‘Grossly under-equipped’. Those were the words my instructor used to describe me in terms of our latest assignment. And those words brought so much relief. No, seriously. I really was relieved.
Let me back up a sec. We received our first group project this week. Our assignment: Come up with a web based project that utilizes everything that we have learned so far. Say what?
Just to be clear, that would include:
CSS (including SASS & Mixins)
Arrays, objects, queries & an assortment of other magical abilities
Seriously guys, it’s only been 3 weeks and we have already covered this much ground. And now we are on a team with 2 other people and we are all look like deers in headlights. ‘Is that a car crash coming at us? I think so. What should we do? Ummmm… Google it maybe?’
So this morning (day 2 of our homework assignment) our instructor asked us how it was going. We did our best to report our efforts, focussing on getting done what we know and slowly attacking what we don’t know byte by byte. And his reply? “I know you are all grossly under-equipped to do this. But that’s why I gave you this assignment.” Better to fall on your face while on a group project for school than on an actual professional team whose work you just accidentally deleted.
The tension in my shoulders eased just a bit hearing that. I had been feeling very small since the project began. We all were. Each of us feel that we are the weakest link on this project. We each see how far short we are to meeting the requirements of this project. But knowing that we have been put in a situation that is purposely bigger than our ability helps me to know, ‘Hey, of course you feel disoriented. That’s normal. Take a breath, and keep on pushing.’ No big deal.
Anyway, I’m still in the throws of this project so I’m gonna’ keep this short. I will say if we can make this thing work it’s going to be totally boss. I don’t want to say too much, but basically it’s directory application. You input your information to create your own profile. (Twist: to build your profile you have to answer ‘Would You Rather’ questions. Yep. Pure. Genius.)
First off, who the heck is Buckminster Fuller? Well, I actually just stumbled upon a quote of his that I really, really liked so I looked him up. The dude was a genius. Inventor, architect, second president of Mensa. Basically he was amazing. And he said a lot of stuff that is quotable. A LOT. The more I read, the more I was like, ‘Was this guy a programmer?’ He sure sounds like one.
“Humans beings always do the most intelligent thing…after they’ve tried every stupid alternative and none of them have worked” – Richard Buckminster Fuller
That’s how I felt about my homework this week – I tried a hundred different stupid things that didn’t work. Finally, after much research I would find the the solution I was looking for and then begin searching for the solution to the next problem. Lot’s of trial and error. Lot’s.
“When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty…….. but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” – Richard Buckminster Fuller
As budding programmers we are being taught not just the rules of syntax but the principals to how these programs came to be and how the logic operates. At the end of the day, we will be equipped to come up with elegant solutions. I’m obviously not there yet. Right now I feel like I’m trying to learn how to drive a stick shift for the first time but with only one arm. It’s not pretty. But perhaps one day…
“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” – Richard Buckminster Fuller
“Human beings were given a left foot and a right foot to make a mistake first to the left, then to the right, left again and repeat.” – Richard Buckminster Fuller
Tuesday night at around midnight I was faced with a dilemma. I knew I couldn’t finish the assignment I had before me. I was only 1/3 of the way through and had been working on it all day. I was mentally and physically exhausted from the previous late nights. I knew I had to go to sleep, but I hated that option. To me, it felt like accepting failure: I was beaten by my homework. I am enormously afraid of failure. It can make me feel sick to my stomach faster than a George Romero zombie movie. But when you are that spent you are only doing damage to your greatest resources: your mind & your body. Heavy hearted, I went to bed that night feeling utterly depressed. In retrospect, it was a little ridiculous of me. I was only 7 days into the program and had already built a webpage in 4 days, created a Github account for myself (and have since been committing and pushing to it regularly), had learned to use SASS and finally understood what Document Object Model actually referred to. That’s a ton of stuff that I didn’t know before I got here. And yet, in that moment all I saw was my own inadequacy. My point is that I need to learn and relearn that failure is a constant part of life. It’s what our feet (and minds) were built to do: try, try again.
The minute you begin to do what you really want to do, it’s really a different kind of life. – Richard Buckminster Fuller
Despite the hardships, I’m no less convinced that this is where I’m supposed to be. The assignments are incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding. I can feel myself changing. That’s exciting.
