Why Coding?

An Instagram comment pointed out that I’ve talked a lot about what I’m doing, but not why I’m doing it. Why would a 30-year-old mother-of-two with an English major, photography business, and several blogs attempt to join the world of tech and do software engineering (which to the outsider might seem like something that is dry, technical, and math-heavy)? I’m not going to get into some of the false assumptions about software engineering, I think that would do nicely as a post on its own. This is my chance to document the thought process I went through to arrive in this place where I am now.

I’ve been unhappy with my current blend of SAHM/WAHM for awhile now. If I’m home I should either be working on housework, Jenna Cole photos, or Pinterest Fail. It made it hard for me to enjoy the time spent at my own house because thoughts of my to-do list were always nagging at me. Even making a coffee and sitting and drinking it in the front room felt overly indulgent. I should be answering emails while I drink that cup of Joe! I was spending too much time telling my kids that I can’t be available to them because I have work to do. l was handing off the kids when TH got home and literally sprinting around the house to try to get everything done before bedtime. I certainly didn’t like what I had become, and I don’t think anyone else did either.

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Blogging and editing photos and marketing for your own business are all solo activities and there were entire days where I wouldn’t see or talk to anyone in-person except my kids. This pattern makes me a very lonely extrovert. I was spending 2+ hours in the car each day shuttling them around, and in-between I would race home and try to knock out as much as possible for my business before I would pick them up and hurry back to fit in gym and dishes and laundry before bed. It felt like I was running myself mad and not really getting anywhere.

If I was going to give up my flexibility and free time though, I wanted it to be for a career, not just a job. For me that means growth potential in my position, working as a team toward common goals (which would also combat the loneliness), and the ability to make enough to justify the extra costs that will come from outsourcing some of the things I do now. TH and I sat on the couch one afternoon while the kids were with the sitter and hashed out the options. The sort of blogging I do involves a tiny bit of HTML manipulation and I knew that I enjoyed going into the backend to make small tweaks to things. It felt very satisfying to target something on the page, figure out where it was, search out a solution, and view the change in my browser.

I knew that there were programs in the Bay area specifically targeted toward teaching women to code, and a quick google search for a program like that introduced me to the world of software engineering bootcamps, of which there are 200+ in the Bay Area now. I dove into the blog posts written by others women who had made the switch to software engineering and saw that there were a few with careers already established in tech, but there were also english majors and nannies and SAHMs who had used similar programs to make a dramatic career change. We looked up the dates and did some cost analysis for the tuition and childcare and household help that would be necessary to make all of this work, but it didn’t take long for both of us to feel confident that this was a good change for our family.

I started reaching out to friends and spouses-of-friends and friends-of-friends who have a career in software engineering. I had coffee dates and email chains and phone calls with a variety of people in the field to try to figure out if it was actually feasible to attend a program for 12-weeks and come out on the other side with a job paying $80,000+/year (remember that salaries in San Francisco are much higher than the national average!). I personally know several people who have expressed to me that they don’t think this is possible, but the industry is filled with self-taught engineers, and more than anything it’s about what you can actually do, not how long you’ve been doing it. I felt good about this path once I had familiarized myself with the market a bit more.

Because I don’t want to do all of my learning at home, alone, I applied to an all-female 12-week in-person program called Hackbright in January, but was declined after the first interview. I planned on spending my kid-free month this summer doing self-study at home to prepare for my second application to Hackbright, but was able to snag a spot in the first Hack Reactor prep course held in the Bay Area and combined with our recent move that has taken up most of my time. I take the Caltrain up to the city each weekday evening and spend 6:30pm-9:30pm working through a variety of exercises with my fellow students. I love so many things about the experience; riding my bike to/from the station and in the city, taking public transportation (it’s still so cool to me after driving absolutely everywhere during my childhood), the chance to spend time with other adults working toward the same goals, the feeling that comes from figuring something out in the middle of a week where I start to wonder if I really have what it takes to keep up. The hours fly by, and because I have to take the 10:40pm Caltrain home I usually stay in the working space for an extra 45 minutes hacking away at the side project I plan to develop and launch as part of my eventual bootcamp experience.

On top of all of this is a desire to show my kids what it means to fearlessly attack a goal. To not give up a worthy pursuit, even in the face of rejection. The desire to show my daughter a different path than the one I was raised to believe in weighs heavily on my mind. I want my son to embrace the idea that he’s going to give-and-take on his own career path if he chooses to have a life-partner, and I never want my daughter to think for a moment that her sex/gender hold her back from chasing any of her good intentions. I feel passionately that this world, the world of tech and startups and a flood of VC money needs strong and passionate women who aren’t afraid to raise their hand and be heard and go after what they want. That’s me. I want to be that person.

//#onward

19 thoughts on “Why Coding?

  1. first of all, I want to start with saying that there are people out there who are REALLY rooting for you – please know that.

    I’ve been following you for some time and As someone unhappy with her career I’ve been especially attuned to your path to becoming a software engineer. This may be too much to ask but, really why coding? What is it about typing codes that makes you happy? What skills of yours does it complement? What is it that you dislike about it? What was the most exciting thing so far about coding? ha – I have lots of questions ;) but I’ve been toying with the idea of a career switch.

