Today I’m a software developer at Table XI, working with some amazing clients, with my first project just recently deployed to production. It’s still hard to believe that only one year ago, I was working as a manager in an operations role at a large daily deals company, and switching careers to become a web developer was not yet on my radar. It all started in early November 2012, when I decided to attend an Introduction to Programming workshop.
I had been interested in web development, but I’d fallen prey to the stereotypes that “only computer science majors can be programmers,” or “you have to be a genius at math.” I hadn't really looked at programming as a viable option, given my background and two liberal arts bachelors’ degrees. Lo and behold, the workshop taught me that not only was I good at programming, but that I loved it, too. The code I wrote in that workshop was as simple as puts and gets methods and some string interpolation, but even being able to write simple methods and see the output come across my screen felt invigorating.
I was already in the midst of exploring a career change, and that workshop sealed the deal: I knew I wanted to learn web development, and I set to work looking at different bootcamp-type course options. I was lucky that a plethora of options existed, from Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco to Starter League in Chicago to Flatiron School in New York, but I decided on gSchool, an intensive six-month course in Denver focusing on Ruby on Rails. I felt gSchool was the best fit for me given the length of the program, a rigorous curriculum taught by seasoned instructors, and the guarantee that if I graduated, I would get a job making a minimum of $60k within three months of graduation or a full refund of my tuition. Additionally, the director, Jeff Casimir, had connections with my previous employer, LivingSocial. He'd run a similar five-month training program for LivingSocial that a few of my friends had been through, so I knew what to expect.
I moved out to Denver in January of 2013 and started the most intense six months of my life. I knew gSchool was going to be hard and I had mentally prepared to put in 60+ hours per week, but nothing really prepares you for the brain melt of not only learning something totally new, but adjusting to an entirely new way of thinking. Like many of my fellow classmates, I came in without a background in development, and the most challenging part of the program for me was acclimating. Looking back, my assignments now seem almost laughably easy, but they were difficult for someone who was just learning to “think in code.”
I had amazing classmates and world-class instructors though, and with their help I had my “A-ha!” moments where things started to click. The setup of gSchool was a great mix of instructor-led, full group classes, group projects of two to four people, guest speakers, lightning talks, mentoring sessions, and more. The environment was very collaborative, with everyone dedicated to helping their classmates and celebrating each others’ small moments of triumph. It was certainly at times a mentally grueling experience, but with so much support from classmates, instructors, and mentors, we all made it through together and built some really awesome apps along the way.
About two-thirds of the way through the course, we had our first individual project since our first month, and like many of my classmates, I felt quite nervous. We knew the project would prove some things to ourselves—either that we knew what we were doing, or that we hadn’t mastered the abilities we’d fought so hard to learn. It was incredibly validating when the former happened, and I was able to build online scheduling from scratch for a website I was creating for my sister, a massage therapist.
For the last month or so of the course, our focus grew to include finding jobs. There were a lot of things I was looking for in a job, both need-to-haves and want-to-haves. I knew I wanted to work for a small- to medium-sized consultancy that was compatible with my testing and pairing philosophies, where there would be many different challenges to learn from. Other big must-haves included being part of an environment that fostered continued learning and had amazing teammates with whom I’d love coming to work everyday. I narrowed my search by looking in a select group of cities, and leveraged my network—including my mentor and instructors—to set up introductions to companies I was interested in.
I talked to plenty of amazing companies, but I knew from the time I had my first phone interview with Noel and Isaac that Table XI was where I was meant to be. The people at Table XI were incredibly smart, but also approachable and helpful, and I knew I would learn a ton from my co-workers. Crucially, the environment seemed very supportive of a junior developer. The projects they were working on were really interesting, and the fact that they worked with nonprofits and community organizations appealed to me and my former life as an organizer for social justice. The company was diverse, and it was palpable that people genuinely cared about the clients they were working with and their teammates in the office. That they were located in Chicago, a city I loved, only added to the appeal. When I was describing the awesomeness of the company to my husband, I kept finding myself saying "Oh! And did I tell you they also..." When I was offered a position with Table XI, I was delighted to accept.
I've been with Table XI just over a month, and I'm happy to report that my exuberance was not misplaced. I have fallen in love with programming all over again, thanks to the project I've been working on, and I have amazing co-workers always willing to help mentor and guide me. As a testament to the skills I learned at gSchool, during my first week I was fixing bugs, and by my second week I was already working on project features on my own. One of my biggest takeaways from my gSchool experience is, for lack of a better phrase, “learning how to learn”—knowing how to read technical documentation and solve a problem on my own, balanced with knowing when to ask a teammate to pair on a problem.
I still have a lot to learn (but what developer, of any level, doesn't?), but the decisions to take the leap, to uproot my life and change careers, and to come to Table XI are the best ones I have ever made for my career. If this is how I feel at the end of month one, I can't wait to see how I feel a few months down the road.