#3: Is the grass greener in tech?

Answering a loaded question from the grass, part 1.

#3: Is the grass greener in tech?
Obviously it’s not that big of a contrast, but the question, I think is still valid. (Image generated with assistance of DALL-E 3)

Hey folks,

It’s day three of 1TPD, of me sharing one thought per day with you. If we’re still internet friends and you’re still reading this, I’ll take it that what I’ve posted so far isn’t so bad. A few have dropped out and I get it. Thank you for sticking around.

Today I’d like to respond to a type of question that I get asked a lot as a person who has “switched careers” into software development. It’s the “should I make the leap too?” question, or “how hard could I fall?” or “what’s the view like from up there?” kind of question. They come in various shades but are usually underpinned by the same concerns.

I’ve answered these in DMs too many times to count.

Here’s a screenshot of a LinkedIn DM I got recently from a professional acquaintance:

Should I make the leap too? How hard could I fall? What’s the view like from up there?

I thought it’d make more sense to publish my answers so that more people could read them, so I’ll answer directly to this person for the rest of this post before I bid y’all adieu for the day.

Oh, and let’s call this person Halpert.

Let’s get into it.

Hey Halpert,

First, you’ll need to know my background so you can place whatever I’m about to say in context.

I have a university degree that is unrelated to computer science or software. I majored in Environmental Studies with a specialisation in human geography.

I got into programming because I was frustrated while running my own startup. I was trying to build a laptop for writers (an electronics product) and couldn’t get very far with prototyping because I simply didn’t know how to read or write code. I enrolled in a programming bootcamp to try and solve that problem.

My mentality when I enrolled was to learn as much as I could about building software so that I may know enough to be able to build my prototypes, or at least not be left in the dark about the quality of hired help. If I realise I’m terrible at it, I’ll hire. If I realise I’m actually half-decent at it, then let’s see how I feel by graduation time.

What happened after that was unexpected. I realised that programming was kind of fun, and I wanted to buy myself some time to grow my programming skills while being paid. That’s why I decided to continue to let my startup sit on the shelf while I got my first job as a developer at a small Hong Kong-based software consultancy.

It’s good to bear in mind that I was basically a fresh grad with a failed startup and not many responsibilities at the time.

After earning the keep of a developer — I was paid around SGD 3,500 per month — for about a year, I felt quite comfortable and didn’t want to take the risk of building a company anymore. At least that’s what I think I felt at the time, though memory is a fickle thing.

As an aside, in case it’s relevant, my entrepreneurial ambition has continued to shrink since, and it’s now around pea-size. I’m still a professional software developer.

Now that you know a bit of my background, please contextualise my answers below accordingly!

(I’m going to quote your text and reply below each quote.)

Honestly I'm not the super confident go-getter hyper career minded kinda person.

^ This is not going to be a problem unless you let it. As in, I’ve seen people who overestimate the intelligence of the average software developer and they inevitably talk themselves out of trying to get into the profession.

You don’t need to be go-getter to be a software developer day to day. You will, however, probably need some go-getter energy to get through the initial learning phase and the job searching.

Just genuinely look for a job that I will enjoy and have fun and earn a simple living.

^ Simple living, yes. Software development, in my opinion, affords a great lifestyle. Tonnes of developer jobs out there are remote-first or remote-friendly. In my previous job, I was 100% remote. In my current job, I’m also 100% remote.

To spell out clearly what 100% means: I get to work from home every single day, week, month, and year. My engineering coworkers are also 100% remote, so that levels the playing field in terms of day-to-day communication and workflow.

To me, that’s heavenly. To others, that’s hell. You’re 35 and have worked in big companies, so I think you already have a preference. If it leans towards remote-first or hybrid, then give software development as a profession a +1.

As for “enjoy and have fun,” that part is really dependent on who you are. I’ve taught several batches of programming bootcamps and have seen almost a hundred students go through the process of learning from scratch, and it always surprises me how different people’s outcomes are.

One time, we had a student in a cohort who would ask to speak to us in private outside of the classroom mid-lesson. She was so stressed she started to say things like she’d never realised how stupid she was until she enrolled in this course. She would cry while she said these things. Eventually, she started to blame the instructor for being a lousy teacher, and seeing how she was unable to stop playing the victim, we had to ask her to drop out.

Most of the rest of the cohort went on to make progress every day and graduate from the bootcamp.

I’m sharing this story because I think it’s important to acknowledge that programming professionally isn’t for everyone. You could say the same for any profession. Programming, I’d say, is just the same.

In my opinion, the only way you’ll know is if you try to do it for a prolonged period, like 3 months intensively in a bootcamp. That’s the pressure cooker model that seems to work very well for folks who are used to earning an income and can’t stand the thought of paying the opportunity cost of not taking a job where they are already seasoned (and therefore senior) at.

I did genuinely enjoy tinkering with Google Ads script (basically simple JavaScript).

^ That’s a nice positive clue that you might like programming for sure.

Okay folks, I’m going to stop this post here and link it up with another tomorrow because there are a few more pieces to this question that I want to answer with depth.

In case you’re curious, you can read the “General Assembly post” that Halpert is referring to on my blog. It was written shortly after I’d completed the bootcamp before I found my first programming job and may be helpful if you’re considering learning to code in an in-person cohort-based setting.

Before you go, I’d like to get some feedback from you, so here’s a poll, you can just click your answer:

Have a good day, I’ll see you in your inbox tomorrow!

EDIT: Part 2 is out now. Read it.

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