In this episode, we talk about about going from convict to coder with software engineer, Rick Wolter. Rick talks about being sent to prison for murder as a teen, deciding to learn to code while being locked up, and what it takes to land that first job with a felony on your record.
[00:00:05] 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 about going from convict to coder with software developer, Rick Wolter.
[00:00:20] RW: And I kept thinking I can’t do this because I have attention deficit disorder, bad. I’m not going to be able to sit here and stare at the screen. I’m more of an active person. I have a felony. And so I feel like I didn’t believe that it would happen.
[00:00:34] SY: Rick talks about being sent to prison for murder as a teen, deciding to learn to code while being locked up, and what it takes to land that first job with a felony on your record after this.
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[00:01:46] SY: Thank you so much for being here.
[00:01:47] RW: Oh, thanks for having me.
[00:01:48] SY: So Rick, your coding journey has been a relatively new one. Tell us about your background and what led you to becoming a developer.
[00:01:56] RW: I learned about it while I was incarcerated. I went to prison when I was a teenager. I was really young. And right before I got out, someone had sent me some stuff about coding and I read some things about the demand for it. And at the time, I was worried about not having a skill, having been incarcerated for a long time. And so I started learning in there. We had access to a few things. It wasn’t exactly official. I basically started a few years before I was released in 2016. The very end of ’16 is when I was released and so I started around ’14.
[00:02:27] SY: Why did you go to prison?
[00:02:28] RW: I went when I was 18 years old and there’s no way to explain it other than I wasn’t making good choices. I was raised in a violent, dysfunctional environment. At 18 years old, already had a record and I committed second degree murder. A friend and I were getting jumped. We’re getting beat up by a couple of guys and I stabbed one of them. The guy died at the hospital. So I pled guilty to the second degree murder and went to prison for 21 years.
[00:02:58] SY: So how old were you when you came out then?
[00:03:01] RW: I was 36.
[00:03:03] SY: Thirty-six. Okay.
[00:03:04] RW: You don’t do the entire time. You do a percentage of your time. So I ended up doing 17 years and 10 months.
[00:03:12] SY: So what was the reason you started learning how to code? What prompted that?
[00:03:15] RW: It was more or less, I mean, you have a lot of time on your hands, as you can imagine. You have a lot of time and so I’ve read a lot. I read something on The Last Mile in San Quentin. They were teaching felons to code, convicts, people that were incarcerated. We had computers where I was at, not the entire time. And throughout the Florida Prison System, you don’t everywhere have computers. But at this point in time, we did have access to them. So after reading that, we kind of were inspired. It’s kind of like a drug program that I was in. It’s a sort of behavioral drug program thing that you do for a year. Well, the guy that runs it was really open-minded and he helped us. And so we got a thumb drive with Python on it.
[00:04:04] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:04:04] RW: Yeah. We had some Bucky tutorials and I put them on a computer and we got some books and then we were off.
[00:04:11] SY: So when it comes to resources and what computer access look like, what kind of tools were you dealing with?
[00:04:18] RW: They had this thing that they passed out from Khan Academy that works without the internet. So we had this little intranet of like say 10 to 15 computers, I don’t remember how many, in this little room and usually we do only have a certain amount of time. It happened at this time though, the person running the program, the inmate that was over, Mohamed, was a good friend of mine. So he knew a lot of the officers. He knew the people. We call them free world people. That’s what you call a person, the free world guy that’s running the program. Tony was cool with the free world guy. So Tony talked him into letting us just leave it open until lockdown, which was at night where we had to go back to our bunks. In fact, Tony’s the guy tweeted about a couple times to get him some books and stuff. When people ask why I’m like still so loyal to him in particular, these are some of the reasons, like this dude is just amazing. So he got it to where we could use it all the time. So we organized some classes and we would go in there. We would have this little intranet of these old Windows computers. I don’t really remember what was on them. I wasn’t savvy enough to even to know to check. I wouldn’t have known the difference. They weren’t super-fast. I imagine they weren’t cutting edge. They’re like some really Pentium browser-type computers. But at the time, I didn’t know anyways. I just followed how to install the stuff. We actually had a copy of Dreamweaver.
[00:05:46] SY: Oh, interesting.