P.S. It’s so freaking cold here. My Texas blood was getting ready for summer, so I definitely was not prepared to feel this chilled all the time. I wear my coat, scarf & hat everywhere I go – to the school, in restaurants, in my apartment. All. The. Time. I hope it warms up before April. It would be nice to wear a t-shirt sometime.
Also, you should check out my roommate’s blog – he’s such a great writer. He definitely has a classic southern gift for hyperbole. Amazing stuff and completely hilarious.
Welp, my first week at The Iron Yard has come to a close and I have survived. So far I’ve listened to 4 lectures, created 2 websites (semi-functional), coded 20+ hours outside of class time and had too many cups of coffee to keep track. Our professor believes in the sink or swim method of teaching which completely frightens me. However, after a week of doing it I can honestly see why.
Someone asked me the other day, ‘Do you like the program?’ My answer is a resounding yes. I made a very deliberate decision when choosing to come here. I traveled a thousand miles from home, away from my family, in a place I’m completely unfamiliar with to learn difficult material I’ve never done before for a very specific reason: I believe this is going to change my life (and that of my family’s) for the better. On the meandering road trip to Greenville I felt like I was on the cusp of a grand adventure, like Frodo or maybe a Hardy Boy. Completing this program is about more than just getting a job for me. I want to make the world a better place (cheesy, yes, but there it is) and I’m certain this is the beginning of that path.
After week one, here’s a few specific things I’m getting/learning which I’m really pumped about (although my capacity for enthusiasm is only slightly curbed by lack of sleep)–
Getting It Done
Essentially, we are being taught to work despite our fear of the failing miserably, introductory level of skill, and mental exhaustion. We are getting used to searching for the solution despite a hundred failed attempts. In a word, we are learning to be overcomers. Truly, I’ve learned more in the past week trying to meet these deadlines than I have for the past year of learning on my own and that’s a good feeling.
They don’t just give you the answer, but they try to push us in the right directions and tell us which dark alleys on the internet to avoid. The advice of seasoned programmers is pure gold and can’t be understated.
Thinking Like A Program / Problem Solver
Learning to program isn’t just about learning a new language (though you are). It’s also about learning to think through a problem thoroughly and well. I’m only just beginning to see the ways my own problem solving ability needs to be adjusted, but it’s an exciting self discovery.
Those are the highlights from the first week. So far we’ve only focused on HTML & CSS but more languages are just around the corner (as are many more late nights & cups of coffee, I’m sure).
On a personal note, I’ve been missing my family a lot this week. I can’t even believe it’s been only a few days… it feels like it’s been weeks already. I took a walk today for a break from my computer and it was such a beautiful day outside. I found myself being really overwhelmed by God’s goodness, which for some reason made me think about how much I miss the voices of my wife and kids. I love listening to the things they say, both the profound and the ridiculous. Lord knows I’m so grateful to have a wife who is making as much of a sacrifice (if not more) as I am. She’s a keeper.
Can’t wait to show you guys some stuff I’ve built. Stay tuned.
Even though my internship was over and I hadn’t been offered a job, I continued to chat with my supervisor After several conversations, I accepted the position of Production Coordinator for LevelTen Interactive. I was totally stoked. I took a huge risk in taking an unpaid internship, but it had paid off. I can’t tell you how validating this felt for me. I was finally working towards a bigger picture (professionally speaking). I was going to a job that I really enjoyed and that I could see a future in. To help ends meet (and build up my experience) I took on some web coding side projects. I also taught a children’s art class one day a week (art has always been a personal passion of mine).
One of the greatest things about working in an agency was getting to see all the different roles within the web design field. You have the designer, back-end developers, front-end developers, strategists, information architects, usability specialists, etc. As the production coordinator, I followed the projects from inception to launch. I was able to work alongside each of these roles and see how they added to the project. And that confirmed it for me: I wanted to be a front-end developer.
As dreamy as all this was, there were also some significant downsides:
I was managing web projects, but not coding them.
My experience as a web designer was still very limited.
The rate I was learning to code was very slow.
Taking The Leap (Part 3 – quitting my dream job):
So, I knew the role I wanted and I was on the path to becoming it; however, that path was going to take about five years based on my current rate of progress. I needed to speed things up so I started researching on how to build up my skills faster. I had heard of this newish trend in the US for web developer education: intense, mentor-based programs that lasted, on average, a couple of months. It sounded intriguing to me. I’ve always learned best in an immersive environment, and honestly with four kids it can be really difficult to study on evenings & weekends. I found The Iron Yard and applied for one of ten spots. I had several interviews and while they discussed my application, I scoured over the curriculum and looked into the resources they mentioned in conversation. The more I learned about The Iron Yard the more convinced I became that it was a perfect option for me.
