This is my first Medium blog story. It’s a required assignment as part of an online program I started a few months ago, called The Launch School, that teaches you to become a full stack web developer. But I’ve actually been wanting to write this for awhile…sometimes it’s hard to write a story when you’re in the middle of it, but I guess that’s what blogging is all about. So here goes…
I just turned 43 years old and I am a single mother of two children, ages 10 and 6. I live in Seattle, WA. I moved here almost 11 years ago from New York City, where I lived for 14 years. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition from NYU, followed by a master’s degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), I developed a promising career as an interaction designer and Flash developer. Newly married, my “wasband” and I decided to leave New York City and move to Seattle, a city we thought would be easier for us to raise children.
Almost immediately, began the children…I continued to freelance for my former employer in NYC while I was pregnant, but I decided to take “a little” time off before going back to work. But what was meant to only last a year or two turned into a decade of time off to raise my kids.
My original intentions of keeping a foot hold in my career by doing part time freelance, while staying at home with my son, quickly diminished as the reality of the overwhelming nature of parenthood sunk in. Maybe if I had an easier baby, or got sleep, or already knew how to cook and had the whole “domesticated life” thing under my belt I could have managed that…but I didn’t . So I put both feet firmly into being a stay at home mom. I made healthy muffins and play dough. I took my kid to co-op preschool, toddler music classes, the playground and mommy/kid playdates. I read about child development and essentially took all of my former career energy and enthusiasm and put it into raising my kid (which eventually turned into 2 kids).
I was so immersed in being a stay at home mom that anytime I thought about the next phase of my life, my brain felt like mush. So I updated my plan. My new plan was to wait until my youngest was in kindergarten to start figuring out what the plan would be…it was a plan for making a plan.
As fortune would have it, my marriage fell apart in my daughter’s last year of preschool. I began to think about career and next moves. I contacted an old classmate of mine from graduate school, who is a UX Designer and was working on a startup project of her own. She gave me the opportunity to work with her in a mentorship capacity, which allowed me to dip my toe into the career world and start to explore whether I wanted to return to the world of technology and design.
I also started connecting with people I knew that were somehow in the technology and/or design field and taking them out to eat so I could pick their brain. This step was so helpful for me. I collected a lot of information about what types of opportunities were out there in the world of UX Design, Data Science and Information Technology, Web Development and Product Management. The big questions I ended up with were: 1) Do I want to pursue UX Design, Web Development, or both (unicorn)? and 2) How the hell do I get from where I am now to a paying job?
Since I already have a Master’s Degree, I didn’t really want to go back to school and get another one (nor did I really think I needed to). But I definitely needed something to build up my skills and portfolio. I began researching certificate programs / bootcamps for both UX Design and Full Stack Web Development. I still hadn’t figured out the question of which one I wanted to focus on, so I was not yet ready to choose a program, but I found a lot of information on the website Course Report and read a gazillion reviews of dozens of programs out there.
Around this time, I contacted an old friend, who was very connected in the UX world as a product manager. He offered to pose the question on Twitter of how would one in my position (with a masters degree and some industry experience) go about getting ready for a career reentry into UX Design. There was so much response and advice that I created a spreadsheet so that I could track it all…it included books to read, concepts to become familiar with, online programs to look into, etc. I even had several people from that list reach out and offer to talk with me (even one from London!), which I did.
But the next step was to take some action and I was pretty overwhelmed with where to start. I had spent the past year going through my divorce, selling my home and moving, transitioning my youngest to kindergarten (which didn’t go well), completing a yoga teacher training program (for another blog post) and getting used to being a single parent. I was finally at a point where I could handle more on my plate and I just needed to pick something and start somewhere.
I ended up finding an online master class for UX Strategy, taught by Jaime Levy, that was a companion to her book ‘UX Strategy’, which was highly rated online. It was only 6 weeks long and not terribly expensive, compared to the more intensive programs I was looking into. It felt like the perfect place to start…and it was. I learned how to use Sketch, Illustrator, and Keynote. I learned about value propositions and how to validate them with user research and interviews, conducting competitive analysis, effective storyboarding, and prototyping. The biggest take away for me, though, was that I wasn’t sure UX Design was the direction for me. I wasn’t sure if I really felt my “flow”.
In my former career, although I was an interaction designer, I spent more than half of my time as a flash developer. I worked for an experiential design firm that did a lot of in house production. I had a unique developer skillset within my department, so I ended up doing a lot of the coding. Coding aligns well with how my brain works. I had taken an Intro to Java course in graduate school that got me hooked. And finding and fixing bugs?…I liked that part. When I think back to my favorite parts of that job, it was the development work…hmm. Why had I been resisting this key bit of information? I think perhaps because I thought there was more prestige in design (no offense developers!) and because I think of myself as a creative person. But there’s actually a lot of creativity in coding…I was neglecting that part.
So I switched gears and began doing a little bit of coding through tutorials on Free Code Camp and Treehouse. I soon realized this was the direction I should be going in…I started to feel my “flow”. After going back to Course Report and drowning myself once again in user reviews, I ended up finding an article comparing a handful of online bootcamps. One of those was the Launch School. I was intrigued by the description of it, which was quite different from other bootcamps I had come across. They described themselves as a mastery based learning program that provides people with a solid foundation for a career in web development, not just a set of skills that may become outdated in the near future. One particularly appealing aspect was that it was a self paced program…did I mention I’m a single mom?
I checked out the site and began the pre-course work, designed to get you ready for the program and weed out anyone that might not actually be a good fit. The pre-course actually took me about a month to complete! Now I’m close to the end of the first section, programming foundations, and loving it. My goal is to finish the program in the next 8 months, which I think is doable. At that point, I will be ready for part 2 of this story…it will be interesting to see where I fit in the job market as a middle aged woman who took a career break and then made a career change, coming into the world of full stack development. Stay tuned…