[00:05:47] RW: Yeah. We use that to start doing some of the web, front-end web development stuff.
[00:05:53] SY: When you were learning how to code, what did you hope to get out of it?
[00:05:58] RW: What I wanted to get out of it, honestly, it wasn’t that deliberate, even though I did eventually want a skill, at some point I kept thinking I can’t do this because I have attention deficit disorder, bad. I’m not going to be able to sit here and stare at the screen. I’m more of an active person. I have a felony. And so I feel like I didn’t believe that it would happen, but I kept doing it. And one of the reasons was that it was an escape. It was like a really nice escape.
[00:06:22] SY: Yeah.
[00:06:23] RW: Yeah. I’d go in there early in the morning. I’d wake up and go sit down. We had some music sent in also. If you’re going to get to coding, you got to get some music sent in. Right? So we had some music sent in. I would like zone out and just code these. And now I look at it, it was really simple stuff, just learning what variables are in a loop, but it was fun. I was problem solving and I was losing myself in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. I wasn’t even there. When I was sitting there at that little station, I wouldn’t even be there and they would call count time. And I remember I would go back to the bunk, sit on my bunk and just wait, like the time would tick down, waiting for them to clear count so that I could get back and go back in there. So it was as much of an escape as anything I think.
[00:07:09] SY: So you were learning how to code, but I understand you also did a little bit of teaching too. Is that right?
[00:07:14] RW: Yes. We started classes. People want to know what we’re doing. My brother always tells me I’m like a natural salesman. So I would sell it. I’m like, “Dude, look at the demand. Look at this. Look what they’re paying these people out here.” And you know when you read the stats. There’s X amount of CS grads, but there’s this many open positions. So they started asking, “Hey, how could we all learn? How can we do this?” And so we put together a packet to teach it and I still didn’t know anything. But I knew it.
[00:07:46] SY: You knew enough.
[00:08:28] SY: So now you are a developer, you’re working as a developer, and you said that in the beginning, you kind of did it when you were learning how to do it as a way to escape. It was interesting. It was fun. Was there a point when you realize that you could have an actual career from doing this?
[00:08:44] RW: I’m not certain of when that moment came, but I know that when I first got out, I enrolled in college and I started to pursue an AS degree in programming and I would drive to like night classes and stuff. As I was driving, I used to listen to your podcast.
[00:09:05] SY: Oh, cool!
[00:09:06] RW: And yours and a few others. And at some point, I started feeling like I was a developer maybe before I was. I mean, you don’t have to be a professional to be a developer. But in my head, I started feeling like it. When I first started, I didn’t know what anything y’all were talking about. I think listening to a podcast, I would be so lost. But as time progressed, I started understanding concepts. I understand like trade-offs, and I don’t know, somewhere along the line, I started feeling like it before I had made it. I’m not sure the exact point, but it was definitely some time along while I was trying to get the degree in listening to, it’s almost triggering, I can hear your podcast, the beginning and it almost is triggering. I’m serious. I have those good memories where I was jamming, listening to the podcast, thinking like, “Yeah, when you feel empowered and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I got this. I got this.’”
[00:10:05] SY: So what was your first step to continue coding once you got out of prison?
[00:10:11] RW: First step to continue was enroll in college. So I was taking some of the programming classes and that was like my first real steps towards it. I’m not knocking it. If you have a path, you take any, you get there, that’s good. But looking back now, I feel like a month of freeCodeCamp, honestly, would’ve given me a little more than a whole semester of some of those classes. Not all of them, but some of them.
[00:10:33] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:10:34] RW: Yeah. Because you’re doing a lot of basic stuff and you’re doing standalone programs and you’re not doing the things that are going to get you hired. They weren’t like, “We’re going to build an application throughout the semester, a web app, and it’s going to connect to,” and half the stuff you’re using is older. You’re using books from like where I was at. We’re using books from 2012.
[00:10:55] SY: Long time for tech.
[00:10:56] RW: Right. I could have brought Dreamweaver. They kept using it. No, but that was it. That was the first real step was just learning in class, sitting in class, and then coming home and coding a little extra with something like Big Nerd Ranch books because I started trying to learn iOS development on the side while I was attending.
