I was told I couldn't get a job as a programmer because I didn't have a college degree, and I believed everyone who told me that. So, I settled for non-programming jobs.
I ended up taking a job as a customer service representation taking claims in Spanish for an insurance company. We were ranked by how many claims we "closed" in a given period and the AS/400 software we used would sometimes crash. Waiting for IT to fix it would put me way behind in the rankings. I realized IT would often just restart the program, so I started doing that myself. IT noticed this in their audit logs and reached out to me to ask if I was interested in a role in IT. I said, "Yes!" thinking it would be my big programming breakthrough.
It wasn't, not exactly. They hired me on a night shift to run these massive printers that would generate insurance forms. They were black ink with either green, red, or blue highlights and the job consisted mainly of waiting for the printer to halt because it needed a different ink cartridge and then swapping them out. This went on for 4 - 6 hours a night.
I realized that there was a way to classify documents based on the type of ink they needed, so I did some research and figured out how to write a program that would sort them so the greens, reds, and blues were all grouped together. This took the job down to 2 - 3 hours so I used the balance of my extra time to "borrow" programming books from various desks (remember, it was the night shift) and teach myself RPG III, the language they were using at the time. After a few months I presented what I learned and management gave me an "overtime role" of managing the month end process in addition to running the printers. As part of that role, I wrote software to help expedite the process and this in turn led to me being transferred officially onto the development team.
Technically, I searched for the job that led to "the" job for months. I took on roles at fast food restaurants, in clothing stores, at bookstores, even worked in a pool hall and sold electronics out of the trunk of my car before landing the customer service job that was the first job to pay me more than minimum wage (I think I was hired on at $6.50/hour when minimum wage was $4.25/hour ... I bragged to my friends that I was a high roller and switched from cheap noodles and generic cigarettes to Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Marlboro Reds. I've since given up both cigarettes and cheese, but I still love good noodles.)
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