With the end of 2016 fast approaching, it seems as good a time as any to take stock of the last 360+ days. The past year has been an exciting one for sure, but it’s also been confusing and scary as hell. But before I dive into why, let me give some context:
In 2015 I moved to Spain to learn how to code. While I’d been tinkering with HTML and CSS since high school, I’d never gotten my hands dirty with the good stuff, aka actual programming. Markup is great for its purposes and there are some pretty fun things you can do with CSS, but when I discovered Processing back in 2010, I became completely obsessed with the possibilities of using code & data as tool & raw material for creation. So much so that I wrote a very wordy Masters thesis on the subject (it’s in French - I’m currently updating and translating it… WIP! 2017 goals… ✌️)
It was a great experience, but with the exception of a workshop here and there, (Processing Paris FTW!) it was strictly a theoretical one. I couldn’t quite fathom of a way to apply creative coding in any professional capacity, nor did I have access to the types of resources that allow for self teaching that exist today (S/O Kadenze!) Beyond that, building e-commerce websites and Wordpress themes didn’t entice me at all. So post-masters, I went back to doing what I did best: content creation.
However, fast forward to 2014, and there I was sitting in Paris annoyed as hell at dwindling corporate video budgets and the lack of any real budget for the fun indie projects I actually wanted to work on. I started wracking my brains - there had to be something else I could do. Something creative, that involved story telling and dynamic visuals, (if you can’t tell already, I’m all about the visuals.)
I’d recently helped a friend with a fun little promo website that allowed users to unlock some of the artist’s un-released music if they clicked on piano keys in the right order, (it had to match the artist’s staple melody.) Thanks to that experience, my curiosity and enthusiasm for code had been revived. A couple of months later I was sitting in the basement of MOB in Barcelona, learning the ins and outs of web development.
I know, I know. Code Bootcamps, right? But at 29, I didn’t really see myself going back to uni to tackle an entire 3-4 year Comp Sci degree. So there I was. And now here I am! Nerding out in Berlin in 2016 🤓
Like I said before, building e-commerce platforms and run-of-the-mill websites isn’t something that particularly interests me, so upon “graduating” from my bootcamp I was pretty weary about the types of jobs I might find. And then, out of nowhere the right job kind of found me. Chalk it up to a mix of luck, timing and google’s indexing algorithm - somehow I landed on Bright’s website… and immediately had an internal freak out. There was Nicolas Sassoon’s work cascading across the site’s background. I sent them an email (in which I basically vomited my enthusiasm for generative art all over them #shameless!)
Just goes to show, if you’re loud and proud enough about your passions, even with a massive “JUNIOR DEV” stamped on your forehead, people will still hear you out. April 2016 I officially started my new career as a “Creative Dev” - cute story right ? 🎶” And then she strode off into the promise of a inspiring future doing exactly what she wanted… ” 🎶
Except that any junior dev will tell you, their first steps in the professional sphere are pretty terrifying. Between asking the wrong questions the right way, asking the right questions the wrong way, thinking you understand what you’re doing until you realize you have it all backwards and rinse-repeating every day, 5 days a week… well it’s enough to leave your head spinning and that’s putting it lightly.
Eventually you do hit your stride though. Heck I’ve even developed an interest in backend development thanks to swapping Rails for Flask (not that I have anything against RoR… I do love Ruby, but I don’t love bloated frameworks. Give me just what I need, thanks!)
Still though, I’ve been plagued with intense self-doubt since starting my new career. And yes, you’ll hear a lot of people talk about imposter syndrome with new coders - we just have to “get over it,” they say. That with hard work and perseverance eventually we’ll all make it out of the “pit of despair” and take off flying. And for most of my bootcamp counterparts, that did indeed happen… while they were at the bootcamp 😑 Me? Not so much… And still now, a year after the bootcamp has ended, and 6 months into my new job, I’ve found myself with an intense feeling of not belonging at times, feeling like I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and massively misunderstood myself. Until I read Saron Yitbarek’s Medium post I don’t belong in tech: Trying to find my place in the place I love, and constantly failing and realized that there was at least one other person in tech that shared some of my anxieties :
“I wanted so badly to think like a programmer, which implies that the way I think is wrong. It needed fixing in many ways…I am not solution-oriented. I don’t see a problem and get giddy at the idea of solving it, patching it up and sending it on its merry way. I want to poke it and ask it questions. Where did it come from, what is it doing, what’s its story? I want to take it to tea and hear about its life and understand it to its core. And if, at that point, I’ve come to a wholistic understanding and am able to solve the problem, by all means, let the problem-solving commence! But my instinct is never to solve, but to understand. [But] I am [also] not comfortable making half-ass shit… Hm. Maybe this isn’t going to work.”
“…Imagine my surprise when I first heard of “fail fast and break things,” one of the famous tech mantras for product creation. Imagine my shock to find out that being wrong is not reprimanded, but, at times, encouraged. Imagine my confusion stepping into a world where people are told to “just try it and see.””
I encourage everyone to read the full article, but even if you only read the above excerpt, it speaks volumes to a type of personality and a set of values that are not commonly held within tech. It’s something I continue to wrestle with, as my superiors hover behind me, encouraging me to just take a stab at it, dammit. And I know they can’t fathom how or why it’s so hard for me to set aside my concerns about the who’s, what’s, and why’s. I’m told quite often that I’m thinking too far ahead, that right now we just need to get it working…
At first I chalked it up to having cut my professional teeth in brand strategy - my first professional job involved only thinking about those pesky who’s, what’s and why’s. Maybe I just had to let go of that part of me to be a coder… And honestly, I don’t know what the answer is - I’m still learning to tread water in the deep end of the code pool. But It’s definitely reassuring to know that I’m not not cut out for the tech world, I’m just a minority POV .
That being said, it’s been a revelation to not only be “allowed” but expected to fail! It’s not easy to do at first. Code reviews used to turn me into a ball of stress - I thought if someone suggested a different approach to a problem that I’d solved, it meant I’d done it all wrong. When really, there are just a million different ways to solve any given problem. In fact code reviews are a discussion, an appreciation for the different approaches people think up - a peak into someone’s brain. Maybe this isn’t how it goes at other companies, but this has been my experience so far and I feel pretty lucky to have had it.
I could easily rattle off a list of the annoying things I’ve faced as a baby-creative-dev: the math and physics involved in coding visuals for example (damn you, inverted graph!!), the weird parts of Git (where to even start… oh I know: first they say don’t bother learning Vim - it’s not worth the confusion if you’re a n00b, and then you try to squash some commits in Git and oh wait, all of the sudden your in Vim and your Terminal stops responding 💥💥), how strange it feels to manipulate databases, (which are essentially invisible caverns of data… can you tell I’m a front-end?)
But for all the frustration and confusion I’ve experienced this past year, it’s the discussions my team has during code reviews (and beyond, tbh. #nevernotnerding ) that I’ve found most exciting about working as a developer - that feeling of curious delight that comes from being exposed to the logic of a different perspective and approach.
Well, that and the pretty visuals of course. _ throws confetti _