The other day I was trying to find something super old in my gmail inbox (I'm one of those - I have like 2538493 emails going back maybe 10 years and never properly clean it out) and I came across an email from back in 2016, detailing my rejection from the Grace Hopper coding program.
Even though, duh, a rejection - it brought a huge smile to my face and made me laugh, and sent me down memory lane marveling at some of my early failures and where I am now as a programmer.
I can fully say I was in a weak personal position to become a developer. Although I'd coded lightly as a teenager, I was a recruiter when I decided to make the switch. My college education, unfinished, had been in Business Administration. I had no hobbies, work experience, or training that set me up for an easy transition.
I'd been trying my best to learn in my free time - CodeAcademy at night, doing some technical certifications, but it was honestly a drop in the bucket in terms of preparing me to code.
Furthermore when I learned to code, I was in a period of temporary disability AND had just lost my father AND suffered a layoff. There was nothing about my personal situation that set me up to have the resiliency for a career change, there were clearly things pulling my focus, and I was dealing with a lot personally.
Weirdly, I think my personal turmoil helped me at least make the decision to learn to code. All those things added up to me and I remember the thought running through my brain being that nothing in my life was working for me and I couldn't stand being so miserable anymore.
Even so, I had about as bumpy a start as anyone learning to code.
I remember getting SO EXCITED about Grace Hopper, the all female arm of Fullstack Academy. The program would have been held in NYC at the time and I'd never been, thoughts jumbled through my head about finding somewhere I could live with two dogs. The total 180 of my life gave me new purpose and even though I had a lot going on personally it really turned my mood around and gave me a focal point.
One thing: despite studying what I thought was an adequate amount (ok, I WAS always that kid who didn't really need to study to get good grades so my studying might not have been so great) I UTTERLY BOMBED THE ENTRANCE EXAM.
Like to the point that on question 2 out of 5, I knew I had made a grave error. Even at the time, it was grimly funny to me.
Anyway, Grace Hopper soundly rejected me. I don't even think they said "study more and apply again in the future", it was like a hard pass from them lmao.
I learned a bit from that and actually DID put in more serious study work ahead of applying to another program, and got in. I began trying to learn in earnest full time. For reasons that seem hazy in hindsight, I decided to make a 300+ mile move the first week of my bootcamp which turned out to be another case of ridiculous over-optimism on my part. I almost immediately fell behind in my program, and when it came time to deliver the first project I had nothing to say but sheepishly admit "Here's my project, and spoiler alert it doesn't work."
There had been times in my life where my pride might have made me walk away. I definitely worried that I was somehow fundamentally flawed in a way that meant I'd never be a coder. All I had to look at were failures, my entire track record was failure at that point.
Somehow though, I cared more about persevering than failing for once in my life. I didn't let myself dwell each time I flailed on an assignment. Although I (clearly) had no natural aptitude or transferable skills to help me at that point, my accceptance of failure slowly led me to outrank some of those around me.
I don't really know what to credit for that, other than after becoming disabled, losing a parent, and getting laid off nothing that code could do to me really seemed so bad in comparison.
I also was interested beyond maybe anyone in my group regardless of their skill level - as terrible as I was at everything I absolutely loved it. And so I bore my failures gracefully for once in my life and sought more, failed faster.
My family was legitimately worried for me. In addition to walking away from a security clearance and connections in DC, I don't think they'd ever seen me be so bad at something. I was always an excellent student in a well-rounded sense, so I think they worried I'd finally found something where my luck had run out.
So honestly, yeah: I had every reason to continue feeling like a failure, but I somehow managed to not care. I liked what I was doing.
There are two I'll talk about here that stuck out, both make me smile so much in retrospect. Of course there were also garden variety failures: looooots of rejection.
I finally got a job offer at one point for a tiny shop. I was at that point open to anything even though their tech stack was something off the wall like VB. I had another near offer though, and when I asked them for time to evaluate their offer more fully they rescinded it and said I wasn't motivated enough.
I obviously panicked, worrying I'd thrown away my one shot.
Another near offer, we reached that stage before they realized an internal policy would block me from being hired without a degree even though I'd done well in their interviews and was liked. That one hurt too, although I understood their reasons and they were very kind.
If you know me at all, you know that CLEARLY things turned around for me. (Actually that second offer from the last section? They changed their policy to hire me without a degree on the condition I'd finish it while working there). By three years in this field I was a Dev Lead making a healthy six figure living.
The success arc isn't anything special: really all it took was one shot, and about a year of fumbling everything as a junior dev while working hard in the background.
It felt like a switch flipped at me at some point, like one day I went from stumbling around and screwing everything up to being scary good. It really felt like magic, like some magical point in time the amount of imposter syndrome I felt dropped off a cliff and suddenly I was a go to person who nothing could stop.
There is nothing magical or special about what I did between failure and success, just kept trying, worked hard, and tried to be a good human being. The closest thing I have to a special skill is just really, really liking code.
You can probably see now how this is a happy story and why finding my Grace Hopper rejection had me laughing. It made me recap all the cool things that have happened between then and now:
- Many earned Hacktoberfest ts
- Became a mentor and code instructor
- Went back for a Software Engineering degree, now near done
- Built out two products from the ground up
- Found my niche
- Several Hackathons, each such a fun adventure
- Promoted to Lead Dev unprompted
- Earned a living that enabled me to buy my first home and travel
- Joined Red Hat!
I am actually really glad that I struggled in a way, and the biggest reason is how much it helped my emotional regulation and outlook in a field that can be immensely intimidating and frustrating. Because of my early experiences, I know the moments where I feel the most lost, outclassed, and incapable of doing something are my amazing growth moments propelling me to new heights.
I wrote this mostly for anyone out there, wondering if you can do it, just to say that you absolutely can. Because although I am a proud failure, I am also a giant success, and I think the same can be true for anyone.