Hack School Grad: One Year Later

This week I took a tour down memory lane with a return visit to my hack school alma mater, The Iron Yard, located in the ever hospitable Greenville, SC. I attended an annual conference (or rather, unconference) called Grok – an awesome experience centered around getting cool people together from different disciplines to start random conversations that lead to better/deeper understanding. I attended Grok for the first time last year. I had just completed the front-end course and it was really a great way to end such an intense endeavor.

I was super curious to see the school again and how it’s changed. When I started at the Iron Yard, they were only based in South Carolina. As of today they are in 10 different states (and more to come, I’m sure). They have expanded the number of courses they offer and my instructor is now head (dean? emperor?) of all the other instructors around the country. It’s just crazy how much this place has grown.

When I walked through the doors I was impressed with all the upgrades in their new space. Nice tables, marble counters in the kitchen, upgraded couches (I love me a good chesterfield). It definitely felt more grown up, but I was glad to see they hadn’t lost their sense of whimsey (i.e. the Nordic warrior inspired chalk drawing and the mustached storm trooper head below – grandfathered in from the old location). Not to mention all the staff… there were (I’m guessing) about 50-60 Iron Yard staffers who were able to attend Grok. Back in my day (yeah, I said it) there were only 10-15 total employees.

Storm Trooper With a Moustache at the Iron Yard

With such an explosion in staff I wondered what it would feel like to come back to my Iron Yard ‘family’. Within minutes of walking through the door I was greeted with bear hugs from my former instructor and the former campus director (who has also been promoted to emperor status). They remembered my name. They remembered my story. It was a true family greeting. I was humbled/amazed/relieved.

In seeing the growth of the Iron Yard, it inspired me to reflect upon my own growth in the past year. When I left Grok in 2014, I had no prospects before me and I was not looking forward to the job search. The last time I had tried to find a job (pre-IronYard), I had submitted over 100 resumes and didn’t get a single interview. For the three prior years, my family and I had been living in a small community with not much of an economy. We had dwindled our savings down to next to nothing. It was a truly desperate situation. Not a great feeling.

Now I am a front-end developer with a great web agency in Dallas. I get to work from home if I choose, go in late if needed… so long as I keep on top of all my stuff. I get to work as part of a talented team solving UX problems collaboratively. We dialogue about solutions for awesome clients (like Heifer International). I’m being invested in daily and given challenges to complete. My family enjoys having me home again (and having a steady paycheck). We’re working on building up that savings and while we are still frugal, we’re able to talk about going out to eat or enrolling the kids in a summer camp… things that you just don’t talk about when you are under ongoing financial stress.

Of all the things that have happened to me in this past year (i.e. getting a new job, growing in my creative skill set, opportunities to travel, etc.) their impact is nothing in comparison to the shift in my own confidence. Where the old me would have said ‘half empty’ the new me is saying ‘half full’. Doors to my own imagination are now open wider than ever before. I’m considering what I want this next year to look like and I want to try things that I never would have tried before. Some are coding related, but some have nothing to do with programming. Now that I am convinced that I can do hard things and succeed, I’m seeing possibilities instead of just ‘pipe dreams’. I like the new me. I hate how long it’s taken me to get here and I hope I can live in such a way that helps other people get here faster.