How I Got Into Programming
Hello there, my name is Joseph and I’m from La Grange, Guyana. I’m an army veteran and a current coding bootcamp student in New York City. I’ve decided to document my journey to becoming a software developer and I figured I’d start by writing about how I got into programming in the first place and then lead into where I am in my journey right now.
I learned what programming was in my high school robotics club. There I got to build some pretty interesting robots for the FIRST robotics competition and I really enjoyed it. Although I enjoyed building the bots and the sense of comradery among the team, one thing that kept weighing on me was the fact that the team would only build the robot and then someone else would write the code for the controls and functionality, and I felt that this setup robbed us of the full experience of building bots. So I decided that I was going to learn how to code, someday when I didn’t have to worry about finals or college applications, and after I had learned how to use a computer. I grew up in a poor country, so computers were luxury items there, only fancy schools and expensive offices had them.
When I graduated High School I decided to study Computer Engineering at The City College of New York. During my first year there I really struggled to do my coursework and keep up with my studies because I had to work the night shift at McDonald’s to pay my rent and buy textbooks and that was messing up my sleep schedule. College was also my first time using a computer, so I had to learn how to type and how to use a computer for the first time since all my writing assignments needed to be typed and sent in digitally. This was a stressful experience for me and I began to feel like the whole world was against me. I was learning, but not fast enough; the fast-paced college classes were kicking my ass and I really hated my job as a grill cook at McDonald's, especially since I was vegetarian at the time.
Another thing that was holding me back in college was my mental state. I had experienced some racism and had been made fun of because of my accent while I was transitioning to my new life in New York, this was having strong negative effects on me. In Guyana racism was very commonplace and it was something I just had to deal with, but I thought things would be different in America, so I made the mistake of letting my guard down. Whenever I experienced any form of racism or discrimination it reminded me that it’s something I will have to live with the rest of my life and that made me a little more depressed every time I thought about it.
My struggle during that first year of college made me think that I wasn’t smart enough to be in college, so I dropped out and started looking for ways to make a living other than flipping burgers. I eventually found my way into a Military recruiting office. I was set on joining the Airforce, but that didn’t work out so I decided to join the Army and become a Satellite Communication Equipment Technician. I felt that maybe if I joined the military and served the country then I could earn my place as an American and feel a little more at home.
My years in the military were extremely stressful for me, but my new job gave me some free time and I had an opportunity to get back into robotics. I finally learned how to program with C while I was trying to recreate the satellite auto tracking feature of satellite dishes for research purposes. This was an interesting project and gave me an opportunity to learn the basics of programming with loops and if statements. I eventually stopped programming because one of my duty stations put me in a very demanding role and I thought that part of my life was going to be over.
I was starting to think that I was going to have a place in the military, it wasn’t too bad on a regular day and it had its stressful moments, but I had gotten accustomed to it. Then I got news that one of my former roommates had committed suicide. This really made me rethink everything about what I wanted in life. I had spent months going through rigorous training with him, we had become good friends and finding out that he took his own life put me into a depression, partly because it was so sad and partly because I felt that there was something I could’ve done to prevent it. He and I were very similar in a lot of ways and that got me thinking that maybe I too might one day feel the need to take my own life and this led me to decide that the military wasn’t the career for me. So I decided to get out of the army as soon as my current obligations were fulfilled.
That’s my story of how I got introduced to programming and the decisions that led me to pursue a career in technology. At the time of writing this article, I’m still attending the in-person bootcamp. I’m currently one month away from graduation and I look forward to writing more blog posts about the things I have learned and anything new I learn in the future.