Part One: Learning to Program after 30 – Watch Out World!

Today marks a special anniversary for me. It’s not my wedding anniversary or my work anniversary.  It’s the one-month anniversary of the day I agreed to take a leap and try something that truly scared me – learning to program.

You may be wondering why after 6 years of working my way up in the tech scene in the Silicon Harbor would May 1 be something special. A little bit about my background might help it make sense. 

I grew up in a very tech-centric household. My mom was a programmer (circa prime COBOL days). I remember being the first of my friends have a personal computer and staying up all night long with my mom putting it together. It took HOURS! I was the first kid in my elementary school to have a CD player in the car. Let’s just say I’ve been a gadget junkie for a long time.

I went to college during the dot com bust and fell into Economics by chance. The only female to graduate in this STEM field, I continued on to receive my Master of Public Administration at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!).

Skip ahead to 2009: I was recruited to work for the Charleston Digital Corridoran economic development public-private partnership.  At the time, I didn’t know the first thing about the software world, but the push for talent was taking off.  Partnering with local companies starving for talent (Enter LA from OneinaMil) we built the CharlestonWORKS initiatives and later designed the first iterations of CODEcampand CODEshowwhich continue to flourish. In fact, I planned the event in which Charleston was first deemed the Silicon Harbor, took the iFive:K from death’s door to a highly profitable, sellout event, but most importantly built relationships at nearly every tech company in the area. 

If I was capable of doing all of this without programming capabilities, why start now?  For the last 6 years, I’ve joked that I’m going to stop placing other people in these incredible roles (which is what I do currently as a Career Advisor at ECPI University) and learn to code myself. One day, a month ago, our software Department Head finally reached me; he saw something in me, and finally, I accepted his challenge to dig deep and truly invest in myself.

I wasn’t scared of programming itself; I’ve always been the most "techy" non-techy I’ve known.  I wasn’t a stranger of continued education (I was halfway through the Duolingo French tree, after all!).  What scared me? I was scared of quitting and that this would just be a blip, just “one of those things I was learning.” I was scared of being a hypocrite (unable to do what I’ve pushed my students to do countless times) because of not having the mental bandwidth at the end of the day.

Challenges, Lessons Learned, and Suggestions

1. You can be your own worst competition.

Over the last month, I’ve learned quite a bit. Most of it about myself, just how competitive I am and what that looks like when you're your own competition (also learned to start giving myself some slack). However, my Java toolkit is starting to take shape too!!

· Set realistic goals for what you want to accomplish when. Set specific deadlines and write them down. However, give yourself twice the amount of time you think you might need.

2. It takes a lot of concentration and focus to program; your support team must be 125% on board.

I now am intimately familiar with that frustrating anger-inducing soul-challenging moment when you’re just on the brink of finally understanding a concept you’ve been struggling with for hours just to have someone interrupt for a trivial request. GAHHHH!!! Then, the understanding slips back into the dark, hiding behind a rock in your brain, eluding you for another day.

Learning to program is not for the weak of heart. It takes quite a lot more concentration, creativity, and therefore, time than I’d ever realized. The biggest challenge of these will be time – time that is 100% devoted to you and this effort.

· Find a quiet spot with no distractions. (If you find this, let me know, I’m still looking for one!) Have an “accountabilibuddy” or someone who believes in you outside of yourself who can help when the frustrations hit, and you want to give up.

3. Programming is not just for the Programmer, and it can be fun!

My colleague asked me to give him 30 days, and he would have me hooked.  Well, Mr. F., I’d say you’ve got me hooked, and it’s on a lot more than Java! I now know I have what it takes, and more importantly, I better understand the passion that keeps programmers going.  I’m not sure where this programming knowledge will ultimately lead.  However, I can already relate to my students more, understand industry needs better, and collaborate with our faculty on a deeper level.

· Not sure if learning to code is for your career path? Checkout this article, Why learning to code can help you land any job

Instead of “Hello world!” my program now says, “Watch out World!"

Stay tuned for resources and tools to help you on your new programming adventure in the next part of this series, Learning to Program after 30.