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Nevertheless, Jenn Coded

jbradford77 profile image Jennifer Bradford ・6 min read

My Loop the Loop Into Becoming a Dev

I had all the head starts and my first programming experience was more than 30 years ago, but I've twisted and turned through a ton of life and career changes before landing where I'm at now. I had a bunch of early life exposure to tech and plenty of guidance and encouragement. My grandmothers were both into technology in their own ways. My paternal grandmother was a switchboard operator and on my mom's side she programmed punch cards (when programming was considered secretarial work) and eventually ended up in charge of tracking global shipments which involved having a remote terminal she used to work from home at night in the early 80s. My dad was always building some kind of electronics and got me my first couple electronics kits before I was 10. I took my first programming classes starting in 3rd grade. I had my own computer in the late 80s. Later my mom started working in tech and I learned a lot from her. We had a computer with internet access and I built a php back when that just meant personal home page. JavaScript was just something to make flashing colors. In my first attempt at college, I put a ton of content into html as my sweet hook-up of a work study.

Then I left school and changed direction a couple dozen times. I went to cosmetology school and was a nail tech. I was a credit analyst. I was an account manager at a bank. I delivered pizzas on and off for almost 10 years. I drove a limo for a few years and ended up building an awful web site for a limo business. I hope that limo site has had time to vanish from caches of the internet of 15 years ago.

After my oldest was born I learned that daycares weren't open at night or on weekends so all the driving and bank jobs were suddenly off the table. There were computer jobs for engineers with cs degrees, nobody was looking for someone to build them a website that didn't do much and I needed a regular 9 to 5. I still made websites on the side for friends with small businesses who were just looking for a static 3 pages.

Here's how I slid sideways into my current path

I found a temp admin job. After a couple bounces as a temp I landed in an amazing office full of brilliant, well educated people and managed to get a permanent position. The job duties were too much for one human so just as a matter of survival, I took one process from paper to Excel to a database. I learned a lot from the Excel ninjas that surrounded me there and tried to automate anything I could to make life easier for everyone. This included upgrading some heavily used forms to fillable PDFs. That job was brutal but I loved it and the people I worked with.

Then another life change. Both of my parents were diagnosed with terminal illnesses. I left that job without a replacement lined up and moved to live closer to my parents. I found another exec assistant job and dug right in building forms and connecting them to spreadsheets and databases. Then out of the blue some recruiter in New York called. I was building forms with LiveCycle and they were looking for people who knew how to use it. The rate he said they were offering was quadruple what I was making. I felt like I hit a lottery I didn't even know I was playing. I had no idea that what I was doing was more than admin work. I assume the people I worked for didn't know either.

The recruiter helped me tune up my resume and basically changed my trajectory. I still feel bad when people rag on recruiters because of this guy and a couple other recruiters who've really gone to bat for me. I'm bad at negotiating and they tend to be great at it. Being able to work remote and spend time with my parents at that time is something I'm still grateful for.

While I was doing short term consulting gigs as a LiveCycle developer I still knew I wanted to build websites that actually did something so I took some community college classes and learned Java, PHP, and how to build web applications including setting up test servers. I stumbled across bootstrap and learned how to use that to quickly have a starter template and easy classes to plug in. The websites I built on the side started getting better.

A couple years into being a LiveCycle developer while working remote and being generally comfortable, Adobe decided to change their product direction. The project I was consulting on at the time was 75% done and didn't pivot in the same direction as Adobe. I mentioned I had some web development experience from side projects. They were kind and kept me on to work on the frontend when the whole thing became a web application project. Then another job I loved, working with brilliant people, came to an end and this time it was just because the work was done.

LiveCycle became part of part of AEM. The jobs I was getting calls about were asking for things that didn't exist at the time, like AEM certifications. One wanted 8.5 years - 9.75 years of LiveCycle experience and I fit into that range but when I explained how the tech had changed they rewrote their job description then told me I was not qualified because I didn't have 9 years using AEM (which had only been around a year) and because the hiring manager was a "real engineer." It was frustrating but I likely dodged a bullet there.

After a few months of funemployment

I took a seasonal job that looked like fun while I was looking for my next thing. It turned out to be such a wonderful place that I financially hunkered down and stayed three years. I'm still friends with my awesome boss from that job.

I'm terrible at interviews and the anxiety/fight or flight level adrenaline rush takes days to recover from so I didn't start seriously looking until I was in big financial trouble. Through a series of horrible interviews I realized my social awkwardness and complete lack of brain to mouth filter were never going to get me anywhere in a market where more than 50 people have this skill set. I decided I better have a degree as some kind of proof I at least kind of know what I'm doing so I started working again on a bachelors. I'm actually sticking with it this time and I'm about halfway through. This is quite an accomplishment for me. I left colleges and tech certifications more times than I care to count.

This past year I got a permanent job with health insurance and everything. I'm surrounded by brilliant people and am very grateful I keep landing in places full of people I learn from every day.

Somehow I'm simultaneously old and new at all of this. I started so long ago but I'm still relatively new to the stack I'm working with. Even within .NET there are so many different ways to build that working with MVC doesn't really seem to translate into easily understanding winforms or .NET Core. HTML has changed so much since the first time I used it I've basically had to re-learn it a few times especially once I became aware of accessibility issues. The JavaScript I used for years building forms is nothing like any currently used frameworks or even ES6 with all the amazing stuff it can do.

I'm perpetually nervous about not keeping up, especially after the Adobe pivot. I keep studying and have picked up a couple certifications in the past year. I still feel like I'm missing out because I don't know React or Vue but I don't want to jump in towards the end of the tech run for them where I'll never have enough years experience to get hired before everyone stops using it.

I really like the Dev.to community

I recently got a notification about my Twitter-versary and did a double take at the number of years because I didn't really use my Twitter account until less than a year ago when I stumbled across this group of friendly and welcoming group of devs. I don't think I'm contributing anything educational for anyone here, but I'm happy to learn from you all. I see people here who've just started learning and you're already explaining things I haven't even opened a tutorial on. There's also a healthy mix of absolute experts. If the convention in July doesn't have to go remote, I look forward to meeting some of you in person.

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Jennifer Bradford

@jbradford77

I'm currently a software developer and working towards data science.

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