If one were to try to draw a map of my career path to get to this point, I imagine it would vaguely look like ‘Jeremy Bearimy’ from the TV show The Good Place – a squiggly, wavy line going all over the place before finally settling. I grew up loving animals and really enjoyed Physics in high school, so when I got to college, I started with a major in Mechanical Engineering but then completely changed to Animal Sciences. After college, I dabbled in a number of things, and eventually, I found myself in Project Management. After a few years of it, I still felt like something was missing. I wanted to understand what made things work, how things were made, and what was going on under the hood. 

At this point, someone close to me suggested that I learn how to code. I honestly thought they were nuts. How dare they ask me to dabble in the dark magic that is programming?! They assured me that it was not a crazy idea, and We found a weekend course on HTML and CSS where I could toe the waters on something simple. I walked into the room where the course was held, knowing absolutely nothing, and started learning how to build a basic webpage, and it ended up being amazing. 

It was everything I had been looking for. I could build things, design things, move things, change things, and solve puzzles when something didn’t work right! From that point forward, I was hooked. I jumped into Javascript via self-study and dove into a 6-month full-stack boot camp. That introduced me to backend development, which I enjoyed even more! Then APIs, and Databases, and frameworks, oh my! Shortly after that, I picked up Python on my own and then Clojure/Clojurescript out of sheer interest. The opportunities to learn never seemed to end, and I loved it.

Now, that’s not to say that this was all a walk in the park. It certainly came with its share of challenges. I definitely had days where I questioned my sanity when I hit points of deep frustration (looking at you, missing semicolon), but I put my game face on, slammed another cup of coffee, and kept on going.

It took writing code, writing more code, making mistakes, and then solving those mistakes. It meant developing better internet search strategies to find the solutions, seeking out the language documentation to understand the core functionality, and using any tool at your disposal to debug a problem. And when you find that you’re still stuck and have exhausted your brain power, asking for help from more experienced programmers. And, yes – that can feel intimidating, but remember that they were once in your shoes, too. Getting here took effort, grit, and humility, but the lessons learned were worth it. I am proud of the things I have accomplished and look forward to all the new things I have yet to learn.

There may be people out there reading this who are considering the same sort of career change but need help figuring out how to make that big step. If someone asked me how to get started, I would advise them to ‘start small and go for it.’ Big steps actually start with tiny steps. Build a little web page; if you like it, keep going! Find a mentor or a meet-up group. Check out a boot camp if that’s more your style. Read a book – yes, a book, even in our internet-heavy world! It is absolutely within your reach to get there if you want it!

Don’t worry if you initially feel uncomfortable jumping into such foreign territory. That’s normal. The truth is going outside your comfort zone is where the really good stuff begins. Don’t worry about making mistakes. They are just opportunities to grow and learn. Give it a shot. You’ll be surprised at the doors it will open.

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