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If you know me, you know I'm one for the longer posts, if you're in a hurry or not a big reader, you can see my (first ever) video here:
I don’t feel like my journey into tech is ‘done’ yet so this is more likely going to be a life story than a useful step-by-step but here goes nothing…
As anyone who has read my blog knows, my extent of tech education in school was minimal, to say the least, from what I remember my final certification in Information Communication Technology (ICT) was a multiple choice question paper and a website project for a donkey sanctuary built with Microsoft PowerPoint.
I actually tried to find the past paper on google to give you examples – it’s that old, the examining bodies don’t keep a copy – likely through embarrassment of the content.
I had a really tough time in school, I just never seemed to fit in, I was badly bullied and moved schools twice. By the end of senior school, I was a hurt and sad 16-year-old, already fed up with education. My parents insisted that I go to college. At the time I wanted to do something arty but my parents told me, art will never make you money so you must choose something to make a career out of.
Being creative I ended up studying Fine Art, Graphic Design, Photography and Media Studies. I forced myself through college because I thought it was the right thing to do. I made it out with 4 passes and after that I was ready to go travelling, go out and see the world...cue my parents telling me it was essential to go to university to avoid winding up as a bin man.
I had no interest in studying for a degree but at the time there weren’t many other options like bootcamps or apprenticeships, or at least no one made me aware of the alternatives. I pushed on and started a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration, I just really wasn't invested in it and throughout my first year I was really brought down by the lack of creativity, “well the (imaginary) client asked for that to be red not blue”, “you can’t use that typography with this typography” and so on. I grew tired of it and decided not to go back after the summer break.
Moral of the Story – don’t listen to everything your parents say (unless they are life coaches then I’d say listen a little bit).
So, I’m 19 years old, working at McDonalds part time and I have no idea what I want to do with my life, I know I like helping people, so what about care work?!
By the end of the summer I was working as a Support Worker caring for adults with learning difficulties and visual impairments. As a young and ambitious person, I was already looking at the big picture, thinking how I could create things to improve lives or make the work a little bit easier and getting excited imagining all those people I could help.
I decided I was going to change the world! I realised stigma around disability started young, so I created my own Disability Awareness lessons and went to teach them at local senior schools. They went well and that made me want to work with children and young people.
I started work as a Support Worker for children with disabilities. I stayed for around 3 years but there was no real progression that allowed you to stay working directly with the kids. Don't get me wrong, I loved whizzing round on go karts and spending my days finger painting but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough for me so I decided to try my hand at teaching…
Narrator "A decision she would learn to regret…"
I started a part time degree course in primary education whilst still working at the care home. It was all going ok until it came to placement halfway through year 1.
I was placed in a more, shall we say “challenging” classroom (as in throwing chairs across the room, writing swear words on the wall kinda challenging). The teacher had been struggling and I think my placement there was more to help the teacher control the class than it was to support my education.
Towards the end of the placement I was feeling rather stressed and I got called to the head teachers office one day. He started literally yelling at me and my placement “buddy” telling us that we weren’t doing enough to support the teacher in class, it was a lengthy rant and by the end of it, I was in tears.
So that was the end of teaching for me. You might think that’s weak but if there was a chance that could be the everyday for me, I wanted no part in it.
Now we’re back at square 1, 23 years old with no clue what I want to do with my life, still wanting to go travelling but with the nagging thought of what my parents said about a career. I decide I should to move to the city, “there are better job opportunities in the city” I thought and it’ll give me a fresh start to reinvent myself.
Within a month or two of moving to the city, I broke up with my then boyfriend (that I was sharing an apartment with), found a horrible scam job where they made me go self employed so they didn’t have to pay my taxes and I got called to jury service on a court case against a man who had been sexually abusing young girls in the area. More info on that here - if you're interested.
In the UK, jury service is mandatory and people are called at random, you are also assigned cases at random once you show up to the court house. You might get called for 2 weeks but only sit for a day on a robbery case for example and then get sent home.
The case I landed lasted 2 weeks, my scam employer refused to let me have the time off (which is, of course, illegal) and made me work nights throughout the case to keep up with my workload.
I crumpled, I think at this point I’d just had enough, I found myself crying all the time, not wanting to go out, very lonely and very sad.
One day I was walking home from work, thinking about going back to my empty apartment that was dark and lonely while I could hear everyone around me having fun or having friends over and I started to panic, I could feel this overwhelming sense of fear rising up inside me and I felt sick.
I realised something wasn’t quite right, so I tried to go to a walk-in doctor’s surgery.
I pleaded with the receptionist, but she said they were too busy to help and I would need to get on a bus to the other side of the city to a different surgery. I couldn’t even contemplate doing that in the state I was in so I called the only person I knew in the city – my ex. He came to help me, encouraged me to go home to my parents for a little while, walked me home and stayed with me while I packed my bags. I never went back to the city or to my job.
3 months and 16 counselling sessions later, I felt a little more human. I started looking for jobs again and started a temporary placement through the Job Center doing mechanics at a local garage.
