Origin story: why am I doing this?
In middle school (sometime in the mid 90s), I was so good at what would later be known as googling that I participated in a competitive online scavenger hunt called “Cyber Surfari” (I know…) You could say I was enthusiastic about computers as a kid, and in particular the ✨internet✨.
And yet for some reason, I never even considered taking the elective CS course in high school; it just never felt like a possibility for me specifically. I believed I lacked a certain innate, prerequisite skill, like maybe being amazing at math (when I was only just ok).
It seemed like it wasn’t meant for someone like me, whatever that was.
And anyway, by the time I got to college I already had a hard enough time choosing between physics and biology (spoiler: I’d eventually end up doing both). During my second undergrad degree I had to take an introductory programming course for science and engineering majors, which was taught with MATLAB, and I absolutely ~loved~ it. I started using MATLAB whenever I could for other coursework, got the (second) highest grade in the class, and finished the final coding project in just a couple hours. By this time (preparing for my master’s in biochem), I believed that since I’d already invested so much time and resources towards trying to become a scientist that it was too late to think about switching again.
I love science (and still do). I puttered about with other resources to pick up some R and Python to help with data analysis during my thesis research, but never found the time to devote to getting past the “advanced beginner” stage.
Acquiring a disability or chronic illness as a grown up has a way of forcing a new perspective on you.
You have to see the world differently in order to cope and adapt. I had to take stock of where I was, what I could do, and what I really wanted, and what was worth buying with my newly limited “good days”. Previous assumptions about yourself, the world, and how you fit into it become open to examination. Suddenly, the idea of me really learning software development no longer sounded so silly. One paradigm shift ushered in another.
Coincidentally, this occurred at the same time that MOOCs had matured, coding bootcamps were abundant, and the barriers to entry were getting lower all the time. Culturally, too, CS was beginning to become a much more inclusive space, and perceptions about who “belonged” were dissolving.
Essentially, my new situation catalyzed the shift I’d gradually been making anyway.
One advantage of my path is that I gained a whole field of domain experience that I sincerely hope will be useful someday combined with my new web development skills. Perhaps someday I can help build applications to wrangle the copious amounts of data generated by geneticists or biochemists, or work with an organization like Code For America or 18F and help to make government services more efficient and accessible. (Just think of all the blog posts I could write!)
Originally published at donnacodes.com on September 5, 2017.
Top comments (2)
I’m sorry to hear about your chronic pain. I recently shared my journey with chronic pain to hopefully help others to find peace with who they are. I find your brave story to be infectiously encouraging. I love hearing stories of career changes. Best of luck! :)
Welcome, Donna! I look forward to reading about how you are helping our government save itself! I just left a developer position in the Army, so I know the pain involved. 😬