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Discussion on: I went from portering in a restaurant to coding in Silicon Valley. Ask me anything.

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Joe Chasinga Ask Me Anything

Hi John, and thank you so much for sharing.

I think how I pulled it off matters much less than why I did and how I persisted. I have a strong belief that 99% of people just don't stick around long enough to learn. They only think they've learned something like they aren't good at it or it is not for them. That isn't learning, it's an excuse to quit. Everyone goes through the excuse stage. Not all can sail through.

I hardly had any books because I couldn't afford them. But luckily, the internet was already an abundant resource. Most physical books I cared to buy were not technical. They were subjects that would help me get through the day. Among them were the Prophet by Kalil Gibran and Powershift by Toffler which I still carry around when I travel.

The classes and courses I took were not out of because I wanted to do X with them but just curiosity. My first online course was from Stanford, building and deploying a Node.js app. I also took basic data science and R courses from John Hopkins on Coursera. Again, they were not immediately useful. I never successfully learned anything for the sake of practically use it. That's something you rip a page of a cookbook. Learning takes time, and you can't spend time without genuine curiosity.

I have no language of choice. I used to use Go a lot to the point that I've found a decent open-source Go library. I'm still using it for my projects when I need speed, although I've been trying Rust for command-line apps lately. My IDEs of choice are VSCode (who doesn't love it) and emacs. The most admirable programming languages for me are Lisp and Prolog. They transcend engineering.

My tips for you is to bumble into the unknown, quoted Frank Gehry. I love his work because most of his adult life he was a commercial architect doing goofy post-modern work until he tried something different and became a force. Most will do things for returns, and most will quickly quit because nothing yields that quickly and easily. If you can always maintain a core value and just keep blazing through while having fun and not being too logical, you will get somewhere interesting.

It is very common for me to feel intimidated. I feel that all the time. When I got criticized by a know-it-all punk who checked all the boxes I've mentioned in the post, I sometimes stuttered. I think the only difference is I bounced back hard and let them know I don't take shits. When you've literally mobbed the sidewalk of New York, you don't take shits from anyone.

You should strive to feel ok with yourself even when you aren't great at anything. It only comes when you know you are creating value.