Dan decided he wanted to get into tech, so he looked for a new job. And he found one! But it wasn't exactly the coding job he was hoping for. In fact, it would be about five years before Dan landed that dream coding job. He shares how he navigated the many ups and downs of becoming a developer, and what helped him persevere.
[00:00:08] (Music) SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie podcast, where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I'm your host Saron and today we're talking to someone about their coding journey. (Music) Dan is an engineer, but a few years ago he was an elementary school teacher.
[00:00:25] DP: My name is Dan Piston.
[00:00:26] SY: He decided he wanted to get into tech, so he looked for a new job and he got one. But his first job was actually a temp job that was in tech but didn't really involve coding. His next one was a manager—not really his thing. Then he did customer support, which was more technical but still not quite coding. After five years of starts and restarts working and learning in the tech field, he finally got the coding job he's always wanted. He shares the ups and downs of his coding journey and how he got through it. After this.
[00:01:33] One of the best parts of being a coder is finally being able to bring your passions to life. You have the skills to design, to code, to create the thing you're excited about and share that passion with the world. And Hover can help you with the first step of sharing your passion with the world: getting your domain name. They've got a really beautiful and easy-to-use interface where you can find and register your new domain name in just a few steps. And to give you full control, they separate your domain name from your hosting so you're never stuck with one service. They keep your domain name safe while giving you the flexibility to use whatever hosting service is best for you. They also give you free WHOIS privacy, so your personal information is safe, too. To get started, go over to hover.com/newbie to save 10% off your first purchase. That's hover.com/newbie. Link is in the show notes.
[00:02:21] DigitalOcean provides the easiest cloud platform to deploy, manage and scale applications of any size. They remove infrastructure friction and provide predictability so you can spend more time building what you love. Try DigitalOcean for free by going to do.co/codenewbie and get $100 of infrastructure (Music) credit. Link is in your show notes.
[00:02:46] SY: So what is really interesting about you and your journey is it kind of took a couple steps to get to where you are today and the first step or the first place where we're going to start this conversation, this story is pretty far removed from coding. It's teaching. It's elementary school teaching. How did you end up being a teacher?
[00:03:07] DP: It started in more or less in high school. I was really active in an environmental group, and they had a summer camp. And the teacher that had run that summer camp mentioned that I was really good with younger children. I should consider a career in education. I took that to heart and followed it all the way through college. And all through college, I was told that as a male elementary school teacher jobs would be thrown at me, but what they didn't say is southeast Pennsylvania is very, very competitive. It's really cutthroat. There's a lot of really excellent colleges feeding into this area. The wages are very good. You know, and education doesn't pay great all the time. So with that, I kinda just struggle a little bit. I wound up getting in a district that was, you know, was being very kind to me and, and helping me with my career. Then it didn't quite seem to pay off in the end though.
[00:04:04] SY: When you said the district was kind of helping you out, supporting you. What does that look like in a—trying to be a teacher context?
[00:04:10] DP: Like if a teacher has a baby, they go out for leave, and, you know, you have a long-term substitute come in. So I had started in the district as just an assistant kind of helping kids that needed that extra 15, 20 minutes a day reading or doing math, etc. And then I went and became a long-term substitute and taught third grade for—oh, that was a while ago. I guess three months or so? However long maternity leave might be then it kind of looked as though that that might turn into a job. Only that summer to find out that that position had been filled by someone else. They wanted to open up what's called an emotional support room.
[00:04:48] SY: Oh.
[00:04:49] DP: So that is a classroom for children who have had some event in their life that has emotionally stunted them. So on the outside they might look like a fifth grader, but when you ask them to complete their math work, they throw a temper tantrum like a two year old might. They wanted a male role model in this room, so I joined as an assistant, me and two other teachers. And it was some of the most rewarding work I've ever done, but it was really, really draining both physically, emotionally, mentally. And around the time we had had my first son Jackson. Well being a parent is also draining emotionally, physically, mentally. So it started taking its toll, and I started to consider other options. You know, at this point I had been in the district for five or six years, and I needed to move forward with a career. I wasn't quite sure if that was going to continue to be education or not.
[00:05:46] SY: So at that point, it sounds like you never quite got to doing what you wanted in a long-term way, right? It sounds like you were paying your dues in a sense.
[00:05:55] DP: Yeah. Yeah. No I was...
[00:05:57] SY: Yeah.
[00:05:57] DP: I was trying. In hindsight it's easy to say that I really enjoy the act of teaching and maybe not the profession.