    Best of luck with everything! My fingers are TIGHTLY crossed :)

  2. good for you, mama, following your dreams, and doing what you do.

    it’s different for every mama, and that’s ok, because we’re all just doing what’s best for us and our smalls.

    i know for me that kid free for a month gives me the vapours, because i love homeschoolin’ and spending all my minutes with my smalls.

    good luck on your journey.

  3. Thank you for this! Not that I feel like you owe anybody an explanation, but your interest in coding did seem out of the blue for me (and I’m sure many others). Sounds like you’re doing a lot of great things to get you where you need to be to be accepted into Hackbright, and I wish you the best!

  4. Hi Jenna,

    I live in a different part of the country (Northeast), and I’m curious about the $80,000 figure. Is that the mean or median salary? And does it include all boot camp graduates, or just the ones that are employed full-time immediately after (i.e., not including graduates that take internships, or take longer in their job search)?

    I’d also be very interested to look at demographic information behind starting salaries, such as stratifying by education level, years of work experience, etc.

    Sorry for all the questions– as a statistician, I’m always interested in more data :)

    Good luck in boot camp/the job search!

  5. Is this part of series of posts? because from this, I understand why you have decided to work outside the home, but I still don’t know why you chose coding. I get that it’s a big field in the Bay area and that there are jobs with high starting salaries for people who are trained in the filed. But I have to admit I was surprised that this kind of work appealed to you knowing you as an extrovert, a photographer, and a writer, so I would really like to hear more about what exactly you do as a coder and what you are enjoying and finding challenging about this kind of work. What is a day in the life of a coder like? Have you done any job shadowing?

  6. Congratulations on making a change for your future! I think you’ll get a lot out of working away from the home and find fulfillment in your coding. I live in Canada and don’t know the regulation in the US but the word engineer is a protected term in Canada and you cannot use that title unless you graduate from an accredidated engineer program at a university and have 4years experience and registered with an appropriate regulatory body. Is this the same in the U.S. Or is the title engineer simply a generic term?

    Lauren Reply:

    I wanted to respond to this because my (real) engineer friends get really up in arms about this! It’s about the same in the US as you mentioned in Canada. Technically, an engineer must be from an accredited program and is usually in a field like Electrical, Mechanical, Materials, Civil.

    However, the term really has been thrown around like candy when it comes to Internet careers. Software Engineer, Web Engineer, etc. I’ve even seen SEO Engineer (lulz). The term “engineer” has come to replace “developer” or “specialist”. Because historically there has been weight on the term, HR types think it means more to hire a “software engineer” than a “developer”. Unfortunately the term is now so watered down that it’s a joke.

    (Not an insult to anyone with the software engineer title!)

    Sarah Reply:

    So, it’s not exactly the same here in the U.S…it sort of depends on your field. For the fields you mention, like Civil and Electrical engineering, it is often important to obtain what’s called your “Professional Engineer” certification. That involves studying and ultimately taking and passing the P.E. exam.

    But interestingly, it is not required by all fields. I am an aerospace engineer (2 degrees in it from accredited, well known universities) and in my field, the P.E. title isn’t necessary at all. I know very few people who have taken that exam but we are all definitely still engineers. :)

    So bottom line is I’d say it depends on your field, but overall doesn’t have the title restrictions that it sounds like Canada has and is used more generically.

    Emily Reply:

    Are you able to sign off on anything without having your Professional Engineer designation? In Canada you cannot. Also, the professional bodies in each province can send send a cease and desist order to anybody who uses the title engineer without being registered. They can also file a lawsuit about it if you continue to use it. It’s just a pet peeve of mine when a person hijacks the title engineer without being an engineer and trying to use the reputation that engineers have without the study and work that it takes.

    Nicole Reply:

    I’m in the middle of my PE prep so I think I can clarify! Emily – yes, in the US technically it sounds like we still have the same rules as you in Canada. I believe what Sarah meant is that some industries and companies do not require you to take the professional engineering exam. But, by the standards of the state engineer boards, if you do not then you are not an engineer, even if you work your entire career in that field.

    The difference lies in what kind of work you do. If you work in the private sector, then you can practice engineering and that is fine. But if you are working for anything that deals with the public or if you are advertising your engineering services as a consultant, then you need to be licensed as a P.E. Even at private companies (like where I work), there are a few PEs whose responsibility it is to check the work of non-PEs when it is required for things like permit requests with the government – but most engineers are not licensed because of the nature of our work.

    As far as calling yourself an engineer – same deal, it’s comes down to what you’re using the title for. When people ask what I do, I say I’m an engineer, and there’s no harm in that, even though technically I’m not a P.E. until next year when I take the test (we have to have 4-5 years of work, not sure if that’s the same). But I also completed the four years of engineering school and passed the FE exam to earn that title. Same goes for my older coworkers who never did the exam because it was never required – after 30 years of working, no one is going to tell them they are *not* engineers, but if they want to retire and go into consulting (as many do), they need to get the certification.

