. When I started bootcamp, it was still therapeutic. I’ve never been “naturally smart,” but I’ve always been a hard-worker. I knew I could complete the bootcamp with enough hard work, but I never thought anyone would hire me, let alone as a front-end dev. But what I’ve discovered over the last year was that despite the many, many times that I thought I would do everyone a favor and go back to teaching, I actually have learned a ton and I kinda feel like I belong here. It’s not easy, and I’ll certainly continue to grow, but I’ve learned a lot along the way that I want to share.
1- Get Comfortable with being Uncomfortable. This is the advice I’ve probably received the most, and it’s at the top of my list because it’s what caused so much self-doubt. It was worse than when I first started teaching college courses. When I started teaching, I was 23, short (5’1 and ¾ ), and probably only looked 16. My (guy) students wouldn’t listen, acted totally inappropriate (one hit on me), and I had to have other teachers come observe my classroom to help me with classroom management. And that’s kind of what coding felt like everyday for a longggggg time. Chaos. I got through that semester of teaching, but it wasn’t pretty. In the same way, I got through the first six months of coding, which I’m sure was not pretty in any way. But for most devs, that’s part of the game. You’re stepping into a new world, with a million problems, 3.5 million ways to solve them, and sometimes those 3.5 million answers only hint at the way that you need to solve it. Spoiler alert: this is going to be your career, so get used to it.
2- Communicate. The one thing I wish I would’ve done better at in the beginning. The clearer you can communicate with those around you, the easier it will be. Everyone communicates differently, so finding the way that works best for you and those around you will be really important to your growth. Coding is all about learning everyday. If there’s someone there who can help you learn, utilize that person. You’ll learn faster. You’ll get to see how they think. You’ll find new ways of thinking about things as well. Look, the hero never makes it to the final battle without a mentor.
3- Sometimes you have to dive down the rabbit hole. Yes, that might sound like it contradicts the previous point, but I think you can only develop your own method and understanding of your abilities once you’ve spent seventeen hours trying to figure out one issue. Ok, it doesn’t have to be seventeen hours, but it’s worth while to take your time to really think things through, develop a process, and look at the problem you’re trying to solve. For me, I’ve discovered that having a notebook next to me, writing out the problem and potential solutions as I go, and then checking off what I’ve done both helps me to communicate what I’ve tried when I still can’t figure out the problem, and it allows me to avoid circling around the same solutions.
4- Find community. This has been important to me every step of the way. And community won’t always mean the same time. For a long time, I only felt comfortable with other moms in tech, sometimes it’s other people at my level of learning, right now I’m really enjoying being around devs at all stages of their learning journey during Virtual Coffee. But it definitely helps to be able to voice your frustrations, reach out to people you trust, and celebrate your wins together.
5- Let others help. So this is a tough one for me. I’m used to working independently. I’m used to doing all the things, usually by myself. But coding can be a team sport. It is not a failure to let other people help you. It is part of the learning experience. That’s also how you grow and learn to communicate together. It’s what allows for team-building. It’s how you’ll learn how to be a good teacher yourself.
6- It’s ok to feel like you aren’t ready. Every damn day.
7- Find the balance that works for you. Some people thrive by coding a forty hour workweek, a side hustle, and extra learning every night. That’s not ever going to be an option for me, so finding a balance of learning while working and being satisfied with that balance was super important and super helpful in avoiding burnout. There has not been a day this year where I’ve said, “I really don’t want to code today.” And I think that’s because I didn’t max out. Sometimes I did more coding and learning than others, but I also gave myself some grace when I couldn’t do all the things.
8- You can’t learn everything. There are so many shiny new tech things out there that it’s easy to get distracted. Would I love to learn more about machine learning? 100%. But I can’t do that right now. Do I need to know three different JS frameworks? No. But knowing one pretty well is probably more important than knowing surface level implementation of three.
9- Don’t be afraid. I had a lot of fears that I had to overcome this year. Fear of failure. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of breaking things. Fear of saying things that would make people want to run from tech instead of learning more. Fear of never being able to understand what I was looking at. Fear that I was overvaluing myself. Fear that I would never find a job. Fear that I would never find a job working with good people. Fear that someone would discover that I was not really a dev. Don’t do that to yourself. It’s going to be hard. You will have doubts. But you are where you are supposed to be on this coding journey. It might not be as far as you want. You may not have hit the training montage yet, or maybe you’re at the really painful beginning of that montage, but fear will only keep you from growing.
10- You’re learning, even when you feel like you’re stagnant. I don’t know why I can’t get this through my head. Every time I think I’m standing still, I need to take a break and look at the code I wrote three months ago. It doesn’t feel like I’m better at writing code, but there is proof that I am. I need to look back at my notes. I need to remember how hard it felt to start a project, only to look at it now and see how easy it is.
11- Google. Google. Google. If I had a BFF necklace, the second half would go to google. Everybody googles things. Tech moves too fast to not have to google things. Senior devs google. We all google, and that doesn’t make us less of a dev.
12- Enjoy yourself. I love coding. I love my job. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a position where I can’t wait to get back to work after taking time off. I love the focus and problem solving. I love feeling like I’m part of a larger community of people. I love that even when I’m struggling and frustrated that I know I’ll break through and figure it out, and that I’ll smile at the end of it. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, some people do it just for the money. But enjoying yourself will keep you from burning out and keep you wanting to come back for more.
And just in case twelve lessons aren’t enough, here’s a bonus: work with good people.
I spent ten years teaching college English. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. I never thought I would change careers. And it wasn’t until I changed to tech that I really realized how frustrating it had been. By really weird circumstances I ended up in tech, and it’s been a wild ride. And despite the initial fears and self-doubt, despite the wildness of the COVID-related interviewing experiences, I wouldn’t trade this for anything. I’ve been so lucky to work with amazing people, to work with someone who wants to help me to learn and grow, to grow with other developers, to find multiple communities who have supported me, offered advice, and cheered me on. And I have never in my entire life felt such a strong sense of belonging. So thank you to all of those people who have been there for me. And if you’re just starting your journey or just found your first dev job, know that it might be hard and a rollercoaster of a year, but I hope that you find an experience that’s been as great as mine.