The Paradox of Safety
Holberton School Application: On Social Work, Hope, Change, and Computer Science.
15 YEARS IN THE SOCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY
Human drives — We see how sex, lust for money, or food can all be primary motivators of human behavior. If you’ve witnessed a drug user in withdrawal, you’ve probably noticed how they often decide to pursue their next fix over various basic needs including even the need for survival.
Safety — I like to interpret human behavior in terms of how it brings humans closer to a sense of Saftety. Many people partake in anti-social, maladaptive, destructive, and unsafe behaviors because the behavior or the consequences provide them with a sense of safety. This perspective on behavior is supposed to provide social workers with empathy in understanding other people’s destructive and anti-social behaviors to help facilitate change. Often the types of changes that social workers support with are changes away from what has been destructive, yet felt safe, to a new lifestyle that is less destructive, yet safe in the long run; thus necessitating a change, which feels uncomfortable and unsafe.
Paradox of Safety — While in a constant state of balancing out our sense of safety in all the decisions that we as humans make, whether utilizing support services or not, most of us eventually face such a conflict in our needs for safety. I like to call this the paradox of safety that in order to seek safety we have to risk our own sense of safety.
This realization forces a choice based on hope and faith alone because our comfortable normal methods of operations presents with risks, yet so does the fear of the unknown of changing our habits.
What closer and practical example of the paradox of safety than this application essay to enter into the Holberton School to receive training in Software Engineering. I feel vulnerable publishing this type of writing, yet it could be a necessary step for me to achieve my dreams, which of course feel very comforting to me. Furthermore, my conflict of safety is compromised as I seek out even greater changes in my life including changing careers, the potential to take out even more student loans, and learning new computer software code; the possibility of failure frightens me every step of the way, yet I keep hope that the end result will be desirable.
Fearful Roots — While growing up, I tested very high in mathematics and analytical thinking in national rankings in all of my standardized tests. However, everything is relative, and so I chose to believe that my own potential should be based on how I compared to my classmates from one of the top High Schools in the Nation. How do you think my ACT score looked compared to multiple peers who had received a perfect 36 score? Well, I felt stupid, useless, with unknown potential, asking, “Who am I to continue to compete with them?” Growing up with this comparison perspective along with my inability to learn Visual Basic on my own, without any guidance nor the tools to ask for help, steered me away from my mathematic and engineering talents and interest in computer science. Despite having a deep fascination for and talent in analytical, creative, math type fields, and a father who was an engineer, I decided that I would never become anything of value pursing those endeavors. I ended up pursing a bachelors degree in psychology and religious studies, which felt safe to me at the time while still giving me the opportunity to do another passion of mine, which is helping to resolve individual and societal psycho-social problems.
Fast forward — Eventually, 8 years post high school, my career led me to study Social Work at the University of Chicago. There I read the memoir of Martin Pistorius, called Ghost Boy, in which he describes his experience of being in a type of “locked in” syndrome. He was unable to communicate with others from 12–25 years old, and for the first 4–7 years of this syndrome, he was in a type of unconscious coma-like state unable to even interpret sensory information. When he started to recover, he was given a communication device that utilized a computer, began to work at developing and improving his communication device, continued his pursuits in computer science, and currently works as a freelance web designer and developer.
When I read about Pistorius’ quest to learn computer science, I was absolutely astonished at his progress, and thought to myself, “if he could overcome such adversity to have a career in computer science, who was I to doubt my own potential?”
I read his book to guide my own treatment of patients as a social worker, yet the book had the effect of planting the seed in my own heart to pursue my dreams that I abandoned as a youth. Nevertheless, I remained in fear, too scared to risk changing my career, settling for what felt safe to me at the time.
A few years later, I worked with teenagers, who were interested in re-engaging in public high school after leaving school for various issues usually related to trauma and other social problems. One of my main focuses in this role was to help inspire teenagers to re-engage in high school and help them discover resolutions to any psycho-social factors that lead to them dropping out. Many of the difficulties they faced were related to being undocumented immigrants, teen and single parents, having medical conditions, issues related to sexual identity, mental illness, gang and substance abuse issues, and many many more; each teen had their own unique difficulties. Anytime I met a teen with the slightest creative talents or interest in art and computers, I encouraged them to express their artistic talents while learning computers in a formal education system because of all the opportunities for employment with tech skills. I probably recommended hundreds of teens to study computer science, graphic design, or IT, and all the while, I thought to myself, “I was in the majority race and had a privileged background in terms of finances and opportunities, and so if I believed in and encouraged my own students from more adverse circumstances to pursue computer science opportunities, who was I to doubt my own potential?” I had so guilty questioning if my teachings were all a sham, or if my fears and doubts of myself were the sham? I realized that my own denial of my own potential was similar to all the teens that I worked with who had at some point abandoned their dreams to finish high school. My doubts of American ideals lead me to further challenge the concept of the American System of Opportunity for all, and pushed me to a point of liberation from my longing to feel safe and comfortable.
Engineering — I thoroughly enjoy creating practical tools with computer software, coding, and app development. I enjoy the challenges, power, creative potential, artistic elements, human interaction, and the potential to help others, improve knowledge, efficiency, unity, and understanding. Coding is an amazing opportunity to help others but in a much more tangible way with people who desire your services as contrast to my past career in social work that has often been clinically focused on subjective experiences with intangible results, and too often with clients who have faint internal motivation for your services. I am excited about a career as a developer, and while I never dreamed it would be possible for myself, I am now dreaming about all the amazing creative potential that I would have in a career as a software engineer. However, if I want to advance professionally with full-time programming/ development work, I need more training, skills, and guidance from professionals, which is why I’m applying to intensive software, engineering, programming and development schools like Holberton School.
Hope — I am drawn to Holberton School because of the creative requirements to apply; I know I will be studying amongst a dedicated and talented class of peers. While it is a long program, I appreciate the business model to take tuition costs from internship and salaries of students and graduates. This makes us both stakeholders in my future career, which is the type of support that I so desire. I am inspired by the published data on graduates with jobs. The project-based learning will fit well with my learning needs and educational philosophy. I have read the curriculum and know that it has the training to set me up for a rich career in computer science.
I appreciate the statement from Holberton School that
“one of the Holberton School’s goals is to find people who, just like Betty Holberton and her five colleagues at the time, might not come across as fitting the usual ‘software engineer’ profile, but will nonetheless become leaders once in the industry, and give them the means to become just that.”
While I am aware of my own privileges that have similarly helped many people succeed in the tech industry, my hope is that Holberton School would give me a chance to prove to my former students that what I kept encouraging them to do is possible. That someone who has no experience, and no money to pay for their dream, who does not have the stereotypical background of a computer science techie, like me or them or anyone identifying in this way, one day, with enough work, dedication, and support from others, could realize their dream to become a software engineer. That amidst a corrupted, broken, and traumatizing system in America, there are still some ideals to find faith in and aspire to. After all, if I am unable to become a software engineer, I can’t imagine how some of the other people in this society with less resources and economic opportunities would be able to make it, and that evidence would only reaffirm my dedication to social services.
UPDATE: January 2018 — I’ve accepted my first job! Read more about that at: davidjohncoleman.com