As someone who came to coding later in life, I’ve always felt it’s important to help other people find their way into the field. I’ve had many dinner conversations with friends considering a career switch. I’ve listened to a friend’s concerns about bootcamps while driving through New Hampshire. I’ve even reconnected with a grade school friend who read this blog post one day and decided to phone me up.
The conversations always start the same way.
Them: It’s so cool what you’re doing!
Me: I know!
Them: I want to do it too!
And then I tell them how they can do it.
In my conversations I always make a point to emphasize that I don’t have a typical Computer Science background. The point I always try to drive home is that I started coding because I wanted to solve problems. I don’t mean that in a guiding principle kind of way — I mean that I had a problem and I wanted it gone from my life. I hated doing a specific task at my old job and I wanted to spend less time doing it.
Before coming to LaunchPad Lab I helped build my family business’ online presence. Part of that job entailed keeping a list of hundreds of construction machines listed and up-to-date on used equipment sites (think Auto Trader, but for excavators and bull dozers). Every time a price changed or the odometer went up I had to visit anywhere from 3–6 websites to change one listing.
This was so frustratingly time consuming that I started to teach myself how to code with the hopes I could build a tech solution to this problem. After getting myself as far as I could with tutorials I went full time to Chicago’s Starter School where I built a Chrome extension that let users store their equipment inventory on one site and auto fill fields on all of the other sites (kind of like a password manager).
Teaching Chicago high-schoolers how to work with Arduinos
At LaunchPad we make it a point to build goodwill and community through teaching. In the year I’ve been at LaunchPad I’ve taught or TA’d classes for General Assembly, Fullstack Academy, ChickTech Chicago and more. Each time I teach I try to get the students excited about solving a problem. The reason I do that is because the technology toolset is going to keep evolving. Today we may teach a React class, but next year it’s going to be something different. What doesn’t change is that we’re harnessing technology to solve a real world problem.
Last month I went out to Komensky Elementary in Cicero, IL to participate in an Hour of Code. I spent most of the day there talking to kids about why I love what I do. Time after time I found myself describing coding as a super power. I may have been playing to my audience a bit, but not as much as you might think. I’ve used that phrase while talking to adults time after time. In each of those conversations I’ve had with friends it always ends with something like this:
Me: Sorry for talking your ear off for the last hour. I just want to let everyone know that it’s not that hard to get into coding and if you do you’re going to feel like you have a super power. Every small problem I have in my life I now feel like I have the tools to solve. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling!
And they thank me and the conversation drifts towards something more innocuous. At the moment they’re probably glad I’ve stopped talking, but the next time I see that person it comes up again. Their interest is sparked and they’re headed in the right direction. I’ve passed on my super power to another person and now it’s time to find another ear to talk off.