How I Learned To Code & Got My First Tech Job
My dream job when I was a child was to either star in a Disney movie, become a real-life mermaid, or work as an artist. I started dreaming of a writing career by the time I reached my teen years. This is the career that I focused on when I went to college to earn a degree in English, and later to finish it as a degree in Communication. Web development and computer programming never crossed my mind.
I did not have my first computer until college. It was in the early 2000s. I used the school or library computer until I got my own laptop. By the time I graduated with my bachelor's degree, I had gone through several laptops. I got an internship at a print magazine and officially started my magazine writing career.
Then I decided to go to graduate school for a media management degree. The media world was changing, and knowing some basic HTML and CSS as a writer was considered to be a key skill. So, I took a few interactive media classes that introduced me to web design and front-end coding. I passed the class but my coding skills were not that great by the time I finished school.
That's when it clicked
I needed to learn how to do this. Front-end web development was fun, but I had trouble grasping some of the concepts. I tried learning on my own as much as possible, joined a few women in tech groups, and practiced when I had the time. Back-end programming entered my mind when I stumbled upon Python. Of course I tried to teach that to myself as well.
It was hard. I like a challenge but there were plenty of times when I wanted to quit. "You're a writer. Why are you doing this to yourself?" I thought more than once. But I kept trying. I decided to go to a Python conference in Columbus one year and got introduced to more Python and began following a few important Python and Django people on Twitter, or they followed me because I had live-tweeted some of the sessions.
Two years from there and I realized that I needed more help. Trying to learn on my own was okay, but I was stuck. What could I do? Then an idea clicked. If I could get paid to learn on the job, perhaps coding and programming would make more sense to me.
I reached out to a Django expert on Twitter to see if they had any openings for a paid web developer apprentice and managed to get an interview.
The first few months after I was hired were still a struggle. My boss happens to be patient and a fairly decent teacher, so some things began to click. I reached aha! moments several times. And, to help me level up and reach junior level, my boss sent me to coding bootcamp. I will graduate in December with a specialization in Python and Django.
What I've learned
It's one thing to memorize a concept and quite another to understand how and when to apply it. The tutorials I would find would be too abstract and use "foo" and "bar", which makes no sense to me. I also don't want to merely copy code. It's better if the code is explained on why it works and when we should use it.
So, these are some things that I have learned from my experience in learning to code and getting my first tech job:
- On getting a tech job: Just ask. Apply to jobs or ask around to see if there are internships available.
- On learning to code: Practice. Extend tutorials or combine tutorials to add features to a larger project. Failure is one of the best ways to learn because that's how we figure out what doesn't work. Then we have to figure out why it doesn't work and fix it.