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Michael Maitoza
Michael Maitoza

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Coding isn't for the faint of heart, or is it?

You know the old saying, "This isn't for the faint of heart.", right? Well I'm here to debate that statement and to shed light how in my own life there are mountains we can climb and obstacles that we can overcome that seem impossible at the beginning. IN my case the mountain I chose to tackle is coding, specifically web development.

I'm also here to say that our obstacles many times relate to challenges in our lives. Be it a physical challenge, a mental challenge, or both as in the case of myself.

You see, I'm going to get a little personal here and talk to you about my journey into coding. If you're not into reading about other people's problems or you cannot relate to physical or mental health issues I suggest that maybe this isn't your kind of post. If you don't mind, please read on!

My coding journey started in 2007 when I at the age of 35 looked into getting some training for a new role in my life. I had, for many reasons mostly mental health, been in need of vocational rehabilitation. I had previously worked as a Christian Pastor but had gotten sick with mental health issues and was unable to be a pastor anymore. Things came to a head and obviously my sanity had to come first.

So I embarked on a new journey, one that would take me down the path I am currently on. I went to community college and studied in what was then called their "Webmaster" program. Today we would probably call it a full stack web developer program. It was great and things were going fine for me until I hit a wall! Bam! It hit me like a ton of bricks.

When I was 36, one full year into my curriculum at community college, I almost died of congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy. Long story short, it was debilitating. I could not walk, I could hardly breathe, and I needed help with every activity of daily living, including eating. Recovery was tough, I won't lie, but I had two little children and a wife that I couldn't leave behind. So I fought. After many months of therapy and years of hospitalizations, I got better, not 100% but better.

So, as I got used to life's new limitations, I noticed that I needed to do something with my spare time. So I got out the old textbooks and went on the web and started to code again. I started slow by using WYSIWYG editors and cleaning up CSS when necessary. It was fun and I felt like this was something I could do to pass time and so I began updating our church's website every week. It's been great for me and has given me a sense of purpose. This is something that people with my mental illness struggle with sometimes.

Having some purpose I felt like I was finally turning a corner with my health, when on Jan 1, 2016 I had a stroke. That's right, I slammed into another wall. I was able to still move my left side, but my right side suffered paralysis. I could talk, but couldn't walk very safely. I did however still have the strength to do a few things on my tablet, so I considered that a blessing. Computing and coding were too hard for me at the time because of cognition issues so I had to do something to gain mental strength back.

I found that, along with my physical therapy, I needed something for my brain so that I would not have any lasting cognition issues. So I tried, at first, all kinds of puzzle games and word searches on the tablet. That worked out great! I was finally able to start to do more intensive tasks. By the time I had use of my arm again (after about 6 months) I was able to start working on code again. I eventually picked where I left off at church and kept updating the website.

Then, late in 2016 I started working on Team Treehouse to work towards getting more skills in Front-end Development. I enjoyed it and when I could afford it I bought a computer more suited to development. That was the beginning of a new pursuit. I wanted to redevelop our church's website into something more modern.

HTML came easy to me and I was not too bad at CSS so I decided to build a simple 7 page website. It occurred to me as I started building this that coding from scratch isn't the easiest thing to do, but I liked it because it gave me some freedom to do whatever I wanted (within the limitations of my imagination and my coding abilities).

The website was to be responsive, meaning that it would would not only look good on all screen sizes, but work on all devices. This was challenging and took a while, but I started getting the hang of it, except for the media queries. That took a little longer. One mistake I made was I designed the site for desktop first (I'll talk more about my struggles with media queries and the desktop first approach in another post).

Back to the subject of the church website, it took some time. I had gotten some bouts of sickness during the process and something I thought would take a few months actually took a whole year. That's the thing with chronic illness, you cannot always depend on having a "normal" workweek. Many times throughout the process I had broken up weeks, times when I got sidelined, and I also had to relearn some of the coding techniques I had learned because with the time off I had gotten rusty.

After a year, it was done. At the time I was ecstatic. It was so freeing to finally have finished a site and to have had it be utilized in production. The church was happy, the pastor (who is a backend developer) was happy, and most of all I was happy with it.

After a time of feeling good and enjoying learning more about coding I got the opportunity to work on another project. This time it was for a friend of the pastor. I accepted the opportunity to build the site for him. It was to be a 10 page site that was quite a bit more complex than the church site. The would be a home page with many buttons on it with many cards that would pop out and give information about the different services the company provided. There was a navbar that had links and a few had dropdowns as well. Each link was to a different page that was a category of products the company sold and serviced. All in al it was a big project, but I confidently thought I could get it done in a couple of months because I was going to use Bootstrap 4 to get it done.

While, at the time it was ambitious, I thought it was entirely possible to get it done that quickly. I was wrong. I forgot to factor in sickness and health factors in again. What on paper should have only taken two months at the most ended up taking five.

I had more health troubles again causing many slowdowns migraines, a mini-stroke, and a neurological disorder caused me to have many weeks when I could not get much of anything done. It was discouraging and very humbling, yet I didn't give up and I finally delivered the project. It is going well and I will continue to stay on and work on updates and work on new pages as they should come up.

What was one thing I learned after these projects was that I have to take my illnesses into account when I estimate a project's due date. I am now much more careful to make sure I add in extra time for my health issues. As a person who has some major health issues I must think of my health first, work on the things I can (such as my therapies, exercises, nutrition, and mental health) and then think of doing projects second.

While I may never get to work in an office with my abilities being very limited, I can still build good projects for anyone who might be willing to wait just a little longer for them to be completed.

The reason for this post is not to have drawn a picture of my life to get sympathy. That is not my intent. It is more to say that if there are any people who are struggling with their health out there, please do not give up hope. You can do whatever it is you want to do. The ways of achieving your goals might look different, but you can do it and you can be happy doing it.

My joy comes from something more than just getting a project done. It comes from my faith. To that end I have chosen to dedicate my abilities. I might never be the best, fastest, or most knowledgeable coder, but what I have, I dedicate to this end. I have found a niche, I know that you can find yours too.

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