The Unintentional Coder

By POCIT co-founder Michael Berhane

I never grew up ‘technical’. I remember an exasperated friend having to explain the concept of MSN instant messenger [I feel old] to me around the mid-00s. Long story short, I didn’t have a clue. Computers were something I used like everyone but barely understood. I just wasn’t that ‘computer guy’ growing up.

So how was it that I’ve ended up as a software engineer at a venture-backed tech startup, then as lead developer/founder at POCIT?

It all started with an idea for a website I had back during my Business undergrad degree at Kingston University. Paying developers as a student is an expensive business.

After a while, the thought crept into my head ‘how hard could this be? I can do this sh*t myself’. Arrogance and cheapness are a lethal combination.

So I picked up a dusty copy of ‘websites for dummies’ from the library and started off with some basic HTML/CSS. Not programming languages per say, but they got me into the swing of things. The rest of the book covered JavaScript, PHP, and MySQL. Countless hours later, things began to make some sense. What started out as ‘a means to an end’ became fun. I had found a discipline/craft that was equal parts logical and creative.

I wish I could say that it was entirely rosy after that. It wasn’t. I wanted to give up several times. ‘Impostor Syndrome’ [read this great article by Buffer CTO for more on that] was a real thing for me. A nagging feeling that I wasn’t good enough, that this wasn’t for me, that I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. Those feelings never completely left me; it was just that those voices in my head became quieter with the endless hours of practice.

Fast forward a few years later and my ‘website idea’ was long gone, but the skills had remained. I wasn’t working as a developer, but in my spare time, I was still plugging away. In the end, I decided to make the full career-switch at the ripe old age of 24 [ancient in comparison to the tired trope of the 12-year-old hacker]. What I needed was a bridge however to the tech world. In the end, it took the form of a masters in computer science. In hindsight, it wasn’t necessary, and I was already more than capable. The need for academic validation was probably the last remnants of my ‘impostor syndrome’.

Tips

Enough of the origin story. Down to tips for anyone also on this path.

  1. Pick a project, be it an app or website, and learn how to build it, as opposed to just reading coding books. Easier said then done I know for a complete beginner, but this way is much better than just picking up and sifting through ‘Python for dummies.’ Your motivation will wane at times, and have a project will seriously help in that regard.
  2. Keep going. *Rocky music plays in the background*
  3. Google/ Stack Overflow are you new best friends.
  4. You will be over-awed at first with all the new things you’ll have to learn; that’s normal.
  5. Think long and hard before spending serious amounts of money on coding boot camps or degrees, all the information you need is available online, either for free or cheaply.
  6. Speak to as much self-taught dev’s as you can. If they can do it, so can you.

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