    Software engineering is very different from what I do, so I don’t want to judge too quickly what I don’t know about…but it does sound like different terminology should be used to distinguish the jobs. Because there *are* computer engineers who went through the schooling and the certification exams, but coders and developers seem to be something different than that as well. Not that what they learn and do is easy by any means, but engineers do get defensive about the title being usurped! But for layman’s terms, I can see how it’s useful to use the term software engineer when describing what you’re learning and doing. Hope that cleared it up!

    I have a coworker who just moved up to Canada to work (as an expat) and she isn’t a P.E. Next time I talk to her, I might ask about if engineers who work at our company in Canada are PEs as well, or if the same rules apply. This discussion has got me curious!

    Francesca Reply:

    Interesting! I think it is the same in Australia – I was an admin manager for a software team, and the people who did not have their engineering degree had different titles. There were also limitations to the work they could do and how far up the ladder they could climb, although ironically, some of them were doing the same standard of work as those with the degrees. The engineering degree is a great investment if you have an aptitude for the job and you are interested in moving into management positions or a more independent role.

    Sarah Reply:

    In my field, yes. I actually work in the Safety department at my employer, and thus make recommendations on whether or not certain things are safe/acceptable in terms of risk. However, in my particular job I am not working on things that will be used by the general public, which may be part of why there is no requirement for any sort of official certification.

    I believe there are some restrictions on certain types of things in other areas — for instance, I think one of the reasons fields Civil Engineers often need the P.E. is because they are designing bridges, buildings, etc. (In other words, designing things that will be used by the general public, are subject to local building codes, carry significant liability in the case of a failure, etc.) But I’m getting a little beyond my area of expertise in saying that, since I’ve never worked on those types of projects. I could be wrong.

  7. As a detail-oriented, verbally-oriented extrovert I see the appeal of software engineering. Introverts tend to thrive most in the field, (it’s far more isolated work than blogging or photography — yeesh!!) but that doesn’t mean you won’t find a good fit, fulfilling work environment that gets you out of the house.

    I do have to comment… I’m bothered by the pervasive idea in our culture that women either have to be: (a) baby machines or (b) money-making, high-achieving, flawless queens of their own existence (of course, with children if she wants children)…

    Kids are told more and more they can and should be (B). It’s the wrong message in my opinion. What about just making do with the skills, talents, and opportunities life gives you? It sounds like coding might be a talent and opportunity before you… and persistence is important… I just think if you are doing it to make $80,000 and show your daughter women can make $80,000, you’re swinging toward the opposite side from the “be a homemaker or your life lacks meaning” camp into “have a highly successful career or your life lacks meaning”. Neither is true.

  8. Is a starting salary of $80k really a reality as an entry level software engineering? Even as a new grad, most companies start you off at $50-60k range. Best of luck to you and I hope this brings you fulfillment.

  9. So happy for you!!! I have lived in Silicon Valley and you are spot on regarding salaries. I know you will do well!!!

    I’ve been a SAHM, WAHM and work out of the home mom during the time my children have grown. My daughter (now 18 years old) has recently earned a full academic ride scholarship to a prominent college for Chemical Engineering. She shared with me that she learned so much by watching me reach for goals that other mothers in my community negatively judged me for doing.

    She learned that looking for love and validation outside of herself was not possible. And to strive for HER goals regardless of any negativity.

    I know your children and husband will be proud of you and find encouragement to live healthy, happy & productive lives!!

  10. Jenna, do you think that T1 sees that give and take in your marriage? I’m always so curious about your husband as he seems to be an extremely absent parent. I’d love to read a blog post about what changes he is making in his career to support you in yours- as a working mom it would mean a lot to me to see how other parents make it work!!!

  11. This is really interesting as I sort of feel the opposite. I don’t have kids yet but would love more time at home. I alternate between weeks/months where I sit in an office for 8 hours with commutes that range 1-2 hours each way. After Crossfit, if I can make it, I am home for 3-4 hours total during a weekday, not including sleep. The other side of it is the 2-4 week trips to Uganda, currently.

    I’d love more time at home and think I’d be more productive. On days where I telecommute, I get so much done. Most of the people I actually interact with are in Uganda anyway, so I don’t see why I need to be in an office. And my relationships with the team in Uganda are way more healthy and functional than most of the relationships between people in the HQ office. I like to think it’s the quality of the interaction and not the quantity.

    I think it’s great you have found something you want to pursue. I am trying to decide about possibly either taking a break and/or a career change.

    Mel Reply:

    Ugh, for me it is the same, I commute 2 hours daily and I work usually 9-10 hours, so that leaves me when I go to the gym with only 1-2 hours of time at home…so draining. I also do not have kids, could not imagine how I would manage my life with kids. My whole team is based in Stockholm (I live in another part of Europe 2 flight-hours away) and I also have to go there 2x per month for a day or two. Unfortunatly my boss is a micro manager and I am not allowed to do home office, sooo frustrating:(

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