[00:06:05] SY: Big difference.
[00:06:06] DP: Yeah, yeah. No, it's helping children learn and grow is amazing. It's more rewarding than anything I've done—maybe second to being a parent, which is in itself teaching. However, there's a lot of politics like a lot of things in life, and I don't want to say I didn't play by those politics, but they started taking a toll on that maybe I didn't know the right people. And I started seeing that maybe this road to get to where I wanted to be an education was gonna be pretty difficult assuming we stay in the area.
[00:06:39] SY: Ok. So you liked the act of teaching. You liked being in that position, but the industry was just—it was too much and it, you know, wasn't paying well. It wasn't stable.
[00:06:47] DP: Exactly.
[00:06:47] SY: So when you came to that conclusion when you said, you know, maybe I should look for something else, where did you start looking?
[00:06:56] DP: I started thinking what could I do? You know, at that point, I had been—well four years of college, six years in the profession, so ten years dedicated to this craft. And it was kind of like I don't know how my skill set applies anywhere else type of thing. I started talking to all sorts of people trying to figure out what they do if I could get into that particular profession. When I was, you know, considering taking up carpentry—like just anything, Saron. I was just like "what could I be doing?"
[00:07:28] SY: I love that.
[00:07:29] DP: My dad works for a, like a large butcher shop, corporate butcher shop. He was like, "oh, we need a truck driver." I was like, "I could drive trucks." Like that pays pretty well. Like anything, just something to help us make our dues here.
[00:07:42] SY: Yeah.
[00:07:42] DP: You know, on our, our rent and food and a baby. But a good friend of mine, he mentioned that I should look into programming. He was a web developer for a medical research firm, and he just coded like online surveys. So you go in—they did all sorts of research, actually, not just medical—but like you try this type of gum and you try this type of gum. And then you take an online survey. So he was coding that, and he said, you know, this stuff is nothing you wouldn't be able to pick up. And that kind of started at all.
[00:08:13] SY: What do you think made him say that? Was it something about you? Or, you know, your, your skills your perspective that made him feel like, "hm this would be a good fit"? Or was it more of like a, a general comment that coding is a very accessible career and if people just knew that it was an option there are opportunities there?
[00:08:33] DP: I think a little bit of both. I'm gonna say probably the initial response was very deeply rooted in that just we're both big nerds. (Laughter) We had both played a lot of World of Warcraft, and I had really gone down a hole of like customizing my experience. (Laughter) Granted, none of that was anything close to coding, but tinkering with computers, tinkering with a program, you know, he kind of applied that on a larger scale that if you can do that, you can probably pick this up fairly easily. And in my mind, he was making good money. I was not. (Laughter) This seemed like a logical step. Like here we go. This is the golden goose. Let's start this. My wife had just change careers. She had gone to school to—for ceramics. She has an art degree.
[00:09:22] SY: Oh.
[00:09:22] DP: And she was helping manage a small paint-your-own-pottery-type studio. And again, with having a child, things change perspective, and she had gone to a temp agency asking curious what was out there, and they had found her a pretty good job. So I went to that temp agency as well and said—I mean I said a lot of things, but I think all they heard was computers.
[00:09:45] SY: Uh-oh.
[00:09:46] DP: And so they said, "we have a great job for you. You know computers, right?" That led to the next job.
[00:09:53] SY: Interesting. Ok. So what I find really interesting about this story at this point is when you were in high school—and I think when we were all, you know, younger, we have the luxury of picking what we want to do just based on the things that we like. And after a while as you get older, that no longer becomes the most important thing. You know? When you have a kid...
[00:10:15] DP: Yeah.
[00:10:15] SY: ...when you have a family. You have responsibilities.
[00:10:17] DP: Sure.
[00:10:17] SY: You got bills. You've got people counting on you. You kind of have to shift, right? And now you're optimizing for something different. So at that point when you were trying to figure out your next step, was it purely "I need money" whatever that means? How much were you factoring in "would I actually like it and enjoy it and do something I'm excited to, to do everyday"?
[00:10:40] DP: I think at first, it was "I just need money." Diapers are expensive, you know? (Laughter) Diapers are real expensive. And when my friend mentioned programming, like I grabbed a Java course on a website and was like "oh, this is kinda cool." And like you have that "aha" moment of, you know, you make "Hello World" show up, and you're like I can really bend a computer to my will. (Laughter)
[00:11:09] SY: Power.
