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Nevertheless, Delba coded

delba_oliveira profile image Delba de Oliveira Updated on ・8 min read

It was the beginning of 2018 and I was the lowest I had ever been. It wasn't just an "I'm sad" kind of low, it was more of a "I want to escape from here" low.

You know, the scary low. The one that makes days merge together while you live in a bubble that has a time of its own.

I find that a lot of the times, regurgitating the past isn't really helpful and only exacerbates bad memories. But for the sake of adding context to this story, here is how I arrived there:

The crash landing

During the past decade, I went from being a spoiled kid in a private Medical School in Argentina to living as a squatter in Brazil - helping my mum bake banana bread to help ends meet. Then I moved to England when my parents finally allowed me to leave home. I worked in a call center, lived with strangers, married young, got promoted, got made redundant, went back to school, and finally, after spending 2 years studying A-levels as a mature student, I was rejected from all the Medical Schools I applied for before I even sat the exams.

What I was feeling in 2018 was the culmination of all those events. I had spent years trying to crawl out of the hole my family fell into. But here I was again, back to square one.

As those rejection letters started coming in, I lost all motivation to keep studying. By then I was disenchanted with the health industry but I was too scared to change my career path because of how much time and effort I had put into it.

The Irish friend

Now let's pause the story here for a second. I need to share with you a lesson that took me months to learn.

I have an Irish friend whom I secretly admire a lot. When she saw how stressed I was with my university applications, she approached me and said:

"We're all heading towards the same place, what matters is the journey, not the destination".

At that time, I didn't truly understand it. But it was only when everything blew over and I laid in bed with no energy to carry on with normal life that I realized what she meant...

If you're going to spend most of your time working until you retire, you might as well find something that you enjoy doing it. Anything less is a life wasted.

The Japanese call it Ikigai and the French call it Raison d'etre. And that's what I lost, the thing that made me get out of bed in the morning.

For a young, childless woman like me, my Raison d'etre was my education; my career. If it wasn't going to be a doctor, what then?

The Unsung Hero

Ok, so before we resume the story, let me introduce you to a pivotal character: The Unsung Hero.

The unsung hero is a man who taught himself how to code before the plethora of online coding tutorials came about. He's a true tinkerer. He's also quiet, reserved and doesn't like the spotlight so this will probably be one of few times I talk about him online.

That man is my husband.

As I lay there in bed bawling my eyes out and sharing with him my feelings of worthlessness, he hugged me and calmly suggested: "perhaps you could learn how to code?".

"What?"

Then there was a spark in his eye.

I could see the cogs turning in his brain, the excitement in his tone, the possibilities he was dreaming of.

But I was reluctant, this was his thing, not my thing. I didn't think I could do it and I wanted to have my own identity.

And if I did become a developer, would I ever see myself outside of his shadow?

During the next few weeks, he kept coming back to it. He shared hundreds of links with me including this article by Preethi that made me realize that if she could learn how to code, then perhaps I could too. He invited me to watch React conference videos with him (how romantic). Although I didn't understand anything those speakers were saying, it enticed my curiosity.

I asked him a lot of questions during that time. Like a lot. It was like I had discovered a new world of knowledge and I had to admit, it was exciting. A seed began to grow, I could build things!

So I decided to try. But under one condition: I would need to find my own voice. He could provide advice, but he could not teach me.

This was my journey.

The sweet beginnings

I started by learning basic HTML, CSS, and JS a few hours a day with free online tutorials. Then I came across the #100daysofcode challenge on Twitter and decided to join in.

Having some form of accountability helped because it forced me to build things that I could share with people. It also introduced me to a supportive community of people, new coders and more experienced developers who were willing to give guidance.

At the end of every day, I would tell my husband what I learned and chat about my Twitter endeavors, I'd say "oh I talked with this person today". He'd chuckle and be like "yes, he or she does this or created this". Then my eyes would grow big and I would feel slightly worried that I might have said something stupid to that person.

Looking back at those days, it was all novelty, it was a sweet time but the weeks were passing by and I wasn't getting any closer to making a career out of it.

The exciting new school

Coming from a science background, one thing that I struggled with while teaching myself how to code was the lack of structure. I make sense of things by organizing them in my head and for this new thing, there was no syllabus I could follow, only a bunch of random books and online tutorials and many different tools/frameworks/libraries I could learn. Sifting through the resources was time-consuming and full of uncertainty. As a newcomer, it was impossible to gauge the quality of resources, whether it was the right way to do things or just someone's random opinion.

