I recently came across a question on Quora that got me nervous, mainly because of the underlying assumptions. I figured I would cross post it here in case anyone here can benefit from it:
Why don’t more poor people with internet access teach themselves to code, and earn a more comfortable living? What other barriers may be in play here?
I believe I am qualified to answer this question. Let me tell you a bit about myself, and you will see why.
About two years ago we were at a low point. Our landlord notified us that he would not be renewing the lease, and rent in our area was too high for us to afford.
My wife was out of a job, and one income was just not enough to make rent on even a smaller apartment. Without much choices, we ended up moving with our three children into my parents’ basement, where we stayed for about a year.
At around that time (actually it started a bit before we found out we’d be homeless soon), I started looking into upgrading my skill set. Programming was a field I always enjoyed, and everyone said I’d be good at.
The problem was that to learn enough to be career ready, in a short enough time to make it practical I’d have to look into some bootcamp-style program, and those are: A) expensive and B) involve taking three months+ off work which I just could not afford.
Thankfully, around that time, I came across Flatiron School’s online program. Now I had an option that was considerably cheaper, and, being online, meant I could do it part-time while keeping my job.
With the help of a local organization that provided a scholarship for part of the tuition and a friend of my father who loaned me the rest under very comfortable “pay-me-when-you-can” terms, I was able to enroll in the program.
That started a long hard year where I kept my full-time job during the day and stayed up coding all night (as late as 2–3am at least 3–4 nights a week) and on the weekends. During that year I also had to deal with the move into my parents’ basement as mentioned (and that includes supporting a wife who had to move into her mother-in-law’s basement).
It definitely wasn’t easy, but recently I finally graduated.
Things are looking better now, we recently moved into our own apartment, I was able to pay back the loan to my dad’s friend, my wife got a job, and I’m now interviewing for jobs where the starting salary is almost double what I’m currently making.
At first glance, my story seems to be a perfect illustration of what the OP was asking. A case of a “poor person” who was able to use the magic pill of teaching himself to code to get out of a tight situation, and give his family options.
A deeper look at the details will show why that is not the case.
For now, I will ignore the well-established debate regarding if everyone CAN learn to code (and enough to use it to make a living), and assume for argument’s sake that that’s an option for everyone.
I’ll be honest; I used to think like OP as well, I used to say “if I could do it, why can’t everyone?” But the more I’ve spoken to others in my situation, the more I realized that my situation was actually privileged (not counting the fact that I happen to live in a part of the world where internet access is common, OP hinted at that in the question). Let me highlight some of them:
As much as I complained about my financial situation in the beginning of this answer, we were still fortunate to have an extensive safety net. Many people don’t have parents capable and willing to open up their home to their grown-up children and most people don’t have friends who would loan them thousands of dollars like my father’s friend did. If not for those two factors (and others) there is no way I would have been able to afford, even the cheaper online option.
Peace Of Mind:
I’m fortunate to work at a 9–5 office job that doesn’t follow me home. Many people have much harder day jobs, by the time they get home they are wiped. Staying up until three on a regular basis, doing the type of heavy thinking needed to learn to code is an impossible request for them. I mean, even under the same conditions as me, not everyone can simply function on 4–5 hours of sleep on a regular basis.
Luckily I had the full support of my wife (who was going through hard times herself). Not everyone has that luxury. Some people cannot rely on the support of their family, and may actually need to support them.
I’m sure there are others, and every once in a while I think of different ways in which I’ve been blessed. But the main thing I learned is that I can never judge another’s situation. Implying that someone is poor because of their laziness or lack of will to improve their situation means that you fundamentally misunderstand what it means to be poor.
My biggest hope is that I never forget these lessons and that when I’m in the situation where I can help those in my previous situation, I’ll grab that opportunity with both hands.
Until then, if there’s anyone who is thinking of, or who started out on the path to code, and who is looking for someone to talk to, please feel free to reach out to me, and I will try to help to the best of my abilities.