Middle school teacher to software engineer

I started my career as a middle school teacher.

 

It was a fulfilling three years trying to create bilingual, compassionate global citizens.

One day as I was watching the copy machine eject grammar worksheets, the mechanical sound of scanned paper entranced me into a dark realization – these stacks of perforated paper are a metaphor for the monotony of my life.

I knew in that moment I needed to make a change.

At the time I was wrapping up a Masters in English and seeking employment abroad.  I figured if I couldn’t figure out what to do with my life here, I may as well seek guidance elsewhere.

So I moved to china

And hated it

I obtained a faculty writing position at Missouri State University.   It was a miserable first month and that had nothing to do with the language barrier, smog filled streets, oily food, and the fact the closest beach was in North Korea.

The issue was I never had to figure out what I wanted my life’s work to be. I always knew teaching would be temporary but I never gave enough thought to what a permanent career could look like.  Suddenly my attitude of “I’ll just do this job for now”, finally caught up to me.

Back home I never addressed this issue because there were always distractions keeping me from thoroughly giving it some thought. Between the daily intensity of middle school teaching to the general busyness of life, there was always something occupying my attention.

Now there was nothing…except the overwhelming feeling of purposelessness. Despite the melodrama I knew this opportunity was unique in that I had no distractions thus could focus all my energy on my next move.
人山人海 ren shan ren hai (People Mountain People Sea)

A chinese proverb referring to the huge population
and how I felt about my current predicament.


During my pity party I sought resolution by interviewing my friends who seemed content with their careers. One of them suggested coding…

I started studying coding tutorials online and loved it.

I adored the critical-thinking, logic and multiple ways to solve a problem. I began soaking up content and getting badges like a boy scout with too much time on his hands.

Tutorials are cute, but to truly career-change I would need to sacrifice more to make it in programming. I figured few employers would hire someone without experience and no formal educational background. Therefore, I needed something to prove I was willing do whatever necessary to excel so they would trust me enough for an internship.

How could I convince an employer to risk an internship on a self-taught coder?


Should I go back to school and get a computer science degree?
It sounded like overkill and a few people told me software employers care less about where you went to school and more about what you could do.
Should I attend a coding bootcamp?
I went as far as interviewing for one but once I saw their curriculum, I realized I had already taught myself half of it. I rationalized keeping up with technology is an on-going process hence I should get used to teaching myself and not having a “school” environment readily available.
Is teaching yourself really a good idea?
Once I decided attending a bootcamp was not ideal, I contacted all my friends in the industry and got their advice on what content to learn. The back-end content seemed most difficult so I relied on my software network of friends. I would contact them when questions came up that Stackoverflow couldn’t answer. To avoid my friends feeling exploited, I made sure to rotate who I was asking frequently 😉