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Ryan Puffer
Ryan Puffer

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My Journey To Tech

Twenty-two months ago, I sat on my couch in the dark at 5:00 in the morning trying to steel myself for another day of work.

I wasn't eating much; I wasn't sleeping through the night.

This had been going on for nearly a month.

I woke my pregnant wife and said, "Honey, I don't think I can do this anymore."

Where I Came From

I've been in education for over ten years. When I was in high school, I wanted to teach English. In college, I made the decision to teach third grade - and that's what I did for eight of my years in the classroom.

I've bounced around between four districts and two states during my career. There have been a few tough years with just enough good years to balance them out. Just like any job, there are several contributing factors that determine whether it's a good year or a tough year.

One of the things I loved consistently was getting to watch kids grow from uncertain second graders into confident third graders. Getting to know each personality along his/her likes, dislikes, hopes, and fears was what made teaching fun.

In every school I taught in, I worked with phenomenal teachers. Public education doesn't always get a fair shake. But, every person I've ever worked with gave every last drop of energy they had to see their students succeed. These people are the salt of the earth.

Of the hundreds of parents I've worked with over the years 99.9% of them would bend over backwards to do whatever it took to help me as I helped their child. I still have relationships with dozens of families whose kids passed through my classroom.

So, what made me decide to leave?

What ultimately pushed me to walk away from education wasn't the kids, or the school politics, or the parents. What pushed me away from education was education.

Do Whatever It Takes

Disclaimer: The following is my experience. I definitely don't speak for everyone.

Over the years, teachers have had an unrealistic expectation placed upon them.

We aren't just expected to teach. Oh, how easy of a job that would be! If teaching were planning, lecturing, and grading - well, I don't think I would be writing this. I'd still be in the classroom.

Now teachers are expected to be experts at pedagogy and content.

We need to be skilled at creating meaningful assessments that provide actionable data. We must accurately disaggregate, analyze, and adjust our instruction based on that data.

We sit through meeting after meeting combing through figures trying to figure out why Johnny still hasn't shown mastery of the 3.6B, D, and E math standards.

We proctor practice assessment after practice assessment to make sure that these eight year olds are ready for the annual state exam.

We call upset parents during our planning time to tell them that their child had to make a visit to the office because they were screaming and throwing things.

We comfort children whose pet ran away.

We do our best to teach and model respect and empathy.

We make sure we know protocol for when a person with a gun enters our building and know how to respond depending upon where the shooter is.

We calmly lead lines of students to where they need to be for a fire drill.

Or a tornado drill (lol, Texas).

Or an intruder drill.

We do all of this year after year because we love these kids and teachers do whatever it takes.

This is the mantra embedded into you from day one of your teacher-prep program. If not explicitly taught, than our culture has implicitly expected it.

Do whatever it takes.

What's so bad about that? You should do whatever it takes to make sure your students succeed.

But, it put me in the spot of having to decide between doing whatever it took for my students or being fully present with my family.

Do whatever it takes.

It sounds honorable.

And that's why a lot of people reading this won't understand. Or they'll think I'm just lazy. Or maybe teaching just wasn't for me.

And maybe they're right. Maybe I should have tried harder and just sucked it up. Maybe I didn't love the kids enough or have enough passion. I don't think that's the case, but people can form their own opinions.

Please understand - I don't want this to become a diatribe against education, I'm just trying to explain my reasoning for walking away. I have so much respect for teachers, I'm still married to one!

Searching for Something New

I was having a mental breakdown. At the very least, I was having an anxiety attack that felt a hell of a lot like a mental breakdown.

The pressure of teaching (see above), the pressure of becoming a father, and the pressure that providing for my family placed on me brought me to a breaking point. I couldn't keep doing what I was doing and expect to have anything left over to give my family. I needed to make a change.

I spent a couple of weeks just googling:


Spoiler alert: there aren't a ton of places super eager to snatch up teachers. I've got soft skills for days, but there aren't many industries out there looking for people who can manage a classroom of 23 third graders.

I was desperate. I thought about walking into my local grocery store and seeing if I could get enough hours stocking shelves to make ends meet.

My summer side gig delivering groceries might pay enough if I could work 50 hours a week.

But, what would I do about insurance? Even though I had pretty awful benefits, they protected us from catastrophic hospital bills.

Time to Make a Change

Then, I remembered I had a friend who had left his job as a band director to pursue software development through a bootcamp. I reached out to him to chat and he offered to give me a call. He told me all about his journey, and how coding had changed his life.

This was the point at which I made my decision. I signed up for Codecademy and started using freeCodeCamp to try to get a sense of whether this was for me. I worked my way through the famous Colt Steele Web Developer Bootcamp on Udemy. I dipped my toes into Python with Al Sweigart's Automate the Boring Stuff course. I started reading through Jon Duckett's HTML/CSS and JavaScript/Jquery books.

Now, I'm working my way through the Front End Web Developer Techdegree at Treehouse with the goal of finding full time employment this fall.


So, that's what brought me here. This was my journey to tech. Obviously, my journey in tech is just beginning.

I can't wait to share it with you.

Top comments (2)

lukepreston profile image
Luke Preston

Awesome article Ryan! I am the CEO of a small student-led tech startup called Prajix and I am reaching out here because I would love for your content to be published for our developer community! I wanted to ask for your permission first if we could use any of your writings for emailing content, or blog posts featuring you on our platform! Just let me know! Thanks Ryan! :)

rickluevanos profile image
Ricardo Luevanos

This is awesome Ryan, what you're doing takes courage - as does sharing the journey. Your story resonates with me as my wife is a high school English teacher and we talk a lot about the associated challenges and some of the struggles going on in education at present.

We also compare our industries, I've been in software my entire career - she and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of how industries work and deal with challenges.

Anyways, welcome to software development, and may your journey be a fruitful and rewarding one!!

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