My biggest worry was that I didn't have the skills I'd need to land a job, who would take me seriously with absolutely no experience?

I considered going to University for a while, but I had already spent so many years chasing the Medical School dream. The CS degrees seemed to offer out-of-date material and I didn't want to be in debt for another course.

Another option was bootcamps, but they were expensive and required upfront payment, or were simply not available in the UK. Lambda School was one that was causing ripples at that time with their ISAs - but they were only available in America.

Then suddenly, Lambda School announced they were launching in Europe. I applied the next day. They were relatively new. It was a risk. What convinced me was that their curriculum seemed to be the most up-to-date and we both agreed the structure would help me. I felt this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Every day, after work, I would spend a few hours studying their pre-course material. After 2 weeks, I took their code challenge and passed, I couldn't believe it. I was then scheduled for an interview at 10:00pm (America 😴) and after an incredibly nerve-wracking Skype call, I received an email saying that I was accepted into their first European cohort.

I was over the moon.

No room for failure

Lambda School was hard.

A lot of things were completely new to me. Despite doing a full-time program, I was waking up at 4am to spend 1-3 hours per day prepping for class. Learning to code became my life and my brain was frazzled by the end of the day. Back then, the EU program didn't have a flex option (where students can go back retake modules), so in my mind, there was no room for failure.

I was also the only female in a team of 8 students and some of them had more experience than I did. So I felt compelled to keep up with them.

After 3 months, their 2nd European class launched and I applied to be an intern team lead. This was to give us some financial breathing room but also to help me gain more experience.

Instead of offering me the job as a Team Lead, they asked me to be a Section Lead (this is someone who oversees the team leads and the class activities). I had to ask them for some time to think about it, this was a big responsibility. Although I hated my previous jobs, I guess all that experience in customer service really helped me here.

So for the next 4 months, I worked as a Section Lead. I learned a lot about managing people by overseeing the Team Leads and I was lucky in the sense that most students in my class were very professional, so I could spend a lot more time providing feedback and guidance to the team leads rather than escalating student misconducts.

The job offer

After finishing my internship as a Section Lead, I went back to being a student and about a month later, the EU manager scheduled a meeting with me and offered me a job as a Student Coordinator.

This time though, I was more cautious about accepting the offer because it would mean I'd be delaying getting a job as a developer. In the end, I accepted it after discussing how I wanted to continue focusing on my career development.

The job at Lambda was nothing like I imagined and it opened up another new world for me: Silicon Valley. The world of tech start-ups, the dreamers, the kids who are moving fast and breaking things. It's a job where it's not uncommon to brush shoulders with people that worked for X, Y or Z. I had to pinch myself a few times. I'm incredibly thankful for it.

The cloud

I could stop here and that would be the end of the story. I got a job in a "tech company", right?

But this isn't the end. I'm still not a developer.

Whilst I enjoy the job and its impact on other people, there was this cloud hanging over me. I was devoting so much time to it that I wasn't advancing in my coding.

After all, I wanted it to be a transition job, not the end of the line.

Nevertheless, she coded

I needed to draw a line before I burned out.

So I started to make sure, in addition to my work, I also spent some time of the day investing in my career development and coding.

Two weeks ago, I made a small app. I was terribly rusty but got there in the end.

I don't think many of us realize how incredibly liberating this industry is. To be able to write lines of gobbly goop into a computer and have something alive at the end of it that other people can use is such an amazing experience.

The future

I don't know what is going to happen in the future. But if there is one thing that the last decade has taught me, is that life has seasons. You need to embrace opportunities when you have them and continue to carve out time to do the things you love even when it gets tough. As long as you have that thing, the Raison d'etre that makes you get out of bed and show up, you'll be heading in the right direction.

Most importantly, anyone, given enough time and grit, can become a developer. Two years ago, laying in that bed, I couldn't possibly imagine I'd be here now. And I still have a long way to go.

But I found my identity, I write code.

If you're worried about not being good enough, imposter syndrome happens to everyone. What you do with it is what matters, if you can push past the discomfort of thinking that you're not able to do something, that's when you allow yourself room to grow. This doesn't mean the path will be smooth and you'll likely fall, but it's how you pick yourself afterward that matters. As long as you give yourself the opportunity to try.

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Love it .... BTW this can be better in podcast.