Origin Story Time

mariawhen profile image Maria Nguyen Updated on ・4 min read

My name is Maria Nguyen. It’s not easy to google me, but this version of me is a Software Engineer. This is my origin story. I usually start with some fast facts then fill in the details depending on my audience’s interest level...

  • I was a part-time nail technician
  • I was in my 5th year of college, still unsure of what I wanted to do
  • Always thought I’d end up with an artsy feelsy career
  • Found out about General Assembly, a coding bootcamp
  • There was nothing like it near home at the time, so packed my car and drove all night to Los Angeles where I crashed on my family member’s couch for 3 months
  • Finally realized that I just love to build things and programming is one of the most powerful means to do so
  • The rest is history

Ok so for those of you that made it this far, let's fill in the details. I didn’t know who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do after I dropped the idea of becoming an architect or a psychologist. So I started signing up for a slew of classes at my local community college. I aced a handful, flunked out of others, and struggled to keep my financial aid while figuring out what I wanted to do. I was pinned as the artsy type growing up, and always thought I would end up with a career doing something that was traditionally artsy or emotional (hence, architect/psychologist). I tried things like interior design, darkroom and digital photography, graphic design, environmental biology, nutrition, massage therapy, game design, and yes... programming. I failed an intro class with C#, barely passed the same class in Java, aced a networking class and probably dropped out of a dreamweaver class. Frustrated but still interested, I looked for options elsewhere. Since I was always reading hacker news and interested in the start up scene, I stumbled upon General Assembly online. I did the pre-work. I took free online courses. I was ready to apply, and there were no local branches. There were however, branches in Los Angeles and I knew I had some family members living there.

When I wasn’t dealing with parking tickets, getting my car towed, and learning how to parallel park in traffic hour in Hollywood, I was at the Reef building up to 12 hours a weekday learning how to create websites and web applications with the latest technologies and frameworks. I have to be honest here. I was not, and was nowhere near, the best student. I was often found sleeping in class from staying up so late. I didn't finish all of my 'homework'. I didn't finish all of the exercises in class. I didn't finish all of my projects. (Yes, you could pass these bootcamps without accomplishing anything, though I’m not sure how it is these days.) Still, I was hooked on the power of programming. I didn't want to give up. I didn't want to go back home. I wanted to persevere and land a job.

Another few months after GA, I did land my first job as a web developer at a creative agency in Santa Monica. I couldn't believe it. My life was moving so fast, I didn't have time to believe it. I just had to act, moving forward one step at a time. Get an offer. Negotiate. Get an apartment.

My life was changed forever. I love creating things with my hands and problem solving as a career.

I never thought of myself as 'mathy' or 'nerdy' growing up, I was oftentimes considered lazy and aloof. I didn't know I wanted to be a programmer and I even failed some programming classes. I don't have a computer science degree and I still landed a job. Heck, I don't have any degree!

Everyone has their own story. I get asked, “But what specifically drew you into programming?” I loved how powerful it seemed. I could reap such high rewards from just a few lines of code. Perhaps the ambitions I had in life, even for ones across themes, could be all addressed by this one thing - the ability to program.

So if you’re thinking of making the jump, no matter how you did in school, or how society labels you, and even if you don’t believe in yourself yet… jump.

There's so much more to the story. In the longer version, maybe over a beer, I tell you more like..

  • I was very depressed and had cultural pressures to live at home with my parents
  • I couldn't actually afford the tuition and applied for some kind of fellowship program through GA that would essentially cover the tab
  • They never gave me an answer about the fellowship and had me apply for personal loans for the regular admission but I got rejected for the loan
  • I was terrified to tell most of my family members what I was really doing. I hated small talk and I didn't want people to know what I was doing in case I failed

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Maria Nguyen


Still trying to close all my tabs


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Congratulations. Your journey saw a lot of ups and downs but you persisted and went on to become a developer anyways.

I have a similar story on YouTube: youtu.be/zViCUX_iHlg
You're smart awesome and amazing. Keep up the good work. I am supporting and rooting for you all the way.


Oh my goodness, thank you so much! I was really terrified of publishing this. I still am.

I just watched your video, I love that you didn't edit out your camera person's dialogue. You're so endearing <3 Watching absolutely made my day

I am now a fan, cheers!