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

pyr02k1 profile image

What was the path you took to get there? Classes, courses, books, videos, etc. What's your current language of choice? Editor/IDE of choice, and plug-ins to go with it? Any tips for someone pushing into the field after years out of it, basically starting new?

I took a long path to getting started so far, working sysadmin and netadmin for a few years before retail jobs to get an easy cross country transfer. Lucked into a field service job that was tech adjacent, then the same elsewhere in Portland. That lucked me into a startup with a former coworker doing a tech industry field service job. They recently tossed me in the deep end of relearning all the things I used to do, and a ton of new stuff. Feeling overwhelmed more and more each day as it takes me longer to get the result I want. Flip side is that I'm learning a ton and hoping to switch to a proper programming job of some sort in the future. Just curious how you pulled it off. Always nice to see the success stories.

pieohpah profile image
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.