I still had no idea what I wanted to do, back to square 1 – 24 years old feeling lost but I was again pressured by my parents to get back into the world of work.
After a couple of weeks of searching, I was lucky enough to secure a job at the local council in the payroll department working with some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
I started off in payroll admin, processing changes to employee contracts in the payroll system. Quite quickly I was promoted to the control team that dealt with actually running the payroll and submitting all the data to HMRC and from there I was promoted to the systems team where I dealt with the administration of the payroll system itself; setting user accounts, creating system enhancements, weeding out bugs, completing user acceptance testing of new modules.
I really enjoyed finally getting to put my brain to use and gain more technical skills but again I felt like I needed more, more challenge, more excitement.
At 26 I finally decided to go travelling, me and my then boyfriend (we’ll call him Fred) converted a Ford Transit into a campervan and got the ferry to France, after 4 weeks on the road Fred decided Europe wasn’t for him and he wanted to go home. I didn’t drive at the time, so I had no choice but to go home.
I spiraled into another spell of depression and Fred being the kind and compassionate fellow that he is, kicked me out of the rental we were sharing and very abruptly brought the relationship to an end.
I can see now that Fred was just a bit of a d*ckhead (yes this is a sub post) but at the time I was devastated, ashamed and once again completely lost.
I was halfway through a temporary work contract after coming back from Europe so I carried on with that for a couple of weeks and one day I decided to do what I’d waited 10 years for – take a working holiday in Australia. I booked a one way ticket in January 2018 and flew out at the beginning of February.
And let me tell you reader, it was the best thing I ever did
I felt so free, strong and happy, I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing and there was no one around to judge me or be disappointed in my choices or make negative comments. I was finally being 100% true to myself.
I lived in Melbourne for around a year and then moved to Brisbane, I managed to find work doing short time assignments for HR & Payroll projects. I was having so much fun, I wanted to stay forever, about 6 months in I finally built up the courage to ask for a loan from the bank of mum and dad to study IT on a student visa.
I saw this as an opportunity to finally study a subject that I was interested in and hopefully gain a permanent visa at the end of it. My parents begrudgingly agreed and I signed up for a course starting in January 2019. But, in typical “Laura’s life” fashion, the day my course started the college lost their status as an authorized education provider and an investigation started with the governing body.
And ohh boy what a fun ride this one was…classes cancelled last minute, classes scheduled last minute, students in the same class studying different subjects, no permanent lecturers, out dated course material, teaching OOP like you had any idea what programming even was.
There were so many times I felt like it was me, like I’d taken on a course that I was not capable of completing. The final straw came when my half term was moved without notice causing me issues with my employer due to having to constantly change working days at short notice.
Also, in typical fashion, at the same time, I was having issues with my rental property and dealing with breaking a lease (that’s a whole other story).
The college were refusing a refund, the classes were barely happening and I felt stuck, changing your education provider is really hard due to visa regulations and I couldn’t afford a second set of course fees. You’re also only allowed to work 20 hours per week on a student visa, so affordability was a worry.
It was at this point I asked why I was causing myself unnecessary stress.
In May 2019 I decided to return to the UK. Back to square 1 – 28 years old feeling lost (notice a theme emerging here).
I was thinking of studying part time whilst earning enough money to still have a comfortable life. However, all the mishaps with my course in Australia had put me off and I had completely lost confidence. I got a job in payroll again and started to get myself settled before embarking on anything major.
In August 2019 I saw an opening for a temporary payroll project role earning 2 x my annual salary, I thought “f**k it” why not.
And do you know what reader, I got the job (and the salary).
I naturally assumed a higher paying job meant more responsibility and therefore that challenge I was always searching for, however, that wasn’t the case at all.
I sat for months twiddling my thumbs because there was a hiccup with the project. I was also not included in business as usual because I was on a temp contract.
There’s nothing I find more frustrating and demoralising than doing nothing. It was also tough being in a new team whilst doing nothing because the team were all looking at me wondering what I had actually been hired for.
Eventually I got to work on my project and implemented the new functionality but that also meant looking for a new job. I knew what I was good at, yes, I didn’t necessarily love it but I was good at it, so why not carry on that same route and then maybe I’d have one of these illustrious “careers” that everyone bangs on about.
In May 2020 I started as a Consultant for a software company, sounds posh, but basically I teach other people how to use payroll software and then set up the system with customisable features to meet their business needs.
Starting a new job during a pandemic has been so tough. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I recently posted about how much I’m disliking it. I will also be writing about this experience in my next blog post so keep your eye out for that.
So that brings me to the latest part of my journey.
Around mid-May I was already bored with my new role and looking for the next steps to improve myself, I was looking into Business Analysis because it aligned with my current experience. I found a couple of courses but wasn’t convinced enough to commit.
I was scrolling through Facebook one day and an ad popped up for a 5-day coding challenge with Code Institute. If you are interested in taking the challenge, check it here:
It takes you through a little bit of HTML & CSS and you build a website with a recipe to make tea. Every morning you get an email with a new challenge for the day, it takes between 30 minutes – 1 hour to get through each module.
