You Could Be a Part-Time Dev

10 Jul 2019

Ok, if that title doesn’t automatically make the Flight of the Concords Part-Time Model play in your head, you should go listen to it right now. It’s been one very interesting first week of being a dev, and I had planned on writing about how I got the job while I was on vacation, but we were hit with the worst stomach bug of all time, and it took us two days and a puke bucket in the car to get home. Worst. Vacation. Ever. Coming home wasn’t that great either, because the closing on the old house got pushed back a week, our hot water heater died (and we’re still taking cold showers a week later), and our AC went out during the hottest time of the summer. This week has definitely gotten better, and a lot of that has to do with my new job! Let me do some back-tracking to talk about my job search first.

A couple of months before my job search, I mentioned a couple of times on social media what I was looking for: part-time, flexible, remote, built-in mentorship, and had a mission that I could get behind. Yes, I know that those are a lot of really big asks, but I think if you shoot for something very specific first, you’re more likely to get it. In my mind, if I had 0 hits after three months of looking, I would broaden my search. Honestly, I don’t know if putting my pre-job search posts out there helped, but it certainly didn’t hurt. I did get a lot of messages saying that it was really rare, and maybe I should just consider consulting. I’d thought about doing that down the road, but I really wasn’t comfortable jumping out on my own. It was important to me to have some guidance, someone I could bounce questions off of. But from time to time, I would get messages on social media about part-time jobs that someone came across and thought I would be interested in. But I just didn’t feel ready. Even after I graduated from Flatiron School, I didn’t feel ready. Well, I felt ready to fail. Just to be clear, this had nothing to do with Flatiron School. I had a great experience there. All of my fears of being a second career dev, a mom of four kids starting a totally new journey, and a woman still healing from past trauma told me that I was not ready. They told me that I needed to know how to do everything before I applied. They told me that I needed to study for months before I was worthy to apply for a job. They told me that it didn’t matter that I had built apps by myself, I needed to build bigger and better things. They told me that I was an infant, trying to find a place in an adult world.

If it were up to me, I would probably still be working through tutorials. But I’m lucky that my husband is a dev, because he encouraged me to just start looking. I had worked hard over the last year and a half. I had built projects, learned how to learn, and become a part of a number of coding communities. Whether I felt ready or not, I was. So I put it out there on Twitter that I had worked with Ruby/Rails, JS/React, and that’s what I was looking for, and holy guacamole were people so supportive with their retweets and comments. I had so many DMs and leads that I had to make a spreadsheet! On the other side of this, I was intensely terrified. The idea of a whiteboard interview and any type of coding algorithm was enough to make me sick. I wasn’t exactly feeling confident enough to answer these types of questions and deal with a lot of the negativity of the interview process that I’d been hearing about. But then it worked out in a way I never expected. It worked out because I had a Twitter connection, because someone was interested in having a part-time dev and mentoring, because sometimes when you put yourself out there even when you don’t feel ready, you just might get a response.

And the response I got was pretty much a dream come true. A consultancy called Sprokets was looking for someone to help with the front-end work, which happens to be in React. Because it’s a small team and how they work together, working remotely and flexibly never seemed out of the question. My initial meeting with my teammate, Dan, to talk about the company solidified my confidence that this was the exact job I was looking for. Here’s why: it was a conversation. We talked about the company, the projects, and our kids. And let me say, the last one really made me feel like this would be a good place for me to work. If you’ve been following me on social media for any time at all, you probably know that I’m unapologetically a mom. I have four kids under ten (although that’s about to shift in two weeks and I’ll be a mom of a kid who’s double digits!), and they’re my priority. I love to work. So much that when I was 16, I worked three jobs in the summer so I could put in 40-60 hours a week legally. So working part-time is kind of a challenge for me because when I have an unfinished project in front of me, that’s all I want to do, but I try my best to put my kids first. So if I don’t feel uncomfortable talking about my kids–and I have at other jobs–it’s a good sign. Six days after that initial tweet, I was employed. I know that doesn’t happen to most people, but I’m fortunate in this case.

I think part of it has to do with my approach. Some developers want the jobs at the big companies, the companies who are using the most up-to-date tech, the companies whose names you recognize. And that’s fine. But that’s not what I was looking for, and that’s fine too. It’s fine if you want to start with an apprenticeship, do your own side hustle, or work for a tiny start-up. It’s fine if you want to build a site for a friend or relative first to see how you do. It’s fine to be an intern or a fellow or a part-time dev. You do you. Just make sure the company values you for how hard you’ve worked to get there. Don’t let them underpay you. Don’t let them belittle you. Don’t let them make you feel like you’re just a newbie. Don’t let them convince you that they are doing you a favor by employing you.

In my first ten days as a developer, I’ve had a great experience. I really felt like I was starting off too slow. Reading too much code. Looking over docs instead of getting code on the page. As a writer, I hear people talk about writer’s block all the time. Personally, I’ve never bought into writer’s block. Sometimes I got stuck when I was writing, but I powered through it. I dreamt about it at night. I wrote down terrible ideas that would never come to fruition. But that’s what helped me to get through it. But here I was with coder’s block. I couldn’t get any code on the screen. Eventually, I got a table, yep, just a table on the screen. And then I bought a notebook, so I could pre-write my code or ideas and goals in the notebook before I wrote them in my editor. Does that sound a little strange? Sure, but it helped me to beat the code block.

In the middle of the first week, Dan wanted to check in. Not gonna lie, my heart started pounding really hard, and I could feel the anxiety making its way through my body. I haven’t always been like this. It’s been a side effect of the trauma I experienced two and a half years ago. It’s getting better, but it’s exhausting. One thing I appreciate about my experience so far has been Dan reassuring me. In fact, his message said that this wasn’t a progress report or check-up, he just wanted to learn about my process. And when we met it never felt like some kind of pass/fail test. We talked about the code. He let me ask as many questions as I wanted. He took the time to continually ask me if I had any questions. I think when someone allows you to feel comfortable in a new position, it also allows you to build up confidence. I met with Dan again today, and I was way more comfortable. I never feel like his comments are a back-handed criticism of my code. It’s been a learning experience every time we’ve talked, and I’m really happy about that. Yes, I’ve only been a developer for ten days, but I couldn’t have hoped for a better experience.

So maybe you’re wondering about the one thing on my checklist that I didn’t get out of Sprokets. Well, that was the mission-driven work. But I’m ok with that. Prior to my initial meeting with Dan, I met with my career coach from Flatiron School, and we spent a long time talking about my long-term goals. At Flatiron School, I focused my projects on an app that could help create a community for women who have been through trauma. I’ve made some big strides locally in advocacy, but it’s a larger problem. So the mission-driven work is my personal project. It’s imagining how I can make this an actual community. I’m constantly inspired by Emily Kennedy’s EMpower Podcast. I actually think it’s one of the most underrated podcasts out there. But if I’ve learned anything from the inspirational guests she’s had on, it’s that it starts with an idea and someone who’s passionate enough to see it through. It would be my dream come true to have my memoir come out as the same time as the site to help amplify the voices of those who have been voiceless or shamed or told not to talk so loudly. I’ve got my ideas in one of my favorite notebooks, and I’m going to keep it on my desk until I see it on my screen. So really I got every single thing on the list that I wanted. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it now, 33 has been the best year of my life because I’ve learned so much, met so many amazing people in the tech scene, and I’ve been able to work on everything I wanted to. Thanks for being a part of this journey.