Explaining your unemployment at Thanksgiving is the hardest part of programming

The hardest part of learning to code for me was talking to family at Thanksgiving while out of work and trying to get a first developer job. It took about a year of learning/funemployment before I was finally able to get off Obamacare(god bless it), and even now, almost two years later, i’m still learning every day and trying very hard to remain gainfully employed. But it sucks, not having a job and having to explain why to aunts and uncles who, up until now, thought you weren’t the most deadbeat of all the cousins. So I figure I can help out someone reading who might be faced with that situation next Thanksgiving (or who will have to go through it again during Christmas).

  1. Explain the job, not the language

No one cares if you want to write python or sql or javascript or vba, because they probably haven’t heard of any of them. So even though that’s technically what you’re doing (getting good enough at some set of technologies that someone is willing to pay for your expertise instead of learning it themselves) you’re just gonna get a lot of dumb looks and shit eating grins if you tell your uncle that you’re really interested in MEAN stack applications. Also that’s a stupid thing to say. So just say you’re learning to make apps for iPhones, or automate financial reports, or build IoT devices, or develop VR games. Beside helping you speak in plain English, knowing what tangible jobs are out there, and what those job requirements are, will help narrow your focus to learning a manageable subset of specific languages, tools, or technology.

2. Listen to the your smart relatives

By some stroke of luck at least a few in-laws will not be fully brain dead and might even write code themselves, or work with people who do. Chances are, despite what your inner lizard brain is telling you, you are not the smartest person in the room (spoiler alert, you’re not the best looking either). So go find the people who might actually have something insightful to say and, if they aren’t slurring too much, listen to them. Maybe they’ll help you understand what programming languages are popular in different industries or, at the very least, will be confident enough to ask why whatever you’re blathering on about is any different than the 20MB Excel spreadsheet they’ve been using for the past 15 years. I’m still trying to answer that one tbh.

3. Maybe relax with the binge drinking

This is more of a general recommendation, so I’ll close on it. Learning to code is frustrating, time consuming, and repetitive. You’ll spend many hours just reading documentation or error messages before you can even get to the fun part of doing more than just printing “hello world” on a screen. In fact you’ll be reading docs and error messages the rest of your career. So, while it’s tempting to spend the entire Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Friendsgiving Holiday binge drinking (or binge eating or shopping, if that’s what you’re into), writing good code is a force of habit as much as it is some sort of intellectual heavy lifting. Try to put your hands on the keyboard for at least some portion of the holiday, and the sooner some other relative can be the deadbeat of the family.

Hope that helps and thanks for reading,

-Eric Mustin