Two summers ago, after forays into organic farming and yurt living, I found myself in a really cool position at the Ohio State University Agricultural Ecosystem Management Program that combined many things I was passionate about: building usable web systems, building community, and local agriculture. I was helping make changes to Local Food Systems, a website that helps connect entreprenuers with the food system (and those who run it) to help spawn new businesses based on the stream of goods and services in that system. I was working in Drupal, and helped guide user experience and user interface decisions and changes in the three months that I was there on a half-time contract.
When the end of August came, I was sad to find out that this awesome job could not become a full-time endeavor because there were no new grants for the project, and neither could my half-time contract be extended. That same week, I was contacted by an internal recruiter for Fathom, a digital marketing and analytics agency closer to where I had just moved, and began the conversation of becoming a full time web developer there.
Within a few weeks I was working for Fathom, building a lot of frontends to landing pages and microsites that were mostly used in email marketing and pay-per-click campaigns. In my first few weeks at Fathom, the Twitter-sphere was abuzz about gSchool, a 6 month web development program in Denver, Colorado. I checked out the website, read a little bit about it, and thought to myself, “Wow, it’d be so great to learn web development from the pros, but who has the time to spend 6 months not earning a paycheck?” I was intrigued by Ruby and thought it would be great to learn someday, but I moved on, back to my frontends, and back to my spaghetti PHP.
During my year at Fathom, I started getting more interested in Ruby, Test Driven Development, and Agile methodology, but the work we were doing on the web development team was rigid. But we sold our products well, and we had jam-packed development schedules. There was no time to explore or implement the things I was reading about, the things that I so desperately wanted to learn.
I thought I could fit in new learning by starting a Code for America Brigade in my town, dubbed Code for Summit County, and organizing an event for the National Day of Civic Hacking locally, called HackNEO, (which brought together over 30 local developers, designers, park lovers, and community memeber to hack on park data). As I worked and organized, I realized that if I was going to continue to be a leader, my learning needed a serious turbo boost to propel me forward past the bad habits I had acquired through self-teaching and a lack of a programming mentor.
I started exploring the option of attending one of those developer bootcamps that I had heard about. I needed a time and a place to focus on learning, without interruption. I researched all of them, read what students had to say about them, and thought about applying to them. But I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I had a life at home – three months (the average of these bootcamps) was a long time away from everything that needed my attention – family, chickens, my cat, my job…
And then it all boiled down to making a pros and cons list.
An honest, hard look at the opportunity cost, as well as the ways doing this now would pay off for the rest of my career, brought me to one conclusion: Just do it.
My focus was being close to home, in Chicago or New York at the bootcamps available there, when suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, Steve Klabnik tweeted an application deadline reminder for gSchool. I had been following Steve on Twitter for a while, but hadn’t realized he was an instructor for Jumpstart Lab, the company that runs gSchool. I took another hard look at gSchool, and completed the application. I didn’t think I stood a chance.
Fast-forward to today, and here I am, writing this post in Denver, Colorado. Next week we start gSchool, the second class that gSchool will graduate, and my coding adventures will continue. I will have experienced mentors helping me understand the tough spots, pushing me to the next level, and helping me unlearn bad habits, learn a new language, and build the skills needed to bring to life the ideas that have been gnawing at me for years.
I plan to document the journey so that others may have a map to guide them.