I just finished my third week at Ada Developer’s Academy.   As I settle into my routine at Ada, I keep having the same thought – “So this is what it feels like to love what you do…”.  This thought brings about scary, overwhelming, intoxicating, and unfamiliar feelings.  I always thought I would live my life outside of my work, if that makes sense.  I would do something I generally liked, but the bulk of my satisfaction and sense of accomplishment would need to come from my hobbies and relationships.  I specifically chose my first career based on this understanding I had with myself – find balance above all else.  Summers off, evenings and weekends free, and a flexible vacation schedule allowed me to more fully pursue things like reading, songwriting, yoga, friendships, exercise, and travel.  I have loved that part of the past five years.  I would never trade the time I have had to develop these interests and the summers filled with travel, family, friends, and new adventures.

I have loved watching my partner, Matthew, pursue his passion of playing piano and teaching as a career, although I will admit to experiencing some occasional jealousy over how easily he has been able to combine his work with his passion.  At the same time, I’ve seen the downside of overwhelming, singular passion – it can be consuming and not leave much time for anything else.  As I have longed for a more passionate endeavor to fill my work days, I’ve seen Matthew struggle to create balance and time for relationships and other interests outside of piano.  I think this is one of the reasons we are so compatible – we encourage and inspire each other to continually grow and push ourselves beyond our very different comfort zones.    I think balance is still in the forefront of my mind as a value, but I am learning that passion does not need to be sacrificed in order to find balance.  Love and passion bring meaning to life in a way that balance cannot.

So, my first three weeks at Ada…in short, they have been incredible.  I constantly feel intellectually and creatively stimulated, and I have learned SO MUCH.  We have already moved into the “Intermediate Ruby” part of our curriculum, which boggles my mind because three weeks ago, I was a total beginner at the language.  This week we created bank accounts with all sorts of features, and next week we are pair programming and making Scrabble games. This experience reminds me of my first year at Colorado College – only more intense, because instead of three hours a day of a single subject that rotates every four weeks, it is eight to ten hours a day of programming, week after week.  In addition to the lectures about practical application, live coding exercises, and larger coding projects, we also have a 2-3 hour lecture and homework assignment each week about Computer Science fundamentals, and a 2-3 hour lecture each week from a counselor or other staff member that helps us dive into issues like implicit bias, inclusivity, and imposter syndrome – all issues that impact women in the tech field.  They have had a speaker discuss financial empowerment, and another speaker review the importance of having a vision for your future. We will also get practice giving lightning talks (brief 5-minute talks that are really prevalent in the tech field).

I continue to be amazed by the level of support and encouragement at Ada – it unlike any other educational experience I have had.  We are constantly reminded by instructors, speakers, and Adies in other cohorts that we are there because they saw something in us.  It is easy to begin to doubt your skills or abilities when you are surrounded by 47 brilliant, strong, and driven women and the expectations for achievement and learning are so high.  But they seem to know that, and they have pre-corrected for it in some very effective ways.

The instructors and directors are great about fostering a non-competitive environment.  My cohort, Cohort 6, is the first to have 48 people instead of 24, and we are separated into two groups – the brackets and parens.  I am a paren.  The parens have two instructors, and some days we also have Teaching Assistants (volunteers – prior Adies or other people in the tech field) come into the class to help. Our instructors give us regular, written feedback and we have one-on-one meetings with them every two to three weeks. In addition to the support from our instructors, we are encouraged to meet regularly with the counselor that is on staff to problem-solve personal or interpersonal issues. We also have six hours of scheduled optional tutoring each week. On top of all of that, every new student is assigned an Adie mentor from a previous cohort, with the expectation that we meet with them or talk to them regularly.  Those of us that are not tech-adjacent (which means that we don’t have a close friend or family member in the tech field) are also assigned an industry mentor, so that we can ask them about issues specific to the tech industry and begin to develop our network.

Ada Developer’s Academy also has a strong interest in continual improvement. In the first three weeks, I have already taken a survey about the effectiveness of the instructors, and how I am feeling with the pace of instruction. I am not positive about this, but I have a feeling they are going to take our feedback to the instructors so they can make changes as needed before we get too far into the program.  Finally, each week we are encouraged to write post-it notes about things we want more or less of and challenges or positive experiences we had in the last week.  Then in the final thirty minutes of class on Friday, we talk through the post-its and have discussion as needed.  They call it a “retrospective”, and I think everyone should do it!  I will be honest – I had pretty high expectations after reading the blogs of Adies that came before me.  But even these were blown out of the water.  I feel unbelievably lucky to have this opportunity.

There has been some time for fun and exploration too.  During our first week, we went on a fun downtown Seattle scavenger hunt with teams of 2-3 other students.  My team called ourselves the “Merdogs” – I’m honestly still not quite sure what that means, but we had a great time taking photos of ourselves with things like “a fish being thrown at Pike’s Place Market” and “as many pigs as you can find”.  We also have played games like “Two Truths and a Lie”, “BINGO”, and “Speed Dating” as ways to get to know each other better.

In terms of challenges, I need to get out socially a bit more – I knew this would be a struggle because I live with my sister-in-law, who also happens to be one of my closest friends.  It is always easier to stay at home or hang out with a familiar person than to go out with new friends.  I’m going to make more of an effort to do this over the next few weeks.  I also want to keep bouldering at the Seattle Bouldering Project – what a fun way to exercise!  Other than the social piece, I’ve been able to keep a pretty balanced life so far – I’ve read a book each week, gone running 2-3 times a week, watched the first season of a TV series, and have been able to cook and eat most of my meals at home.  This all feels really good.  I’ve also made it to a couple of the beautiful Seattle-area beaches.  I’m hoping the weather holds up for a few more weeks so I can do more of this type of exploration!  We’ll see if I can keep this balance as the expectations continue to ramp up over the course of the year.  I’m going to try to blog every few weeks – next time I want to give an update on Ada, and talk about what it is like to have my own routine and life in Seattle, separate from Matthew and the dogs.

Resources:
Harvard: Project Implicit – Go here to learn about implicit bias and take an assessment to evaluate your level of implicit bias towards various groups

Imposter Syndrome at Ruby Conference – Amazing Video on Imposter Syndrome – he describes what it is and how to deal with it

Sandi Metz at a Ruby conference – talking about grit