Today I was asked to join a Q&A with some Learning People students who are just starting their coding journey. As it turns out, I got my MTA qualification a year ago pretty much to the day, which marked the final step of my personal journey with Learning People on a Full Stack Web & Software Development course.
Back at the start of the pandemic I wasn’t hugely inspired with my work and I was looking to get more hands on with my day-to-day and needed a change to shake things up. This meant taking on more photo and video shoots, but I also had a desire to delve into the web department and reignite my interest in web development.
I first touched code when playing around with some basic HTML and CSS in my Myspace theme editing days and in more recent years had started getting into WordPress development, mostly using themes and front-end builders. I came across an ad from the Learning People one evening and decided to submit some details.
I had this grand idea that I could get into coding and give it a shot, giving me more to do creatively. It wasn’t long before they got in touch and at first I was really anxious about my capabilities. After all, I’d been denied a place on the Games Design course at college because of my severe lack of GCSE’s, particularly my ‘U’ in maths. They set me my first 5 day coding challenge that day, which I then completed over the weekend.
I loved everything about it. Suddenly I was excited about learning, which I’d been missing for a long time if forever. I’d cracked the test and really enjoyed doing so. I quickly signed up to the course on acceptance and set about working on getting to grips with coding outside of work hours. I couldn’t remember having had a bigger challenge or goal set.
There was so much to look at on the course and initially I had the mindset that I was going to watch every tutorial, code every test and read every last character of each book to ace as many programming languages as I could, as fast as I could. With this mindset, I was working 9-5, taking care of my family and then back on the laptop to code again from 7pm, often until around 2am in the morning. I craved the challenge but I had also set myself a lofty goal of finishing the course in 6 months.
I’d developed a tonne of really unhealthy habits and was practically living out of my spare room. Working through the day, coding at night and sleeping on the spare bed with nowhere to go in-between thanks to Covid. Burnout was inevitable. It affected me in many ways. My work life, my coding and my relationships, I got into a real slump and needed a shift in mindset to keep me going before I gave up on it completely and called it quits.
Thankfully my inspiration was still there. I was working on web projects in my day job and really enjoying it, garnering positive feedback from the team and from clients, which felt great. I had to quickly learn to develop new habits (as I’ve discussed in a previous blog) and let go of the time constraints and pressure I’d put on myself to get things done.
I found a sense of community online with other full-time and aspiring developers that showed me in an instant I wasn’t alone with imposter syndrome and that yes, it’s OK to need to Google things several times a day or ‘borrow’ a bit of code from StackOverflow. After all, I learned, coding is all about problem solving – not memorising every last combination of digits to manifest websites and software with ease.
I started sticking with the things I enjoyed and was good at. It’s important to recognise these and throw yourself towards the things you’re passionate about if you’re lucky enough to do so. Not everyone needs to be a Full Stack developer, which is what I had set out to become. It turns out what I’m good at and what I enjoy is being a Front-End developer but it took a lot to learn how that shoe fit for me. I know this is still true, because I can’t wrap my head around how some developers struggle with CSS… but for me developing an algorithm sounds like a personal hell.
My working circumstances changed dramatically and I found myself with a decision to make on whether or not to enter the industry as a junior developer and work my way up, or stick to what I’m good at and continue developing on my own as a freelancer. That decision was made really easily for me when Jordan asked me to partner up with him to create eighty®, so I skipped a few steps on my road map and went all in.
I still struggled with the same issues when becoming freelance. Taking on too much at once, struggling with work/life balance and ultimately burning myself out, at least now I could recognise these patterns. I’ve been working on several amazing websites (not to mention some fantastic video and photography projects) since starting, each with their own individual challenges. Life is a constant learning journey especially if you work in/with tech. A year on and I’m reflecting on my journey of getting into coding and everything that’s happened since. Starting down that path opened me up to learning new things and challenging myself in ways I never have and I feel like I’m better for it.
I still have so much I want to learn and dive into as a developer that will keep me hungry and keep me learning and developing but for now I’m happy to be finding balance where I can and take everything one step at a time. For anyone starting that (or any other) learning journey, I’d suggest you do the same – take it in your stride, slow and steady.
Let’s see what year 2 brings.
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