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Learning to code so I can ditch my dead-end job, but I'm overwhelmed, under-rested, and my brain is full of bees. Plz halp?

I'm learning MERN stack, I was enrolled in a 6-month "flex" bootcamp that I should have graduated from in June but I haven't finished yet and now I'm on a more "self-guided" trajectory. I'm 38, have a full-time job, 2 kids at home and I'm currently in the middle of a divorce from my wife of 12 years. Needless to say, I don't have a lot of free time to devote to coding. With my commute included, my job sucks up the hours of 7:30 am - 6:00 pm every weekday.

By the time I get home from work, I've got about 4 hours to do dinner, be with my kids, take care of housework, etc, before my body and brain give out and I have to sleep.

Weekends in which I can set aside multiple hours alone to study are rare.

When I do get a multi-hour chunk of time to study I'm so scattered and panicked that I can't focus on single tasks.

Do I...

  • Try to make progress in my bootcamp curriculum?
  • Watch one of the video courses I've bought to help me through the curriculum?
  • Practice katas and algorithms?
  • Work on some of my portfolio apps?
  • Work on my resume?
  • Practice pair programming?
  • Practice tech interview questions?
  • Do some freeCodeCamp lessons?
  • Scream into a pillow?
  • Pass out face-down in a hedge?

I feel a tremendous pressure to get a dev job by the end of this year, not just because I hate my current job, but because the pay and benefits of a dev job would help me find a place I can have my kids stay with me, cover them on insurance, pay off debts and improve my work/life balance.

But I'm adrift. I'm stumped by seemingly basic algorithms that I used to be able to solve. I'm finding React difficult to get a handle on. I have no idea what to focus on. I have no real mentor or teacher or anyone I can count on to keep me accountable and on track.

What do, What do?

Top comments (17)

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Try to make progress in my bootcamp curriculum?
Watch one of the video courses I've bought to help me through the curriculum?
Practice katas and algorithms?
Work on some of my portfolio apps?
Work on my resume?
Practice pair programming?
Practice tech interview questions?
Do some freeCodeCamp lessons?
Scream into a pillow?
Pass out face-down in a hedge?

I'd say do any one or two of these things. Any of them, probably doesn't matter. Even screaming in the pillow when that is needed. Software development really is about getting back on the bike every day and peddling. Breakthroughs come at an uneven pace if you can stick to it.

If it seems brutal some days, but that's normal.

Are you listening to any podcasts? Could help squeeze some good learning time into your commute.

PS my brother recently learned to code in his early 40s and is now doing this stuff professionally. You got this!!

jdkoeppen profile image

Thanks Ben, what podcast would you recommend for learning rather than shop talk? Also, do you have any advice for keeping myself focused when I do narrow it down to one or two tasks? Yoga? Breathing exercises? Silicon Valley style sensory deprivation chamber?

rapsin4 profile image
Michael Ye

Software engineering daily, but that might be a bit advanced for you right now

Thread Thread
ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I agree, but if you scope out some MERN stack episodes it could help.

(I was on today's episode, so you could check that out. πŸ˜„ It was also a fairly non-technical episode)

I'm not really listening to any MERN stack type shows, but is one I've heard is good that might be fun.

But you also could benefit from more fundamentals than just stuff that tracks JS changes, which happen quickly.

CodeNewbie and Learn to Code with Me come to mind as really solid newbie-friendly ones.

jasman7799 profile image
Jarod Smith

Hi, Justin. I understand your feeling. Web dev is completely nuts currently and it would be very easy to be overwhelmed without direction. My recommendation is to really focus on one personal project. Reference videos as needed, but practice will get you up to speed faster than anything. Don't worry about your resume if your personal project is good it will serve you better than a well designed resume. Reach out for help when needed, and keep forging ahead with your personal project. This should unify your goals and reduce distractions and wasted time. You can practice the tech interview questions, but I think the practical experience you'll gain from your personal project will help you more. Try not to block things out in units of time if you can. I find that it interrupts your thoughts. When learning something complex I think it is better to learn in blocks of concepts rather than blocks of hours. Hope this speeds up your learning! Best of luck.