[00:11:18] SY: So what made you decide to enroll in community college? Because a lot of people, usually if they’re trying to do it really quickly and you’re doing a short amount of time, they go to a bootcamp. Right? That’s usually, I don’t want to say usually, but that’s a popular option. So what made you decide to do a community college instead of a bootcamp?
[00:11:37] RW: I ended up doing a bootcamp actually.
[00:11:40] SY: Okay. So both.
[00:11:41] RW: But I did do this and then I actually even transferred after I got my AS degree into a computer science program at FIU, but the main reason was signaling. I felt like I needed to signal that I was different. I know I’m different. I know I’m changed. I know I’m not that same teenager that was out of control, but I needed to signal to someone else. I don’t say this for everyone, but when you’re coming from a situation like I came from, you need a stronger signal than the average.
[00:12:10] SY: Yeah. I get that.
[00:12:11] RW: And I also have family members or not family members, I’ve one. My brother’s really into education. He’s a professor at Auburn University and he was big about it. He encouraged it. My wife encouraged it. So I ended up doing it. I took their advice and I’m glad I did. Now I’m glad I did, especially with where I’m at because they encourage education and they want me to finish my CS degree. I still have some classes to finish for that. So I’m glad I did. I’m not sure I would recommend it for everyone. If you’re just going to build web applications, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, but coming from where I was coming from, I think it was helpful.
[00:12:53] SY: So did you get a sense when you were taking these computer science courses? Did you get a better sense of what you actually wanted to do for your career?
[00:13:00] RW: Honestly, no.
[00:13:03] SY: Wow! Okay.
[00:13:04] RW: I know you should, but I think it’s one of those things where I knew that I became more practical. I started looking at what was in more demand because I don’t have the luxury to choose. I didn’t have the luxury to say like, “I started studying mobile application development,” and I still enjoy it on the side of iOS development, but at the same time, I realized I’m just going to have to take whatever opportunity presents itself. So I was trying to prepare myself in the most general way that I could. So I guess that’s what I did. I took a lot of different languages throughout my degree and I laid down the path. If I was given a developer role, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to meet those expectations. So the Software Engineering Foundation, then I was doing mobile on the side, which I still prefer and I still enjoy, but I kind of put my preferences to the side. To me, it was more about what can I do, what will I get an opportunity to do. Because that’s all that matters for me. I don’t have the luxury to choose. You know what? That’s all turned out to be where I enjoy all of it. I enjoy it whether I’m writing a unit test for some C# or if I’m building an iOS application, it’s all fun. It’s just degrees of satisfaction I think that might differ.
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[00:15:45] SY: I’m curious about the difference in technology between your time in prison and your time out of prison? I imagine a lot of technology has probably changed. You mentioned using a very old computer. What was it like to kind of get access to new tech for the first time once you got out?
[00:16:03] RW: What technology is really the question. Back then, it was like pagers. We have pagers. When I went in, didn’t have a phone, we had a pager. So back in the days, you’re riding around, you get a page and you have to get someone to pull over to call somebody. That’s like the world I left. So when I got out and I was given an iPhone or actually I was using my wife’s iPhone first and the feeling I got was empowerment. And I’m not trying to sound like cliché or anything, but I felt so empowered from this technology. It made me feel in a way that, imagine all the functionality that you have, each small increment of iOS release or Android release, whatever phone you use, imagine all of them together at one time, that’s what it was for me. It was like everything this thing can do is now released. Here it is.
[00:17:00] SY: All at once.
[00:17:01] RW: All at once. It blew my mind. Having the wallet on there with credit cards, I can use my credit cards. I have all my contacts. I can fill out my FAFSA. I can open a Bitcoin account. All these various things that the majority of people have slowly been introduced to were dumped on me at one time and it was amazing. I remember falling in love with that little piece of plastic. “This plastic glass and metal thingy can do what?” This is wow.
[00:17:32] SY: It wasn’t intimidating for you at all or overwhelming or anything?
[00:17:36] RW: It was overwhelming a little when I didn’t understand things, which was a lot, but as every little piece that I would understand, I mean, you feel better. Even just figuring out how to use an email. What is an email? Each little piece was rewarding. There were times when I was overwhelmed, but it was more about life type things. For example, I didn’t have to pay a bill at a restaurant.
[00:17:58] SY: Oh, interesting.
