From English Instructor to Coder : Making it Happen — Part 1

Preface:

This article is not just for your enjoyment. I admit it, I want to network with you. And, I want you to understand who I am, and where I’m coming from. I also want this article to translate into an internship, an interview, and a successful career in development. So, I hope you’ll bear with me as I begin to recant my journey from English Instructor in Japan to coder in the United States of America. And because I’m still on my way, let’s call this Part One.

Background:

The second medium I ever created art with was an an annotation program on my old 8088 computer, and then on a Mac at my elementary school during keyboarding class. In fact, I credit keyboarding class with giving me not only typing skills, but also giving me quick access to a browser and notepad at many points in my public education. Throughout this time, friends passed around copies of Photoshop 4, digital design classes began to pop up (1997 or so), and films like Toy Story were becoming the norm. I felt I wanted to be a 3D animator, but lacked the grit to get past the first sign of “you’re not good enough”, although I had the naivety to show up for a 3D modeling interview at 17, much to the surprise of the manager, I’m sure.

At eleven or twelve years old, I told my grandfather ( a former programmer ) , that I wanted to follow in his foot steps. Of course, I had never seen code, but I wanted to work with computers, which were seeing a great growth in availability of graphics apps at the time. I soon latched onto Photoshop, Poser, and tried to get over of my failed attempt at a C++ class in high school. Once again, lack of grit ( a word I’m taken with at the moment ) meant that my potential in programming remained untapped.

So, what changed? Why do I all of a sudden think that I can be a programmer? Well, programming education changed and I got older…much older.

On Re-education:

Just after moving to Japan, I discovered Codecademy, a website for learning programming basic in numerous languages online. The website gave me something that I had never had before: patient guidance, ease of use, user-tested modules ( and most importantly ), a way to graft some grit onto what was honestly a weak individual. On my one day off a week, I would sometimes challenge myself to a few modules and enjoy watching that submit button glow green with success. The grit part came from having manageable challenges, hints, reference, and community support at my fingertips. The old days only allowed people like me to fall through the cracks. Now, I had a chance to get some scars and street smarts, as it were.

Now, “Making it Happen” is the suffix to this article’s title. The past few years have slowly shown me that I can do much much more that I had ever imagined. I have gone from zero Japanese language ability to fluent. I have gone from zero programming ability, to creating a smart travel packing app with React-Redux. As it turns out, people like me need gradual re-enforcement and access to low-friction learning resources to achieve confidence in a subject. I count myself among a population of people who, for one reason or another, couldn’t foresee ever being able to do this job.

On Not Quitting

“Making it happen.” is so often about not quitting. Let’s do a rapid fire look at various slippery slopes aligned with quitting: Ready, set, go!

  • “ I quit because I couldn’t solve the algorithm challenge. ” 
    Solution: Recognize that many will be very challenging and that you should plan to take a break, study different solutions, and learn from them. Pace yourself and accept the difficulty as a fact of life. Tada! Level up!
  • “ There is just so much to learn. How will I ever be able to do this? ”
    Solution: Recognize that with each step achieved, the following step will be a reasonable challenge, given that you seek help and make a true effort.
  • “ I’m sick of doing this. ”
    Solution: How are the other areas of your life? Perhaps if you schedule in some free time, exercise, or an old hobby, you won’t project dissatisfaction on the task at hand. Be critical of your emotions. They’re real but misleading. Keep your eye on the prize.
  • “ I just don’t get it. I must be a moron. ”
    Solution: Find a tutorial from a different writer or provider. I often have trouble with explanations from specifications and need to see more practical or simplified examples. You may want to read an article and then watch one or two examples on Youtube to feel like you can begin to make use of a concept or method of some kind. I often do this while doing the dishes, just to get a bit of confidence before I sit down at the keyboard and waste a bunch of time.

These types of things float through my mind from time to time and perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to me is being able to see them merely as barriers to circumvent, as opposed to looming walls that I have to scale.

This is to say, sticking with it and reframing problems pays dividends.

Conclusion

Making it happen, for me, has turned out to be mostly about not quitting. Discovering emotional and psychological tools that manifest themselves as “grit” has been my rope harness, headlights, and spirit animal this past year. I believe that if you can shine a light on the gremlins that come along with something as challenging as becoming a coder, you will see that you are capable of much more than you originally thought. And from that point on, you will never approach challenges the same. So, instead of quitting and turing back, let’s make a decision to remain on a forward path of momentum and reap the benefits in many areas of your life.

Thank you for reading.

About myself: I run a small English Conversation school in Japan. I have enjoyed designing and all of my own print and online materials and currently pursue web development as the next step in my career. With freeCodeAcademy as my course of choice, I aim to return to the United States in early 2017 with my wife and begin anew as a developer.

Fun fact: As a child, I used to tape hand-drawn Star Trek-esque interfaces onto flat surfaces and pretend they were computers. Youngest UI designer…ever. ;)