My story, just in case it encourages you.
It seems to be a rite of passage within the programming community for the career-changers to write about why we decided become developers. I read several such stories when I first made my decision, so now I'm putting my story out there for others.
First off, this is not a success story... yet. 6 months after quitting my last full-time job to focus on learning to code, I'm still learning. I'm currently enrolled in Microverse's Fast Track program, and having a great experience which you can read about here. But this story isn't about that. It's about the why, rather than the how.
I have become increasingly interested in technology.
For the children growing up today, an interest in technology is practically mandatory. However, I grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s, before the invention of the smartphone. My introduction to (and initial interest in) technology came through video games. My brothers and I were given a Nintendo 64 one Christmas, and I was hooked. Sega Game Gear, Game Boy Advanced, PS2, Wii, PS3, even Dreamcast — game consoles have been a part of life ever since.
My family went through the typical internet progression for the time — first dial-up, then DSL, then Broadband, with WiFi joining in at some point. When I graduated high school and my dad gave me a laptop as a graduation gift (to be used for college, of course), I spent many hours playing every free internet game I could find. Still, though, my interest in technology was mostly limited to consumption.
When the iPhone and first Android phones were released, I resisted the movement, thinking that all I needed my phone to do was call, text, take poor-quality photos, and fit nicely into my pocket. It was the launch of the “Playstation Phone” (Sony-Ericsson Xperia PLAY) that convinced me to get a smartphone. The gaming experience it offered was okay, but more importantly, it introduced me to the many capabilities of the smartphone. This device allowed me to be connected to the internet all the time — information and content always at my fingertips. And free games galore. I’ll admit, I became addicted to it, an addiction I’m still working to overcome.
Among the positive developments from my newfound love of the smartphone was that I began reading articles and watching websites related to the tech industry. PCWorld and IGN became websites I faithfully read. I became connected to the world of technology in a deeper way. I was interested in what hardware was coming out and what all could be done using current technology.
I was also becoming aware of the freedom technology was capable of imparting — solar panels promising energy independence, blogging financial independence (at least to the successful). This played an important role in getting me to where I am today, as I noticed that…
Programming/technology is becoming integral to every industry.
Behind every piece of technology that is used, there is someone responsible for programming it. It doesn’t take more than a quick glance to notice that technology is having a deep, lasting impact on nearly every industry in the world. Computers and software are being used by everyone, not just banks and large corporations. Every business has a website. Many have mobile apps. Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are set to transform the way we live. As robots take over assembly lines and factory work, there is one industry that seems future-proof: programming. Someone will always have to tell the hardware and software what to do (unless the machines become sentient, in which case we’re clearly doomed).
My favorite aspect of my job has always been programming.
I stumbled upon this realization about 9 months ago, after 5+ years of professional experience. My first “real” (post-college) job was as an actuarial student. I went to school for a career as an actuary, but became dissatisfied with the study hours and work-life balance problems they presented. The parts of the job that I enjoyed most weren’t even actuarial, but writing macros in Excel/Access VBA and programming calculations in our modeling software/calculation engine. After leaving that job, I went to preaching school for two years and gained some valuable knowledge and experience. Upon returning home, I got a job doing “data analyst” work for a corporate sales tax firm. The work itself was a bit dull, but I took on side projects creating, once again, Excel macros to automate processes that were being done manually. I remarked to my wife that what I would really love was if they would just give me the job of improving processes. I then realized that what I was describing as my “dream job” was a career in programming (or coding, or software engineering, or one of the other basically interchangeable words used to describe this type of work).
Getting into programming doesn't require a four-year degree.
So, at 28 years old, ten years after graduating high school, and almost seven years after graduating college, I finally discovered what I wanted to do for a living. Better late than never, right? Unfortunately, with a wife and two small children depending on me, I couldn’t exactly go back to school for four years (or even two) to get another degree. It’s a good thing, then, that programming jobs don’t necessarily require a computer science or engineering degree. Some do, of course, but more often companies are interested in what you can (demonstrate that you can) do. This means that self-learning and developing a good portfolio of projects can get you started in software development. This is one of the reasons people take so many different paths to becoming programmers, and it creates a wonderful diversity in the community.
Programming offers more remote work opportunities than most other professions.
As more work is done on computers and internet connections get faster and more reliable, remote work is becoming more common. The Computer/IT industry ranks among those offering the most work-from-home jobs. This is important to me, as I value work-life balance and time with my family. Driving 45 minutes to work and 45 minutes back home every day means 1.5 hours of wasted time. That adds up to more than 12 whole days each year! Remote work not only gives me that time back, but also allows me the freedom to live wherever I wish without being concerned about the distance to the office or the need to find a new job.
So that’s my story, and why I’m learning programming at the age of 29. I hope it encourages you in your journey, whatever that may be.