Figuring it out.

College is this funny thing in the United States. From fairly early on, most folks from most walks of life are encouraged from all directions to graduate high school with exceptional performance, apply to an exceptional college, and then cross your fingers and hope that you get an exceptional admissions letter. So, you huddle up in your tent every night, or on your buddy’s couch, or the front seat of your car, and hope that you can prove yourself in the next couple years. You graduate high school, and apply for college; it’s a shot in the dark, but you worked this hard. You get in. Whew, you made it. Now, repeat that process and you’re set. Your degree will open up a world of opportunities, a ticket out of poverty, and pass you the torch on happiness. Well, sort of.

After getting REALLY lucky, receiving a gracious “break the homelessness cycle” scholarship, completing major #1 in your first two years, and then even studying abroad for a year. Everything is good. You return home to finish your final two quarters, and that is when you realize things aren’t quite right. While finishing up with courses, you stick to your degree and try some grass roots organization and start canvassing; after all, you DID study political science. One week in, you realize you hate it. You aren’t producing anything that you are terribly proud of, but you stick it out. The next month, you receive an employment offer conducting research for a really nice non-profit. Though this is way better — you genuinely enjoy reaching out to, and surveying the community — you still feel that something is off.

Then you graduate. Feeling uncomfortable with your degree and trajectory, but figuring, “Hey, this is just the adjustment phase,” you take a position assisting running the operations of Chinese international dorm. One month of this and you now know for sure: this isn’t a growing up issue; this is the honeymoon phase of fake passion and the wrong educational choice FINALLY wearing off. You realize you were always interested in political science and linguistics as ideas, but not as realities. The stark contrast between the academic pursuit and actual employment that education prepared you for — well, it crashes around you like an EF5 tornado.

So, you have a little mental breakdown, and you change it up. You go on a road-trip. You travel around the states with that paltry savings, one last-ditch effort to keep yourself from resigning to the wrong choice. You hope to truly define those age old questions: “What will make me happy?” “What IS meaningful?” The same hope that drove you to come this far will drive you a little further. Your eyes are open to anything. You are finally considering things that you thought you were too stupid for, or just “not a good fit” for. You revisit old passions, try a few new ones. Seminars, coffee shops, craigslist, back on the road. Rinse and repeat. Until you run out of money, at least.

And, you’re broke. You stop and grab the first gig that comes your way. Now, you NEVER thought of yourself as a life insurance salesman, but hell, why not. You need money and they can make the promise. You finish one month’s worth of training in two weeks, pass all of the state tests, and you are out making sales. It’s not… ideal. But you are at least replenishing your pockets a little. After a week, citing a conversation you had about a Nerdery tech speaker series you saw weeks before, your boss proposes, “Why don’t you make us an agency website?”

“Yes, sir.”

After looking at 4square, Wix, and Wordpress, you decide you would rather just start from scratch and actually understand what it is you are doing; “If I’m going to kiss ass and pick up more work, I may as well get a REAL skill out of it!” So, thinking insurance sales is your new life path, you buckle down and start making the boss happy. And then something clicks, and it’s not just the mouse.

I never thought it would be programming, or anything in the tech realm. I requested one week off to dive in and learn and put things together, starting with Khan Academy’s crash course on HTML/CSS. I then “fell sick” and didn’t go to work the following week. “The stomach flu” was a placeholder for my job; a safety-net for when I decided that I wasn’t smart enough for this, as I had years before. (Chad, I hope you aren’t reading this.)

But that didn’t happen. I fell in love. One week. That was all it took. After completing the Khan Academy camp in three days, I started up on The Odin Project and Code School’s trial. At the end of week two I said goodbye to my insurance job. I found some side work I could do on Craigslist to cover bills: three times/week I do 10 hours of labor, cleaning, and some marketing assistant work. The rest of my time? Learning Javascript. Studying on Python. Setting the foundations. For the last month now, I spend ~8 hours per day studying and practicing. I have ultimately come out to focus on FreeCodeCamp’s track, not because it is the best on the web or anything; rather, because of the amazing community.

Working with other people who are grinding, ripping their hair out, scratching for those little victories in creating a calculator, or Simon Says app, or even just debugging our code — We are creating and challenging ourselves and learning and adapting, constantly; this is what I have been looking for. This is something I feel an immediate connection with, something I WANT to do. And it is hard. Sometimes I want to scream at my computer. Sometimes I do push-ups until my arms won’t move just to clear my head and get the stress out. Sometimes I chug several cups of water to “cool down”. But I feel like I am doing the right thing. I feel like I have found a little piece of myself that I didn’t know existed.

About a week ago I had a conversation with a close buddy of mine — someone who had suggested computer programming to me way back in freshman year of uni. He suggested I get into a training camp. So, I hopped on the ol’ Google. I’ve looked into App Academy, Ironhack, Startup Institute, The Software Guild… I did some research. The issue I’ve had with most of these is that they seem perfectly content telling me what path to take, what is hot, what languages to learn, where to get a job… The problem? I am still discovering who I am as a coder and software engineer. I am still discovering where my passion fits into the greater picture of creation that is occurring in this industry.

Further, most of these programs are typical class-based, trade schools. Sit in lecture, listen to teacher, do a series of assignments, rinse and repeat; however, that is not what inspired me. Not that those things aren’t important, it’s just that I want to learn how to think, create, and problem-solve like a programmer. I want to learn fundamental, necessary skills while dipping my toes in different parts of the pool to find the right temperature. And above all else, I want to work with my peers and do all of this together. I want to build that community and learn and teach and create with a group of passionate and driven people.

Those qualities are what Holberton School represents to me. After watching the promotional and experience videos on Youtube and doing some research, I really believe this school would bring out the best in me and give me the EXACT environment I need to thrive. And I think that my boundless optimism and positive mood would encourage the team to keep moving too. Now that I have dispelled the old, “You just aren’t capable of this, Evan,” I know that one way or another, software engineering and programming is going to be my future; I can feel that in my bones. I just hope that I can find an environment where I can keep growing and help others grow.

Thanks for reading!

Evan Alec Chiles

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