Lack of salary is a great motivator
Six months ago I left my “wow, what you do sounds really interesting” job so I could teach myself to code. Before that happened there were multiple abandoned attempts to start learning. I wanted to write about that part for anyone who is as stuck as I was.
Starting with some context. I studied Law at university, loved it, but didn’t want to become a lawyer. Then, after a couple of “what am I doing with my life” internships, I talked my way into a job at an equity crowdfunding start-up (where investors get shares, not just ‘rewards’).
For a first real job it was a lot of fun. I met loads of people each week, got to try free samples from the businesses I worked with (organic lolly company, anyone?) and to attend some ridiculous tech events. Most of my time was spent hearing entrepreneurs getting excited explaining their business to me while I worked out which questions to ask.
Eventually, I started finding the most interesting answers in these meetings were about how they had used technology to build the solution to a problem they had experienced. After this kept happening and the investment side of things had become very familiar, I admitted to myself that I wanted to start learning to code so I could build things too.
So I started teaching myself to code. That first day I came home from work, looked online and asked some of my more techy friends where I should start. As a day one it felt like a success. I hit some Codecademy milestones triggering a congratulatory email and generally felt good about my new path to becoming ‘technical’.
Before you stop reading, I promise this isn’t a story where I become someone who wakes up with the sun, goes to the gym and then gets in a few hours of studying before a day in the office.
What actually happened was, intending to do the same again, I came home the following day exhausted from a lot of intense meetings. Despite my plan for “becoming technical day 2” I couldn’t disengage and start learning something new. What turned into a hectic week became a hectic month and I stopped trying to make time to learn, still no closer to the skills I wanted to develop.
What got me started again was the same thing that got me started in the first place. I was still meeting all those tech entrepreneurs and wanting the skills to just build a thing. So I sat down one weekend and got totally lost in it. And then had a crazy week, pushing the time to learn into the future. Again.
This cycle kept happening but the gaps between me giving up got shorter. You can see the stop-start process in my Codecademy emails.
I was also improving, getting stuck on simple things less and gradually getting more irritated that I couldn’t make the time to do something that was clearly important to me.
3 months after my first attempt I decided that I couldn’t devote the time needed to learning while I was still working and told the team that I wanted to leave to become more techy.
My plan was to spend the next few months teaching myself enough code that I could get hired somewhere and learn during the role. I didn’t think a paid bootcamp was worth the cost for me as I now had the time and motivation (of no salary) to teach myself.
I posted on a women in tech forum, called Ada’s List explaining my risky sounding plan and asking for advice on more advanced free resources.
A flood of replies came back, a big proportion of which said I should definitely apply for a free full time coding bootcamp in East London called Founders & Coders. In 3 months they’d teach me to build things! FOR FREE.
I emailed the course founder to see if I could ‘negotiate’ an extension. He came back with an email that started with:
“Clear the decks of *everything* for the next 12 days”
and ended with:
“You have about 200 waking hours between now and the deadline.”
So in short, no.
I then had to get to level 5 (8 being the lowest, 1 being the highest) on Codewars, a site that lets you complete progressively harder coding challenges.
It was a big step up from the friendly Codecademy spoon-feeding (no congratulation emails here, either). I spent 8 hours stuck on a simple challenge that would have taken maybe 2 lines of code if I’d understood the problem better.
It’s the most frustrating thing when your code doesn’t work and you have no idea why – because you do know that it’s completely your fault. The computer does exactly what you’ve told it to do. If it breaks, you’ve given it the wrong instructions.
Even as I started to figure out more, I was still confused when the code broke, as I didn’t fully understand why it worked when it did. Each time I got more confident with the basics and then scared by the next level of difficulty.
Now I’m being paid to build early MVP’s (minimum viable products) for start-ups. So I can code. But there was a lot of giving up and starting again before I got there. So if you’ve currently given up, keep going. If you haven’t started yet – what’s stopping you?
Enjoyed this? Read Katerina’s other post, ‘6 lessons to forget before you start learning to code‘.
Main Image © iStock/vgajic