[00:11:09] DP: Exactly. Limitless power. So at first, it was just a, an idea of "ok, I could build a career that would pay." It quickly became "well this is pretty rewarding, too." So, you know, at first I'm gonna say it was a money grab. Just like pure let's, let's make...
[00:11:28] SY: That's fine. Yeah.
[00:11:29] DP: ...that paper. Then it became "maybe I'm not as passionate about this as education, but it's certainly rewarding."
[00:11:38] SY: Ok. So tell me about that first computer-related job that you had.
[00:11:43] DP: Oh, it was the worst.
[00:11:46] SY: (Laughter) Yeah.
[00:11:46] DP: It—I mean I could say that in hindsight. At the time, I was really excited. I went in for like a screening interview, and they just kind of explained that they're a company that is behind a lot of the, the digital assets of a lot of fast food restaurants. So like the menu that is up behind the cashier that is just really a big TV now. You know, that's really—at the core of it—just a web app.
[00:12:09] SY: Yeah.
[00:12:10] DP: And they are the company that, that does that. But that wasn't the job I was being brought on for. They also in charge of some of the logistics. So I was being brought on to do a drive through timer efficiency installation. I didn't know what that meant.
[00:12:24] SY: Interesting.
[00:12:25] DP: But like...
[00:12:26] SY: Yeah.
[00:12:28] DP: ...I said computers? And they, (Laughter) they said, "yeah. No, what you're gonna do is you'll be here in our office. The technician will be onsite. You're gonna remotely login to the computer that runs this whole thing and make sure it's reporting the right way." And at this point, all they knew of my technical experience was that I knew how to use Microsoft Word and Excel. Except day one, they said—you know, I accepted the job or the temp job, and day one, our manager came in and said, "I just wanna be very clear. We are a completely 100% Linux shop."
[00:13:03] SY: Oh.
[00:13:03] DP: And he made it clear whether it's through budgeting reasons or their firm belief in open source software. (Laughter) They had chosen Linux. And I didn't...
[00:13:11] SY: Ok.
[00:13:12] DP: ...know really anything about that. I had maybe created two boot from CD Ubuntu installations ever (Laughter) to make like old computers still work.
[00:13:22] SY: Yeah.
[00:13:22] DP: I figured I'd be handed Ubuntu. And no. No, not at all.
[00:13:27] SY: Oh no.
[00:13:27] DP: It was all in the terminal. My first week was painful. We were given a cheat sheet. You know, these are the terminal commands you need to run in this order.
[00:13:39] SY: Ok.
[00:13:39] DP: You're gonna SSH—what's, what's SSH? Oh, S-S-H? What is this? I don't... (Laughter) Okay. I'm gonna...
[00:13:45] SY: I'm going to shh.
[00:13:45] DP: Yeah, I'm going to need to shush. I had no idea, but I wanted to know. And so I asked my manager like how do I learn this? It was an interesting experience being a temporary employee, a temp, you know? I wanted to know what SSH, you know, what SSH was doing. And no, I grabbed a couple Linux books. I installed Ubuntu on my desktop. I started learning the command line and understanding what those things mean. And my manager started realizing that I knew what I was doing. And one day they asked me to help them. It was a huge project. This was an installation in one of the major fast food restaurants across the world. This was forty installations a day. The project was several hundred restaurants.
[00:14:30] SY: Wow.
[00:14:30] DP: Part of that was like scheduling all that. And they asked me to look over just a Google spreadsheet, and I said, "well, I mean, when I was a teacher like that was my grade book." So I showed them how to do conditional formatting like if this is done: green. If this is not: red. And they thought I was some type of wizard. (Laughter) It was amazing. Like all of a sudden, I was being pulled off of the job that I had been hired or brought on to do to help with formatting and, and figuring out how to make this spreadsheet work a little bit better. And you know, I was vaguely familiar with Excel formulas. So I could make things just slightly easier for them, which, you know, hindsight right? Like that's all sort of basic programming. There was two employees that had been doing the administrative part of all this, the scheduling and all this other stuff. And they both left. So they asked me if I wanted to take on an administrative role. Well with only my background in education, administrative means principal. That's like management.
[00:15:29] SY: Oh.
[00:15:29] DP: Right?
[00:15:30] SY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:15:32] DP: So like I'm like, "oh, yeah. Like I, I definitely want to move up." Like this is excellent.
[00:15:37] SY: Yeah.
[00:15:37] DP: No, no, no.
[00:15:38] SY: Get to be the principal of tech.
