I'm leaving my cushy job to become a web developer!

27 Jan 2014

This is my first post in what will (hopefully) be an on-going journal of my experiences and progress towards my exciting end goal -- becoming a web developer!

"Tell me a little about yourself!"

Sure, if you insist! Born and raised in Silicon Valley, I've been around technology throughout my entire life. I built my first custom PC (for gaming, of course!) when I was around ten years old. I have many fond memories of playing Diablo 1 and Duke Nukem 3D online with my older brother and my cousins. In fact, we played so often that my parents were forced to get our household three landlines just so we wouldn't tie up the main phone line! The joke was on them though... our main phone line was always tied up by our budding pre-teen romances, hah!

Through computer games, my love for technology grew even more and I began messing around with basic HTML webpages. I remember setting up my first free websites on Geocities and Angelfire, and relying on Altavista and Lycos to find my HTML tutorials... Ah, the good old days, when I looked to websites like this for inspiration.

Heading into college, I knew that I wanted to work with technology, but wasn't sure if the life of a programmer was for me. So, I took the advice of a counselor who pointed me in the direction of Management Information Systems. I actually really enjoyed my courses, as they had a good mix of business and computer technology courses. However, I found that the classes I enjoyed the most were the intro to programming courses I took, including HTML/CSS and VB.net. This was the first hint that perhaps my trajectory wasn't exactly where I wanted it to be.

"What is your current job?"

During my last day of finals in college, I was fortunate enough to receive a job offer at a SaaS company nearby. Elated and excited to get a start to my young career, I accepted the position as an IT analyst. My job, in a very generalized nutshell, entails documenting feature requests from the business unit, and translating those requests into technical requests for our engineering team.

I get to work cross-functionally with many teams, including Production, Application Engineering, Marketing, and Accounting.  My manager and my immediate peers are all incredibly smart individuals and the team chemistry is great. Given the chance to work with them again, I would, in a heartbeat. The pay is decent and the perks aren't too shabby -- free lunches twice a week and the ability to work from home whenever I want, which is particularly nice since I have two puppies at home that need to be let out to use the restroom!

"Wow, that sounds great! So why the hell are you leaving your job?"

Good question! While I enjoy being able to affect the direction of the features of the software at my company, I couldn't help but feel like a bit of a glorified middleman. I had become a jack of many trades, but a master of none. To be clear, I don't think there is anything wrong with being a generalist if that's what you want to do, I just personally want to be more of a specialist.

Whenever my friends ask me why I've decided to "waste" my degree and my three years of work experience in my current field, there is a metaphor I like to use. Imagine you are in a team and your team has a huge box of LEGO pieces in front of you. You are tasked with building a castle -- the most amazing castle ever conceived. In my current job, my role would entail: "Sooo... master LEGO builder, there is this amazing set of LEGO pieces in front of us...  I am not allowed to touch these pieces, and even if I am allowed to, I wouldn't know what to do with them or how to fit them together, so can you please build me a castle? Oh, and make it awesome (please!?!?)."

Meanwhile, the master LEGO builder gets to work, putting the pieces together one by one, seeing their hard work slowly come together, building something amazing from what was once nothing. Now, I don't know about you, but I would much rather be the master LEGO builder!

And that's why I felt like I had to make a change. The longer I stayed in my current position, the less I retained of the little coding knowledge I had gained in college. This feeling of deteriorating skills created an incredibly unsettling feeling in my stomach.

Long story short, I just wasn't passionate about my job any more. It became just a job. I didn't live and breathe it. I needed a change. As Chad Fowler so eloquently states in The Passionate Programmer:

"Most people spend far more of their waking adulthood working than doing anything else. According to a 2006 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average Americans spend half of their waking time at work. Leisure and sports are a distant 15 percent of waking time spent. The facts show that our lives basically are our work. If your life is primarily consumed by your work, then loving your work is one of the most important keys to loving your life."

"How do you plan on becoming a web developer?"

A few months ago, I set out to learn web development again on my own. I looked for online tutorials, and did as many suggested and started with the Ruby track on Codecademy. Once I finished that, there was a moment of "well, that was fun... but where do I go from here?" I was determined to learn more, so I researched some online Ruby on Rails "bootcamps" where you are able to learn much of the fundamentals in a relatively short amount of time (short relative to a traditional CS degree, but expect to study many hours per day), and found Tealeaf Academy. I plopped down the $500 to enroll and immediately immersed myself in the four-week intro course. It was a great start, and I even learned some cool tricks (like using Pry for debugging, which I hope to delve further into later), but I felt like something was missing. Now, this entirely depends on your learning style, but I learn best when working in pairs/teams and being able to constantly bounce thoughts off of my peers. Tealeaf Academy has a forum system and a one or two live sessions per week, but I felt there was just too much human context switching involved in posting a question and waiting hours for a reply, in addition to switching back and forth between my full time job and learning Ruby.

I liked the idea of a web development "bootcamp" (can't afford to be jobless for an extended period of time!), but I wanted the ability to have real-time discussions with my classmates, as well as immediate access to instructors. That's when I found out about MakerSquare, a ten-week immersive bootcamp for Ruby on Rails and JavaScript based out of Austin, Texas. I did some research and alumni had nothing but good things to say about their experiences during and after the program, so I decided to apply and fortunately was accepted!

That leads us to today, exactly one week away from the start of the MakerSquare program. Friday is my last day as an IT analyst. The very next day, I'm flying from San Jose, California to Austin, Texas and finally beginning my life as a web developer. And I can't wait.

Published on 27 Jan 2014 Find me on Twitter!