10 Reasons I Decided to Learn to Code at 39

A Bit About Me

Ok, so this may not be 10 reasons exactly. It may not be entirely about learning to code. But it will be about me. And I think that is a pretty good place to start for my first post on Medium.

In the summer of 2010, my wife, daughter, son, and I packed up all of our possessions into a Penske rental truck and made the 1,900 km trip to start our new life in Minneapolis. I had been accepted at the University of Minnesota Law School and I was going to be a lawyer. In retrospect, it was a really, really bad decision. It still is: you can see here, here, here or a zillion other places if you like.

I had struggled through a fourteen-year war of attrition to get my BA in Philosophy — a war I’m still not sure I won — only to find myself, much like a homeward bound soldier, unsure of what to do next. When I decided to head back to university to finish my degree I was playing poker for a living. I thought money would rain down from the heavens indefinitely. It didn’t. I thought I would travel the world (I didn’t), meet new people (I did), and it would be the ideal combination of career and passion as I grew old and grey (it was for a while). But by the time my post secondary education was winding down, so to was my poker career. I was disillusioned with a career that provided nothing of benefit, created no real value, and helped no one.

So, with those thoughts in mind, I turned my gaze elsewhere and ended up with a legal career as a suitable change. That may or may not be ironic depending on your feelings about lawyers. I left for Minneapolis filled with confidence and optimism. I returned home ten months later filled with disappointment and heartbreak. It had been the hardest year of my life and I felt worn down, beat up, and unable to focus on anything resembling a new career. I was fortunate to get a good job through my hairstylist — yes, my hairstylist.

Never discount anyone in your network when it comes to people that can help you. Ever.

The job pays well (it used to pay better) but it keeps me out of town and away from my family and I am really, really trying to be a better husband and father right now. I am extremely grateful to the people and the company that gave me this opportunity and it was exactly what I needed at the time.

Which brings me to where I am at right now.

For the past four and a half years I have been licking my wounds and dusting myself off and I have finally, in the last few months, gotten to the point where I can ask myself again: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I don’t know that I’ll ever fully grow up and I know now that my career is not what I will be. But, I am ready for a career that inspires and challenges me and that’s a good place to start.

Why I’m Learning to Code

I Love my Family

So, that’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about reasons why a person learns to code. At my age, you would think it would make sense to talk about the standard benefits : plentiful jobs, good salaries, the literacy of the future, the skill to have for the future, and so on. All of that is true, but that’s not the big reason. I want to be the best me I can be. I want to feel challenged and inspired and passionate about what I do and I want to have that show through me, not just in what I do for a living, but in how I am as a person. I believe that someone who is challenged and inspired and passionate at work will rise to the challenge at home, inspire members of his family, and overflow with passion around those who are closest to him. That is what I want to give to my family every day of the year.

Taking a coding class online or writing some lines of code might not seem like the way to do that, but it is my way to do it. It is a step in one direction, the right direction. Each time I press enter or I finish a video, I know that I have moved one step closer to achieving my goals. That is the type of person I want to be and I believe that helps me be someone who treats his family with love and respect and compassion.

I Want to Create Things

I believe that I have the capacity to make things — things of value, things that add to people’s lives, things that improve the way we, as humans, live. For me, at least right now in my overly optimistic mind, coding can give me a way to do that.

I Want to Help People

The summer after I turned sixteen, I packed my bags and headed off to Belgium, of all places, for a summer-long mission. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Now, I certainly don’t equate programming jobs to missionary work or the work of the wonderful nonprofits or NGOs out there, but I do think that coding makes the world a better place. It improves efficiency, automates tasks, and generally frees up time that can be spent with friends and family or spent volunteering for some of those great nonprofit organizations. Technology improves healthcare, allowing us to save some lives and improve the quality of others. It allows us to connect with people we never would have been able to connect with before, establishing bonds that enrich our lives and expand our horizons. Even if I am just the smallest piece in that puzzle, I want in.

I Want to Live a Meaningful Life

I’m not exactly sure what that means. It’s something my sixteen year old self would have said. It is also something that my thirty-nine year old self is saying. I guess that this one doesn’t really count because I think that I am living a meaningful life already. In fact, I will live a meaningful life regardless of whether I am technologically illiterate or a programming superstar (It took me a long time to learn this, a really, really long time. Not the technology thing, just the idea about what makes a meaningful life). I do, however, think that I can also do things with coding that will add to my life and I am excited for that opportunity.

I Want to Solve Problems

As a kid I played tons of games: card games, board games, and outdoor games. You name it, I played it. I also loved puzzles. My favourite puzzles were logic puzzles, the kind that you could buy a book of them for a couple bucks at the convenience store. You would get a list of logical statements and a grid that you would fill in so that you could try to solve incredibly important mysteries such as whether it was Constance or Devlin that owned the beagle whose favourite chew toy was a mailman and so on. I ate those things up!

In some ways I think that everything is like that. In a lot of ways I think that computer programming is like that. It’s something I want to explore more.

I Love to Learn

One of the things I constantly hear about programming is about it is constantly changing, evolving, and growing. I like that. I like the idea that I am never finished and that there is always something new to learn.

That’s It for Now

I’m sure there is more to it than just that, but that’s all I have for now, and I hit on the major ones. Sorry to say that I most definitely was less than ten, but like I said in the beginning, it was about me and I did talk a little bit about why I’m learning to code. And that is ok with me.

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