What I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was Learning to Code

cats and codeA couple weeks ago I was invited to speak to the current students of the New York Code and Design Academy’s Philly class. I wasn’t really sure what I could say to help them out, so I just decided to prep a few slides on what I wish I had known when I started learning web development, and then leave the rest of the time open for questions about anything — everything from what my workday looks like to how to leverage transferable skills from prior jobs. I had a great time getting to know them a little and chat about life, work, and web development.

I want to share the points I made during the prepared portion of my talk in case they’re helpful to anyone else. You can see the original slides here, but this is what I said, with more room to elaborate because I’ve been thinking about it a few weeks longer.

It’s not magic. Ok, maybe it is a little bit magic. But really, it’s just a bunch of text files all linked together that a computer understands*. No magic here! (Except, I mean the witchery that happens when you type `rails generate scaffold` is still pretty freaking magical to me.) You’re totally capable of learning what you need to know to feel like you’re starting to understand. But don’t be alarmed if you feel like it’s still a little magical. The more magical things happen the deeper you go. Start with HTML and CSS. Along those lines…

You don’t need to understand everything to get started. This was a huge mental block for me. I likely would have started learning long before I did, back when we lived in West Chester when Chad first started to try to teach me git and the command line. But how did the browser know what to do with all the things I was manipulating?? It drove me nuts. I made Chad explain binary to me, and then took a good long break from anything technical. But he was right, I didn’t need to understand every single thing about how a computer knows what to do before getting started. Once you begin, the understanding will start to creep in little by little, sometimes without you even realizing it. Also, I still don’t know all the things. I’m more aware of the crazy amount of things I don’t know, but I’m no longer struck by existential dread because I don’t know every single piece of what I’m doing. Get started anyway.

You’ll feel stupid 95% of the time, and like a total genius the other 5%. I remember when I realized that this wasn’t just me being dense, this is often what it feels like to be a person who writes code. Even the most experienced people feel this way sometimes. You’ll spend hours trying to figure out why something won’t work, and then when you stumble upon the solution you’ll feel totally brilliant. (Or sometimes, embarrassed that the issue was something so small.) And then you’ll start your next project and feel like a total dunce again. It’s ok. You’re learning.

You will never feel like you know enough. “I’ll just learn JavaScript, and then I’ll have made it.” “I’ll just learn Angular/Ember/React/whatever new framework or library everyone’s squeeing over right now, and then I’ll feel like I know what I’m doing.” No you won’t. The next thing will come along, and then you’ll have to learn that, too. Everything changes so freaking fast, you might always feel kind of behind. At least I do. But hey, we’ll never get bored. There will always be new stuff to learn and new ideas to build.

Comparison is useless. There will always be someone more knowledgeable and more experienced than you. There will always be someone who’s a little behind where you are in your learning journey or career. Instead of beating yourself up about not being farther along, or getting cocky because you think you know so much, use this as an opportunity to learn from others and grow, or to articulate your knowledge to share with others. Answering someone else’s questions or teaching someone a new concept will help you crystallize your own knowledge and skillset.

I am literally still experiencing all of these things, and I’ve been working as a full time, in house developer for over two years. This is what my life looks like, and I’ve made peace with all of the above. I hope sharing this here is helpful to someone out there!

* Before the entire internet comes out, pitchforks blazing, I understand that this is a gross oversimplification. But text files aren’t scary. That’s my point.

April Small Goals

April 2016 Small GoalsHouse and moving stuff is going to dominate my April, so I’m hoping that by recording a couple things that I hope to accomplish and checking them off will help me feel on top of things. It’s like when you add something you already did to your list so you can cross it off and feel good about yourself.

So this month, I aim to:

  • Deliver a solid little idea-generating workshop that is helpful to others at The Blog Connect in a couple weeks.
  • Use my manicure gift card that my sister got me for Christmas so my nails are pretty for said conference.
  • Deal with taxes. I have an accountant, but have a sinking feeling that we are going to owe a ton. of. money.
  • Paint the attic/guest room at the new house.
  • Deal with the wood floors at the new house — I’ve been told by a professional that they’re too thin for an industrial sander, so I’m looking at DIY alternatives to hiring a refinishing service. Will this become a home improvement and interior design blog? It’s yet to be seen.
  • Soak up all the Philly friends and Philly goodness I can get.
  • Move all my earthly possessions, including a couple cats, from Philadelphia to Lancaster.

