Note: With this somewhat long bio, I wish to dispel the notion that I (and likely many others) haven’t encountered failure along the way. It’s my constant companion. It isn’t always talked about, so my goal is to represent both my failures and successes to give anyone who may read this a more complete picture. I hope it offers encouragement to those who may think they’re not good enough for software engineering or any other profession. The only way to overcome failure is to fail.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
Early failure in my childhood extinguished the flame representing my technology passion. Failure in adolescence and young adulthood led me to explore many areas of interest in trying to find what I wanted to do in life. The extinguished flame turned out to be a smoldering ember, which, rediscovered, I decided to nurture. Now, with my determination and the help of others, I’m a modestly successful software engineer. Don’t be afraid to embrace failure!
‘Hello World’, or Not
Arriving near the beginning of the last decade of the millenium, I grew up with a keen interest for gadgets and electronics in general, even though I didn’t really understand how they worked. My parents couldn’t tell me either. But the family Hewlett-Packard tower featuring a brand-spanking-new Windows 3.1 and the Super Nintendo rocking Super Mario World (no, not just that game!) inspired young me to keep my interest alive. Answers would follow not too long after, so I thought.
At around the age of seven, I
convinced nagged my parents to buy a book on how to program in C++. It was something like the
[blank] for Dummies brand, but I can’t remember exactly. I came home all excited to write my first program. After all, editing files used by DOOM to use different
.wav files for sounds and figuring out various games’ cheat codes isn’t quite coding.
So I studiously and diligently followed the book’s instructions and wrote out the code for “Hello World.” Now, the compiler! Oh, the compiler… It failed. And failed. And failed. No matter what I tried. I don’t think I knew at that time what the internet was, and even then, there was no StackOverflow. I gave up. I blame Windows.
It’s really unfortunate that I had convinced myself of this because finding out that I could actually code might have preempted the next several years of my life.
Learnin’ and Hustlin’ in Spite of Failure
I started out my post-high school years as an undeclared freshman at the University of Minnesota, because that’s what I (and the rest of my cohort) were supposed to do. I was pretty sure I would double-major in sociology and political science, because those were (and continue to be) major interests of mine. But my passion for technology had long before sown seeds of doubt in the foundation of making a livelihood out of many of my interests. I’ve considered the aforementioned subjects, as well as (in no particular order) chemistry, biochemistry, astronomy, Spanish, journalism, political journalism, etc.
Journalism was the closest I ever came to achieving any of these during my period in the wilderness. I dropped out of the U of M after one semester, immediately spent a month in France, and came back ready to toil as a rank-and-file hospitality and retail worker with no immediate plan. I decided to attend Minneapolis Community and Technical College for an AA in Liberal Arts. That way I’d have a few years to figure my shit out, right? Well, sort of.
Rekindling the Flame
A student senate controversy united me with the student newspaper City College News, where I began writing and editing. Soon, I became Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief. I loved putting out a product that I had personally worked on with others and that effected positive change in my community at the college. I got a taste of what I felt good doing.
One of the first things I did as the newspaper’s leader was to terminate a contract with MTV’s College Media Network, which was a sort of managed CMS service, but MTV got a portion of any ad revenue. I thought that was unfair as we were already strapped for cash, I thought we could do better doing it ourselves, and I wanted us to be able to finally pay our student staff at least a little something. Using my limited sysadmin skills, I set up WordPress on a hosting provider. We bought a newsy theme from some marketplace, but it wasn’t exactly how I envisioned it.
Though it was a small detail, I admired how the New York Times’ stories would conclude with, “A version of this article appears in print on
[date], on Page
[page] with the headline:
[headline].” I resolved to make this happen on our own site. After some reverse-engineering, poking at WordPress docs, googling, and installing a WordPress metadata plugin, it was live. I had written just a
for loop iterating over a few PHP variables to display it, but still I felt euphoria. Next, I added bylines. I started to think I could do it.
Shortly thereafter, I scored admission to a semester-long program in Washington, DC, through which I was placed into a political journalism internship and attended journalism, economics, and constitutional law classes at Georgetown University. I enjoyed this experience, but my heart wasn’t totally in it. I wanted to code, but I wasn’t sure how to turn that desire into a career.
Throughout all of this, I struggled (and continue to live with) depression. It’s robbed me of a lot of joy and comfort over the years, and I believe it has a hand in this period of my life tumbling from one interest or job to the next, constantly feeling unfulfilled and largely unsupported by society, the health care system, and employers in general.
I worked many retail and restaurant jobs (overworked and underpaid, in my view). I tried being a “part-time” mail carrier (50+ hours per week on one’s feet is really tough; I admire our mail carriers). Later on, I tried driving city buses and delivering food orders (not bad work, but still I felt intellectually and creatively unfulfilled). I drove (and sometimes still do) for Lyft to make ends meet.
And that was when I started to hear things on the vine from friends who worked at The Nerdery about Prime Digital Academy.
‘Hello World’, For Real
A true leap of faith, I quit my job driving buses and submitted an application to Prime. After some assessments and an interview, I made it in!
I did pretty well, considering it is an intense 20-week coding bootcamp that requires upwards of 60 hours of one’s time per week. But as with all things, inevitably my depression interrupted me. Despite my apparent skill, it was nevertheless easy for me to dismiss my achievement or my worthiness.
I hesitantly chose to drop out with a vague idea of coming back to finish the program. Fortunately, the staff at Prime had the empathy and took the time to help and understand my situation. They showed compassion and a commitment to encouragement and accountability, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. I returned later the same year and graduated. During that time, I delivered a speech about the importance of feeling empathy for people with depression and overcoming it to classmates and The Nerdery’s chapter of Toastmasters, Talk Nerdy to Me. I finished all my assignments and assessments with flying colors. I coded my individual project using technologies we didn’t cover in class, and with my team we delivered a successful web app for a regional nonprofit organization.
The Future is Now
From then on, I’ve been on the exciting journey that is my career in software engineering. I’m constantly acquiring knowledge about new frameworks, new languages, new coding patterns, etc. In fact, learning all the time is one of the best things about this field.
Most of all, I’m excited to use my coding expertise to create things that make people’s lives better.