June 2015

post03

In 2013 I got my first full-time job as a programmer (C# and frontend) at a startup in Zagreb. Before that I did some part-time coding, a website or two etc. I was super excited and I loved the job immediately. They were aware I was a beginner and treated me as such, helping me along the way.

At first, most of my tasks were very small and simple and I thought to myself, ‘hey, this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be’. Mostly it was just handling some CSS (I actually love that, unlike most my colleagues). Then, I remember the day, not long after my start, when the chief architect invited me for a meeting to give me my first project that needed to be done from scratch.

‘Okay’, he said, ‘our client saw this cool map on a website belonging to his competitor and he wants the same thing’. It was a Google Map with lots of Markers on it, which had InfoWindows attached to them (more here). The markers represented marinas across the world. I had to do the same thing and I was absolutely terrified and couldn’t understand why the chief architect is so damn calm and why does he even begin to think I could do it. ‘Now they will finally know I am actually an impostor’, I thought to myself.

The first response to something unknown can often be fear and/or as it was in my case, mild, silent panic. Lack of experience made it impossible for me to know, at that moment, that everything was okay. My boss knew what he was doing and why he gave me that task. If I had previous experience with Google Maps or something similar, I probably wouldn’t have panicked. Even if I had previous experience doing something at least a bit complex, I would know that every project of that scale is doable.

Before I even got to the maps part, I had to get latitudes and longitudes for our marinas. Before I knew it, I ended up making a JS script that loaded our bases and then called the Google Geolocation API (more here) for each entry, thus getting the data we needed. The API is not perfect and there was much noise, especially around Greece and Turkey since the names for places in those countries were often ambiguous, among other problems. But that is a topic for itself. The shocking part is that all that was not really hard to do. The documentation was good, I had stackoverflow at my disposal and the programming concepts needed to complete that particular tasks were pretty much basic.

That is when I started grasping the importance of breaking down bigger problems into small ones and approaching them one at a time. It is something you hear about all the time while learning to code, but it sinks in much better when you recognise it yourself in the real world. The rest of the project was very easy now that I think of it. Setting Markers and InfoWindows on a Google Map is an out of the box thing.

Despite the fact I learned a lot doing that small project, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared when the next project appeared. However – I was less afraid. And the time after that, I was even less afraid than the time before that and so on. And now imagine, what would you be capable of doing if you were not afraid?

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yoda

Recently, my colleague made an excellent remark when I talked to him about how lack of self confidence influenced my beginnings as a professional coder. He said, “well, that’s because you were 25 at the moment, not 19-20 like most of your college colleagues”. And he was right.

A day or two after that I had one more interesting conversation with a younger friend who is thinking about starting to learn to code. Naturally, he’s scared because he thinks he’s too old.

Why do most of my younger colleagues have enough self confidence not to be freaked out? Perhaps, coding is the first thing they are trying to learn, besides mandatory school stuff and they have no reason to doubt or question themselves. They take it one step at a time and they are generally in no hurry. They know they will get there in the end. I don’t know whether that’s the case in the world, but sure is among most Croatian coding students.

On the other hand, if you are starting later, like I did, you probably already have some sort of a failed enterprise behind you – otherwise you probably wouldn’t be trying to switch careers in the first place. You were probably carefree and relaxed once, not thinking much about the future. Then you hit a wall and started wondering – how did I get here?

That was the case with me, although I was genuinely interested in coding to begin with, but I lacked the determination and confidence to start. Before all that, I got a BA in communication studies (de facto journalism). Being a journalist in Croatia is not easy because you often start with no salary what so ever (like I did) and you hope for the best. Hope is a cruel mistress, as they say, and with good reason. Suffice to say that career path didn’t take me far. I am sorry that social sciences and humanities are often not valued today.

To recap, I believe that the lack of self confidence spurred from previous negative experiences and/or failures. However, that doesn’t mean failures are to be expected in the future. Once you make peace with that, you can continue on learning without being in your own way. Also, and most important, being older than most of your colleagues doesn’t mean you are behind or that you don’t have the same chances as the others have. You have as much chances as you choose. As master Yoda said, “do or do not, there is no try.”

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