I Ditched Instagram for GitHub For 6 Weeks — My Experience in Three Acts.
Firsthand story of a millennial woman learning to code during the lockdown.
- The Scene: The Other Side of the Pandemic.
- The Prologue: Damsel In Distress.
- Act 1: Self-Doubt Creeps In.
- Act 2: I Miss My Instant Gratification.
- Act 3: It’s No Dark Magic, After All.
- The Epilogue: This Is Not Your Cinderella Story.
The Scene: The Other Side of the Pandemic
It was mid-March 2020 in San Francisco and our team sighed in relief. After countless hours of effort we rescued the world from a deadly influenza strain.
We discovered the vaccine and distributed it everywhere necessary. We high-fived, elbow-bumped and basked in the glory of our victory for humanity.
My husband and I spent a week binge-playing a board game Pandemic Legacy as we last minute cancelled our vacation plans and decided to stay put at home for a week. Despite the grim world outlooks pouring from the news in real life, I got a taste of what it might be like when we get to “the other side” of the pandemic.
I felt inspired to learn something new while the social life goes on hold.
I decided to learn to code.
The Prologue: Damsel In Distress.
Years in management consulting made me fluent in Excel and I could do some basic SQL queries from my stint as a product manager.
I recall seeing a course “Intro to Python” during my time in grad school and thinking this is definitely not for me. I’m “on the management side of things”. This was 4 years ago. And I was wrong.
Excel can handle a maximum of 1,048,576 rows and it starts crashing regularly when working with one tenth of that. Thinking this will do in the world where north of 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is generated everyday was just very naive of me.
Another bonus is the inherent automation of repetitive tasks. If you’re used to programming, this might sound like very old news. If you ever spent hours carefully copy-pasting new data files, scanning for inconsistencies and manually fixing them — like I did in the past — this is the greeting from the Promised Land.
So I registered at DataCamp.
My Goal: Finish the 16 courses in the Data Analyst with Python Track before the lockdown is over. And cut down on any social (media) distractions until I get there.
Act 1: (Self-)Doubt Creeps In.
When committing to learning something new, I had to learn to deal with my inner objections first. These were the top ones:
Objection 1: Online courses are not effective anyway.
Watching videos and solving coding challenges is not equal to solving real-world problems. It’s better to do a real project, not earn a certificate.
Fair. Writing a novel is also a better way to flex your language mastery muscle than training for the Spelling Bee. I realized I need to be humble when starting from zero.
Also, applying whatever little new knowledge I acquired to the context I know was learner’s gold (my little web-scraping project here).
Objection 2: You do not want to make a living writing code.
The little voice from four years ago was back: This is a waste of time, you want to stay on the “management side of things”.
I both worked with and directly managed data scientists and programmers before. Getting my hands dirty with what they actually do changed my perspective. From “possessing strong understanding of the underlying principles” or whatever BS I would say about myself in the past to experiencing the actual pain of building the solution.
Objection 3: Your code is laughable.
It is embarrassing I write something like this. My code was definitely not “production-ready”. It indeed made a real-world software engineer laugh.
But the fact I was able to write it on my own made me very, very proud. Here’s my very lean GitHub (unlike to Instagram, a lack of likes or followers here doesn’t induce anxiety ).
Act 2: I Miss My Instant Gratification.
I missed the colorfulness and the ease of just scrolling down and tapping some digestible content.
In the first few learning sessions particularly I struggled to keep my attention up, for a stretch of an hour or so. It got better over time, but it was nowhere compared to my peak learning times during high school. As one course took me up to 6 hours, it would spill over 2–3 evenings (one could definitely click through faster but thinking about the stuff took time).
When I got enough skill and confidence to start tinkering with my own ideas, the tide turned. I really enjoyed building up on yesterday’s peaks. My ~150-hour experiment got actually quite satisfying after I put in the first 100 hours. So Instant? No. Gratifying? Oh yeah!
Act 3: It’s No Dark Magic, After All.
If you are — like me — more than half a decade out of college, you might think it’s too late to learn to code.You are probably right.
You might not become master in coding. But you will get a much better understanding of what powers the technological progress these days.
If you are too busy to spend hours writing code yet you still want a tasting menu of the latest computer science tech I recommend the CS50 for Business Professionals:
- It covers topics from programming languages to cloud architecture.
- You can finish it in 20–25hrs.
- David Malan’s hour-long lectures are more entertaining than some of the Netflix’s stand-up specials I watched recently (Don’t ask me for your money back if you disagree — the course is free ;) ).
And now from the “damsel’s” perspective: 15 years ago, when I was in high school, I would not consider programming or computer science as a viable career for me. It was something for the boys.
I’ve heard countless similar stories from other women. Although the world shifted since, women in the US earn only 18% of computer science degrees.
Somewhat unlikely coding ambassadors (like the supermodel Karlie Kloss) do a great job in demystifying the skill. It’s just a useful and fun thing to do — you don’t have to commit to a career of a software engineer if you give it a try.
The Epilogue: This Is Not Your Cinderella Story.
Did I achieve my original goal?
Yes. (I re-downloaded social media apps only after I home-printed the certificate of course completion.)
Am I a confident, skilled programmer now?
During my learning experiment I cracked quite a few tough problems. None of them revealed a magical prop turning me into a modern-day instant coder, Cinderella-style.
But I realized that getting a basic, hands-on experience with this coveted skill is more accessible (and rewarding!) than I would have thought three months ago.
Contact me if you are interested in more specific details of my learning journey!