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2017: A Year of Rediscovering Myself and My Passion

8 min read · January 9, 2018

Category: Web DevelopmentTagged with: Journal
2017 Github commit graph

We have a propensity to look at the end product and marvel at how it was built and the complexity of it all. Unless we start mentally breaking down the larger complexities into smaller, more tangible ones we continue to fight analysis paralysis and may never make the first step.

2017 was the start of the journey from the directionless doldrums to an unbridled creative passion. I started the year looking for a job in a similar field as what I currently am employed in, believing that a change of scenery would help recover some of the drive and passion that has faded in my current position. Each day was a struggle to overcome the feelings of being beat down and unmotivated. My work ethic precludes me from outright giving up, but I was clinging on to the last few threads. Around the beginning of March, I had still not made much progress in finding motivation or a position I thought would be much better, and I started to rethink my career trajectory entirely. Did I want to continue working in this field? Did I like the progression of where it was taking me? The more I considered those questions, the more deafening the response. I needed a change.

I had been somewhat toying with the idea of programming from ongoing conversations with my brother who was in his final year of a CS degree, but hadn’t moved forward with it the slightest. The nagging curiosity that often sneaks up on me before many a binge learning session continued to arise; I kept thinking of how much I enjoyed past creative ventures and also the love of mind puzzles (I can’t stand the cardboard variety 😀). I decided to try out some free development learning resources to see if it was something that may pique my interest long term. I came in with a basic introduction to HTML from 2003, but remembered nothing beyond some basic concepts and elements. After some initial research I decided to try out Free Code Camp as I liked the concept of building out actual projects instead of following tutorials. I completed the HTML and CSS courses in 2 days.

The Tipping Point

Around this time I got an interview offer extended to me for a similar position to my current one. I continued to push through many of the Free Code Camp introductory lessons to see if this particular binge learning session would flame out after a week which isn’t uncommon for me. I kept on wanting to learn more, and was more passionate about my learning than I had been in years. I knew that I wanted to pursue this learning path further and potentially shift careers; I just had to put in the work to get there. With that in mind, I made the decision to turn down the interview and stop looking for any other employment, capitalizing on my established knowledge in the current job and the reduced mental overhead of knowing how to get things done. This would allow me as much mental capacity as possible to invest energy and time into aggressively learning web development.

From here, I focused on learning everything that I could via Free Code Camp’s curriculum and outside of it. I capitalized on my hour commute each way to read articles, watch videos, and once I got another computer work on some of the lessons. That has continued to this day. In August I completed the Front End Developer Certificate from Free Code Camp, an accomplishment achieved much sooner than anticipated. I kept going, learning things on my own, diving into React, and then Node and Express.

In October I joined a team of two other developers to build out my first ever full-stack application Wanderful. I helped guide many of the technical conversations, subconsciously transferring communication and leadership skills from my current position. This was by far my favorite experience of the year. Working with a team of developers to build a larger project, learning from each other, and having a fairly firm ship deadline were amazing experiences in my professional development. I learned a lot, including writing most of the backend and Redux architecture. For a full reflection post on this experience and the community organization who puts the cohorts together every couple months check out my original post. After shipping Wanderful, I have focused on applying to jobs and a complete rewrite of my portfolio site. It’s coming together well and has been a great opportunity to really capitalize on all I have been learning over the past 8 months.

8 Months and the Impact of Passionate Direction

It continues to amaze me how much was crammed into 8 months of 2017, and I am so thankful for it. The delta between last year and years previous is palpable. We must never underestimate the power of passion and internal motivation; when combined they can accelerate the path along a vector. I am confident that I want to be a developer; I love building things and solving problems. It is what pushes me to spend 15-20 hours a week on average learning and building around my full-time job. Some of the drive is definitely attributed to the desire to make a career transition, but it goes beyond that. I just love to build web applications and work with JavaScript. Having this sense of purpose has increased my emotional and mental well being. I chose not to feel entrapped by my circumstances and to pursue other directions.

I recognize that I was and am in a place of privilege where I have a job that I can continue to work at to pay the bills while I am building skills to follow my passion. This cannot be understated. Furthermore, my wife has been very supportive of this journey and the extra time that I spend learning and working at home; I have made a concerted effort to also maintain consistent family time each day with her and our child. Maintaining balance is crucial for me personally. My story would be very different if any of these factors were different. I don’t believe that they would have prohibited me from moving in this direction, but they likely would have impacted the speed I have been moving at minimum.

