Becoming A SWE #0: How I Got Here

Becoming A SWE #0: How I Got Here

I've converged with a lot of people from all cultures, places, native languages, prior jobs, experiences, ages, et al. in my journey so far. One of my most favorite questions in the networking conversation is "How did you get into tech?" I love hearing the wildly different answers that tell so much about that individual's life and story. So I figure I'll start this blog by telling mine.

I was a nerdy kid.

Me, six or seven years old, Playing Webkinz  on a computer at my grandma's house (you literally could not get me away from the computer if you tried)

I played World of Warcraft on a computer in my living room and Sims on my Gamecube. I played Club Penguin and would Google "how to hack premium club penguin account", "how to jailbreak iPod", "how to add cool hair to sims", "how to hack Webkinz". I felt like a genius when I managed to make something happen by moving around files and typing commands. I downloaded a hacked version of all my favorite apps so I could have unlimited currency. I jailbroke my iPod touch so I could add a cute background to all the icons. As a preteen, I modified my blog themes with HTML and CSS. I was always acutely aware that there was more potential in my tech than other people seemed to realize (I also became the printer/wifi/computer-virus technician among my family and friends.)

The three different jobs before this one.

Other than customer service jobs and administrative work, I took three different jobs very seriously since turning 16.

The first thing I did was babysit-- this transitioned into nannying, which is essentially a more intensive and responsible version of the former. Up until last year, I was regularly caring for children of five different families since 2015. I did this part-time, full-time, & live-in.

The second thing was to run an art business. From 2017 to 2020, I sold commissions for ball-jointed dolls, which are luxury, customizable, collector dolls. I utilized all the different artistic skills I had- painting, sewing, and fibers- to work with customers to get their visions to life. A lot of this work involved SEO, e-commerce, networking, customer service, and time management. I stopped doing this because of extreme burnout that hit me fast, and the fact that if I wanted to grow anymore I would need to hire someone. Why hire someone to help me do something that I was burnt out in any way? The way I ran it- alone, dozens of commissions a month, twelve-hour days of physical work- was not sustainable. I was desperate to pivot away.

The last thing I did was nursing. I was in school for three semesters and I had a 4.0 that I worked hard for. My mom was in medicine, I'm good at caring for people, I like science, it was a steadfast job... it just made sense. Then I found out I was pregnant.

My daughter.

The necessary context here is that I would have been starting clinicals during the height of the pandemic at three months pregnant. My advisors were hesitant to have me return to school, and I was hesitant to go. But if I didn't, I'd push my schooling back an entire year. And if I did, I'd be having a baby in the middle of spring clinicals.

After much deliberation, we reached a mutual decision for me to postpone for the year. I was devastated. I spent the winter of my pregnancy taking a Java class and a computer science intro class, writing, making art, and playing Stardew Valley. I can't really say when I realized I was interested in coding. I think Eric Barone was a big inspiration for me. Coding enabled him- one guy- to develop something that impacted me and millions of other people. I thought about the nerdy kid I was and at some point said, "I can do that".

Then my daughter was born.

Me holding my daughter in the hospital the morning she was born. She is wrapped in blankets and sleeping.

She was born in March 2022. There's a whole parent existential crisis that you go through. Adding that my experience in Labor and Delivery, the department I was hoping to nurse in, was somewhat negative. It was a collision of many factors- throw in my newfound love of programming- that August came and went and I didn't return to Nursing school. Instead, I enrolled in more Computer Science classes and began learning online.

I did CS50 while my daughter nursed in my lap. I learned terminal and virtual systems beside her playmat. I found #100devs through a Reddit comment and thought it was a scam.

The 100devs promise.

The comment said (paraphrasing) "my gf started learning to code with this dude leon in a free bootcamp earlier this year. now she makes $90k a year and loves her job. u should check it out". If you're internet literate even remotely, you know "90k" and "free" is a recipe for a scam. I brushed it off. I was taking a sprint Trigonometry class (ew) and I had time for little else anyway. But the thought lingered with me for weeks. When I finished my courses, I looked him up on Youtube. Leon's energy was contagious. He seemed to believe in me and the fact that I could really become a software engineer. I gave it a shot, and within two weeks I had written five fully responsive websites completely unassisted. This was in early January 2023. At the time of writing, I'm in class 36. You can say I got hooked.

I approached a crossroads. My schedule for my semester was handed to me and it was four classes: Philosophy, Calculus, Ethics in CS, and Art History. None of it was going to have me coding. If any of these classes were like my Trig class, I wouldn't have any time for 100devs. So, I let the registration date pass with my head buried in 100devs work, pretending I didn't notice, and my fingers crossed that I made the right decision. Now, even without guaranteed employment ahead, I'm sure that I did.

My goals from here

I want to become an employed software engineer. I want to make a positive impact with code. I want to learn from others in the industry. I also want to own a farm with chickens, a huge vegetable garden, and great wifi. I want to travel. I want to be able to give my daughter a life full of experience and opportunities and stability. I want to watch my new tech friends grow into their own desired paths and dreams! And maybe I'll build a video game or two.

I will keep writing these to document my journey into tech until the point when I receive my job offer. Then, I plan to transition to talking about learning the industry from the inside!

Thanks for reading my story. I genuinely want to hear yours. Let me know if you want to set up a coffee chat so I can hear it!

Looking forward to sharing what comes next. For now, you can follow my daily tech-themed stream of consciousness on Twitter @mackensiejack.