How I learned to code and tripled my income in less than a year

How I ended up learning to code, teaching at bootcamp and tripling my income in less than one year.
From Amelia’s Blog

One year, or twelve months, or 365 days. Whichever way you look at it, my life has changed tremendously for the better over the past year. Exactly one year ago today (or possibly tomorrow if you consider timezones), I was accepted into an intensive 15-week, $9,588 programming bootcamp. I had never met anyone from said course, or seen their offices, let alone written a line of code. Enter stage left- Enspiral Dev Academy.

This sounds like a massive gamble, and, yes — my friends and family had a few reservations about me handing over a deposit to some grand-sounding course in New Zealand while on a visit home in the UK. But, there really is no other way to describe this choice than as the greatest choice I will ever make.

Dev Academy did not teach me how to dedicate myself to one thing for consecutive years, nor to pass exams, or learn by rote something I will never apply in a real job. They taught me how to use my encephalon (and no, they didn’t teach me that word, Google did). Not only have I learned how to learn at an accelerated rate (specifically Ruby, JavaScript and related technologies) but I have also learned to have the confidence to unabashedly say this is what I am good at and it’s what I want to do.

One year ago…

  • I had just quit my hospo job, sold my car, stopped renting a room, boxed up my stuff, and flown home to the UK – hopefully to figure out what I could do to be happy
  • I had all the time in the world, and nothing to do
  • I had no idea how the internet worked, what Terminal was, and had certainly never heard the words ‘instance variable’ before
  • I had very little money and was earning less then 25K a year.

Anyway what has happened in the last year?

  • I have accepted what is soon to be my third developer role
  • I have no time, and all the things to do! I have also decided that that is my definition of ‘grown up’.
  • I have a pretty good idea how the internet works, what Terminal is, and I definitely know what an instance variable is
  • I have nearly tripled my income
  • One constant that hasn’t changed is my computer preference – I owned a MacBook then, and I do now. And, although it’s been swapped out for an upgrade, my old white 2009 unibody MacBook is now an homage to my code-learning journey.

So, having been accepted onto Dev Academy’s 15-week course, I dabbled in Codecademy online and generally freaked out about how to pay the rest of the tuition fee. On returning to New Zealand I was going to have to go through the routine of finding a new room and a new hospo job. At this point I knew for certain that although hospitality had been a provider of income, laughs and life learnings, it wasn’t going to satisfy me enough to be truly happy. But I also knew that I needed cash to pay the tuition, plus as much money as I could save to live on during the 9 weeks of actual bootcamp. This is how I came to live on ~$50 a week after rent for around 6 months of 2014. In summation, I put every ounce of energy into making this choice worthwhile — from waking up at 5 or 6am to go to work in a cafe during Foundations and coming home at 5pm to study through until 1am, to saving free pizza from our weekly tech talks at Dev Academy for the following day’s lunch (a glass of water in the microwave seems to stop the pizza drying up).

Graduation soon came around, and shortly after that came the emails to employers, interviews, coffees, and technical interviews and challenges. I actually really enjoyed the interview process; I think this came down to not applying to any actual listings, but to contacting prospective employers directly to hopefully snag some kind of coffee chat. This would turn into coffee #2 sometimes, a Skype chat with other developers and technical interviews, or code challenges on- and off-site.

I ended up with three solid offers. When you have choices you are never in a bad position, but this part of the process—early October last year—was the hardest part for me (well, apart from public speaking to a crowd!). To be presented with offers from some great Wellington companies only 4 months since I touched code was a little daunting and made for a difficult decision. Yes, they were all good offers if it was that hard to choose between them, but they were not all good in equal ways. If one offer was great for x, another offer was great for y. It turns out everyone knows everyone here in Wellington and if they’re not a perfect match for you, they’ll more than likely recommend another company you might be interested in, or ask you to come back in a few months.

I decided on Hoist as my offer of choice, and by November I was employed as a software developer in a team of three, writing in Node.js (I didn’t really know what that was). One of the things I learned at Hoist is that ‘not knowing’ is actually great. You come in and you are like the plankton in the ocean. When you turn around a few months down the track you realise that you’re now a kind of goldfish that’s slightly higher up the food chain than the plankton…or something like that.

Yes, everything was a little murky to begin with, my comfort zone had been left way behind, it probably is for everyone in their first job. I spoke to others in my position and they felt exactly the same; it’s the fear of the unknown that’s the worst—once you have a foot in the door it’s like you’ve always been there. I learned a crazy amount in the deep-end during my internship with Hoist, from servers to ssh, mongoDB and promises, and of course Node.

They were great, and treated me as a developer rather than the novice I felt. It was sad to leave them but I wish them the best as they expand into San Fran (go Hoist!) After my three months there, I felt so much more confident to go out into the world of developers and etch a name for myself. And so the process started over with looking for the next job. Ok, wow, 7 months after starting to code I’m looking for my second job.

It was such a surreal feeling, but it was awesome to see how far I’d come.

I started interviewing with TradeMe after having met them when I was looking for my first job. The pressure can seem heightened when you have been in the industry a little while as you don’t have the excuse of ‘I’ve just finished bootcamp so I don’t know that answer’; but I definitely felt so much more prepared having seen the real world of coding, testing, ci, deploying, servers and already nearly doing the everyone-does-it-once-drop-the-database routine.

Experience and degrees don’t seem to count for a lot.

Even with just the three months experience that I had managed to get, and without a degree or any other qualifications I wasn’t worried about finding another position — being a developer is great! Around the same time, Dev Academy came to me and offered me a full time teaching/coding position back with them, and I couldn’t say no.

I decided to try it out for a while as I considered my options, so I jumped on that and that’s how I’ve ended up becoming a teacher at Dev Academy, full circle.

On the other side.

It’s awesome.

I get to teach other people to do the thing I love all-day, every-day. I hang out with some of my favourite people and get paid. I grow my circle of coding related friends every day, and if I don’t want to teach on a given day I just build some tools for Dev Academy in Node (go Node!). Some of the stressors of being on this side of the bootcamp include feeling a certain level of responsibility towards the current cohorts. Their future is, like mine was, in EDA’s hands, and knowing you have way more to do than can be done in a day can make you just as busy as the students in the bootcamp. Even more respect goes out to those who taught me during my time, as a student you don’t quite realise how much work and effort goes into keeping Dev Academy alive.

What next?

I went through further interviews with TradeMe and chose to accept a job in their API team, learning C# (I wrote my first C# the other day!). For me, Dev Academy is where my heart will always lie (it’s where I fell in love with code), but I need to continue growing. I think choosing a job that keeps pushing me to learn more, like learning C# (amongst other things) at TradeMe, will help me accomplish that goal.