[00:15:40] DP: Right. Right. Yeah, the superintendent. No, administrative in a business perspective is like just bookkeeping. (Laughter) They couldn't keep me away from the tech side, so I had like this amazing set up. It was this Windows machine in the middle to talk to these franchise owners, call UPS, figure out how to get things overnighted and cost analysis, and all this—like really interesting business stuff that I really didn't care about.
[00:16:07] SY: Yeah.
[00:16:07] DP: But I was good at, right? Like but then on the side of each of those two monitors, there was a Linux machine on each side hooked up to a monitor. And I was still doing installations. So like I was this Renaissance man with like eight arms doing all this stuff. (Laughter) And they loved it because I was still just a temp. So you know, it was pennies to the dollar for what I was doing.
[00:16:28] SY: So just to be clear, at this point, you kind of—I don't even know if you, if it's fair to say that you knew at this point, but it sounds like you were pretty convinced that this tech thing was for you and that you wanted to at least pursue it. Seriously explore it, pursue it. But at this point, you aren't quite coding yet.
[00:16:46] DP: No and that's...
[00:16:48] SY: Ok.
[00:16:48] DP: That's—and it started—so like the programmers for these applications were like scrolled away like in some server room. Like I, I would walk in to like talk to them, and like there is just that constant server hum. And I was like "this room is so cool." (Laughter) And, you know, "these guys are like gods among men. They are so cool. I wanna be like them. They come in, and they fix the stuff. And it's just—it's amazing." I can look back now, and like it was just a PHP app.
[00:17:19] SY: Yeah.
[00:17:20] DP: Nothing against PHP. That's a majority of what my current company uses, but like it was just a PHP app. (Laughter) Like it wasn't...
[00:17:28] SY: Yeah.
[00:17:28] DP: And these guys weren't doing anything amazing, but you know, again, I'm a couple months in. This is, this is amazing. So like I really wanted to try to like figure out what are they doing? How did they get there? And then like out of the blue, this project just ended. Like all the installations were complete. And I didn't know what that meant for me. Our director, who was kind of like a big wig that had come down from New York and was now in this area, he mentioned that they needed a, a manager for the call center part of this whole set up. So like all these installations are there and these people calling for help. And I said, "well like I really wanna do technical things like those PHP gods down the hallway. I wanna be working with them." And he said, "well you know, we do a lot of over shore hiring for that type of job. We don't really need that, but if you were to (Music) come on as this manager, we could keep you in the company and maybe down the line could do that." So I said yes. And it was kind of a mistake.
[00:18:36] SY: Coming up next, Dan tells us how he finally landed that coding job and shares his advice for code newbies who are also trying to navigate their coding careers. After this.
[00:18:49] When I learned to code, I was so excited to finally bring my passions to life. I could build things that I really cared about and share them with the world. And the first step in sharing is getting a great domain name. That's where Hover comes in. They've got a really slick east-to-use interface. They've got awesome domain names to pick from and they separate your domain from your hosting so you have full control and flexibility over your online identity. So go to hover.com/newbie to save 10% off your first purchase. That's hover.com/newbie. Link is in the show notes.
[00:19:59] DigitalOcean is the easiest way to deploy, manage and scale your application. Everything about it was built with simplicity at the forefront. Setting, deploying, even billing. Their support is amazing. They've got hundreds of detailed documentation and tutorials, so if it's your first time deploying an app, they've got great tools and community to make it nice and easy. Try DigitalOcean for free by going to do.co/codenewbie and get $100 of infrastructure (Music) credit. Link is in your show notes.
[00:20:30] SY: So it's interesting because when you had the struggles, the issues with the teaching thing, you came to the conclusion that you like teaching but not necessarily the industry.
[00:20:40] DP: Sure.
[00:20:41] SY: At this point, when you are trying to navigate this tech world but you're not quite getting at the thing you want to get at, did you have similar doubts?
[00:20:49] DP: Maybe? I started really questioning how this whole work thing should happen for me.
[00:20:56] SY: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
[00:20:57] DP: I started thinking like well maybe, maybe it's not the world. Maybe it's a little bit of me. Maybe I have in my mind requirements for what my life should be that maybe aren't stacking up with everyone else. And maybe if that's the case, I should start taking more control over that.
[00:21:14] SY: I like that. I like that lesson, that take away of , you know, things don't stack up because it, it would've been very logical for you to have also said, "you know, maybe this isn't going to work out. Let me try something else." Like that would be perfectly reasonable, but instead you said, you know, "I can't wait and hope things fall into place. It didn't work with teaching. It probably won't work again this time. Let me still keep going, but just try a different strategy."