jdkoeppen profile image

Thank you, Jarod. I definitely need to unify my goals. Interesting idea about learning in blocks of concepts rather than chunks of time. I think that might work well for me so I'm not so focused on the time. I appreciate it!

aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer

Awesome point about the "blocks of concepts" not "hours" πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯

aritdeveloper profile image
Arit Developer


WOW! Your life sounds just like mine (sans the divorce, and I'm sorry to hear about that). I too am struggling with how to prioritize my limited time for coding, learning and job-hunt stuff. Here's what's working for me so far:

(1) Settling in my spirit that it's #CodingOrBust. No matter what I have to do now to take care of my babies, being a pro dev is my ultimate goal and nothing will deter me from it. I find that this mindset helps calm the panic of "I'll never make it" that I sometimes feel.

(2) Have a high-level list of coding activities and prioritize them. You already have this, but maybe group them into broader categories. Mine are

(a) Passion Apps - I build apps for purposes I'm passionate about
(b) CompSci skills - algos, data-structures, etc. Basically camp out on LeetCode and CodeWars.
(c) Job-Hunting - Write cover letters, send cold emails, anything that improved my job profile
(d) Learning/Community - listen to podcasts/youtube, post on community sites (like Dev.To)

(3) I focus on one high-level area per day (but allow interruptions from other areas if not expensive). So if its Passion Apps-day and I'm really into it and a great-looking job post comes through but it's going to require a lengthy break from my app-work, I just let the job go (and get back to it on Job-Day if it's still available). It's the feeling that I must chase down every opportunity that frazzles me out.

(4) Every 2-3 weeks or so I enjoy a completely code-free day. Preferably outside as much as possible. Balance is important. Enough said.

Hope this helps! Good luck and I shall keep you in my thoughts and prayers πŸ™πŸΎ

jdkoeppen profile image

Thanks so much for your response, Arit! I appreciate your advice and I definitely know what you mean about the need to chase down every opportunity. I feel like I have to learn some of everything and I've got huge lists of bookmarked articles on Medium and on that I might not ever get around to reading. I need to focus on actually writing code all the time and not just reading about concepts that might not even be relevant to me right now.

Hope your journey goes well, too!

  • Justin
jacobtstaggs profile image
Jacob Staggs

My advice will not be as good as some of the veterans considering I am only been a full time dev for over 3 months. But I figured I would help you out with what I can.

First thing first, is your resume is important but if you do not know the material that you included then it will do you no good. So in my opinion hold off on working on your resume until you have a good grasp of the concepts that are included. Second would be to find time to learn stuff (Ex. Listen to podcasts/videos explaining concepts and how algorithms work while you are driving (Do not watch.. Just listen), getting ready, etc.)

As for the few multi hour chunks you do receive. Plan your schedule on what you want to learn and stick to it. Say you have 3 hours you could do like
-1 hour bootcamp
-1 hour of algorithms
-1 hour of a personal project

I always enjoyed making personal projects that I could use. I always seemed more eager to learn and more focused on the project if it was something I had value in. For example is that you could make an app that would help you schedule your time you have and would notify you when to switch up tasks and such.

Final bit of advice is, it is okay to not understand everything in one day. Take your time and as you slowly learn more you will start to understand stuff faster.

jdkoeppen profile image

Thank you, Jacob. Some good advice here, I appreciate it!

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jdkoeppen profile image

Thanks for the insight, Andy! I've been working a lot on fundamentals again, it's starting to stick I think. Best of luck on your hunt.

jdkoeppen profile image

Thank you so much for your advice, Ayush. I like what you're saying about building momentum, I think that's a lot of what I'm lacking. I'm working in fits and starts instead of consistent small and effective sessions.

miku86 profile image

Hello Justin,

nice to meet you.

You are 38 years old, so I think your kids are at a young age,
so you will have around 10 years until they are grown-up
and your time with them will decrease.

You can be a developer until your death,
but not a father to young children.

So to spend time with your kids AND to leverage your studies,
I would set the #1 goal to getting a dev job asap,
that means building and showing that you can develop.

  • your website throws an error => employer can't see your skills
  • no github repo has live code => employer can't see your skills

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