My Udacity Journey

Jonathan Sexton
Nov 1, 2018 · 6 min read

I’m scrolling through my feed like I normally did after feeling defeated (at this time CSS selectors were throwing my brain for a loop) when I couldn’t answer a quiz question.

I had been looking for something, anything literally to take my mind off the self-defeating thoughts that were running through my head like wildfire, when I saw an ad for a free course that would teach me the ins and outs of web development. Against my better judgement, I clicked on it to get some more information.

Lo and behold I was sitting in front of a form that wanted to get some more information from me. Being a skeptic at heart, part of my brain said no way to this it’s a scam. But the other, stronger part of my brain said go for it — apply and see what happens.

Now, 10 months later I sit here with a the certificate to prove to the world (mostly to myself as I am my own worst critic) that I can do this. I did this. I am this. I am a web developer.

So to understand that journey, let’s go back to the beginning. I was born to parents who — just kidding :D

I started my transition from my current position in sales to the web development industry roughly two years ago in 2016. I’ve been in my current industry for roughly twelve years. It doesn’t challenge me anymore and for the most part it’s the same routine.

So when I found myself with some extra time on my hands told myself enough wanting to do it, it’s time to do it.

I started with some simple course on HTML and CSS. It was overwhelming to say the least. I was so eager to learn that I was trying to find “the best resource” — so I bounced around from resource to resource, a lot.

Being a beginner, with no technical background, with no coding skills to speak of, and an insatiable curiosity I thought it was best to consume every resource I happened across. I know better now, but two years ago I wasn’t so keen on sticking with one resource.

I wanted that one unicorn of a resource that would be my “one-stop-shop” of all things web development. I wanted to learn how to build and share websites with others. I wanted to learn how they worked, what made them tick, and all the behind the scenes stuff that kept them looking great.

This is when I found the posting for the Grow With Google and Udacity ad in my feed that I mentioned at the top of this article.

Expecting the Unexpected

I was over the moon when I found out that I had been accepted into the first phase of the Grow With Google and Udacity program. I’m not the type of person that jumps up and down when getting that awesome gift or great piece of news but this time was different. I “WOOOHOOOO’ed” so loud that my wife came in to check on me.

After starting the program, I knew it would be challenging and make me think in a way I hadn’t previously had to do. I had no idea just how true that second part would be until I ran into JavaScript.

I breezed through the HTML and CSS portions because I had been going through some other courses to teach me the basics of those two.

JavaScript, and all programming languages, challenge the way you think about problems. These problems aren’t the “I can brute force this” type of problems. I had to completely change the way I approached these issues.

In the past I would be confronted with an issue and immediately start coding.

Problem — This div needs a background color set or this text needs to be larger in size.

Solution — I open up my text editor and go to town on the stylesheet.

But with programmatic problems sometimes the best approach is to plan out what I want. I’d need to physically write out how I wanted to structure my code or what issue(s) I was seeking to resolve.

This is not an easy concept to learn let alone master. Time and time again I had to sit back, breathe, and go over the problem again and again and again and again and again. It took me months to realize that I can’t just keep changing the value on something and hoping that it works. I had to think, not code, my solution for this problem. This was the greatest revelation and gift that I got out of this Nanodegree (besides some awesome new skills).

One of the best examples of how I had to change my thinking was when I was introduced to prototypal inheritance and object oriented programming concepts via the arcade game project.

I had just learned a new concept and was anxious to put it into practice. Again, I dove head first into the code base and started tearing through it. That didn’t pan out the way I thought it was going to. This project forced me to step back and work with broad strokes.

After a few particularly rough coding sessions I decided to scrap everything and start from scratch.

This time, I took the advice that was presented to me before almost all of the projects — plan your code. I took out a pen and paper to physically code (draw) my thoughts. I would draw lines between ideas and pieces of the code that I wanted to connect. I sat at my desk just thinking not coding.

This go around went much smoother with the project and it (to my surprise) was infinitely easy to code. I had a plan, an outline, and I could change it when things weren’t working out. It was the difference between just getting in your car and hoping you make it to your destination and using navigation to get there.

This was an astounding feeling. All of this time the answers had been right in front of me and all I had to do was reach out and grab them. I felt like I could conquer the world after that. I felt empowered with my code and this became another one of those loud “WOOOOHOOOO” moments where my wife had to come check on me.

The Sky’s the Limit From Here

My greatest take away from this program hasn’t been the awesome new skills I’ve gained or that I’ve dipped my toe into React (it’s so much fun!). It’s knowing that I now have the mindset and problem solving skills to evaluate and work through any challenge I come across.

The change of perspective I got from this course will be something that I have for the rest of my life. It’s something that will help me in every aspect of my life not just my professional life.

I can’t say that I would change anything about my experience though. Every minute of it helped guide me to where I am now. Because of the stress, the frustration, the learning, the coding, the change of perspective I can say I learned from this entire experience and I’m proud of my success.

I never thought I would call myself a developer or that I would complete a course as challenging as this. But when I did, when I clicked that “Graduate” button it was like a fire engulfed me and I thought I was going to explode with excitement. I’ve never had a difficult time controlling outbursts but I had to scream when I finally saw the certificate with my name on it. I did this. I am this. I’m a web developer.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my journey through the Udacity Frontend Nanodegree story. I’m always looking to connect with awesome people.

Come check out my Twitter or my personal blog to read more of my work. While you’re there make sure to sign up for my newsletter! I promise I won’t waste or disrepect your time I look forward to connecting with you!

Jonathan Sexton

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Curious web developer learning, growing, enjoying the journey and sharing as much as I can.