Coding- Started From the Bottom Now We’re, Sort of Further : You Are Not as Dumb as You Think.
My name is Ben Morris-Rains. I am an almost 30 year old (I will hold onto that “almost” until the calendar strikes midnight on my birthday) second time college student, working towards a second degree, a BS in Information Technology, focusing on software development and programming. I have a prior BA in Psychology.
I wish I could say I got to this point in my life easily. That “all the pieces just fell into place.” Well, that is not exactly how real life works. Why am I starting my life at 30? What took me so long?
A year ago I was convinced that my chances at having any sort of success in this life were over.
I had started writing out my life story, but it is incredibly too long. We will skip to the point: A year ago, I had been accepted into a coding bootcamp. Not just any bootcamp, but one that is highly regarded in Denver, CO. I even received a scholarship for this bootcamp (which was great, but not even close to paying the then $17,000 tuition). At this point in my life, I was in over my head with debt and bills. This was my last chance to gain enough skills/knowledge in a booming field so that I could obtain employment and change my life for the better. In order to attend, I had to take out another loan. I was worried, but it was the only way. Big moves take sacrifices.
After a month of the bootcamp and an initial sitdown/code review, it was pretty evident that I would have to repeat the first module. I was literally not retaining or understanding anything that was being talked about. I often felt like I was staring at nothing. The characters would meld into one. I wasn’t sleeping. I was staying on my sister's couch since my parents house (Yep, I live with my parents) was over an hour away from the school where I had to be 5 days a week.
I couldn’t focus. I met a few cool people, but overall, the pace, culture, and living situation just wasn’t going to work. I cut my losses. I bailed. I dropped out. I quit. I failed.
This weighed heavy on me. I had told EVERYONE I was going to be a developer. I had people saying how proud they were of me to get in. I had support from people at the school that I didn’t even know saying things like “You are the kind of person we need here! I loved your application video!”
It turns out, dropping out was the best thing I could have done.
At this point, I was over coding. I decided I was too dumb to code.
I told myself, it wasn’t for me. I am a creative type (true) or better yet, I am a hardware guy. I can fix your computer, take apart your MacBook Pro and put it all back together (true).
I had a friend suggest IT. She said, “You were always into that stuff, why don’t you just do something in IT?” And you know, she was right. I was like, this is what I have always liked. I’ve been a tech geek since forever. So I applied to a continuing education program with an IT major.
I had pretty much decided I was going to strictly be an IT guy, like building computers and setting up windows for other employees. I don’t know if this was something I would be thrilled to do, but it was better than nothing. After I was accepted into the program, I started looking at the sort of classes I would need to take and lo-and behold: Almost all of them were programming courses.
Here I was again: Coding hell.
I was still not sure if I could do it, but the semester started and I started my own mini-boot camp by myself. I enrolled in an HTML/CSS course, an Intro to Java course, a Java course, and a Survey of Programming Languages course that covered almost everything that is used a lot these days. The courses are expedited and only last 10 weeks. It’s a lot to cover/do in 10 weeks.
After I began getting into the material in the Java courses, the strangest thing began to happen:
It started to make sense. Somewhat.
These concepts started making more and more sense every day. I kept up with the coursework and tried to read as much as possible. If I didn’t get it, I asked the Professors for help. I used Stackoverflow for help. I used Google for help. I did anything I could to make my code work. And it did work. I was able to take a spec and make it happen. I was getting sleep at night. I was learning and at my own damn pace. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone but myself.
My first semester has just about wrapped up. I have a 4.0. The first time in my entire college life, I have a 4.0. I know that colleges get a lot of shit from those cool guys at the bootcamps (and believe me, I know how cool those guys think they are), but in my case, it worked. There are some drawbacks which I will discuss in another post. Not everything is perfect.
At this point, I am still shaky on a lot of concepts. I still sometimes freeze when I go through questions on sites like Hackerrank. I don’t remember every single String method. There is a lot that I don’t know and that I can’t do, but I will tell you what I DO know and what I CAN do: I can look at a problem or a spec, and instead of a blank screen and characters melting together, I can start to code. I have a direction. I can conceptualize OOP, something I couldn’t have even began to describe at the bootcamp. I know that the JVM translates Java to Bytecode which then translates Bytecode into Machine Language so the computer knows what to do. This is a fundamental understanding that goes miles above what the bootcamp taught.
After a month and a half of Java, I applied for an internship in my home state of Colorado. The recruiter told me they receive about 200 applications. They asked me to do a coding challenge. As I was finishing, my time was almost up. I knew my code compiled, but it didn’t pass two test cases. When she emailed me back, she said unfortunately, not all of the test cases passed and that I wasn’t moving forward, BUT out of 200 applicants, only 20 applicants code compiled AT ALL.
I went from thinking I would never code again to being one of the few people whose code even compiled. This was not a loss, this was a win. There is a future for me, it just will take some more work and I couldn’t be happier with the new direction my life is heading.