South Carolina or Bust
When I got my acceptance I felt a mixture of excitement and fear. I had this great opportunity but I would have to move away from my family for three months to do it. Four kids, ya’ll. That’s a big deal. Also, we are a single income family (and I’m the bacon bringer). It wasn’t an easy decision, but after a lot of discussion, my wife & I felt it was worth the sacrifice.
So, in just two days I’ll be getting into my car & heading to Greenville, South Carolina. I’ve spent this week trying to fix things around the house and spend some extra time with the family before heading north. I’m gonna miss my family something huge. They are my everything. But that’s also going to motivate me to do well.
For the next twelve weeks I’ll be living in an apartment with a room mate (seems like a nice, normal person). I’ll attend lectures in the mornings and work on coding in the afternoons. By the end of it, I will be able to call myself a bonafide Front-End Developer. I plan on posting updates on my progress and sharing insight on what it’s like to be in a mentor program. And so as 2014 begins so does the adventure.
When I have looked at career options in the past, I have asked myself the question: “Am I capable of being successful in that job?” I would ponder on whether or not I had the skills needed to be successful in the career option I was contemplating. The problem is that I kept finding myself in positions that I didn’t want to be in long term. So 2013 started with a paradigm shift for me. Instead of asking what I was capable of doing, I started asking what I was excited about doing, and the answer for me was web design. I had been thinking about becoming a web designer for a while, but this was the year I did something about it.
Taking The Leap (Part 1 – quitting my full time job)
The first thing I had to do was free up some time for me to pursue this career change, so I quit my full time job and took a part time position as a bank teller. I started this blog and shared it through social media to keep me accountable (nothing like jumping off a cliff in front of people). I did everything I could to cram my brain with knowledge of web design: taking classes, listening to podcasts, reading books, researching on line, interviewing people in the field & attending meet up groups. It was a lot, but I still felt like I was learning at a snail’s pace.
Then in April I was invited by a friend to go to a Start Conference led by Jon Acuff. I wasn’t familiar with it but when I looked it up it sound like just what I needed. That night I sat listening in some old theatre in Austin thinking, ‘What is holding me back?’ The answer: fear. I didn’t feel ready and I was afraid of failing. I’ve always been afraid of failing, but now the stakes seemed higher than ever (being the sole provider for your wife and four kids can do that to you). I knew I had reached an impasse: keep going at this rate and become a web designer in 10 years or hit the pavement and find a company where I can get a foot in the door and get some practical experience. I chose the latter.
Taking The Leap (Part 2 – stalking an internship)
After returning from the conference I worked hard trying to find an agency that still offered internships. I didn’t have any real experience but I had a lot of motivation. I received a lot of rejections, but I found one agency that agreed to interview me. I met with two developers and for someone with no experience I felt like the interview was going well, until I asked the question, “What’s the next step?” That’s when they told me that just before I came to the office they had been informed that the internships were being put on hold for financial reasons. I felt that kick to the gut during my entire 45 minute drive back home; but when I pulled into my driveway I had thought of an option to my situation. After talking it over with my wife I gave the agency a call and asked them to give me a chance as an intern, but for free. They decided to give me that chance.
The Scariest Day of the Year
I worked my butt off for 2 months as an intern. In that time I met with clients, created wireframes, partook in strategy meetings and did everything else they would let me. I volunteered every chance I got. I saw how Scrum worked in a team environment, I became familiar with using Axure software, and I found that communication amongst a team was a strength of mine. As the end of the internship approached I began asking my supervisor what possibilities, if any, might there be for me with the company. I met with the president and discussed a possible position. The president met with my supervisor and they continued to discuss options for the next couple of days. I tried to be patient, tried to look cool, but inside I was struggling. At this point I had worked the summer burning through our savings. While I was able to do some limited networking with other agencies I had no strong leads anywhere else. I had all my eggs in one basket and I was terrified that it wouldn’t work out.
My internship ended without a finalized offer of a position. I was so completely discouraged. There I was with no real experience, no money, no job and five people at home depending on me to figure out the next step. Truly, I had never been more scared in my life, let alone in that year. Fortunately, it got better.