[00:21:42] DP: Yeah.
[00:21:43] SY: Ok. So you were manager. You didn't like it. It didn't work out. By the way, what's the timeline at this point? How long have you been in the tech game?
[00:21:50] DP: So at this point, this is maybe just a little over seven months. This, yeah...
[00:21:58] SY: Ok. That's a lot in seven months.
[00:21:59] DP: Yeah, no. It...
[00:22:00] SY: That's a rollercoaster.
[00:22:01] DP: It was, and the whole time a new dad. Like this is...
[00:22:06] SY: Right.
[00:22:06] DP: This is going nuts.
[00:22:07] SY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:22:07] DP: My son at this point is maybe a little bit over a year old. We found out we were expecting another. My hours were...
[00:22:13] SY: Wow.
[00:22:13] DP: ...weird. Life was crazy at that time for sure.
[00:22:16] SY: Yeah. Ok so what happened when you were a manager? How, how long did you end up staying there? And did you, I assume you eventually left?
[00:22:24] DP: Yeah, I realized that managing employees that don't care is difficult.
[00:22:27] SY: Yeah. (Laughter)
[00:22:29] DP: People that take on these temp jobs are just trying to find something. Motivating them is very difficult. And I was working 12 to 8. It was 40 miles away—or 40 minutes away. So I wouldn't get home till eight thirty, nine o'clock, sometimes later. I, you know, I missed putting my son down to sleep. You know, it was sad, but I had my weekends. And around this time, there was another company I had applied to, but they had declined at the time. And a friend got a job there, so I applied again with a recommendation.
[00:23:03] SY: Smart.
[00:23:04] DP: And they brought me in for an interview, and I was floored. The company is out here in the suburbs of Philly, but they're very Silicon Valley feeling. There were slides. There was like bean bag chairs.
[00:23:15] SY: Wait, like playground slides?
[00:23:17] DP: Yeah, like from...
[00:23:22] SY: Oh wow.
[00:23:23] DP: ...from the second floor down to the first.
[00:23:23] SY: I thought you meant like PowerPoint slides. I was like...
[00:23:23] DP: No, oh no.
[00:23:23] SY: ...that's, that's an interesting tech tool. (Laughter)
[00:23:27] DP: No, no. It was a...
[00:23:29] SY: Wow.
[00:23:29] DP: It was very hip and fun. The culture seemed to be like a great fit for where I was coming from. And they just, they were, they kind of rocked my world with this interview. I like, you know, went home and was like, "oh my gosh. I hope, I hope this worked out." You know, I'm talking to my wife. Like they call me back, and I got the job, and you know, much rejoicing was had.
[00:23:54] SY: What was the role?
[00:23:54] DP: It was as a Customer Support Specialist, I think?
[00:23:55] SY: And how technical was that?
[00:23:57] DP: It was as technical as I wanted it to be.
[00:23:59] SY: Ok.
[00:23:59] DP: It was for an e-mail marketing company. So like part of my job was helping people figure out how to open Google Chrome, and that was fine. (Laughter) But the other part was legitimate small businesses with marketers who wanted their email to look a certain way. So I could log into their account and like edit HTML and CSS. And this was amazing.
[00:24:21] SY: Nice.
[00:24:21] DP: Like yay!
[00:24:22] SY: Nice, yay. We got to code.
[00:24:22] DP: I'm like touching, I'm touching code. This is great. And then as I progressed through that job, they had a whole career path like program set up. So I had expressed the interest that I wanted to be a developer, and they were all about it. That being said, it didn't look like anyone had gone through the career path super successfully. They were pretty upfront like this is not necessarily an easy thing. This is something that is—you're gonna have to put work into, and some of that's gonna be on your own time. We're gonna try to do like an 80/20 split. Twenty percent of your 40 hours a week can be spent on learning. So it was, it was good. It was really good. They hooked me up with like a mentor. So I started sitting...
[00:25:07] SY: Oh, nice.
[00:25:07] DP: ...down with a guy. His role was applications support engineer. So like our production apps when stuff was breaking, he was like the front line of defense. He was in direct connection with developers who were using our API. So I was learning all sorts of stuff. All of a sudden my learning went from I don't really know where to go, I'm really unfocussed to really zeroing in. Like let's focus on...
[00:25:29] SY: Yeah.
[00:25:29] DP: ...Python, and let's focus on becoming this application support specialist. And it was going really great. And then it kind of didn't.
