To search for joy and stumble across coding in a pandemic

Since Covid-19 shook the world in 2020, like many others, I struggled to stay afloat in a sea of uncertainty. The industry I worked in was ordered to shut down for most of the pandemic (still closed at the time of writing this) and, understandably, my employer placed me on furlough. What I optimistically envisaged as a 2 to 3 months break then extended beyond that with no known return to work date. Nonetheless, I knew to count myself lucky as redundancy was not an immediate predicament I found myself in. I was determined to make the most out of the current circumstances.

I thought I would start with things that I have been putting off for a while, such as, going running again (although as it turns out, having a wobbly knee after a certain accident with a bus meant running wasn’t quite possible) and in general, having a healthier lifestyle. I had also been procrastinating with looking for a new job, which is an entirely different can of worms. The latter set off a minor crisis and wondered where I had gone wrong after graduating from university a while ago. From a naïve, bright eyed graduates with no working experience (besides part-time jobs done here and there), I was desperate for any employment as long as they took me on and paid my bills.

Without going into too much detail, having spent more than half a decade with my previous and current employers in two very different industries, I had learned a great deal about the cogs and wheels of how businesses are run and most importantly, I knew I could learn and excel at work that I had no experience in. In a certain way, fake it ‘til you make it, and you will with practice and hard work. Ultimately, that also meant jumping from one role to another, and becoming a jack of all trades — master of none.

Before I could look for a new job, I was aware that while I had ‘transferrable’ skills and did my job well, there wasn’t anything that I was passionate about. I could remain comfortably in industries that I was familiar with, but there is always that feeling of dread at the end of a weekend before going back to work, or waking up in the morning and wondering if this is it for the rest of my life. Or I could learn something different and start from the bottom again. But what would that be? And what if I end up no better than where I had started?

Things can fall apart, or threaten to, for many reasons, and then there’s got to be a leap of faith. Ultimately, when you’re at the edge, you have to go forward or backward; if you go forward, you have to jump together.

Yo-Yo Ma

Like everything else, it is an irrational fear of failure that prevents us from making that first step. And so what if I do fail? I would have learned something new, and think about it — retirement is a long way off at age 68 so if I am going to be working for the next couple of decades, wouldn’t it be great if it was something I would enjoy and at the same time, would allow me to grow as a person? Perhaps it is not as inspiring as realising my raison d’être, but it would be a great start if work brought me joy, considering it takes up two thirds of our waking hours during the week.

Thanks to a little bird somewhere (or just targeted advertising on social media), I was bombarded with adverts from various online schools teaching business management, marketing, UX design and coding. There were certain things that I could immediately rule out and others that I investigated further. There were also the recent successes of several friends who had become junior software developers after a career change, so I was encouraged to have a look at coding to see if it is for me. And so, I went onto Codecademy to dip my toe into the waters, and it was fun! I can only describe my initial experience akin to puzzle-solving — frustration when you just can’t help but feel you’re missing something completely obvious, and elation when you finally got it. This is good —I should look into it more.

My research also included speaking to friends, lurking in reddit and trying several free online coding platforms. The general consensus seemed to be, there are plenty of free resources out there that you can gradually work through and build an online portfolio with. It was imperative that you keep at it and with time, you will have enough to start looking for a job with. Sounded simple and plenty of success stories from people who had done just that. But would it work for me?

Which language would I start with? Some platforms advocated HTML and CSS so you can build simple websites relatively quickly. Friends suggested Python because the syntax is simpler and beginner friendly. Some of my immediate questions were, how do you know when you’ve learned enough to start looking for a job and with the lack of structure, do you try to learn a little of everything or specialise in one? I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of advice about getting into coding, so ironically, I didn’t know where to begin. This pretty much made up my mind in reaching out to some of the online bootcamps as they seemed to be confident in their ways of developing job ready developers in the matter of months.

I looked into some of the biggest names such as General Assembly, Ironhack and le wagon. They looked pretty similar in that they have campuses in most major cities and seemed ‘legit’ as a course provider. I had also looked at Makers Academy, as I knew someone who was now working as a software engineer after graduating there — what works better than a success story from someone you know, right? I spoke to representatives at each provider to understand their curriculum, teaching approach and career support after the course. One stood out especially, when it came to the scope of curriculum and career support as they had a dedicated team that liaised with employers on behalf of their students. That is when I decided to begin my journey in coding with Makers.

After that initial phone call with Grant in September, I spent a few weeks learning Ruby, booked a technical interview in the next month and passed it — hurray! This was followed by an offer of a place for when I was ready to enrol onto the course. The next couple of months then flew by as we moved into our first home as house owners (getting our house in order quite literally!) and we were faced with more uncertainties at work as the second lockdown was imposed in November. So I decided, it is time. I took the plunge by handing my notice in at work, and paid the course fees to start the pre-course in January 2021.

Stay tuned for the next few months as I jot down my training montage.

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