Ok, so many of these aren’t small. I realize that. But some months are big, life-changing months, and April and May are going to be a couple of them. I’ll try to get better at small, manageable goals going forward, but this seemed like a good time to introduce the concept of monthly goals with all of the intense change and work that’s coming up and requires some mindfulness and organization.

The ever-lovely Nicole from writes like a girl does a “small goals” post at the beginning of each month, reviewing what she’s achieved and what she hopes to do in the month ahead. This was totally inspired by her and her link up. I think the rule is five achievable goals, but I got a lot to do this month. And if I’m honest, there’s a ton more I could add. I’ll get better at this as I go.

Moving to Lancaster

Philadelphia

Big things are happening. A few months ago, I posted my Philly Bucket List — things I wanted to do before leaving Philly. I wasn’t sure what the timeline on that would really be, but it seems to be happening now.

We’ve been in kind of a holding pattern for the past year or so. We felt that it was time for something different, but we didn’t know what. Do we move to a different neighborhood in Philly? Put all our stuff in storage and join Remote Year to travel around the world? Explore other cities in the US? We found ourselves having the same conversation over and over again and it just got too frustrating. We felt stuck with our indecision. So we decided to do something about it and started very casually looking at houses in Lancaster City.

The more we talked about it, the more it made sense. We started to picture what our lives would look like again, instead of being blanketed in the fog of not knowing. It felt good. It feels good. And now I find myself furiously Googling the best restaurants, hangouts, and non-touristy attractions in Lancaster City. It’s a city I’m not sure I’m willing to call a city, especially after living in Philadelphia these last three years. Perhaps that’s snobbery. Maybe I’ll get over it eventually.

Central Market, Lancaster

This all raises a few questions, which I will answer in Q&A style:

Why Lancaster?
It’s been getting harder for me to come back to the city after visiting the farm. I miss the space and the clean air and the cornfields. But Chad loves not having to have a second car and being able to walk or bike everywhere, and I love having access to city things, too — music shows, restaurants, a large concentration of interesting people doing interesting things. I’ve often said that my dream scenario is a big farmhouse right across the street from a bustling, cultural downtown center. I know that doesn’t exist, or if it did, would be outrageously expensive. Lancaster City seems to be as close to what we both want as possible. And it’s still an easy drive or train ride to Philly, New York, and Baltimore.

It’s widely known as Amish country, and my name (Yoder is the Smith of the Amish/Mennonite/Anabaptist world — that awful For Richer or Poorer movie will corroborate if you don’t believe me) will surely give me some kind of pass, even though I’m technically not from there. I’ve got a bunch of family there I don’t really know, some of whom I’m sure I haven’t met yet. (When your Amish/Mennonite grandparents have 12 siblings, it’s easy to have family you’ve never met.) My maternal grandmother is from the area, and I have faint memories of driving to Elizabethtown when I was little for family reunions. I remember being so impressed by the buggy lanes on the road. I’m from a place that is significantly Amish, yet not big enough to have buggy lanes. Lancaster is a more economically flourishing, touristy version of where I grew up, but there’s a real “urban” center, if you can call it that (like I said, I’m not sure I can right now — maybe I’ll get over my snobbery in a couple years), with everything that entails — galleries, restaurants, and adorable coffee shops.

I’ll admit, it is really scary to leave a city where I feel like I know and understand the tech industry and the jobs and opportunities that are available to me there. But it’s 2016, and I’ve wanted to be location independent for awhile now. There’s no point in chaining myself to a place when my ultimate goal is to be able to live and travel wherever I want (as long as there’s a reliable wifi connection). I know those opportunities exist, I just need to track them down for myself.

Lancaster Park

Where will we live?
All that casual looking at houses? We found one. We closed on it yesterday. Our house is right in the “city,” blocks from Central Market, a coworking space, and all the restaurants and galleries downtown. The house is old and undoubtedly needs some work and upgrades. This is our first house, and I’m nervous but excited. It’s been nice to know that we can call up a landlord when something goes wrong or needs to be repaired. It’s been nice to know we could put our stuff in storage back home and travel the world for a few months without paying living expenses back home. So why buy? I see this whole home-buying thing as a way to work towards the lifestyle we want in a more sustainable way. We’re playing the long game. We’ll have a really reasonably priced home base to return to or leverage as an investment that will allow us to travel. And, unlike renting, every time we pay the mortgage our net worth will increase rather than decrease. That will feel great. It’s also significantly less than our rent in West Philly.