[00:25:42] SY: Why? What happened?
[00:25:44] DP: So like I had been with my mentor for like a year. And things were going well, but he was kind of new. So a lot of it was us geeking out over Linux because I had become a you know terminal hero and but—and then focusing in on like little side projects. He—we got to a point where I was running like really like simple Python scripts to like do things. And then that kind of ramped up to like I was able to do part of his job with him there. And so when he got promoted, that left an opening in this department that, in my mind, I had been training like a whole year for. So I expressed interest in that job. So the CTO sat down with me and did like this mock technical interview. So this is the conversation I should be able to have with anyone we're going to hire, and you should be able to talk about these topics. And he was honest, brutally honest about what I knew and what I didn't know. And worked with myself and H.R. to give me a list of everything I didn't know and resources to learn it.
[00:26:55] SY: What kinds of things were on it?
[00:26:56] DP: It was—so like I was working with Python, so there was a lot of like core computer science-type stuff...
[00:26:59] SY: Ok.
[00:26:59] DP: ...that I had just never bothered to learn.
[00:27:01] SY: Yep. Yep.
[00:27:01] DP: And he—so they recommended I take some courses, and I was perfectly fine with that. My local community college has a software engineering certificate you can take. It's like 30 credits, 10 courses. And I was all in on that. The CTO actually found an online course that you do at your own time. So like it could take you three months. It could take you 12 months. You know, basically however much time you had, which I was really thankful for at the time, but like was also completely overwhelming and a complete kick to the gut. I had thought that I was on the, on the verge of getting this job in tech. And I was looking at tech salaries. Like I was ready to start like being like, "oh, like this is what I need to make." Like it was gonna be amazing. And then it wasn't because I didn't have these core computer science fundamental things.
[00:27:52] SY: Were these computer science fundamental things, were they things that you would actually need to do the job? Or was it that someone who would've interviewed for the job who wasn't you should know them just because they kind of should. You know, there's just things that they should know.
[00:28:16] DP: Hard to tell. The like the whole irony of it was the person telling me this never went to college for like computer science.
[00:28:23] SY: Oh, wow. Oh, that is interesting.
[00:28:25] DP: He was a very smart person and super helpful, but he had picked up all these things along the way. So like my mentor even when I showed him the list of things I should know kind of was like "I don't even know some of these things. I don't know why you're being
[00:28:36] SY: Oh, wow.
[00:28:38] DP: ...expected to. So I took this online course. I finished it in under a year. But it didn't matter because something else popped up.
[00:28:51] SY: Oh. Oh, what happened next?
[00:28:52] DP: So I—the same friend who started me down this path in this time had gotten a new job, and they were hiring what he believed was the exact job I had just applied for and gotten turned down. So he told me I should apply. He said he's really enjoying it there. It's a great place to work. They have this wonderful culture of growth. So at this point, like I was ready to do whatever. Like at best, I got a new job in development. At worst, I was back where I'm currently at and just keep going down this career path. This company had my back. Like it felt as though I was going to get there eventually maybe. (Laughter) So I applied, and like this was probably the best interview I ever did because I just simply was myself. They had two engineers that supported their applications, and they needed someone like triaged bug tickets. And if that person could just put those bug tickets in the right priority for these developers, great. If this person had technical ability and could start like working on these bugs, even better. No, so I had a phone screening on Monday. They asked me if I could come in that day Tue—the next day on Tuesday for an in-person. I said, "no, not till Friday." And that's when I did the whole in-person technical interview. And then the following Thursday, they offered me the job.
[00:30:14] SY: Nice. Wow. So at this point, how much time had passed since you decided, you know, "I think I'm done with this teaching thing. I think I wanna look into this tech thing."
[00:30:27] DP: So at this point it would've been probably three or four years.
[00:30:34] SY: So in those three years, there were, there were so many hurdles. But I feel like the biggest one is just the level of uncertainty that you, you kind of just had to deal with, right? (Laughter) Whether it's—because even with a temp job, even if that job had gone really well and was everything you hoped it would be, it's still a temporary job, right? So there's no guarantees on that end. When you were a manager, it kind of took you down a different path. The company that felt like it was ramping you up for a job—that didn't quite work out. And it feels like there's just a lot of uncertainty in those three, four years. What kept you going?