[00:17:59] RW: With the credit card and so I was embarrassed because people don’t understand why a person sitting there, here’s this dude, he’s sitting here and he’s super awkward, doesn’t know what he’s doing. And like for a while, I was embarrassed with that stuff. I’m not now. There was a time I started finally getting where I just would say it. I’d say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. How do I do that?” In technology, you got to get used to that anyways. Right?
[00:18:29] SY: So you had a lot of practice?
[00:18:30] RW: Oh yeah. I had a lot of that. I was asking everybody everything. They would give me options at a restaurant of a type of drink and I’d say, “What’s the difference? What does that mean?” And some of the stuff seems silly, but I was in high school when I was incarcerated. So my life experience was minimal. And so there was a lot of things that even a 20-year-old, a 19-year-old out of high school would have already experienced and known and I didn’t. I was lost.
[00:18:59] SY: Tell me about your experience trying to get a job because for anyone who’s learning how to code, trying to get their first developer job is obviously really hard and can be a very frustrating process. And I can only imagine that with your background, it probably didn’t help, probably didn’t make things easier.
[00:19:14] RW: It was a rough early on. It was very rough. I was applying, probably I should have been applying. I didn’t have the skill set. I was applying for a lot of iOS engineering positions and I had just started the bootcamp.
[00:19:28] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:19:30] RW: Yeah.
[00:19:30] SY: What gave you the confidence to do that?
[00:19:33] RW: Because I went through the Big Nerd Ranch book and you know how it is. When you start learning, you don’t know how much you’re going to have to learn. I’m glad I didn’t. I would have been discouraged, but I didn’t realize how much more I would have to learn. I could build some applications. So I mean, what’s the problem here? You know what I mean? I can build that thing. I built it in this book. So hire me. Hire me now. It doesn’t work like that.
[00:20:00] SY: Good for you.
[00:20:01] RW: Right?
[00:20:01] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:20:01] RW: So as everyone else. So I was applying earlier on. I got turned down rightfully so in some of those positions, but then I started getting the idea that, “Okay, how about if I apply as an intern and I just try to get my foot in the door?” None of it worked. Most of the time, I wouldn’t even hear back, especially when they found out my felonies. But as I progressed in the bootcamp and I met more people through meetups, I got more and more opportunities. Everyone I met I ended up getting opportunities from and I realized like if I can sit down and then not just reading the stuff on paper, I’ll be all right. If I could sit down and explain like, “Hey. Yeah. I was a dysfunctional, violent, young person. I was out of control.” And when I say that, I try to own it without giving any sort of, I don’t want to sound dismissive of anything I’ve ever done, and I don’t want to sound like I don’t own it. So I’ve made sure to just lay it out there that, “Hey, I made bad choices.” If I’m given the opportunity, I’ll explain that I wasn’t aggressive. I never pursued this. I just respond to violence really poorly. If I get those opportunities I do, but I try not to early on. When I would get in front of people, I was fine. I would get further in interviews and I started to realize that it’s all about, at least in this for me, I’m going to have to know somebody. No one’s going to hire me that’s aware of my felony without talking to me or without sitting down and getting some kind of interaction so that they can understand I’m a human being that made a bad choice. It’s just scarier I think when you don’t have a face or a person or someone sitting in front of you to talk about it with.
[00:21:40] SY: So what was your strategy in terms of talking about your past? Did you put into your cover letter or was it just that first interview? At what point do you tell that side of your story?
[00:21:53] RW: When I first began and I had nothing to base it on, I was open early, very early, right away. Like, “Hey! How’s it going, Saron? My name is Rick. I went to prison for murder.”
[00:22:05] SY: Great intro.
[00:22:05] RW: And they were like, “Why?” And people are taking a backing. It’s been normalized in my life, but it’s not in anyone else’s. And so they look at me like, they’re all right, but then you never hear back from them. And eventually I realized, “Okay, that’s not how this works. You have to at least let them understand, let them get used to you first before you drop anything like that.” So I quit putting it in anything. It’s not in an intro letter. Now if I’m reaching out for advice or insight or whatnot, I’ll say it. If I’m reaching out to say, “Hey, can we get together some time? Let’s grab lunch together. I’d love to be able to pick your brain about the industry.” I would say it then because I don’t want them to not know that. I feel like if they’re taking the time to meet with me, they deserve to know our past. So I would drop it.
