Making it work at Makers

Or ‘How to stay reasonably sane when balancing an intensive coding bootcamp with mothering two young children’

I had stayed at home with my children, then 3 and 20mths, since they were born; but I needed to start doing something other than parenting. There came the realisation that I’d actually be a better mother if I were more personally fulfilled. I’ve always been an ambitious person, I wanted a career; but more importantly, I needed to use my brain, I needed an intellectual challenge. Children are certainly challenging, and they’re incredibly rewarding, but it’s not quite the same.

I had previously sat my exams for the Graduate Diploma in Law when my eldest son was 3 months old. It was tough, when I was studying I felt like I was neglecting him; when I was playing with him, I felt like I was neglecting my studies. However, such is parenthood, from the moment they’re born you feel guilty about something or other — there’s always something you could’ve done better, someone else who seems to have this parenting thing down in a way that you can’t begin to fathom.

I had abandoned law (for reasons that would take up another post) and found coding. I LOVED coding, I spent almost every evening ploughing my way through the codecademy and Code School courses and reading introductory coding books. When I wanted to actually put what I was learning into practice, I attended the wonderful codebar (set up to assist people from groups underrepresented in tech). I made a couple of simple websites using HTML, CSS and a bit of jQuery. But I didn’t want to just play, I wanted to start a career as a developer — this wasn’t really going to be achievable through self directed learning in the snippets of time afforded to me by my children’s naps. I therefore researched code bootcamps — there are several out there, but the one that people in the profession seemed to take most seriously (and whose graduates impressed me the most) was Makers Academy.

Whichever bootcamp I had opted for, the fees were high. Moreover, I would be paying half again as much for childcare. It’s a huge expense, and a barrier to most; but I did my research and was confident that with the salary level I could command upon graduating (and, better still, the salary levels I could quite quickly achieve thereafter), this would quickly pay itself off. I can’t emphasise enough how much research I put into the whole thing — this HAD to work. I couldn’t spend this much time and money if it wasn’t right. More critically, this was going to have an enormous impact on my children, I had to be sure.

I signed up, paid the fees, and panicked. I panicked right up until the first day of the course — I felt like I was abandoning my children. They’d been used to my being at home with them 24/7, and suddenly I wouldn’t be. Friends told me I was daft, that loads of mothers go back to work and the children are fine. This wasn’t quite the same. I wouldn’t be dropping them in nursery to attend a 9–5 job. I would be leaving the house before they woke up, returning after they were asleep, and having to spend a good chunk of the weekend working instead of playing with them. The week before my course, I felt as though I had made a huge mistake; but I was committed now, and so I went.

Learning to use agile methodologies

BEST DECISION I EVER MADE. I don’t think I’d fully realised how much I missed being someone other than ‘Mummy’. The course was every bit as intense as they’d promised, and I loved it. Every bit of it. 3 months later I graduated. I could write programmes and create websites using a number of languages and frameworks; I understood and could apply best practices and design principles; moreover, I knew I had the tools to teach myself more. I found a part-time job quite quickly, having initially panicked that it would be much harder for me than my more flexible peers. There are certainly companies that I’ve had to rule out applying for, but there are awesome companies out there who understand the need for flexible working, part-time roles, and work-life balance.

Pair programming

And how did my children manage? Admirably. There were tears; there were times my eldest son twanged at my heartstrings with his pleas for me to stay at home; there was the fact that my youngest, just learning to talk, forgot how to say “Mummy” and instead called me “Daddy” too. It was tough, but it wasn’t terrible. Their father stepped up and did a lot of the things that they were used to my doing, and I think it was really good for everyone all round. They bonded with him, and for a while he became their go-to parent for scraped knees and nightmares. In attending nursery more than the 1 day per week that they had previously attended, they formed friendships with other children. And boy did I make sure that our time together was quality time! I worked until late every night during the week in order to ensure that I could spend virtually the whole weekend focusing on my family.

Keeping it together with a bit of yoga

So would I recommend a coding bootcamp to other mothers? Absolutely! 3 months later and I’m about to embark on a career that I have absolute faith I’ll always love. Moreover, I’ve found employers who understand where I’m coming from: they’re happy to fit around my commitments to my family in a way that you don’t often find in other fields. There’s something special about tech and the way that (most) tech companies seem to view their employees. Rather than police them, they trust them. Just by way of example, there are tech firms out there who give employees unlimited holiday allowance. What makes this so ideal for a mother such as myself, is that all we ask is that an employer trust that we will get the job done whilst affording us the flexibility to decide how we go about that.

There is a caveat to my recommendation, however. Being (probably) 30-something Mum on a course full of unencumbered 20-somethings, you have to go easy on yourself. You can’t compete: you’ll put in at best 5/7 of the hours that they do; you’ll probably also get a lot less sleep than they do; you simply won’t be able to spend your every waking hour programming. Was I at the same level as my peers upon completing the course. No. Is this a problem? Only to your pride. I have still made incredible progress and I am still equipped with the same tools that will enable me to become an excellent programmer, it just might take a little longer. Ultimately, I learned a craft, I found a good part-time job, I’m happy, my kids are happy, and what else matters?