[00:31:11] DP: I feel like it's cheesy to say my family, (Laughter) but like that was this whole driving force. Again, like your priorities change. It was a combination of that, and once I had a goal—once that company that helped me with—figured out my career path, once they gave me a goal, it was pedal to the metal. There was nothing that was going to stop me. And it's funny 'cause when I was teaching, I stayed in that same district for six years because I was afraid to change districts. I was afraid to put my neck out there somewhere else because of what I had established there. But then like here I am just like jumping from jobs willy-nilly.
[00:31:45] SY: Right.
[00:31:45] DP: Like not caring what my resume is gonna look like. Like who cares what this means? Like I have this goal. Like I'm—I need to get to be a developer. And like I'm, I'm just gonna do it.
[00:32:00] SY: Yeah.
[00:32:01] DP: And you know, there was some respect from my job when I told them that I was taking this new position of just, "you know, we knew we were either gonna be able to help you or you were gonna be on your way." Which was really smart on them to recognize that. And my manager as like I gave him this news of me quitting kind of had like a head nod of like "yeah, I knew this day was coming. Like we were hoping we'd be able to help you out, but here we are. So like good luck." Like...
[00:32:31] SY: Yeah.
[00:32:32] DP: Almost like a "I'm proud of you." Yeah, like you, you put the pedal...
[00:32:36] SY: Respect, yeah.
[00:32:36] DP: ...to the metal, and you just—like I respect this. I'm sad. I wish we could've done something. Like keep in touch. Maybe something's in the future, but like Good job.
[00:32:46] SY: Yeah, yeah. So what I also find really interesting about your journey is that when you first said, you know, let me explore this tech thing you didn't have a position in mind, right? You knew you wanted to be in this world. The first few jobs weren't quite coding, you know, you got to maybe see some code, touch some code, but it wasn't really coding. And it took a while to get to a position where you do code on a regular basis. How did you feel or how did you navigate knowing you wanted to be in the field but not really having a position? Because I feel like, you know, that makes everything harder, right? You don't know what language you should be studying, what tools you should be focusing on, should you do front end? Back end? There's so many options that without knowing exactly what you're going for, you can kind of be all over the place. How did you navigate that?
[00:33:37] DP: A lot of medium articles. (Laughter) Is that a good answer?
[00:33:42] SY: That is a fair answer. Yeah.
[00:33:44] DP: It seemed that when I started paying attention, there was—like a lot of people had a lot of opinions on this, on how to get a career going...
[00:33:46] SY: Oh, yeah.
[00:33:46] DP: ...in tech. And not all of it good. And, you know, I found myself instead of focusing on learning, focusing in on learning how to learn how to be in tech. And so eventually, I found—it might have been a Reddit comment. Somewhere I picked this up, and I have it still saved in my Google inbox of "pick a stack and just go" Just like figure out.
[00:34:10] SY: Yep. Yep.
[00:34:50] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:34:50] DP: They were able to say, "this is what you need to learn," which at the time, you know, I was still just kind of learning a bit of everything, never really focusing on anything. And but then that all went out the window when I got my new job because they used a completely different stack. (Laughter)
[00:35:12] SY: Well, ok, so that's actually really interesting. If they are using a different stack, did it feel kind of like you were starting over? Or did, did your past experience actually help in the job that you're doing?
[00:35:24] DP: It did feel like I was starting over. And I said that as much to my friend who was working there who—he was in a different department, but he would come over and, you know, just kind of check in, help me get set up, help me with things. And I was like, "I feel as though I'm learning everything all over again." And he's said, "well, it's, it's not that bad. You were doing Python over here, we're doing PHP here. They're both object-oriented programming languages. Let me sit down with you, and like let's just take one file and rewrite it in Python." And we did. And then things started clicking a little bit more. And at this point, my, my title was "Senior Custom Application Support Specialist."
[00:36:01] SY: Oh wow.
[00:36:01] DP: Which barely fit on a business card.
[00:36:03] SY: Sounds fancy.
[00:36:03] DP: Oh yeah it was, it was very fancy. (Laughter) I was so proud of myself for that fancy title. But I started triaging bug tickets and working with the internal employees on the applications helping the two engineers that were working—like they're the ones that were actually like writing code and fixing things. And as I kind of wrap my head around that and got a little bit more efficient with that, then I started sitting with them as I was understanding PHP a little bit better and how they were using these—they were using different frameworks with PHP, understanding that. Then I started being able to like work in the code. And then that really kind of opened up the opportunity for my current position because they sort of recognized that I was working well and my goal was to get into development; maybe not to be their customer support triage specialist. And something opened up actually on the team of my friend that started me down this path. So...