To be honest, when I’m in Philly, I’m really sad about leaving it. But as soon as I drive out of the city, I’m fine and I don’t feel like I absolutely need to come back.

Do we still love Philadelphia?
Absolutely.

I’ll miss Philly a lot. So much. Right after our offer was accepted, Chad and I both had an “Oh, shit.” moment. This is really happening. We’re really leaving Philly. The next day, that Lonely Planet listicle came out, crowing about how Philly is one of the best places in the country, and it compounded my are-we-really-sure-we-want-to-do-this funk. Philadelphia has given me so much, and I’m convinced it’s exactly where I’ve needed to be for the last few years.

I owe the tech community here so much for how far I’ve come in the last three to four years, and I’m not saying goodbye to that. I’m profoundly grateful to the Philadelphia chapter of Girl Develop It (with which I want to stay involved!) and the greater tech community here. Philly helped me, rather unexpectedly, turn myself into a web developer, something I never dreamed I’d be capable of. I’ve made friends with so many incredible people. I’ve had opportunities I never would have imagined if I’d lived anywhere else. I definitely don’t take any of that for granted and I’m not letting go of that. Philly will always be a part of me, even as I become a smaller part of it. You’ll still see us at meetups and local conferences now and again. And of course the occasional show at Union Transfer. We’ll be renting your AirBnB rooms.

Are you sure you want to do this? What’s the worst case scenario?
We pay less for housing and start building equity, but we hate it there and I can’t find enough remote work. So then we’d move back to Philly or to another city or back to a farm after a couple years. Our house will have hopefully increased in value due to appreciation and the love that we want to put into it to make it ours. The worst case scenario is really not even bad, and I’d hope to still come out ahead either by selling at a profit or keeping it as a rental property. But really, I doubt that this will happen regardless. We’re going to try to fall in love with our new home. But if we don’t, it’s not the end of the world, and we’ll figure out our next adventure.

Lancaster Record Store

I know cool people/places/things in Lancaster! Can I hook you up?
Absolutely! Please do! I’m taking nominations for new friends and people to meet! I have a couple friends out that way, but we really won’t know anyone else. I want to take advantage of my status as a new kid in town to meet a ton of people and try to make friends. So if you know anyone out there who you think I should meet, please set us up on a friend date or send them my way. I’ll be eternally grateful.

Are you going to commute to Philly?
Nope.

I know of a great remote job or someeone looking for a front-end/WordPress/Shopify/whatever developer. Can I introduce you?
Yes, please do! I’ll also be looking for more remote contract work once we’re settled. Front-end, WordPress, Shopify, and the like. I also want to spend a lot of time learning and building things to leverage into getting my next job. Location independence has been one of my goals for awhile, and I’m prioritizing remote contract or full time opportunities. The only thing better than working in one of the most beautiful offices in the country (I’ve been so spoiled in that regard at Urban Outfitters) is working wherever I want.

Can we hang out before you move?
Yes, I’d love to! I really want to hang out with you. If you’re in Philly, email/tweet/text me! We are keeping our apartment until the end of April, so we’re still around for the next month. I’d love to get coffee, brunch, dinner, drinks, or go for a walk or whatever with you. I’m not going to say a final goodbye, because this is really more of a see-you-later situation.

Can I come visit?
Yes, absolutely! It’s a quaint, relaxing little city with lots of cute coffee shops and good restaurants, and it’s close enough to farmland to drive around and stop at farmstands for produce, homemade root beer, cheese, and baked goods. My secret scheme is to Instagram the crap out of it to lure more of our friends out there. We’re working on putting together a beautiful guest room for new and old friends to stay in and enjoy our new home with us. It’s a quick drive or train ride from Philly, so you’ll have no excuse!

Does Chad have any thoughts on this? 
Yep, he’s got a lot of thoughts on all of this.

Is this an April Fools Joke?
Nope, sorry. This is for real.

