The Seed 🌱
I studied accounting for my undergrad at BYU-Idaho. As part of the curriculum, I took a course that taught us how to use Visual Basic to build applications in Excel. That class was where I wrote my first ‘hello world’, and first felt the magic of making a computer do my bidding.
That same semester, my roommate was a computer science major who already had experience working on his own projects. I often asked him questions about what I was doing for the course, and he would show me cool stuff he was working on. He even introduced me to the Chrome Developer Tools, which basically blew my mind 😲 💥 😶
It was during that semester when I felt the desire to code, and my thirst to learn turned to computers. From that Visual Basic course, I felt like I was given a set of tools, and an invitation for my imagination to run wild with possibility. It was during that time I realized that if I could choose a different degree to pursue, it would be computer science.
Fast forward to 2014. My wife and I moved to the Bay Area after I got a job as an auditor for the Big 4 public accounting firm, KPMG.
While working for KPMG, I had amazing opportunities to work on some pretty great clients. One of which was the Xactly IPO in June of 2015. 🍾
But, after a couple years of long long long hours working into my nights and weekends, I wasn’t feeling any sort of fulfillment from my work. I felt like I had nothing to show for anything I did, and that I wasn’t working towards a career I would be happy in.
Fortunately, I was working in Silicon Valley, and a lot of my church friends worked for big tech companies. I asked them about what they did, and told them how much it interested me. I told them I had a little coding experience from a course I took in college, and that if I could do it over again, I would’ve gone into computer science.
Then, one day my wife told me about a church friend telling her about a guy at Google who was in accounting, and made a transition to software engineering. That is when the prompting kicked me in the pants. 👊
Just by hearing that someone else made a career change like the one I wanted, was enough for me to really think changing was possible. I basically said “Well, if he can do it, I can too!”
But how could I do that?!?! 😱 🤔 🤷♂
I was hesitant to even consider quitting my potentially lucrative, and safe, career in public accounting — only to follow some crazy dream???
So, I gathered perspective from other engineers.
I spoke with my wife about what it would mean to learn career changing material on the side of an already demanding career.
And we decided that I was going to become a software engineer.
Round 1: treehouse
After I made the choice to move away from the world of accounting and finance, things got real. 😰
In July 2015, I chose to partner with treehouse to teach me the skills I needed to get started on my journey towards a new career. While learning with them, I experienced the “Hand-Holding Honeymoon Phase”, as described in the article Why Learning to Code is So Damn Hard.
I loved the feeling of progress as treehouse walked me through subject after subject. The warm fuzzies abounded while I checked off the learning boxes. I felt the first taste of hope towards achieving my goal. But, that feeling vanished at the end of the curriculum.
After completing the courses, I looked around my apartment for my new job that should have fallen from the sky, and didn’t find anything. It was then when I realized that the journey to a new career was going to be harder than just completing some online courses. 😓
I was left confused, and with little to show for my work. With hindsight, I realized I didn’t follow treehouse’s council to build your own projects to demonstrate and solidify your abilities.
Lesson from Round 1: Build projects! Don’t be satisfied with tutorials!
Round 2: freecodecamp
While driving home from work in late 2015, I was listening to a CodeNewbie podcast were they had Quincy Larson talk about freecodecamp. I had never heard of it, but thought that since it was free, and offered a certificate of completion, which anyone could verify, I should give them a try.
Having already completed treehouse’s curriculum, freecodecamp’s bite size lessons were a breeze. However, the test came with the algorithm and project phases. With every new algorithm prompt, I suddenly had to review a lot of material that I had forgotten. To freecodecamp’s credit, the balance between working on projects and algorithms helped me immensely.
