Why I Started Programming

Photo by Denis Pavlovic on Unsplash

It all started with my indecision to pursue a career in medicine.

In May of 2017, I graduated with a degree in health science thinking that I would be either a doctor or a physician assistant. I cried in a bookstore when I received the phone call that I got a full time position as a nursing assistant a few weeks after graduation. I was elated to be employed. The job was paying more than I was even hoping to make ($14.18/hr), included benefits, and was at a renowned hospital. My plan back then was to get direct patient care experience for PA school (a requirement), take the GRE, take a few extra classes I needed, and then apply for PA school in 2018.

By January 2018 I decided to pursue medical school instead and to just strive for as much medical education and training as I could get. I received some free MCAT study books (worth $1,000) from a friend who had just been accepted into the University of Michigan’s medical school, I created a spreadsheet of medical schools I wanted to apply to, and I began to chart out a new plan.

During this same year, my brother started pursuing a nano-degree in Android development. He had been a middle school gym teacher for the last five years and wanted a better life for his family. My sister-in-law stays home with their children and relying on a teacher’s salary for a family of 4 (and growing) was tough, to say the least. He’s always had a passion for tech and I was happy to see him doing something that has always been an interest of his.

By the end of the year he accepted a job as an Android developer at a small company and moved his family down to warmer weather and better days in Tennessee.

During this year I was on a completely different path.

I hated the job I cried tears of joy for.

Healthcare wasn’t at all what I imagined it to be. The American healthcare system is incredibly broken, from oblivious upper management to outrageous pricing for medical supplies and procedures to our very short-sighted disease treatment methodology (only treating disease instead of focusing on preventing disease and promoting long life with good health).

On top of that, my department was a stressful and toxic work environment with miserable coworkers who hated their jobs, an unsupportive and aloof manager, and the daily stress of being under resourced and understaffed in an extremely busy, fast-paced environment. I won’t go into more detail than that, but after just a few months I was determined to be gone within a year.

Well, that year came and went.

Really, I was in a terrible position for finding a new job. With my experience — or rather lack thereof — and my useless bachelor’s degree (doesn’t guarantee work without a graduate degree and license), I could either: get another nurse aide job that wouldn’t pay more than what I was making, get a higher paying job that didn’t provide any benefits, or I’d have to go back to school. Determined to make more money and get out of my job without going back to school I tried out a few digital business ideas: being an Instagram model (made about $10 but lost so much more time and money), opening an online boutique where I drop shipped trendy clothes and accessories (quit after a couple months and lost about $1,500), and starting a social media marketing agency (quit after a couple months and lost about $2,000).

Now, I’m not saying that this was all in vain. I learned a ton about business, marketing, customer service, client relations, drop shipping, influencer marketing, and social media marketing. I’m honest about my failed businesses because they were learning experiences that proved to me that I was smart enough to start and run a business. The problem was the business models that I chose and the fact that they were not a good fit for me at that time.

Being an Instagram model really took a toll on my mental health since it required me to be obsessed with the metrics of my posts, how other people perceived me, and how I looked. When Instagram changed their algorithm and my posts started getting way less attention, it literally made me depressed. That’s when I knew it was time to give it up.

The drop-shipping business was fun at times, but it’s a tough business model with the products that I chose to sell. They were trendy, boutique items that were simply overpriced. I was buying from wholesalers that were charging more than what the cheap China-manufactured clothes were worth, and I had to charge my customers even more to make a decent profit. Even still, to be competitive my profit margins were slim. I spent nearly all my waking hours outside of work (and some time at work) working on this business. I ran the social media pages, started a brand ambassador program to get young women marketing the clothes for me, and managed what was in the shop. I worked so hard on it just to realize a few months in that it was an unsustainable business model unless I was selling a huge volume of clothes or got rock bottom wholesale prices. I couldn’t afford to continue to let it hemorrhage money.

Next, I invested heavily into an online course on social media marketing and started my own agency. I worked with a few local businesses hoping to get them more customers with simple, well-written, and targeted ads. Despite the many hours I put into crafting the ads, researching the target audience, and learning about Facebook ads none of my campaigns were successful. Again, I couldn’t afford to keep the business running.

So after all of this, it dawned on me that as much as I didn’t want to go back to school, I needed more education. I still didn’t want to go to a traditional college because I believe they charge too much for what’s mostly busy work that does little to prepare for real world careers. I wanted education and skills that actually applied to my next career, and I wanted a program that was flexible and online. So I started looking into a career in programming.

I had already been saying for months that I wanted to learn how to code just because it seemed that there were so many initiatives pushing everyone to learn how to code. People made it seem like coding would eventually become as necessary as using the Microsoft office suite. Seeing my brother pursuing a new career in tech made it click for me that maybe what I thought could just be a useful skill to have could actually be my next career.

After doing some research I found Treehouse. I loved their video lessons, plethora of courses, organized learning tracks, and access to an online community. It was very affordable and self-paced so it fit well into my work schedule and budget.

In October 2018, I started the front end web development track to gain proficiency in the web fundamentals — HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I structured my time outside of work around the course. I learned from my previous businesses that I was at risk of burning out if I allowed myself to be completely consumed with programming outside of work. I struck a balance between self-care and programming that has still kept me from ever burning out. I dedicated 1–2 hours a night to coursework and after every so many courses I would take a break to build my own webpage from scratch.

Almost right away, I fell in love with coding. I appreciated the instant feedback you receive on your code when you refresh the webpage. I enjoyed the design aspects that allowed me to use my creativity and imagination. I liked the challenge of speaking the computer’s language and understanding that if something went wrong, it was because I gave the computer the wrong code to execute. I was hooked on the way in which it uses my natural problem-solving capabilities; a skill of mine that I always envisioned using to diagnose patients, which was my favorite part of medicine. I loved that coding requires a keen attention to detail; a skill that at times can feel like a curse (I’m annoyingly nit-picky about things that most people don’t even notice), but in the case of coding was a blessing.

I thought I would be job ready by the time I finished this track in March 2019. Talk about wishful thinking! I had learned a tremendous amount of information in those six months, but I also learned enough to know what I didn’t know. I knew I still had gaps in my knowledge and that I still wasn’t comfortable with JavaScript since I really struggled to learn it at first.

So in April I started the full stack JavaScript Techdegree on Treehouse. It would give me an opportunity to create projects to show to potential employers and I would be learning more skills that would allow me to be a competitive candidate.

My journey into web development has gotten more exciting as I’ve learned more technologies and libraries that allow me to create fuller, more responsive webpages. I love that I learn something new everyday, and that my failures in programming allow me to learn even more. I have been stuck for days on a problem in a project that I thought I would never figure out, and it felt amazing when I eventually solved that problem. Every time this happened it boosted my confidence as a developer and taught me to persevere through programming challenges. I can’t wait to learn more languages and frameworks, and to create better web applications and websites.

My ultimate goal now is to one day be a remote senior developer at an awesome, ethical company that provides goods or services that truly benefit its customers.

In the meantime, I am learning and coding every day. I am also an advocate for diversity and inclusion in tech because I think the tech industry could stand to benefit from different perspectives and voices at the table. Technology is transforming life on earth (and beyond) and will continue to do so. With more diversity in tech we can ensure that every human benefits from technological innovation, not just the small subset of humans who are responsible for creating the technology.

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Olivia Culver

Olivia Culver

Web Developer, Digital Marketer, and Coding Instructor. Lifelong learner with an insatiable curiosity & love for life, people, & ideas.