Pt. 2: Journey to West

Editor’s Note: Making the Switch is an ongoing series by Zach Jones, a recent Bellevue Dojo graduate. It focuses on his career transition from truck driver to developer and includes insights, anecdotes and advice. Part 1 can be found here.
If I asked someone to describe me, they would probably say “unconventional”. We also discussed the fact that I was a trucker, both as a civilian and in the USMC, and how difficult it was for me to learn programming on my own. I was eager to prepare for Coding Dojo so I signed up for the December 2019 cohort several months in advance. Most students signed up for the December 2019 cohort at the last minute or a week before. Precourse work is something I strongly recommend that you do, regardless of which school you choose. It’s a lot like working out. You only get as much out it as you put into it. Although I don’t have as much body as I did back in the Marine Corps, the discipline is still there and may even be better. It was August, and I was still driving trucks when I signed up. However, I was ready to return to programming after a short stint as a freelancer. The Coding Dojo precourse involved practicing algorithms similar to those found on HackerRank and Codewars. They call these the Basic 13 algorithms. It was so enjoyable that I used it as a starting point when I began learning C++. The next step is to learn the basics of web technology such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript. These projects include things like moving objects around the screen, changing colors, and creating a Pac-Man clone. These projects are not without their challenges. The challenges ranged from average (resetting an object’s position once it moves far enough down the screen) to absolutely brutal (making procedurally-generated levels in Pac-Man, and making the enemies actively chase your character). I learned a lot from them and started to use Stack Overflow to help me with difficult concepts. It will soon be your best friend. I was able to complete most of the lessons within a few weeks. I had three months to go before I could travel west to my promised land, programming. Things got difficult after that. I was struggling to make ends meet without a steady income. I tried to get one more big paycheck to be able to afford to move to Seattle temporarily. As each week passed without a paycheck, my programming began to slow down and my nerves began to fail. I was unable to see the number I set for myself and instead of making steady progress in saving for it, I was seeing myself moving further away. November arrived and I was already two months behind in rent and barely able to purchase food for my wife and me back home. My mother-in law was our main source of basic necessities. I was ready to give-up on my dream of attending a bootcamp in coding. After two very busy 100+ hour weeks, I was overwhelmed by paperwork. I decided to program and create a program that would fill out the paperwork for me, rather than me spending so much time. My wife supported me as I made that program. I paid the truck’s value, got current on my bills, saved enough money to buy gasoline and enough canned goods to last me a month. I still had 2,500+ miles to go but I was flying free. I would have found a place to sleep until something better came along, but I was free to fly. I made it there in three days, stopping at rest stops to get some sleep, eating can raviolis and spinach, and finally stopping for one meal in South Dakota at a small diner I found in Spear Fish. I had a few showers left on my rewards card for the trip, and I used a truck stop restroom to shave the morning before I arrived. I didn’t consider this way of living to be difficult and I imagine that many blue collar workers have been through worse. The first day of bootcamp flew by in a blur. It was surreal, especially for someone like me who had never seen so many programmers at once. I could tell a whole story about how I got to the parking lot at five in the morning, and then watching as people came in. There weren’t cubicles, but there were open desks and floor plans that allowed for collaboration. Although I didn’t realize it, I knew I had found my people.

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