Hitting my stride a little

I’ve officially been a professional software developer all of four months, but I’m starting to feel pretty darn good about my choice.  It started back in February when (while not even looking for jobs) I got a nice offer from a different company. I was all set to take it but when the CTO of my current company found out I was leaving he called an impromptu board meeting and got me essentially a match so I would stay with them. Having two companies fight over you before you even get good is certainly an encouraging feeling.

Now, a couple months later I’ve solved enough problems that I don’t get scared anymore when I get handed something I’m completely unfamiliar with. I just assume that I’ll be able to figure it out because that’s how it’s gone so far, and that allows me to relax a little. At the moment I’m working on something that’s pretty easy for me, at home, in sweats, listening to good music and I can’t imagine “work” being much nicer than this.

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How tricking got me a job as a software developer

Success! It took longer than I hoped, apparently there weren’t many actual entry level positions open in the Madison area, but I got the first truly entry level one I applied to. Actually, I didn’t even apply. I met a guy at a software meetup, he invited me to come talk to the team, and a few days later I was working a two week trial period. It’s a startup so I guess they move a little faster than big businesses. As of today I’m officially hired on, starting Monday.

So about that title. I may have lucked out in that I actually knew the CTO a little bit. He’s a gymnastics coach and I used to go to open gym at the place he worked. I’m pretty sure I asked him to teach me things a couple times, so he probably already knew how thorough my learning approach is, and I’m sure that didn’t hurt my chances. So now I’ve got my foot in the door, the part that I was most worried about. I officially completed the career change, and all I have to do now is soak up everything I can on my way to being a top notch developer!

Why I love the internet

The internet is a strange and sometimes wonderful place, and the thing I love most about it is the number of things there are to learn. I often stumble across things I didn’t even know I was interested in that turn out to be entirely fascinating. Enjoy a few recent examples:

Elon Musk discovered the meaning of life from Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Shampoo

Film directing

Minimizing employee retention

RefactorU

There were few things I’ve been as excited to do as join RefactorU. Most people don’t have many chances to redefine a major part of their lives, and that’s what I was setting out to do. After hours upon hours of research and some leading from a couple friends I had decided I was going to be a coder, and this was the best way to get started.

The course I was taking was a full-time coding bootcamp that teaches full-stack web development. I knew what I was getting into, but I still had no idea how entirely absorbing it would be. I found myself staying long after class was over, coming in on weekends, even missing meals at times. Not because I felt behind or wanted to outdo the other students, but because there were problems to be solved. Hours slid by at unbelievable rates. On days I felt especially tuned in I would be jarred unexpectedly by the arrival of the end of day discussion, which seemed far too early and out of place. I was learning about as fast as I ever had, and completely thrilled by it.

It would be negligent of me not to mention the instructors. The instructors for my course were Raine Lourie and Chris Rolfs, both very knowledgeable, excellent teachers, excellent bug hunters, and incredibly patient. I’m certain I would have learned a lot no matter where I went, but it’s hard to imagine instructors much better than Raine and Chris. The course format, alternating between lecture and large blocks of coding time, seemed well thought-out and very effective, and I know they are very actively working to incorporate feedback from students to keep improving it. Their selection process must be awfully good too because my classmates were great, ranging from high powered business executives to math professors to guys a couple years out of high school and all of them were capable, enjoyable human beings.

By the end of the course I had a good set of both front and back end web development skills, and had branched out on my own to do some basic game development as well. Here are some examples of what I was doing early on, and then for my midterm, and final project.

I suppose I can’t pass final judgement until I find out how well prepared I am to actually land that first job, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at RefactorU and feel good about what I’ve accomplished. Of course, having found something fun that can lead to a good job certainly helps with the optimism. So wish me luck on that job, and if anyone out there has questions about getting into coding feel free to get in touch, I’d love to help!

Many happenings

I’ve been up to a lot of stuff and haven’t been blogging but i’m attending RefactorU now and I think it would be really helpful to capture some thoughts to help me work through problems, see progress, and give other people an idea of what a programming boot camp is like. Double thanks to Richard Lucas who is both letting me crash on his couch right now and suggested reviving the blog. i’m hoping to find time to post regularly, we’ll see how it goes.

I just finished Day 2, and it feels like we’ve covered a lot of ground already. I’ve been impressed by how well thought-out the course is. The format is kind of back and forth between lecture and coding and they give you a lot of stuff to try before giving you all the answers which has worked really well for me, making me think hard and keeping me engaged. The first real problem we were given was a CSS card flip exercise that I liked a lot because it was a cool trick, had a surprising amount of layered challenges to get working, and had a fairly elegant solution in the end. You can the code for my version here.

We also do a fair bit of discussion in peer groups, and something that came up that I thought was good was balancing trying to figure things out on your own and asking for help. The balance is important because getting stuck on one little thing for an hour is counter-productive but asking for help every 2 seconds isn’t going to solidify ideas the way working through it on your own will.

I’ve got stories from traveling and getting immediately kicked out of my apartment too, but those will have to wait because I need sleep.

HabitRPG

Continuing the theme from last time, I’d like to share a cool little app called HabitRPG. It turns your life into an RPG, leveling you up and giving you gold for accomplishments, taking hp when you fail to get stuff done on time, and allowing you to buy rewards for yourself. Its strength and weakness is that it is completely dependent on the user to set up the tasks and rewards which means that it’s wonderfully customizable but there’s nothing to prevent you from setting it up to be really easy and therefore not that helpful.

I’ve found it surprisingly helpful. Apparently keeping that 20 pixel high character alive is more important to me than prioritizing my life. Confounding, but it’s made this probably the most useful tool I’ve found so far.

Getting things done

I haven’t been satisfied with how much I’ve been getting done lately so I’ve decided to figure out a better approach. I did some research then talked with a couple friends and decided to make a big list of all the stuff I’ve found and want to try. Here is the current incarnation which you should definitely check out:

https://workflowy.com/shared/83c4aaf1-3c96-031b-0d7a-4c0a918bb88f/

Some cool tools that deserve specific metion: workflowy, the web app I made the list with, is super cool and I recommend it. Having someone or at least something to hold you accountable seems key, and NerdFitness provides a community and some tracking tools for that.  There are also tools to hold yourself accountable like iDoneThis which is tracking tool that reminds and encourages you to keep going.

If you have input or suggestions, things that have worked for you, please share. I’m always looking for more ideas.