Do You Really Want to Code?

Thank you Nathan Dennis for contributing this article on his story of going through a bootcamp and entering tech as a second career!

I first learned about coding bootcamps through a coworker. At the time, I was working at an Apple Store, and it seemed like every week another member of the team would leave to attend something called Galvanize. Eventually, I started asking questions and found out that it was a full-time web development immersive program. I knew that code was something that interested me, as I had exposure to it earlier in life, but I hadn’t touched code since my senior year of high school. A friend introduced me to codecademy.com, and I started re-familiarizing myself with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

After a couple of months on that website, I still really felt like Galvanize was something that I wanted to pursue. However, I couldn’t shake the nerves that I had around making such a big commitment. If I were to attend Galvanize, that would require coming up with tuition, not to mention money for living expenses since the program is far too intense to maintain a job during it. I knew that if I ended up going, that was me declaring to the world (and myself) that coding was what I wanted to do with at least the next foreseeable chunk of my life.

One day, in the midst of considering whether or not Galvanize was something I really wanted to do, one of my former team members at Apple — who had left to do the program — came into the store to get his computer repaired. I happened to be leaving for the day right when his appointment ended, so I walked him to his car. On the way out, I asked what he thought of Galvanize and told him that I was really considering attending as well. I was relieved when he had nothing but good things to say about the program (as well as his new job). Just before we went our separate ways, I asked him if he had any advice for me. “Make sure that code is something you really want to do,” he told me. He didn't want me to dive into something because it sounded exciting only to find out months later that it wasn't really something I could tolerate for 40 hours a week. I ended up obsessing over his words for months.

I found myself spending every waking minute on Code Academy. After completing the majority of their offerings, I discovered Udemy and started a course in Java. I had several friends in the industry, and was constantly reaching out with questions, or simply to show off the stuff I was working on. At that point in time, I didn’t even know enough to know how much I didn’t know, but I was excited every time a day off came around because I knew that meant an entire day that I could do nothing but code. Throughout all of this, my friend’s words kept ringing in my ears, “Make sure that code is something you really want to do.”

I don’t think that there was a singular moment where I realized that I was certain about pursuing coding as a career. When deciding to leave a steady job at a well established company to spend 50+ hours a week learning a new skill in hopes that it will pay off down the road, certainty is not something that a person experiences. I do remember, though, having a moment where I thought to myself: “I’ve been spending all of my free time for the last six months writing code. If that doesn’t mean that I really want to do it, what does?”

That was the moment that I turned all of my mental energy toward figuring out how to make Galvanize happen. To make a long (and probably very predictable) story short: I did end up attending Galvanize in Denver, and I graduated in December of 2016.

It’s now been two years since I finished Galvanize, and I’ve not gained a paid coding role yet. To keep things in perspective, it’s important to note that my job search has been anything but normal. Due to some very extreme family circumstances, I was forced to take a good deal of time off of the job search entirely. I won’t get into the details of how difficult this search has been, except to say that I’ve submitted well over 300 applications to this point. I’m painfully aware of the fact that it has been two entire years, and I’m still coding for fun.

Recently, I remembered that conversation in a mall parking lot with my old coworker. At that point, I didn’t have a clue whether or not writing code for a living was something I really wanted to do. I knew it was fun; I knew it had the potential to pay much, much (much, much) better than working at Apple retail, but I didn’t know if I was “passionate” about it. Today, I know for certain that it’s what I want to do. The only reason that I’ve kept going, that I’ve kept thinking of new projects, that I’ve managed to teach myself new skills like React and Python, is that coding is what I want to do.

Depending where you’re at in your coding career, this blog might be causing you to think a number of different things. I’m being honest when I say if you’re someone who is considering pursuing an education in coding but doesn’t truly want it, I hope that this blog post talks you out of it. Learning how to write code is exhausting, writing code is difficult, and finding a job writing code is brutal. If it’s not what you really want, do not do it.

If, like me a few years ago, you’re feeling strongly that you do want to pursue coding and are deciding whether or not to take the leap, I hope that this blog makes you take that decision as seriously as possible. Coding is a blast, and I’d be doing Galvanize a disservice if I didn’t clarify that I had a ton of fun in the six months that I was a student there. It was difficult, sometimes brutally so, but I made several friendships that I maintain to this day and I learned dramatically more than I could have possibly taught myself in such a short time.

Finally, if you’re someone who has recently graduated from either college or a program similar to the one I did and this post is a little terrifying, I want to say that my job search has been anything but normal. There have been many extenuating circumstances that have caused it to continue much, much longer than I ever anticipated. Continue to focus on the fact that code is what you want to do, and you will find something — I will too.

Regardless of which of these three descriptions you fit — or if you don’t fit any of them — there’s value in answering the question ,“Do you really want to code?” Answering that question was what guided me toward diving into this industry feeling confident that it was the right decision, and knowing that the answer is a resounding “Yes!” is what has kept me going despite a seemingly endless series of obstacles in front of me. Code is powerful, fun, and worth pursuing — so long as you know that it's what you want to do.

Want to keep learning? Check out how to deploy a Node app with VS Code.

The contributors to JavaScript January are passionate engineers, designers and teachers. Emily Freeman is a developer advocate at Kickbox and curates the articles for JavaScript January.