Tales of a Middle-aged Hacker: and so I begin…
18 August 2016
It’s five am and I’ve been working for 2 hours. I’m not sure if “working” would be the correct title for what I am doing. Searching, sighing, wondering if this is sooo the wrong decision. And then, I find it! One damned missing semi-colon! Everything works! I have decided to become a Front End Developer, a middle-aged hacker. But if it takes two hours for a semi-colon a career seems miles down the road.
First of all let me confess that middle-aged is a kind way of describing me. Middle-aged applies if medical science figures out how to keep me going to at least 120. To be fair, I am much younger than the woman in the picture above and I don’t feel old. In my mind I am still 25 and trying to find my way in the world. When my grandmother told me the same thing when she was my age I remember thinking she was losing it. Maybe she was and maybe I am. I’ll find out. I have started down a path that seems so unlikely that it needs to be documented. So this is the first in a multi-part series chronicling my journey to become a software engineer.
It doesn’t take much to figure out that I am a Baby Boomer. The year with the highest number of births during the “boom” was the year I was born — 1957. I have lived my whole life being defined by what “the boomers were up to”. I find something I like and it shows up in the media within a few months as a new “trend of the boomers”. I read once that the average boomer will have four different careers before they retire. In this I am exceptional. I have been a bookkeeper (before computers when it was hard). A crisis counselor, social worker, pastry chef and custom wedding cake designer. Looking at that list it might seem oddly disjointed. In fact all my careers have several things in common. I get things organized, figure a path forward and implement that path. So when I looked for what is my last career I decided to be a Front End Developer. Similar things in common, similar skill set — or at least here’s hoping!
I started down this path both by interest and necessity. My husband of 40 years has medical issues that make it mandatory for him to retire immediately. We do not have the resources to retire (another story). Trying to find a good paying job when you’re a middle-aged woman with a disparate job history is the definition of impossible. During my job search I discovered remote Customer Happiness positions. It was exciting to imagine the prospect of being able to be home with my husband and have a great job. There was one problem, isn’t there always! You had to know how to code.
I bought my first computer in 1983. CPM based, black screen, blinking cursor and ran on DOS commands. I loved it and I have had a computer ever since. I drooled over the first Macintosh. I was estatic when I received my first laptop, a Sony Vaio for Christmas. I could developed database applications. I knew my way around excel and could whip out a beautiful newsletter in no time.
But, I had never coded. Like many people I thought that to learn to code you had to be a math wizard. Have a four year computer science degree from MIT. I quit looking at those lovely jobs and went back to what I knew.
Then my son started a full stack program at Galvanize in Denver. We talked about what he was doing and he told me about resources available to develop the skills I needed. I did my research, discovered Free Code Camp, Udemy & YouTube. I bought a beautiful new MacBook Pro and got started. Something funny happened when I started learning. It was so interesting, so much fun that I quit wanting the Customer Happiness jobs. I wanted to go big, build and create. I wanted to be a developer.
One last thing, (if you stick with me you’ll find I can always make a short story long!) I have started my courses and I love it, but there was still this horrible nagging voice in my head. One night as I was working on my HTML lessons I had a complete crisis of faith. I imagined going into an interview, with all the skills I needed, looking like everyone’s Grandma. I began convincing myself that I was wasting my time. In desperation I sent a message to a great guy who is the only person that I know in tech. He answered me the next morning. He told me that my age wouldn’t matter and being a woman would be a good thing with companies trying to diversify. So with his reassurance and advice (thanks Tony!) and a new laptop I press on. If you would like to know how it turns out, stay tuned…