Top 4 Lessons Learned from a Year of Rediscovery

You must remain focused and not change directions at every new shiny thing. This is an ongoing mindset that I constantly have to keep forefront. The world of learning programming is fraught with many distractions, most of which aren’t bad in themselves. Most of it centers around the sheer density of everything to learn. From languages, frameworks, libraries, packages, design, build tools, etcetera there is a waterfall of things that will pummel you if you stand under it. It is my belief that while learning something new, the best knowledge assimilation will happen through focused study, and applying the concepts directly (in the case of programming actually building things). I keep a running list of things that I want to learn in further detail for when I finish diving into another concept. I know that if I jump into looking deep into every topic that strikes my fancy at that moment that I will not make forward progress nor have more than a cursory working knowledge of any of them. This focus also applies to my selection of projects to work on. I believe that actually completing projects is important to the learning process and also my internal motivation. It is relatively easy to start a project when the excitement of the new is at its apex. Seeing things through the bland times and not jumping onto that next excitement hit, helps create closure and progress.

Don’t try to learn too many things at once. This ties in to the topic of focus. I always try to fold in a couple of new concepts into each project to continue stretching and pushing myself. However, incorporating too many new things in a short period of time has lead me to increased frustration when things don’t work correctly due to spreading myself too thin. Additionally, trying to assimilate too many things at once reduces my effectiveness of recalling the subtleties of each when trying to recall them later on in the project. It is better to focus on a smaller group of things, concentrating on acquiring, applying, and repeating the necessary knowledge for each before moving on to others. This has been the best model for retention over the past year.

Determine what steps you want to take each day/week and maintain consistency. Consistency and the creation of habits has been paramount for me. It is one of the things that I am most appreciative of for completing and working through the 100 Days of Code challenge. By creating a goal of coding or moving the needle forward in my learning by an hour at minimum each day I continually have the next step identified. This has helped me to maintain consistency and actually do the work. Without it, it can be substantially easier to fall into the ebb and flow based on how I am feeling on a particular day and it could be all too easy for a week or two to pass by without doing substantial work. There are still days when I am more productive than others, and also still the occasional day that gets missed for whatever reason. However, the habit of coding each day helps me to continue to move forward which compounds in continuing to stoke to flame of internal motivation.

Break down larger goals into small tangible steps. I chuckle to myself reflecting back on some of my first impressions as I started to learn web development. I looked at some of the advanced projects for the Free Code Camp certification such as the calculator and Simon Game. I remember thinking that there was no way that I would be able to build them any time soon. I had a similar, though not as strong feeling, when I set out to build the backend of Wanderful. We have a propensity to look at the end product and marvel at how it was built and the complexity of it all. Unless we start mentally breaking down the larger complexities into smaller, more tangible ones we continue to fight analysis paralysis and may never make the first step. Perhaps we would increase our self-perception and progress if we looked at our learning iteratively. Things will be broken and need to be patched or more efficient means may be discovered. The fact is that we start and are building. This same mindset applies to creating our own roadmaps of where we want to be professionally. I started from ground zero and quickly knew I wanted to pursue web development. Holding that as a goal without small achievable steps to inch closer to it would have been folly.

Highlights of 2017 and Goals for 2018

Highlights of the year:

  • I completed the front end certificate program with Freed Code Camp
  • I completed my first team and full-stack project, Wanderful
  • 551 public commits to Github in approximately 7 months
  • I began actively coaching and helping others especially with React and Redux. This is always a highlight for me to pay things forward, as I too received substantial help in starting my journey.
  • I completed round 1 of #100DaysOfCode and started round 2.

Goals for 2018:

  • I want to dive further into advanced React patterns and continue to build my understanding of the framework.
  • I want to begin actively contributing to open source and see where I may be able to assist with some of the tools that I rely on.
  • 2018 is the year that I will transition to my first professional development job!

There were so many positive things that came to life in 2017. I am ecstatic and grateful for the passion and direction that I have found in web development this past year. I look forward to doing more of what I love, and also in a professional capacity throughout this year.

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