Career Life Programming

Why I Want to Be a Software Engineer

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“Are you even good with computers? You don’t seem like a techy kind of person.”

My friend was understandably incredulous of what I had just told her: I want to be a software engineer. I am an International Relations grad from a liberal arts college. What good could a liberal arts grad be as an engineer?

I grew up around engineers – living in a NASA-based community in Houston, Texas, I was surrounded by them. I loved their problem-solving abilities, their thoughtful conversations, their unflagging belief in the existence of a “correct” answer (although later I came to doubt this black/white view of the world). The “How many engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” jokes. The plane my neighbor was building in his garage. The most space-efficient way to pack camping supplies into a car after a weekend at Lake Livingston State Park. Ya know. Normal engineer stuff.

After graduating from college, I worked for a while in an NGO, and now I am a teacher. Since I was in high school, I have always been interested in blogging, which used to require basic knowledge of HTML. My interest in coding began with those web searches looking for ways to make the background on my Xanga look super cool.

Having a strong background in technology was useful to my NGO, which needed a blog and other digital materials. Setting up the blog to make it more useful and more user-friendly was always the fun part for me. I loved setting up the website.

In my career change to being a teacher, I have seen the importance of helping kids be technologically literate. Sharing their ideas and being able to access others’ ideas is perhaps THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of learning, since nowadays the focus in education is more about learning how to learn, as opposed to memorizing and regurgitating facts. Learning is based on mastering skills, as opposed to mastering content. Tech is a crucial component to learning. I love planning lessons that use technology and help kids explore new ways of learning how to use new programs and websites.

Recently, however, I have discovered that my favorite part of teaching, apart from the kids themselves, is creating ways to make the time-sucking parts of my job more efficient. Every teacher knows that the worst parts of teaching are usually administrative tasks and communicating with parents. Most of my precious few “free” periods are spent grading papers, making out parent notes to go home, filling in discipline slips, walking to the office to call parents that don’t even answer, filling out endless administrative reports, and basically doing anything but the thing I most want to do – plan the lesson and create assessments that will actually help the kids learn in all their diverse learning styles and levels.

So I made systems in Excel and Word to share grades with the students more efficiently. I researched programs that would make grading easier. I figured out a way to use Google Forms and Google Sheets to keep track of discipline and contact parents automatically. I searched for more programs to be able to do ALL THE [administrative] THINGS.

And I thought… Golly, this is fun.

Also, What if I could MAKE programs instead of just searching for them?

Thus I began my search for study options that would allow me to do what I love: creating problem-solving programs.

Instructional Design and Technology was my first option, but the programs I was able to afford didn’t seem as immediately applicable to actually MAKING computer programs. My first career as an International Relations major was theory-based. I love theory, but I need skills to actually make stuff.

So, IDT was put on the back burner, and thus began the search for a skill-based program in programming. The Women Who Code network led me to the discovery of an affordable, skill-based school that is focused on mastery as opposed to time. Launch School’s pedagogical perspective is so similar to my own personal views on education, so I decided to begin their free prep courses to see what it was like. Another reason to like Launch School – they let you preview the courses to see if their method alines with your expectations. They tell you what people don’t like about their program. They want you to be absolutely sure that you want a career as a software engineer.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s insightful book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, she mentions a quote from author Mark Manson:

Whatever you do in life, make sure you can handle the crappy side of it. Because every job has a crappy side. It’s just a matter of what kind of crap you are most willing to handle. After coming to the realization that teaching high school is currently costing me more than I am willing to sacrifice, I needed to experiment a bit and see if I am willing to deal with the negative side(s) of being a software engineer.

So, two months later, with many early mornings under my belt and with Cloud9 and Github accounts in my bookmarks bar, I know that this is what I want. I know that not all programming is sexy. Most of it is behind-the-scenes and not necessarily immediately useful to the average Joe and Jane. I know that women leave tech almost as fast as they enter it. I know that it will take several years of daily, repetitive, tiny steps with mostly invisible, plateau-y growth in order to achieve mastery. But I am ready. Creating. Problem-solving. Tearing my hair out in frustration. Feeling like a mad scientist. Feeling like a complete dofus. I want it all.

I want to be a software engineer.