[00:22:55] SY: That’s fair.
[00:22:55] RW: Yeah. You know what? If someone might get mad, “Man, why didn’t you tell me this? You should have told me this ahead of time.” So I started holding it back until certain parts of the interview. And usually it’s going to come up because before 2017, my history is zero. There’s nothing. So at some point it usually comes up. “Hey, what happened? Where did you pivot from? You said you pivoted in 2017 into tech. Where did you pivot from?” And I’m like, “Oh, you’ll know.” In fact, that exact statement was used on me with a job I got. That’s what made me think of it.
[00:23:32] SY: So what was the thing that finally got you that first job?
[00:23:37] RW: Network. Just network just so you know. It keeps going back to that. I’m sure you already know this. To me, I didn’t realize it was this big of a deal who you know.
[00:23:49] SY: Oh, yeah. It’s super important.
[00:23:50] RW: It is. It is. It’s so big. I would like to meet that person that gets a job just off shooting their resume to somebody. That’s the rare one.
[00:23:58] SY: Yeah. That never works unfortunately.
[00:24:02] RW: I don’t even hear back from anybody ever. This one, it was a combination of I had more skills. They allowed me. They’re actually a Windows shop, a Microsoft shop. They use C# and .NET and they allowed me to have the interview in Swift in iOS. I knew some Java from my degree. C# looks almost like it. It’s not that hard to get a grasp of. And I know that like people say, “You can just pick one up once you learn one.” I think that’s kind of true. Once you understand ups and downs of programming, once you understand the fundamentals, it does make it easier to pick it up. I just didn’t know you could actually get a job with something you were fully kind of familiar with. So they gave me an interview. I was able to walk them through some applications I’ve built and they let me do a lot of stuff in Swift. So as we’re doing it, they were asking me questions to explain concepts. “Why do we do this? Why is this overwritten? What does that mean?” Things that transcend language, like, “What’s the difference in passing a value versus a reference?” I was able to explain everything and we’d never hit a thing I wasn’t able to talk about.
[00:25:15] SY: Oh, that’s great.
[00:25:15] RW: Yeah and they liked it. They liked the applications. So that was it. I went on further and then they set it up where the very end, this like room you go into, it’s like a big hangout room and then they have this giant screen and they have a ton of faces, like the Brady Bunch type of thing going on where it’s Zoom and they have everybody basically chatting with me and you sit and you chat with like a lot of people, not everyone, but a lot of people in the company. I didn’t realize a lot of them didn’t know my background at that time. The only one that knew was the main person, the main two people I interviewed with and the main CEO person I interviewed with and the person who I knew there. She’s a friend of mine I grew up with’s wife. Yeah, we all were hanging out one day and she told me she was a developer and I was fascinated. So I picked her brain and asked her what she does on a daily basis, how she got her job, all the questions. And eventually, one day they went to leave. So she’s like, “Hey, I want to talk with you for a second.” I’m like, “Okay.” She’s like, I want to get you an interview at our company. I want to see if we can get you hired.” I was like, “Yeah!” I’ve heard this before, so I didn’t get too excited. I was cool though and I thanked her. And I really was thinking, “We’ve hung out, so you’ve normalized it and it’s no longer shocking to you. Well, when other people who I don’t get to hang out with, it’s going to be shocking to them and they’re not going to get me a job.” That’s what I was thinking, but I didn’t say that. And long story short, she ended up getting me the interview and I did get the job.
[00:27:00] SY: Coming up next, Rick talks about his tips for building a network of support on your coding journey and how he maintained the drive and motivation on his after this.
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[00:27:38] KH: So an unpopular opinion should be like computers were a mistake. Was this all worth it?
[00:27:45] LV: And how changing your name is a difficult unsolved and sometimes personally devastating problem in tech.
[00:27:51] MAN: I basically walked through this world through this minefield of not knowing when I’m going to have this like sort of deep emotional wound reopened.
[00:28:03] LV: As well as how little known tools can have big productivity gains.
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[00:28:47] SY: So that networking bit is a little unique because it was someone that you’d actually known for many, many years. Right?
[00:28:53] RW: Right.
