I took my first class in HTML as a freshman in high school almost fifteen years ago. I still remember my excitement at the sheer creation of writing code and seeing it transform into a website. Over the next three years, I enrolled in C++ programming and several introductory graphic and web design courses, but it didn’t occur to me that I could make a career out of this work.
It wasn’t until many years later, after my second year as a school psychologist, that I had time to further explore this interest. It really began as another “cinq minutes” type of experiment – I had taught myself how to use Final Cut Pro to edit some video for Matthew’s piano teaching business, and through that I remembered how much I enjoyed creating things using technology. I started by teaching myself about WordPress, and within weeks I began customizing themes for family and friends. Before long, I had my first paying customers. During this time, I spent a lot of time huddled over my computer working on websites, regularly calling out to Matthew so that I could show him what new thing I had figured out. He is the one that noticed how much I seemed to like this work of problem-solving and creation, commenting, “Do you know how many times I’ve seen you get this excited about something at work? Never.”.
After creating a number of websites (including freebies for my partner, my dad, and my parents’ pickleball club), I realized the limitations in my skill set so I took some online tutorials from websites like CodeAcademy. Through these tutorials, I learned the basics of HTML and CSS so I could make small modifications to themes. Over time I have also gradually added Google Analytics, basic Search Engine Optimization, basic HTML/CSS, and eCommerce to my skill set. I love that web development allows me to use my problem-solving and research abilities, my creative drive, and my logic.
A few months ago, I made the decision to go to part-time next year. My thought is that I can keep my insurance and benefits, and continue doing the parts of my job that I enjoy, while also having more time and energy to devote to building my skills and creating a small web design income. I also researched a number of boot camps in Portland, with the idea that I might be able to take a class or two next year. I feel okay about this option, although I am a bit skeptical about how much progress I will make with only a day or two to devote to building my skills and growing a business. Boot camps are also really expensive – 3,000 to 5,000 for most 8 week courses that are 10-12 hours a week. I don’t like the idea of going into significant debt without some type of guarantee.
Around this time, I discovered Ada Developer’s Academy, a year-long tuition-free software development program for women. When I discovered it, I felt like it was too good to be true. Then I found the “catch” – it is highly competitive – 400+ applicants for 48 positions. The program sounds incredible though – students receive intensive instruction on various programming languages throughout the year by going to class from 8-5, M-F. In addition to that, students have many opportunities to learn what it is like working in groups to solve coding problems and write programs. From reading about the program, it sounds like students also develop close relationships with each other, and find that their fellow Adies become a lifelong (well – this is a bit of a leap, because the first cohort just graduated a couple of years ago, but I think this is likely) professional and social network. After seven months of learning to code, students complete a big capstone project and then interview for internships at tech companies. They are then placed into internships and receive a nice stipend during this time (which crazily is only a few hundred less than I am currently making, five years into being a school psychologist). Then students are basically ready for placement as junior developers – I read that many of them receive jobs offers at their internship sites!
I felt like I had to apply. To arrive at my goal (well, in all honesty, at this point it was more of a far-flung dream) of being a software developer in only one year? And to do it in a collaborative setting with other women? Yes, there is the downside of living apart from Matthew and my sweet pups for a year or more, and the fact that if I am accepted I will need to take a leave from my job…but that is nothing in comparison to what is being offered.
The application involved writing my resume in a basic coding language called Markdown and posting it as a gist to GitHub, responding to essay questions, and completing some analyses on .csv data sets. As I made my way through the tasks, I realized that this work is interesting, challenging, and fun for me. I started to believe it might be possible for me to make it into the program. I spread the work out over the two weeks I had to complete it, taking it in small chunks. I knew I had the resources of the whole internet in front of me, and this helped a lot with my stress levels. I approached it the way I learned WordPress or Final Cut Pro – I broke the tasks into discrete steps that I needed to accomplish and set small daily goals for myself. Then, when I found I had a bit more time before the application was due, I went back and refined and improved upon what I had already completed. The essay questions were challenging, because I have a tendency to ramble (…is anyone still reading at this point?) and the word limit for each question was 200 words. To give you an idea, my first draft of one question was 600 words. I spent longer trimming the fat from that thing that I did actually writing it! Learning Markdown was fairly straightforward – I was thankful to have some basic knowledge of HTML and the way coding languages work as I approached that task. Then came the data analysis. I have never worked with large data sets, unless you count data entry for research projects as an undergrad. And that is not the same thing. My data sets were weather patterns for the United States in 1957 and 2007. The questions were deceptively simple. For example, “How many counties in the state of Washington remained storm free in 2007?” It was only after diving into each one that I realized the many steps involved in coming to that answer. I was relieved that I didn’t leave this until the last second.
On March 8th, I pressed send, crossed my fingers, and began obsessively checking my email for word that I had made it to Phase 2.