By the end of the challenge I was hooked. Due to past issues (see above), I wasn’t quite ready to move forward with a paid bootcamp. I spent a few hours searching around for free learning material and came across freeCodeCamp.
Praise be to Quincy Larson for putting that together – if you want to learn to code and you haven’t checked it out yet – try it here:
freeCodeCamp encourages you to use 2 things from the start: GitHub & Twitter. In my opinion it is mean to unleash GitHub on beginners but Twitter is one of the best things I’ve ever found.
If you’re in tech and you are not yet a member of Twitter – get in there. You will find the most loving, brave, talented and down to earth people you’ve ever met (virtually). Tech Twitter is so full of support and all these amazing people sharing achievements just like yours, it’s sometimes hard to keep up!
If you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of awesome people to follow – it’s not everyone but it’s good place to start:
Joking! I started a list but there were too many incredible people and I didn’t want to miss anyone out so just get on there and start adding devs at random – that’s how I did it.
Twitter is also an incredible place to market yourself and your skills, do something good – great – put it on there, made a mistake – great – put a post up, stuck with something – ok – tweet about it. I’ve only been on Twitter since the end of May and already it’s brought me 3000+ incredible people who are interested in what I have to say and an offer of freelance work. Use it right and it could potentially help you springboard to your first job in tech.
Right, back to the story…
I started freeCodeCamp and was so excited by the combination of complexity and creativity. I finished the Responsive Web Design part in a week and then spent a couple of weeks building my projects.
The learning curve was so much steeper, I felt drowned in technical jargon and the freeCodeCamp syllabus was moving way too fast for me. I started to get disheartened and ended up moping around for a few days thinking I’d never make it.
One morning I woke up, remembered why I was learning coding and started searching for more learning materials, here’s what I found:
I haven’t stuck to any one of the above religiously, I like to dip in and out. Purely thinking about employment later, I want to build projects that I didn’t follow a tutorial for or build the tutorial project without coding along – if I get stuck, I refer back to the tutorial, if I still don’t get it, I go back to the learning materials on Codecademy.
In late July I built a project that I wanted to host but I had no idea where to start, I checked Netlify but you needed to use GitHub so I started searching around for guides. It was during this search I found that guides just expected you to know stuff.
The guide would be called “A Complete Beginners Guide to Git & GitHub” and then on the first few lines it would read:
- Download Git
- Sign up to GitHub
- Navigate to the relevant directory in Git
What?! Not really helpful when you have no idea what a directory is or how to use Git.
That inspired me to start my series: Breaking into Web Dev – The No Jargon Guide, if you haven’t already, you can check it out here.
Ever since then I have been writing and coding – making new things each week.
When I started, I never really expected to love coding as much as I do, I certainly didn’t think I’d want to make a job out of it but that is what’s so beautiful about trying something new out – it opens up possibilities.
Like I said at the beginning, my journey isn’t really done – I’m still learning and still trying to navigate the great mountain of content available.
Just this week I posted on Twitter asking for advice or anecdote’s on quitting your job to attend bootcamp or self-study full time to see if I can make the career change a little quicker.
Laura Harvey 🧜♀️💻Hey You Guys 🦥😁
A bit different to my norm but I’d really like your thoughts, input & experiences on the below...
I hate Monday’s, atm I find myself waking up on a Monday feeling heavy 🙃 I’m really hating my current role and all I want to do is code and create content. 🧵15:12 PM - 17 Aug 2020
The responses were amazing and lots of people had quit their jobs to bootcamp or self study full time but for the time being I’ve decided to carry on learning part time while I save up to potentially make the leap. I have also made steps to jump start my freelance project in the meantime. Just yesterday I offered 5 free websites to friends through Facebook and Instagram.
It worked really well and I now have people asking for paid sites too.
Whatever happens – I’ll keep you in the loop.
As you can see my journey through life hasn’t been smooth and I’m still not exactly sure where I want to be (at age 29). No matter who you are or where you’re at, here are my take-aways for you:
Do what you want to do (career wise, don’t be committing crimes and using my blog as permission).
Don’t be concerned about where other people are at – your friends might be married, having babies, working 6 figure jobs – they’re not you and that’s what makes you special – you do you!
Be true to yourself – listen to yourself more – you know yourself better than anyone.
Be strong – if you’re on a path, don’t let other people’s negativity throw you off – if you need a support – reach out, I’ll happily give you a pep talk!
Have confidence in your choices - you're a smart cookie don't let anyone allow you to believe otherwise.
Don’t be disheartened if something doesn’t work out – there’s no harm in failing and trying something else.
Taking risks is character forming – don’t be silly but don’t so scared that you end up doing nothing.
Always keep in mind why you started something – it’ll keep you motivated especially on those hard days.
A “career” is not everything – try to find something you enjoy – also don’t be concerned with job titles – being a bin man for 20 years is still a career in my eyes.
ABB – always be building – your knowledge, your hobbies, your interests, the number of countries you’ve visited, it can be anything just make sure you’re always moving forward.
Don’t listen to your parents – their ideas of the world are outdated and they don’t know the you that lives inside your head.