How learning to code has changed my life. My story two years on…
I had completed four years at business school, aged 22, but instead of taking the conventional route, I decided to learn to code. This has been the best decision of my life.
Why I chose to learn to code.
When I finished high-school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and my choices seemed pretty limited at that time: study Business, Engineering, Chemistry or Medicine. Finally, I followed in my older brother’s footsteps and enrolled into a business school.
When I graduated 4 years later, I kept thinking “what skills have I learned that could really help a company?” and I had no answer to that question. Perspectively, I had learned a lot more than I had realised at my Business school, but I simply couldn’t see myself getting a job that I loved and where I’d have a real impact. I kept thinking that if anyone hired me, all it would be bringing to the table is an extra pair of hands that could answer the phone and fill excel spreadsheets.
I simply couldn’t see myself having a job that I loved and where I’d have a real impact.
I soon began an internship at a startup in Paris as a “business development intern”, can you guess what I was doing? Yep, answering calls and filling spreadsheets. But during this internship I saw and interacted with “devs” for the first time, turns out they’re not working in a dark room with their hoodies on. I quickly came to realise that the product team (developers, designers and product managers) were vital to the company’s success. Unlike my spreadsheets…
I was amazed at how much they could accomplish in short periods of time. In only 2 weeks they managed to prototype a new app that would be a game changer for the company, all that while still working and maintaining the current app. I was intrigued! And curious to know if I could also learn to have super powers like that or if it was too late.
I tried my best to learn online with tools like Codeacademy, but after doing that for a few months I wasn’t anywhere close to being able to build anything on my own.
A few months after graduating I was looking for a job and was ready to sign anything to get me some experience and money. I was about to accept a contract to become a sales manager (fancy way of saying I’d be answering the phone again) in a company which I had no interest in, but a week before starting, I thought if I took this sales job I’d stay there for quite a long time, is that really what I wanted to do?
I turned down the job and decided to seriously learn how to code this time, and if I wasn’t any good I could always go back to answering the phone again. So I moved to London and joined the Le Wagon coding bootcamp, which I’d been hearing about for a while now. It seemed to be perfect for me, a program of 9 weeks to teach you how to build you own products and ideas. From the reviews online it almost seemed to good to be true, but I took the chance and went for it.
Learning how to code.
I went for the fullstack program in London of Autumn 2016 (batch #41) and boy was it an intense 9 weeks! Nothing like university though, where it took me less than 30 minutes to lose focus at every possible lecture. But Le Wagon’s teaching methods were different. They have a learning by doing approach with a short lecture in the morning, and followed by challenges during the day (with help provided when needed). I surprised myself, not opening Facebook once during the week, and starting to feel this adrenaline and excitement when starting challenges! The first two weeks were the hardest, because you’re overwhelmed with so much information at once, which makes it hard to understand how it all works. Even if I wasn’t understanding 100% of the concepts I went ahead and avoided pressuring myself and comparing myself to others, which would only make me feel worse and slow down my learning even more.
Even if I wasn’t understanding 100% of the concepts I went ahead and avoided pressuring myself and comparing myself to others.
Then one day I got a “oh, now I get it!” moment, and at this point I finally felt like I got my head out of the water and breathed, once that moment hits, I became unstoppable.
Firstly, I felt much more relaxed, I knew the worst had passed, and I started to enjoy the challenges more and wonder what was next in the program. I remember walking in every morning and thinking to myself “tonight when I come home I’ll be a little better”, such a great way to start the day.
The two last weeks were focused on building our projects in teams and they were definitely the best time of the course. Having the liberty and skills to code something out of nothing in two weeks is amazing. It felt like we were launching a startup, having team meetings in the morning to discuss what we had to work on, thinking of extra features we could add, seeing the app come alive, it was really exciting.
The last day of the course was demo day, time to pitch the MVP (minimum viable product) we’d been working on for the past 2 weeks to a room full of 120 people. I was pitching an app to ask travel recommendations to your friends. Not gonna lie, the app still had some problems! If I selected ANY questions in the “food” category the app would crash… That didn’t stop us, we just avoided the topic of food during the demo!
I know how to code, now what?
