My Programming Quest (Conquering Grace Hopper)

Written by Layla on February 02, 2018

A preface that most of this entry was written in December, and I'm finally having the chance to post it now.

So hey free time on the internet, long time no see. It feels strange to type it, but I'm going to power through anyway: I'm officially a graduate of Fullstack Academy's Grace Hopper program in software engineering. For the past 17 weeks I've spent my days deep in code, with a group of remarkable women to share in the journey. We laughed, we cried, we battled ferocious linters and hunted down evasive bugs. In the end, we'd all learned so much and had some awesome results to show for it.

My personal journey into Grace Hopper was a bit off the beaten path, but not altogether unusual. I actually grew up loving code. By the time I was a teenager I had taught myself the foundations of HTML and CSS, even a bit of PHP. I made myself some small websites, a personal site to post my creations in Adobe Photoshop (also self taught - how else was I going to make myself desktop backgrounds with my favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters?) and some fansites for whatever my biggest fandom interest was at the time. These sites were undoubtedly a passion project, with the amount of time and effort I put into them. I loved it and I loved coding, but I never thought of it as anything beyond a hobby.

Fast forward to years later. I'm spending my days on the rollercoaster that is customer service for a major banking company, and though I gained a lot of valuable experience in the position, the harder days definitely prompted me to start considering what I really wanted out of my work life. Having studied Art History in college, most of my work experience to that point was naturally in the museum education sector. I loved the material and enjoyed the work - most especially the people, but I'd come to realize it wasn't necessarily my professional calling.

Cut to a well-timed conversation I had with a friend as I was struggling to determine what path to take. She'd just taken a course on CodeAcademy and thought it was pretty cool. I was quick to check it out, first taking lessons in Java (I so naively thought was related to my current best friend Javascript at the time). As I got deeper into the coding challenges, something sparked, and I began to vividly remember those high school nights spent trying to figure out divs and styles. I haven't really looked back since, and it's incredible when I think about how far I've come now.

The program gets off to a running start, with four weeks of remote learning called Foundations. This time is spent mostly laying the, well, foundations of Javascript and getting into the code mindset. You learn a lot at a very fast pace, and I don't think I even realized quite how much until months later. This portion of the process was over in a flash, and next thing I knew I was making the drive up to New York where I would finally join my cohort on campus. There was an adjustment period, not only to thinking like a programmer but also to navigating New York's public transit.

While I thought Foundations went by quickly, I was in for another fast rollercoaster ride as we started what's known as the junior phase of the program. This is where the learning kicks into overdrive and our days were filled with workshops and lectures - a new concept every day, each adding context to the next. There were definitely some struggles, and moments I wasn't sure I was keeping up, but eventually I realized all the franctic learning was working: I now had the needed knowledge to create a web application from the back-end to front-end.

In senior phase, after a much needed short break, that's exactly what we all did. It was a chance to finally apply all we'd learned in a creative way, making several projects both group and solo based. These projects taught me so much - I can't express how rewarding it is to actually apply all the concepts you've been learning for months and see it turn into something real. Especially once you've faced those moments where it seems so hard, and you succeed anyway. These projects in turn have become the foundation of my portfolio, which I'm continuing to grow today.

Now out of the program for some time, I'm still adjusting to my career change. As I apply to jobs, I'm trying hard to gain confidence in calling myself a Fullstack Developer. Imposter syndrome is real, but it's going down.