The thing that propelled me the most with freecodecamp was that in order to earn their certificates, you needed to complete all the courses, algorithm challenges, and build projects that would be reviewed by others, and verifiable. Knowing that I had to complete the projects motivated me tremendously. While working on those projects, I refined my skills as a developer, and began to feel like I was moving forward. 📈
Sadly, while trying to complete my coding projects, I started to get really discouraged. I was getting scared that I would end up chasing down tutorial after tutorial, by myself, only to never get to the next level I needed to get to. I found myself getting distracted by new things to learn, and never really sitting down to focus on what needed to be done. In a way, I kinda felt like I hit a wall, like in “Run, Fatboy, Run”.
Despite my best efforts, I was just spinning my wheels, getting distracted, and discouraged.
Lesson from Round 2: Set out to accomplish specific tasks, and don’t get distracted!
Round 3: Hack Reactor
Up until this point, I was still working at KPMG. My time was split between family, work, church responsibilities, and learning how to code. I wasn’t getting anywhere with my unfocused, sporadic job search either. I only had applied to maybe 2 jobs. ☹️
I ended up calling a friend who referred me to someone he knew that also went the self taught route to their career in coding. He prompted me to consider a bootcamp, which his own company had hired graduates from, and said they seemed pretty promising.
I reviewed many different bootcamps, and ultimately chose to apply to Hack Reactor’s online format. I didn’t pass the interview process the first time, but after brushing up a bit more, I interviewed again, and was accepted.
I quit my job, and 5 days later, started the course on Dec 12, 2016. I was off to the races. 🏇
Hack Reactor was great for me. The curriculum covered so many different concepts. There were daily algorithm questions, lectures to watch and read, assignments to complete, presentations to prepare for, and four projects to build from scratch. And all of it was structured and paced around pair programming with other students.
The structure of the course helped me more than I realized. I needed a group, and instructors, pushing me along. I was always self motivated enough to start learning, but lacked the discipline to organize a plan with attainable goals.
Lesson from Round 3: Working with people is the best way to learn. Seek out dedicated groups or individuals that will help you grow.
The Job… Search 🔎
Hack Reactor was very clear that it is the responsibility of their alumni to work hard to find a job. That said, I knew before even starting the curriculum, that the job search would be just an extension of the rigorous cadence of the bootcamp.
So, when the course was over, I followed their job search advice, and ended up applying to 5 jobs a day. 🏃
I kept that cadence for about a month before anyone contacted me. That month was discouraging. 😰 It felt hopeless. 😱 But I knew I had done quality work that I could show employers, and that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my less conventional means of acquiring my skills. So, I pressed on. 🏋
Once I started my second month of job searches, things picked up. I started getting emails and phone calls back. Many were just rejections, which was better than being ghosted. 👻 But the few that ended up being phone screens were helpful, and gave me a tiny taste of what to expect as I continued to apply.
After a phone screen with PayPal, I was invited to their campus in North San Jose for interviews. Needless to say, I was nervous, about… everything. But, after five interviews that spread over six hours, I felt great. It was like speaking with professionals validated everything I fought for and learned. I felt empowered to keep going!
Then, after two of the longest weeks of my life, I received a phone call that brought me to my knees.
I received an offer from PayPal to join the Cause Team as a full-stack software engineer.
It’s been around 18 months since I started at PayPal, and I couldn’t be happier. I often tell people that the change from my old job in public accounting to a software engineer is 🌕 night and day ☀️. Instead of… auditing all day 😬 I get to build software that anyone can interact with! I get to solve interesting problems that satisfy my thinking itches! 🤓 I have the freedom to think of new possibilities and pursue them! 🚀
The sky’s the limit!
Since starting at PayPal, my wife, friends, and family noticed I was much happier. I was able to see and play with my daughter more. My wife and I began spending more time together. I had more time to do my share of the house work. We even had another baby girl!
👱🏻 👩🏼 👧🏼 👶🏼
And the best part — to this day I haven’t felt any dread from the thought of going into work 😄 ✊
I’ve started my own blog at maxuuell.com
Please come by, subscribe to my newsletter, and follow me on twitter for all things web dev. Always open to chat and help out 💻