Originally posted on Glamour.com.
Last weekend, I, along with more than 2,500 other women, attended a conference breaking down the importance of self actualization. The conference was led by one of those popular, female-empowerment gurus, a high-energy motivationalist who talked unironically about mastering our own destiny, building our best lives, and learning to “embrace our inner radiance.”
Prior to all that destiny mastering and best-life building, the guru invited us to share the experiences that had led us there that day. One by one, brave women stood up and told different versions of the same sad story: tales of professional hopelessness, personal tragedy, of circumstances so dire they now believed their last and only recourse was to embark upon a weekend of empowerment with this self-proclaimed “revolution.”
After hearing our collective tales of woe, the guru assuaged our fears and desperation with “inspirational” tales of women who had previously attended the conference, women just like us who learned — gasp! — to believe in themselves and then suddenly, like magic, their whole lives were changed for the better. They opened up their dream yoga studio! They started to love their bodies! They banged that hot, young neighbor! (High bar, yes, I know.)
Hearing these success stories, many of my fellow women cooed. They applauded, they cheered. Meanwhile, I stewed.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m on board the manifestation train. My Instagram is a vision board of inspirational quotes and affirmations. I’ve read every book I could find on creating wealth and personal happiness. And not to toot my own metaphysical horn, but I, myself, am a quasi poster child for manifestation magic. Once, before a big interview, I maxed out a credit card on a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps that obliterated my impostor syndrome and made me feel every inch the powerful, warrior queen I am. My thinking was that if I showed up truly believing I was a boss then they would believe it, too (they did and hired me).
But telling groups of marginalized peoples (like women and especially women of color), against whom the societal cards are already very much stacked, that simply “believing in themselves” is the secret to getting what they want out of life is not only preposterous, it’s disingenuous, it’s poisonous — you could go so far as to call it traitorous. This type of thinking implies that the problem lies within us, the marginalized, the oppressed, within our attitudes, and not the fault of the inherently sexist, racist, and classist society we must struggle to thrive within.
It’s the same faulty logic that supposes “poor people are too lazy to work hard.” That says “Black Americans living in the lower class don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves out of poverty,” (a belief still openly held by 45% of white Americans as of 2012). And worse: that kind of oppressive mindset is ubiquitous, it’s systematic, it can’t be voided by good vibes or a morning pep-talk.
Look. I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe in yourself. Please do. If I could tell you one thing, it’s that you are strong and capable. You are in possession of worldviews and experiences that no one else has and that alone has immense, precious value. That makes you special and unique.
But you need more than your inherent wonderfulness to achieve the life you want and deserve.
You need a map, a map with options, with multiple pathways and routes; you need a map with information on where you can go to make that life happen.
For me that map was coding.
I grew up in a trailer. In Missouri. As a kid, no one ever mentioned software engineering as a career option. I was vaguely aware that programming existed, but I didn’t know how anyone did it, who those people might be, or that I could someday be one of them. My high school didn’t offer coding classes. What I knew about programmers I gleaned from TV and media, where coders were presented as genius-level, unshaven, hoodie-wearing dudes — certainly not for a creative-minded lady like myself.
This lack of information (or misinformation) would have completely blocked my current career were it not for a few happy accidents that shifted my occupational trajectory (details I’ll save if only because a map should consist of reliable directions, not timing or circumstance.) And as I sat in that conference for two whole days listening to speeches on reclaiming my power, all I could think about was that same information that had been kept from me was also barring these women from lives they might want to live.
No one had told them — no one was telling them — that coding is one of the few careers that can take you truly extraordinary places without extraordinary experience.
That it is one of the few highly prestigious and well-paid careers that you can teach yourself entirely online and with nearly no financial resources.
That you can be a programmer without a college degree and you can start learning to code when you’re 5 or 25 or 75 — there is never a time that’s too early or too late.
That you do NOT have to be a whiz in math and science to be a coder. There are different types of programming. Some of it involves complex problem-solving that, yeah, it would probably be good if you were decent at math. But other types are artistic and creative. And that all of it boils down to just the ability to think about and solve problems and the ability to remember some commands to type into files that eventually become websites or apps.
