From Zero Code to Xero Developer, a truck drivers journey into tech.
It’s been two years since I was in the midst of my General Assembly Coding Bootcamp, and it’s been a wild wild ride, and although a silly reason to write a blog post, I’m updating my profile picture today, which was taken during the GA course two years ago, so I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on what’s happened since then. This is a raw story of self-doubt and honestly.
FYI, this is pretty long. This is written for me, to get it out, decompress from a huge two years, therapeutic, you know, definitely not a roadmap for other coders.
I dropped out of my Coding Bootcamp. It’s a fact that I don’t usually bring up at the beginning of “my story” when I talk to people about my transition into Programming from a career as a Truck Driver, however, throughout time, I learnt about the value of sharing failures for growth, so here’s just a few of my mine!
I booked the Bootcamp pretty impulsively. I hadn’t done coding before. A few days into the Bootcamp I just couldn’t see myself getting it. People had said “coding is easy” and I can tell you that it’s fucking not. I understood that on the one hand, I couldn’t fail, it’s not an accredited course, there were no exams, but I didn’t want to finish and not know anything. I found programming challenging. I had multiple conversations with the team at the Bootcamp, who overwhelmingly encouraged me to stay, but I decided at the end of the first week to defer to the next intake, which started in another eight weeks.
My thought process was that I was going to learn all the things in that eight weeks, and come back with more knowledge, and be able to get more out of the Bootcamp, more “depth”.
It was good in theory. The reality was though, when it came to coding, I was too scared to start. Even in private, at home, during those eight weeks before the next Bootcamp began, I couldn’t do it. What if I tried programming now when I had all this time, and a small head start from my week at the Bootcamp, and still really sucked? There was just this voice of fear that I could not silence.
People know me as a red dust smeared-pocket rocket-truck driver. From a shovel to a 777 Dump Truck, I have worked in the Fly In Fly Out construction industry since a few years after I left high school. This means I work in the remote outback of Australia for four weeks, and then get to fly back to the city for one week off. Then repeat.
My friends and family know me as the nomad, the travel-loving lifer, the sometimes there, sometimes not friend, who might have missed every birthday in the last seven years, but still really cares.
A few close confidants knew me as a deflated and crushed soul who complained and cried because I had a hard time at my job, day in, day out, and could see my constant overseas travel as the escapism that it was. The construction industry can bring great joy, incredible people, working in beautiful locations, hard and honest work, and the ability to quickly grow financially.
The downs were deep and dark, and ultimately for some people, are devastating. It’s isolating, it can alienate you from friends and family, add in limited communication (no mobile phone coverage, no internet, public pay phone access only after work), frequent misogyny and sexual harassment, limited career prospects, and brain-dulling work, it can be tough. I survived, for a long time, I purser-veered. But thrive? A future? A liveable life? It wasn’t ever going to be those things for me.
But it’s also a trap. It’s really outstanding money. I was earning a high wage without a degree. $120,000 AUD a year. Not bad for a high school drop out! I liked to have a full week off after four weeks of work. I saved enough money to spend ten months in Europe after eighteen months of working. I lived in Phuket, Thailand for a year while still flying to Australia for work. I told myself I would leave the job, do something else, but I didn’t have a passion for anything that I thought I could make a living from.
In 2015 I spent ten months in Peru, I volunteered to teach English to small children in an impoverished area of Peru, it was confronting and rewarding.
This time when I came home from Peru, it was with the resolution to do something more meaningful with my life. The temptation to top up the coffers was strong, just “one last job” truck driving, make the most of the tail end of a booming construction industry, but luckily with the support of some free rent from my parents, I stayed home and took a long hard look at my life and tried to drill down on how I wanted to change the world.
It was daunting, I never had a clear direction in the past of “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, and the obvious things in my life that I loved, like, “travel” didn’t result in a lot, I didn’t want to be a travel agent, you know.
My trip to Peru had made me think more about how technology could help people than ever before. I’ve grown up on technology, we had a computer as long as I remember, dial-up, laptops, mobile phones, technology was just a part of life, a part of privileged life, but it was the one I had.
I had already a grounding in tech. From reading TechCrunch, to having my four-year badge on Envato’s ThemeForest, I had always dabbled in “the internet”. A few basic installs of WordPress for friends, a Glow In The Dark Golf Balls eCommerce business through Shopify, I was drawn towards working with the internet.
I knew about Coding Bootcamps from the American tech blogs I followed, and turns out there was some in Australia too! I was hesitant, programming, wow, that’s for smart people, for maths people! I’m creative, I love writing, I even have a typewriter! I’m also a self-doubter, but luckily I’m also a little impulsive, so I booked the GA course.
And that brings me back to the beginning of this blog post. I had started, done a week, and then postponed to the next cohort. I didn’t do all the additional study that I had planned, if anything I went from a class size of 7, to one of 22, and I had wasted money on flights and accommodation (as I had to relocate to another city for the Bootcamp away from my free rent at my parents house).
So I finally started, for real, the Bootcamp in March 2016. The bootcamp was a crazy three months, every day we were being exposed to something new. Learning to program isn’t linear, but the curriculum did it in the most logical way I can see. With a huge class of 22 I was surrounded by people like me, people entering a new phase of life, taking a non-traditional approach to education in a country that often trivialises experience and regards paper.
My instructor gave me the valuable advice when I first left the Bootcamp, which you need to be in the right headspace, and for once, I finally was. I also cried in the stairwell on occasion. I started thinking of my fall back plan about returning to truck driving, with just the thought of returning to that industry bringing a dark cloud over my head.
But I got through it. I slogged through the work daily, I had some great High Five and First Pump moments! 💪 Some things made sense to me, and that gave me the small glimmer of hope that I held onto thinking that, eventually more and more things will make sense!
At the end of the bootcamp we had a reverse job fair, where we presented ourselves to a bunch of prospective employers, and lookie-lous who are just happy for some free beer and food on a Tuesday night.
I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with a representative from Xero, who although were not hiring Juniors (a common tale amongst many companies that we encountered), they were keen to have myself and another classmate, in for a four week industry placement (a paid internship). I could not say “yes, thank you!”, quick enough! At this point I had never worked in an actual development company, hell, I hadn’t even worked in an office in eight years, and it had been nearly 2 years since I had worked at all.
From Day One at Xero, so many shocks. Seriously. A codebase approximately eight thousand times bigger than I had ever even seen before. A team leader, not a boss. Daily Stand Up meetings to coordinate and communicate with your team. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT. You mean you want us to all be on the same page and be productive? This goes against everything I’ve known in the construction industry, where you are treated like disposable children.
All lingering stereotypes of a solo developer with headphones and pizza sauce on their hoodie were dismissed. Instead every morning I was greeted by friendly, collaborative and very cool colleagues. To say I was in over my head would be an understatement, but it would be a statement coming only from within my head.
With the desperation from a job, I was my own worst critique, putting pressure on myself that really, really, didn’t exist externally.
So it was with some surprise to me, that I was offered and excitingly accepted a permanent position at Xero and started what was the beginning of my career. The bootcamp was a slingshot into the industry, and the next few years were an orbit through the development world.
I would like to thank everyone that helped me, listened to me, put up with me even, not just in development but in life. I’ve leaned on friends and family and I love them dearly, and I now get to see them more than just once every four weeks!
I’ve done a whole lot since entering the industry, including co-organising the JuniorDev Community with Luke Mesiti, and now I am super excited to be organising a conference called Levels, which is a technical conference for Junior Developers, here in Melbourne, Australia.