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Rane Wallin
Rane Wallin

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When school and work collide: Surviving the perfect storm

July 8 marked an exciting day for me. After complete Lambda School's Full Stack Web curriculum, I started my third and final build week. For those not familiar with Lambda School, the core curriculum is broken into 3 - 5 sections with a build week at the end of each section. During the build week, you work with students in all sections toward to the goal of completing a full, production-ready project. It's a great opportunity to reinforce mastery, work in a team, and build something to add to your portfolio.

In the part time program our build "week" is actually two weeks. Ideally, we restrict our build time to the same class schedule that we hold for lectures, though it doesn't always work out that way. As the final hours approach it is not uncommon to sacrifice at least one weekend day to polishing and refining your code.

Like most part time students, and probably many full time students, I have a full time job. I work for Nordstrom in a hybrid tech support/help desk position. I work directly with customers facing technical challenges, I open tickets to other departments, escalate problems, and work directly with those departments to find the best solutions for our customers. Our team also supports our contact center employees with system issues in the same manner.

Working and going to school is never easy, but as this build week approached, it lined up with another big, important, and time consuming event in my life Nordstrom's annual Anniversary sale. For Nordstrom, this sale is as big as the Holiday season, if not bigger. During the first hours of the sale we move millions of dollars of merchandise every minute. With so much traffic, there are bound to be challenges that our customers face, and that's where my team comes in.

Our small team of 10 people is on the front line when it comes to supporting our customers when these issues arrive. As such, big events like Anniversary and Holiday require extra dedication and time; and, by that, I mean ample overtime.

Build week started July 8th, Anniversary started July 12th. Two big, exciting, and stressful events colliding at just the right time to create a perfect storm. All of this made even more challenging by the fact that I start work at 3:00 AM and have my Lambda class until 9:00 PM Monday - Friday.

Nordstrom is an awesome and supportive company, and our customers are truly the best. I've worked in customer service for more than 10 years, and I've never worked with better customers than our Nordstrom customers. But, no matter how great the customers and the company, customer service is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Talking to people for 10 - 12 hours straight can wear down the most resilient people. Finishing a 12 hour day talking non-stop to customers and then finding the emotional fortitude to say "okay, let's get to back to work on this project" is a greater challenge than one might image.

It wasn't enough to survive, I needed to thrive. I needed to build an amazing project to ensure I would have something great to add to my portfolio, and I needed to kill it at work, because that's what I'm there to do. I've been with Nordstrom for 5 years and there's no slowing down now! Getting through it all required developing some strategies.

Get outside

Since I work from home and my classes are all online, it's easy to stay in the house all day, but it's not wise. I've fallen into that trap before and it leads only to depression and fatigue.

Being in Arizona, where it's been 105° - 115° F during the past two weeks, added an additional layer of difficulty. I needed to find ways to get out early or late. Fortunately, I have an awesome and understanding boss. Since I start work at 3 AM getting out before work is pretty much impossible, but my boss arranged for me to get an hour for lunch early in the day. During which time, I could go out for walks or quick bike rides. The sunshine and fresh air made a huge difference.

Do it for the team

It can be easy to get focused on your own needs and challenges, but whether at work or during build week, I was always working with a team. Focusing on the team's needs gave me extra motivation to keep pushing through.

At work, if I'm late, slow, or unprepared it would impact my team and my customers. Likewise, for build week, the backend I built needed to support the frontend developers. If I didn't complete my milestones in a timely manner, it would get them off track, as well. Keeping these things in mind helped me stay motivated when all I wanted to do was take a nap.

Take a nap

Okay, I know what I just said, but, at the same time, I needed to be alert and mentally strong whether working with customers or working with my build week team. Working 19-hour days gets absolutely exhausting, I know, I've been doing it for months even before now. Sometimes you just need to take care of yourself or you won't be any use to your teammates. A couple of days, when I knew my milestones were met, I took the time to take short naps before getting back to the build week schedule.

Do it for yourself

Anyone who is working and going to school is doing it because they imagine a better, more satisfying life for themselves (and their families). When it gets overwhelming, it's important to remember that. Focus less on how hard it is now and more on how much better it will be when it's done. I want nothing more in my life right now than to transition into a full time developer role. Meeting these challenges is just one more part of meeting that goal.

In the end, I kicked build week's butt. I created an amazing backend server that I am proud of and thrilled to add to my portfolio. I also kept up with the demands of work and banked a load of overtime, which is always nice to see on the paycheck!

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