Is coding difficult? Yes, god yes. Life as a developer takes serious willpower, discipline, and resiliency. You must have not only a stomach for failure, but also an appetite for it. Because no matter how much you learn, you will never feel truly settled in; you will have to learn something new every single day to stay relevant and you will need to kill off most of your ego and accept that you will never know everything there is to know.
But luckily the qualities required to succeed aren’t lacking in our underserved communities. What marginalized groups lack are resources and opportunities. More importantly, what they lack is exposure to the fact that this path, this map, actually exists. That they have more options than a just few desperate hours with a life coach. That YOU have more options.
I briefly mentioned my upbringing and early childhood circumstance not as a “look at me, look how far I’ve come” but to highlight that a career as a coder is possible for anyone, from any background. And thanks to coding, at 28, now I do have the life I always wanted. I spend my day doing work I love, surrounded by wonderful people, for a company that, as a poor kid from Missouri, I could only have dreamed of.
Now, I’ll be honest, by pitching coding as a career path, I am somewhat putting forward my own agenda, my own want. Because the truth is I want more women in tech. We need more women in tech (and, let’s face it, everywhere). Empowered women thrive when surrounded by other empowered women, and more of you having tech careers doesn’t just build you up, it builds me up.
And to any of the 2,500 women who sat by as some self-appointed oracle preached to them the ultimate value of a positive mindset, who suggested we dismantle the patriarchy by simply adjusting our attitude, please, if you’re considering a career change, if you want a new path or new opportunity, consider coding. I swear, by virtue of what it takes to simply exist as a woman in today’s society, you have everything you need to succeed. And once you have you won’t need the retreat, the guru, or the affirmations. You’ll be living your best life; your affirmation will be the world laid out at your feet.
This would all be noise without useful resources. There are SO many different ways to learn available, but here are some of my favorites. I recommend trying out a few to see what speaks to you.
Online Learning Platforms
These are the online equivalent of classrooms, where skills taught build upon one another over time. Each platform has different strengths and weaknesses, so while you’ll only start with one, you might find yourself dabbling in different ones for different topics.
And remember repetition is key; don’t be afraid to repeat similar courses on different platforms. It’s helpful the second time to see what you remember, what you need to re-visit and what makes more sense the second time.
Codecademy offers focus on web development, data science and language-specific tracks. I recommend starting with their web development intensive programs (like “Building Websites from Scratch,” a 10 week introduction) before checking out their other offerings. Codecademy is my go-to for intermediate and advanced topics.
The Odin Project
This platform is community-curated, so they pull in the best resources from around the web and construct it into a singular curriculum. For anyone who just wants to understand what the heck the Internet even is, their “How Does the Web Work?” intro is fantastic.
For me, screens aren’t enough — my learning is deeper when I can read something in black and white, markup margins and highlight the crap out of a book. Unfortunately books get out of date quite quickly, so be sure you are buying up-to-date versions.
HTML & CSS
For absolute beginners, this book is a great place to start to help understand what the web is made up of.
Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet
An enjoyable read on how the Internet is pieced together and the people who keep it running.
iPad app available on the App Store
This is a great “extra” to add to your learning curriculum, though won’t replace it. It’s an iPad app that has fun, guided lessons that teach coding basics.
A lot of cities have local meetups for absolute beginner programmers. It’s helpful to meet people, participate in group learning and talk to people about programming — it will seem less scary when you realize that everyone has similar struggles in the learning process.
This is where working developers spend 95% of our time. It is a community-supported Q&A environment where you can find answers to questions that have already been asked (most questions) and you can also ask new questions. Just be sure to be cognizant of the guidelines for posting, as the community does make habit of keeping everyone accountable to them.
If you want to consolidate the timeline of learning to code, coding bootcamps are a good option. While not completely free, they are significantly cheaper than a formal education. Each has different potential benefits you’ll want to weigh: some offer evening and weekend courses; some have tracks in a variety of jobs (especially useful if you’re interested in working in tech, but don’t necessarily want to code); some you don’t pay for up front, but promise a percentage of your salary from your first year of work; some have scholarships. I didn’t take this route to coding, but many successful people have. Be diligent about researching options and push admissions teams for concrete numbers on job placements from the most recent class (along with salaries) — don’t accept the numbers from their marketing materials at face value.
How has coding changed your life? Do you have any amazing resources for learning to share? Include in the comments below!