After seven years of working as a massage therapist, like many Americans, I found myself quickly out of work when the COVID epidemic hit. As someone prone towards finding bright sides (and with the privilege of having household financial security), I decided to turn the pause into an opportunity to reflect on my long-term career plans and goals. This reflection quickly revealed that I have reached a point in my life where I would prefer something more stable and secure, and, frankly, with more mental stimulation on a day-to-day basis.

Living near the tech hub in Seattle, I have been well aware that web development provided both of those things, but it always felt out of reach and also, frankly unappealing. It was all I could do to keep my eyes from glazing over when friends started speaking in their computer jargon — I assumed I just wasn’t meant for that sort of work. But as I evaluated potential career possibilities I found that I kept coming back to it. So after some encouragement from my husband, I started the prerequisites for Launch School — I had the good fortune of starting here, thanks to my husband’s own good experience with the organization that preceded it, Tea Leaf.

I made my way through the lessons focusing on their teaching approach — slow, repetitive self-paced Mastery, rather than force-feeding masses of information over a short time and hoping students walk away with the bare minimum to get an entry level job. I was entirely sold on the teaching methods, but could not shake the feeling that once I got to the actual coding, I would crash and burn, or find even the initial work so boring that it would be immediately apparent that this was not for me.

But to my surprise, what no one had told me in my probably hundreds of conversations about web development with friends and family, is that really all it is is solving little puzzles. It’s sort of like playing sudoku all day. You learn the rules of the game, are given a goal, and then have to come up with a strategy to “win,” to achieve your goal within that set of rules. And like any good game, sometimes the hard parts weren’t the parts you were expecting, and the thoughts you thought would be hard are actually a snap.

And beyond that, even in the lower levels, it is very clear that coding is creative — there are multiple ways to solve problems, even personal “styles,” to coding. Just as you can keep editing an essay until it perfectly captures your intent, you can keep working and reworking coding until it matches your vision. It is far from the mechanical, robotic, repetitive work that I had envisioned. I found myself thoroughly engaged and actually enjoying this thing that I had spent decades thinking was incredibly dull.

The other big “thing they don’t tell you” about coding is that the most challenging part wasn’t even writing code— though of course that is absolutely not easy. What I find the most difficult is maintaining the temperament to keep working at it, even when things aren’t working, even when I feel like I have tried every solution available to me. Staying positive while stuck or not solving a problem I expected to be able to solve has proven much harder than the problem-solving itself.

Fortunately for me, developing this temperament is one of the key tenants of Launch School, and through the repetition and extremely supportive cohort of students and alumni. Learning to overcome self-doubt and a sense of defeat is going to be one of the key challenges going forward, but I believe this skill will serve me well in my coding career and in life.

All in all, I am struck by how much I am already enjoying coding, and how learning to deal with tough problems is helping me keep perspective during these wild times in the world. I feel grateful to have been pointed in this direction, despite my initial misconceptions. I know how long these misconceptions kept me from pursuing what I believe will be an extremely rewarding career, and I am sure there are plenty of talented, creative people who have the potential to do great things in tech, but aren’t willing to consider the possibility because it feels inaccessible or uninteresting. As I advance through my education and (hopefully) begin a career in web development, I am committed to trying to make programming feel more accessible and engaging for people outside of the tech world.

Launch School Student