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Don’t Let Anyone Tell You That You Can’t Be a Developer

My hands were shaking…I could barely breathe

I had just finished the first one-one-one coding assessment in my six-month coding bootcamp and it had not gone as well as I had wanted.

Honestly, I felt like I bombed it.

Slowly, I withdrew my hands from the keyboard. My mind was racing. It was going to be ok, right? Surely there would be a point where I didn’t feel so lost? When I wouldn’t feel like I didn’t have a clue, right?

Did I just make a huge mistake by putting my life on hold and taking out a loan to start this coding school when I would never be able to become a developer?

I needed a little reassurance. In a moment of self-doubt, insecurity, and vulnerability I turned to my instructor and said, “I know I didn’t do so well but I’ll get better, I’ll be able to learn and become a developer, right?” He threw his hands up and said, “I can’t say…this isn’t for everybody. Not everyone can learn it.”

I was crushed.

After going to the bar down the street for a nice pour of whiskey, I returned to class and just happened to run into another TA in the hall. She asked how things went and I told her my fear that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Without missing a beat she said, “You can do this. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be a developer!”

She was so sure, so confident, I was taken aback. “Are you sure?” I timidly asked, hoping against all hope that she was. She smiled, “Aubrey, this isn’t easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but if you want it, you can do it.”

That night I had an existential crisis

I asked myself why I wanted to become a developer. I had always had a deep love for tech, the arts, and for helping others. When I was younger I had trouble deciding which direction to follow, first going to school for teaching, then spending some time in Nashville writing music, then doing humanitarian work in Central America, and finally finding myself working in an Apple Store in Boulder.

While I saw parts of myself in each new career turn, I never found a way to merge my strengths until I discovered software development.

Why had I not started sooner? Well, I remember being told as a kid that I “wasn’t very good at math” or I was more of a “creative type” — great with music and the arts. These assessments molded how I felt about myself and to some extent created internal boundaries I felt that I could not cross.

Unfortunately, messages like these are all too common. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, 56% percent of technical women leave tech companies within 10 years — more than double the dropout rate for men. And a Harvard Business Review study found that 50% of women in these fields leave because of hostile work environments.

Reflecting that night after my assessment I realized that in the past I had taken discouragements to heart more often than I had encouragements. It was at that moment I decided I would forge ahead despite how hopeless I felt and throw myself completely into learning as much as I could.

I would ask questions in and out of class, make connections with speakers who came in, and stay in touch with the people I met along the way.

Ten months later…

Less than a year after my anxiety-inducing moment of extreme self-doubt, I am happy to report that I am indeed a developer. I am three months into my dream job at Keen IO. It’s a running joke at work — every now and then a coworker pinches me just to prove that it’s real life, I’m not dreaming.

Not only am I working and learning more about code, but I am creating curriculum for an apprenticeship-style program that will allow people right out of bootcamps and college to rotate through our teams, learn more about new technologies, and continue to grow as developers.

The Learner Program will have cohorts of apprentices, multiples of two so that they can work together on projects and talk about how the program is going together. By working as pairs, they are also “not the only one” and are more apt to ask questions and seek out answers.

They will be rotating through the company spending 4–6 weeks embedded in each of our teams. Throughout the program, we will encourage Learners to share their learns and experiences with their team, the company, and the community.

As I am creating this program, I am also the first Learner and this is my first post. I’ll be sharing more along the way.

I’m sharing my story for a couple of reasons

If you are trying to become a developer, just know that along the way you will hear a lot of other people’s thoughts. Some will be positive and some will be negative. You can learn from both, but try to hold on to the positives and use them as encouragement while learning from the negatives without letting them hold you back.

If you are already a developer, to you I say choose your words carefully. Choose to speak words of encouragement to those junior devs at your company or those you come across at conferences or MeetUps. With a few minutes of kind words and attention, you can change their life. You can give them the boost they need to persevere through the struggle and pain of learning in this great, but sometimes terrifying world of software development.

Sharing my gSchool to Keen IO story