Once you finish a bootcamp (Le Wagon or any another), most people get what’s called the “imposter syndrome”, the feeling that you’ve cheated to be where you are and that you’re not good enough. Well, I was one of them. I tried not to worry too much about it, but truth is I felt a little unsure about how much I really knew and how skilled I was.
To prove to myself I wasn’t that bad, I started working on my own projects. It didn’t really matter what I was building as long as I kept coding. For about a month I coded everyday and realised I still needed to learn a lot more, but also that I had acquired some serious skills already. Maybe I wasn’t an imposter after all!
The following cohort, I went back to Le Wagon as a teaching assistant. I think one of Le Wagon’s strengths is that almost all the teachers have been bootcamp students before. Even if sometimes it’s good to have a professional with many years of experience, there’s no one better than juniors to teach you the really basic concepts. Someone who just studied those concepts will know how you feel and explain everything in detail, where a professional might skip some “basic” (to him/her) concepts as it’s so obvious for him/her.
Before I knew it I joined the Le Wagon London team as a full-time teacher and developer. This was a fantastic opportunity because I joined a team of developers who knew exactly what my skills were. We used the same language (Ruby) and I had a mentor to ask questions (of which I had a lot at the beginning).
Now that I have a little more perspective, here’s my advice if you’ve just finished learning how to code (through a bootcamp or any other way):
1. You’re a junior, not an imposter.
You shouldn’t worry about knowing too little, you should keep in mind you are a junior developer now, and a junior is by definition someone who’s still learning.
2. Sharpen the skills you currently have.
After a bootcamp your main focus should be to deepen the knowledge of what you learned. You might hear people talk about technologies and frameworks you should learn right away, but at this point it’s too soon. You don’t want to become a “jack of all trades, master of none”.
What you should do is look at everything you know and try to get better at it. This relates to the T-Shaped Skills principle, basically you want to be a developer with different skills, but you should have a deep knowledge of these skills. If you learned Ruby, get better at it before learning Python. If you’ve used Rails, try to really understand how it works before trying other frameworks. You get the picture.
3. Get a job where you will continue to learn.
Getting a job is obvious, but don’t get any job. Try to find a working environment that is appropriate for a junior developer. Remember, as I said as junior you are still learning. The last thing you want is to end up in a company where you’ll be the most experienced tech person. Ideally you want a place with more than just a couple of devs in the team and most importantly a mentor, someone who’s going to supervise you and help you when you’re in need of help, because you will need help. This should be clear from the beginning, who can you ask questions to if you’re stuck.
4. Help others get better, you’ll get better as well.
Finally, I improved by teaching to others. If you’ve understood a subject well enough to explain it, then you’ve truly understood it. And the feeling of observing the “oh, now I get it” moment happen to others is amazing. It also consolidated my knowledge and confidence.
Now that’s it’s been 2 years, what actually changed my life?
Well, I found something I love doing and I feel like I’m having a real impact.
Learning how to code has managed to make my work fun, challenging and creative. It also gave me the mindset of a coder, which is to take problems step by step, I found that it helps with more than just coding.
As a developer I’m also now used to learning continuously. With technologies changing rapidly, you have to keep up and keep learning (and keep having those fantastic “oh, I get it now!” moments). My work is also much more rewarding now than my excel spreadsheets and phone calls! With coding it either works, or it doesn’t, which is actually a nice thing. You have a very clear idea about what is wrong, and once you come up with a solution you can see the fruits of your work immediately.
Also, I joined and incredible community and industry. Le Wagon is a network of people who all at some point put their life on hold to learn how to code, all for different reasons and from different backgrounds. This makes an uncommonly diverse community, which is here to help on any topic (coding or otherwise). But the tech industry, as a whole, is also a fantastic community to be part of. Collaboration is very common with the popularity of open-source projects, and like I said it’s an industry that is continuously shifting, so there are always exciting new things happening.
After two years I can now call myself a fullstack developer without hesitation, and I am looking forward to where my new career choice will take me. I tend to prefer the design aspect of being a developer, so I would like to become a better designer in the future (follow me on dribbble.com!), and maybe one day create a web design agency!