Planning, Pivoting, and Mastery

Milestones in the path to a career in software development

Nicholas LiCalzi
Nov 11 · 3 min read
Hexgrid mapping of NYC traffic incident density (Amy Lee Walton, Mapbox)

In the past 14 months I have: started a Master’s in Science degree in Urban Data Science at NYU, been engaged to be married, enrolled in Launch School’s full-stack web development course, quit my job, and actually been married!

Naturally, my answer to all variants of “what [do you do/are you working on/have you been up to]?” has oscillated dramatically through those months, but lately the big picture has come into focus — in large part thanks to the curriculum at Launch School and its emphasis on mastery.

That is not to say that my previous steps haven’t made sense in context. I earned my Bachelor’s in Metropolitan Studies, before interning at the NYC Department of City Planning, joining the business development team at BIG/Bjarke Ingels Group, and then spent 2 years as an Urban Data Analyst on Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates’ Urban Interface team — an internal think tank/product development studio.

At KPF UI, we scraped all of the Google Places data for NYC and charted the number of businesses open per hour for the Urban Design Forum’s exploration of the city’s night time economy and its zoning implications. (https://urbandesignforum.org/proposals/temporal-zoning-for-the-24-hour-city/)

The built environment and urbanism are the obvious common thread, while slowly picking up computational/coding ability on the job (and picking it up significantly faster at the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress now). The disciplines of architecture, urban planning, and urban management all have tremendous potential for improvement through the combination of computational heft/analytical capability and niche domain expertise, and my goal has slowly morphed into being the person to bridge that gap.

I was able to teach myself Python and its data science stack, and attained some rudimentary knowledge of web mapping libraries in Javascript, while on the job, but never found myself learning to a satisfying level of depth — the varied and plentiful demands on our time (a symptom of working in an international architecture office with no shortage of new business) made it difficult to justify building new capacity or even a strong conceptual foundation that would enable me to build larger, more complex projects. I took a two-month, in-person Python/Data Science bootcamp, but found it useful only as a survey course since we would be presented with a topic one week and then abandon it altogether the next.

And then… I found Launch School. A course that explicitly bills itself on its website as a “bottom-up” & “multi-year” process, that touts its “Structured Curriculum from First Principles” and its Mastery-Based Learning pedagogy, where you progress not after a set period of time but only through written assessments and video interviews where you can demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of the material, and I knew it was everything I had been missing in my journey towards a career in software development.

Stated “Learning Goals” of the Launch School curriculum (https://launchschool.com/, Nov. 2019)

I am now at the end of the first major course in the curriculum, RB101 Programming Foundations, which covered gaining comfort with Ruby syntax, variable scoping, common methods and types of collections, control flow and iteration, building small programs, problem solving techniques, etc. I’ve built an Anki deck with hundreds of flash cards for review and retention, pushed scores of commits to Github, and built a (sort-of) implementation of Blackjack that hopefully I will soon look back on with a wry bemusement and sense of satisfaction at how far I’ve come since.

This is just the start of my slow journey towards mastery and a long career in software development, but I know that I’m in the perfect place now to pull it off — all that’s missing are the countless hours of dedication and learning. More to come soon — watch this space!

Nicholas LiCalzi

Written by

On the path to software engineering mastery @ Launch School. Urban Data Science M.S. candidate @ NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress.

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