Transitioning to a Coding Career Path

I’ve been coding for a long time.

As a kid, I remember getting books from the library and typing the complete BASIC program into my Spectrum ZX – making sure that the computer didn’t get turned off too soon, that I had a cassette tape to record the code onto – all the fun analog barriers that used to make computers even more fun.

When I moved to the Amiga, there was a programming language there called AMOS that I used – another BASIC implementation – and that was quite fun.  Mostly though this was still copying out of books and solving simple problems – my first love was mathematics and my computer helped me solve big problems.

In the move to a PC it seemed harder to get into a programming language.  I used Visual Basic, coded some macros in Excel and made monster spreadsheets but more and more I was being encouraged to focus on the maths than on computers.  My maths teacher at school, who himself was a computer science graduate, encouraged me to study maths rather than computers.

So, university was Maths with a chunk of theoretical physics and a bit of computer algebra.  I didn’t really enjoy Uni but, having graduated, I ended up teaching Maths.  For the most part, I love teaching.  I love the energy, the buzz, the excitement in designing and delivering a lesson, the immediate feedback, the challenge – and I’ve had some amazing opportunities in and beyond the classroom.  Supporting teachers, leading whole school projects, working as a senior leader and being a trainer for Stonewall were all awesome things.  I also helped to roll-out the learning development platform and help train staff in using it effectively.

In the background though, I’ve been learning more and more code.  I’ve been playing with Python for years – I’ve used different Javascript frameworks – explored Processing and Processing.JS – I’ve tried a bit of Ruby – some C and some Java.  I have read a ton of books, worked through a ton of tutorials but I’ve also stopped myself from taking it too far because I had to lesson plan or mark or, you know, hang out with my wife and kids (and for had to there I mean want and get to).  More and more though, code has been calling to me.  So, I’ve started to explore what a transition to a more coding based career path might look like.

I have the maths background, some of the coding technical experience but I was feeling overwhelmed with the choices of what I should do.  I’d work on something, read a blog post and be convinced I should be working on something else.  So, I signed up for a coding bootcamp and have worked through the majority of that material now.  This helped me a lot – it helped me get a theoretical framework that I can then work from.

When I visited New York with my american Mom for the first time, we both felt a little overwhelmed.  We didn’t know how the city fit together and how it all made sense.  So, on the first day we went on a city bus tour and, oh man, did that help.  By doing the tour we knew how the bits of the city we knew about in the abstract fit together, how they had meaning and then we were able to navigate so much more effectively.

That’s what doing a bootcamp has done for me.  It has let me see that all the random knowledge I have gathered over the years has been useful and allowed me to fit it together in meaningful and useful ways.  It has let me more accurately assess where my gaps are and prioritise them appropriately.  It has also helped me with my imposter syndrome – I know this is really common and it probably will never go away – but I am confident I know enough to go forward and know where and how to ask questions when I get stuck.

Over the next while I’m going to be building out my portfolio as I look for a job in this field.  I’m drawn more towards the back-end of development (the nuts and bolts that make things work), I love data visualisation and processing (because I’m a geek) but I’m also excited about the immediacy of the front-end side (what you actually see on your screen).

I know that if I write about what I’m learning then I’m going to find it easier to retain that for my reference and also that might be useful for someone following along.

This blog is going to have a different theme as I work this out – so if that’s not for you, you may want to tune out for a while.  For the rest of you, welcome on the journey!

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