[00:28:54] SY: But I assume you’ve built up a network in other ways in the past couple of years. What tips do you have for networking and building up that group of people who are going to support you, give you opportunities, that sort of thing?
[00:29:05] RW: Don’t be afraid to just reach out and ask questions because some people like that. Some people like helping people. And I would say don’t be afraid. Message whether it’s on LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever, whatever platform you use emails. If you read a book and it’s awesome by someone like the Big Nerd Ranch book, for example, that I read, I reached out to them eventually. Stuff like that. Make it into something that’s important rather than something you might do, kind of do, make it into something that you’re putting effort into, just like learning to code, because it could turn out. You never know. You never know where it’s going to come from. I have now friends at places that I never would have imagined. Where I grew up, I didn’t know software engineers. I didn’t have that kind of network. I didn’t have those kinds of connections aside from the one guy who ended up marrying a software engineer. But for the most part, I did, and now I have people at almost every place where I can reach out and get some advice. And I wouldn’t have that if I didn’t start well before I was in a position to get hired, long before my skills developed I was doing it, and it grows into genuine relationships. It feels fake at first. It feels superficial and it is in some way. Like we’d said, you’re trying to play this game, “Hey, I need to know these people.” But most of the time, when you start interacting with people, you develop a real relationship if you’re being genuine. So I would say reach out well before your skills are ready, well before you’re in a position where someone’s going to hire you. Do it right away. Right? When you think you want to get into an industry, start touching base with everyone in that industry. Start reaching out to whoever you can and be genuine. If you’ve used their material, if you listen to their podcasts, reach out to them, ask them for advice. Ask them for Zoom or jump on a call. There were people that said, “Yeah, I’ll jump on a call. I’ll jump on a call and chat with you.” I was just hoping for maybe a little bit of advice and they would instead say, “Hey, how about you call me this weekend?” That was wild. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you.
[00:31:18] SY: Yeah. I mean, you reached out to me, right? And then now you’re on the show.
[00:31:20] RW: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Even if you think they’re too busy or they have a lot going on like you, I didn’t expect to get a response, but it’s cool when you do and try to meet everyone you can and just develop real relationships along the way.
[00:31:34] SY: How long did it take you by the way to get that first job?
[00:31:36] RW: Took forever, it feels. Forever time and I’m just used forever. It feels like forever.
[00:31:42] SY: That is not a unit of time. No. that does not count.
[00:31:44] RW: I mean, from the time I got out like two and a half years, almost three years.
[00:31:49] SY: How did you stay focused, motivated, driven? How did you do that?
[00:31:53] RW: I invested enough that I felt like there was no turning around. I brought these boats. I’m going to get this or I’m going to end up on the streets, type of things. So I guess that’s the mentality kind you got to have because it’s such a long road, maybe not for everyone, but for me it was a long road that you just kind of have that mentality where you’re not going to quit and that’s how most of it was I think. My enthusiasm would wane a little and I would not code the amount of times that I told myself I would. I would take days off, two, three, four days sometimes, but I would still in the back of my mind, it’s not that I gave up, but I just didn’t have the motivation and it would return and I would get back on it. And some of it had to do with, like, I had to go through a lot of phases that most people go through early on. I get into drinking. Who would have known that drinking at some point you can drink too much?
[00:32:56] SY: That’s true. That’s something you have to learn, right?
[00:32:58] RW: Right. It’s a bad habit. Yeah. I knew I could handle this. It starts affecting your quality of life and your enthusiasm, your ability to sit down and study at night, instead you’re like drinking a little. So I went through phases like that where life lessons that were compacted in those three years where I was like, “Okay, I can’t do this. This is like affecting my goals. This is affecting my trajectory.” And so I would stop. So I wouldn’t say it was all the same amount. I wasn’t going the same speed the whole time. That’s for sure.
[00:33:27] SY: What advice do you have for people who might have a backstory, a past life that might make things a little bit harder for them? What advice do you have for folks like that who are looking to break into tech?