On Introversion & Friendship

daffodils

Don’t they look chatty, like they’re telling each other secrets?

I was listening to a really old episode of the EveryBranch podcast with Brooke Snow and Sarah Bray the other day. They did an episode on friendship, and talked about how people who have lots of friends live longer than people who don’t. That statistic is especially pronounced for people who are more reclusive than your average introvert. Ahem.

I think I’d heard that little tidbit before, but for some reason it really struck me this time. I’m literally taking time (weeks? months? years?) off my life by sticking to myself instead of spending time with close friends.

Back when we lived in the surburbs, we had friends who lived right around the corner. They were the kinds of friends who could walk in your front door unannounced, flop down on your couch, and start talking. We spent hours together doing nothing, watching YouTube videos, drinking beer and lounging on our balcony on a Friday night when we didn’t have the energy to do anything else. It was great!

The surburbs ultimately weren’t the best fit for us, even though those friends totally were. When we moved into the city to be closer to professional development opportunities and the Philly tech scene, Chad was commuting to Manhattan every day, so it didn’t make sense to invest socially because he was exhausted. When he finally started working remotely, it seemed like we spent most of our time going to all the meetups! All the tech events! To some degree, for the first year or two we lived in the city, the Philly tech scene kind of filled the role of the church and deep friend base we had in the suburbs. I’ve made really wonderful acquaintances and friends from it, but it’s not the same as having family-level friends right around the corner. We’re all super busy working, organizing and attending event after event, building side projects, and learning more in our ever-dwindling free time.

As an often-too busy introvert, I work in an office with an open floor plan all week, have meetings or meetups or other obligations most evenings of the week, and I go out of town pretty often on the weekend. So when I do have downtime, I’d rather spend it watching The West Wing with Chad and our cats than organize a social activity with people I kinda-sorta know but want to get to know better.

But then I find myself, on a random chilly Sunday afternoon, wishing I had other people in my living room, drinking hot spiked cider and playing with my cats. In this dream scenario, we have no agenda. There’s no reason for these mythical other people to be in my house other than that we enjoy doing nothing in particular together.

And now, it does feel a little like a missed opportunity. Like maybe we did have hidden BFFs somewhere in this city who we just haven’t found. But it also seems a little late to start fervently looking for them and investing the time to find out if they’re “the ones.”

Do you have friends like these? How do you find them as an adult?

2016 Goals

2016 GoalsI know I’m late to the party on this, but I didn’t want to let too much more time go by before sharing some of my goals for this not-so-new year. And maybe I’m trying too hard here, but it could be better to focus on goals now that the year has started and we’re in the slog rather than get all starry-eyed at New Year’s and dream about the big things I’ll accomplish. This list is all pretty practical stuff. Like:

  • Buy a house.
  • Work on finding community surrounding said house.
  • Sign up for a credit card with better travel rewards. I’m going to wait on this until after the house is settled so that we don’t get any slight dings on our credit for opening up a new line.
  • Attend a couple new conferences — I’ve already registered for Write/Speak/Code in Chicago, and hope to register for Abstractions in Pittsburgh in the next few weeks.
  • Pitch a talk to a couple conferences.
  • Make 52 CodePens. One a week. I’m already waaaay behind.
  • Finish my app for the Amazon Echo.
  • Code the redesign of my blog & organize a portfolio
  • Organize a couple series to write on this here blog o’ mine.
  • Make a quilt.
  • Start an Etsy shop.
  • Pick up some kind of writing practice again, whether it’s morning pages or something else more directed. Or both!
  • Read at least a book a month.
  • Get my inbox in order: go on an unsubscribe binge, make it to inbox zero, and try out Inbox.
  • International travel — We’ve got plans to go to Iceland again this summer with friends.
  • See a couple new places in the US. Joshua Tree & Palm Springs are on my mind, as well as Austin.

Some of these are carryovers from last year. I still feel pretty crappy about how last year passed me by, so it’ll feel great to actually knock some of these out early in the year.

I’m also planning to refer back to my Unravelling the Year Ahead workbook quarterly so that I can check in with myself and stay on track. There are a couple pages that help you sketch out your plans on a loose timeline, so you can tentatively map out how you want your year to go. Of course, things come up and life takes unexpected turns. So I’ll hold it loosely, but still hopefully accomplish more than I did in 2015.