[00:37:08] SY: Yeah.
[00:37:09] DP: ...they were like "hey, you'll be able to come work with Dave." And I was like, "That's amazing. I'm, I'm all in." My manager sat me down. It was 59 days into this job. The joke was like I couldn't even contribute to my 401K yet, and they were asking me to like, you know, not jump ship, but like move into this new role in development. I almost cried in his office. It was so much work.
[00:37:33] SY: Yeah, yeah.
[00:37:35] DP: It was, you know, at this point almost five years of late nights, holding babies, watching code videos—so much incredible work that like I made it. And it was, it was amazing.
[00:37:48] SY: And how do you like your job now?
[00:38:09] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:38:10] DP: So I got to familiarize myself with like the moving target that is the front end development land. But like the, this particular application uses a whole bunch of really interesting technology. I was so excited, and you still uses a PHP back end. So I was like all right, I'll start there, but we had one front end developer who needed help. And he was like, "no, you're going to be with me. Like, like I'm, I'm taking you." And he was very excited. And he was kind of like "all right well instead of just learning PHP, you're gonna have to learn..." And he listed off like—it felt like a hundred different technologies. And again, here I am back to re-learning everything, but at this point like things clicked a little bit faster. Back to that advice of like once you learn a stack like it's a lot easier to start picking other things up. It just, you know, it's never gonna be easy, but it gets easier. And they—I love this company. They are supporting my growth. They sent me to Codeland, which was wonderful.
[00:39:21] SY: Yeah, that's where we met.
[00:39:21] DP: Yeah. And they—we had kind of like a time crunch. And so a lot of my mentoring pair programming time kind of got cut a little bit because we needed to focus in on getting a product out the door. So my manager kind of pulled me aside and was like look like we have this list of what, what does a front end developer look like in our company with resources and guides like in your spare time. Like if you can't be pair programming or if there's not something, a feature or a ticket that you can pool and work on 100 percent alone, we want you to be learning. Like that's what your title is.
[00:39:58] SY: That's great.
[00:39:59] DP: You're software developer 1.
[00:40:00] SY: Yeah. That is wonderful. So what advice do you have for people who might be in a similar situation. They are at a job they're not happy with. They wanna switch careers or are thinking about getting into tech in, in some way. What advice do you have for them? Especially if—because you know, I fully recognize and appreciate that you've worked your butt off these, you know, last five? Or four, five years?
[00:40:25] DP: Yeah, five years.
[00:40:26] SY: Five years, yeah. But it also helped that you knew someone at the company, right? Like having that inside person is always, always a benefit.
[00:40:27] DP: Oh yeah.
[00:40:28] SY: So if you don't have that and you, you know, are maybe a little more disconnected, just...
[00:40:33] DP: Yeah.
[00:40:34] SY: ...haven't worked on your networking, you know, quite yet. What do you do? What advice do you have?
[00:40:44] DP: So looking back, before I had a guy on the inside, I was such a big lurker of the code newbie community and very open communities for learning. I absorbed everything I could, and then it comes down to like start building your network. Put yourself out there a little bit.
[00:40:56] SY: Yeah.
[00:40:56] DP: It was really scary at first. I'm a pretty outgoing person, but I was so scared to take these leaps of faith. But like, you know, a combination of leap of faith and determination like I think you can, you can do whatever you need to get done. And then reaching out for help, too. The code newbie community is great. Like reach out, try to make connections, like you might not get an inside person, but you might get an inside tip on where a job might be. Meetups are kind of scary. I still have mixed feelings about them, but the ones I've been to I've been very opening. Technology is so social like you kinda...
[00:41:39] SY: Yeah. very.
[00:41:39] DP: You have to be able to put yourself out there even a little bit because once you start a little bit. You start feeling—hopefully you find a good community that's supportive and can help you with that.
[00:41:51] SY: Well thank you so much, Dan, for spending some time with us and sharing your (Music) very, very interesting, intriguing rollercoaster of a coding journey. Do you wanna say goodbye?
[00:42:00] DP: See you guys.
[00:42:00] SY: And that's the end of the episode. Let me know what you think. Tweet me @CodeNewbies or send me an email email@example.com. Make sure to check out our local CodeNewbie meetup groups. We've got community coding sessions and awesome events each month. So if you're looking for real-life human coding interaction, look us up on meetup.com. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. And join us for our weekly Twitter chats—we've got our Wednesday chats at 9PM EST and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 PM EST. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
Thank you to these sponsors for supporting the show!