[00:33:40] RW: If we’re talking felonies, I’m going to say don’t worry about it. If it’s a while ago or if it’s a petty charge that can be explained later. If you have a severe charge or if you have a charge that like defined your life, I would say to own it. I would say own it early, own it often, just own the fact that you once made some really bad choices and you weren’t making good choices in that place where you’re at in life and you’re a new place in life. You could at least say, “Hey, I’ve changed. This is where I’m at now.” So I would say own whatever it is, your past, and move along and don’t be afraid of talking about it and don’t be afraid of being okay, I guess, with the mistakes that you’ve made.
[00:34:30] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Rick, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:34:37] RW: Sure.
[00:34:38] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:34:41] RW: Worst advice was don’t talk about it. Don’t talk about my past. And it might work for some people, but when you’re talking almost 18 years of prison, you can’t not talk about it. It’s defined such a large part of your life that you can’t hide it. So that was the worst part. Definitely worst advice was to never bring it up, never discuss it. Maybe 10 years from now, if I’m a senior developer on some company, it’s going to be much less center of topic for when I go to get hired, but until then, no, and I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve even had people tell me later, “Man, you really own that,” people that I know, like you definitely didn’t have step when it came to that. And I’m glad I didn’t because there are a lot of really cool people in the tech community. They view it differently than the average person does. Tech community is very progressive and I didn’t expect it, I didn’t understand that it’s full of people who are about supporting the underdogs and the castaways. So I wouldn’t know that if I had never just been open about it and I’m glad I did.
[00:35:51] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:35:54] RW: Learn web development. Just learn web development even though when I started learning mobile development, I don’t always listen, even though that was my thing and that’s what I liked, it’s the best piece of advice because I knew enough that when I got my foot in the door just a little bit at the interview, I could talk about it. And even though I was a mobile developer, I still had a foundation because I had been learning and I had done some freeCodeCamp. I had done some web stuff. I did enough web stuff. The advice basically was for my position, my circumstances, there’s a billion jobs out there. I don’t know if it’s really a billion, I’m just totally making up a number. How many jobs are there? There’s a lot of web jobs. And so that’s where you’re going to meet that one person that will take that chance on you. It’s a lot less likely that you’ll meet someone that does iOS development that will give you the chance. So I did have a little bit of a web foundation, and I don’t think I would have gotten a chance if I had none at all.
[00:36:57] SY: Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:37:01] RW: The first one that made an impact on me was one at the coding bootcamp I did where basically we’re making a list. It was a list app. And you just add list. You can delete list. You can do stuff like that. And it’s so simple. But I remember when I got it on my phone and I remember like, you know how you need the enthusiasm, I guess it goes back to what you said earlier. When you have to dibs and you change it, the speed at which you’re getting to your goal and sometimes you slow down, well, this gave me like a jolt. It really got me back on track because looking at this list app on my phone at this bootcamp that I did was everything. I created something and I’d done it before, but I never had it where this thing’s not that much different than some of the list apps on my phone.
[00:37:52] SY: Yeah. That’s encouraging.
[00:37:53] RW: Yeah. Yeah. I was like, “This isn’t that hard. I can do this.” So yeah, that was the first real coding project.
[00:38:01] SY: Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:38:05] RW: You can’t learn everything. Just focus. Wish I knew that. I wish I didn’t have 47 tabs trying to learn everything from Wasm to Flutter, to Kotlin to whatever. You got to focus. When I finally focused and I had the same amount of time on one specific thing, I just got a better understanding of everything. Even if you change later, stick to it. Stick to the thing you start. Unless you have a real concrete reason to change, stick to it, build a foundation, and everyone told me that. I just didn’t listen. I didn’t listen to any.
[00:38:40] SY: Yeah, it’s hard. There are so many shiny toys, tiny objects you can pick from.
[00:38:45] RW: Right? There is. There’s so much and they keep coming out with new stuff. I wish they’d stopped for like a year. Just stop making new stuff y’all. Stop making new stuff.
[00:38:52] SY: Oh yeah. When I learned Rails 4, I was very upset, Rails 5 came out. I was like, “Come on, man. I was just getting into this.”
[00:39:00] RW: Right. As soon as you start learning something, then SwiftUI comes out or some other new things. As soon as I start learning Xamarin, someone tells me, “That’s not what you need to know. This other thing over here.”
[00:39:11] SY: Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you so much, Rick, for sharing your story with us and for joining us on the show.
[00:39:17] RW: Thanks for having me. This has been a lot of fun.
[00:39:26] SY: This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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