Learning how to code is NOT easy

I wrote this letter to myself as a part of an assignment in the Udacity Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree course I’m previewing today. It’s a snapshot of where I am in my career journey right now.

Letter to self

Dear Vanessa,

You already know how tough it is to learn how to code — last year you completed a three month, full stack, web development bootcamp! However, you’ve been struggling with staying motivated lately when you think about how much you still have to learn, and how you’d love to specialize in front-end development.

You’ve also felt discouraged as you realize that finding a full-fledged web developer job in San Francisco is very competitive, and you still need to work on your algorithms to master those tough interviews.

However, you know you can solve problems, and you know that you’ve already come a long way. Sometimes you just need to remind yourself of your goals and how to persevere even when the going gets tough.

Problem Solving

How will you solve your problem?

Something I will list first is that after working with a problem for a long time, sometimes the best thing is to take a break, and most importantly get a good night’s sleep (Cathy Bechler mentions this in her post).

Then, if looking for answers online (e.g. StackOverflow) proves fruitless, ask your software developer friends! Post your own question! Sometimes you have to risk sounding stupid — and a lot of times your question won’t even be that stupid after all. Everyone was a beginner once.

Skills I can use to help tackle challenges

What skills do you have now that will help you tackle challenges?

As a result of years of being an enthusiastic student as well as my bootcamp experience, I am able to reach inside and remind myself that just because I don’t know something today does not mean I can’t learn it tomorrow, or next week. Change of mindset is very helpful when approaching a problem.

Another skill is knowing when to call it a day. I feel that I’m pretty good at knowing when I need a break so that I can come back fresh and tackle the problem.

I also consider myself to be very good at Googling the right thing to find the answer I need.

Growth Mindset

How will a ‘growth mindset’ help you reach your goals?

As much as I love learning, when I get stuck, and I mean REALLY stuck on something, I can get so frustrated that I want to quit and do something easier. This becomes a negative cycle of me feeling bad about myself (“I am a failure”) and then abandoning my goals of self-improvement.

This fixed mindset has to change. Most of all, I have to remember that where I am now is not indicative of where I could be in the future. It’s GOOD to fail sometimes. Failure shows you what you still need to work on. It’s GOOD to get stuck. It means you’re working on a worthwhile problem and there’s something to be learned there.

In contrast, the growth mindset embraces failure as a learning experience and encourages action over rumination (or, getting stuck in your head and feeling like crap when you feel like you aren’t learning fast enough).
“How to navigate the ups and downs of learning to code”

I often find that writing my thoughts down is a great way to foster my growth mindset, especially when I’m feeling discouraged or down on myself. By getting out of my head, I’m able to start thinking more rationally and find the motivation to move forward.


Something Joyce Akiko wrote in her post really resonates with me:

We risk being known as people who can’t follow through, who lack focus

As much as I don’t want to care what other people think, this is a fear that has plagued me for most of my life, and usually my way of dealing with it has been to shift to another goal I’m confident I can achieve.

Recently I’ve realized, however, that I’ve already started my coding journey, and there is so much that I enjoy about coding and actually building apps people can use (as opposed to the administrative or operations work I did in my past jobs) that I shouldn’t abandon my desire to become proficient at coding. The reason why I got into coding in the first place was so that I could have the skills I needed to make design or interface changes I envisioned or to create prototypes of my ideas. I wanted to be a self-sufficient builder of web experiences, and that is still my personal goal.

In the long term, my career goal is to become a product manager. I know that in order to get there, I need to have a solid technical foundation so that I can effectively communicate with product engineers. I think the best way to do that would be to land a front-end web developer job.

Additionally, I have a couple of website ideas related to dance training and concert tracking that I would like to build on and eventually launch.

Don’t give up!!!!! You wanted a job/career where you could use your brain more — go get it!


Articles referenced in this post:
  1. http://www.codeconquest.com/blog/how-to-navigate-the-up-and-downs-of-learning-to-code/
  2. http://blog.thinkful.com/post/98829096308/my-first-month-coding-an-emotional-roller-coaster

Letting Go of Consistency

“The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

As much as I claim that I am living my life on my own terms, I find that I’m often pondering how an action will fit in with how I’ve acted in the past. Or I think about something that I once did, and think, is that really me? Or someone says, “Wow, I’m surprised that you would do that!” Well, that can be unsettling. When people express surprise or concern because I’m making a decision that does not fit in with their perception of how I usually am, it feels like I’m letting them down in some way. But when I think about it, what does it matter what other people think?

It’s like the quote I posted the other day about not worrying about what other people think about your abilities, because all that matters is that you are making the effort to improve yourself. Recently, I’ve been worrying a whole lot less about the way other people are and how I could be and much more about DOING things. Consuming things and pondering how things could be better means nothing. Wondering if I should do this or that doesn’t help. The only thing that does help is actually going out and doing it.

I’m computing my own orbit, to borrow words from Emerson. I’m not here to make other people feel comfortable that they “know” me. I don’t know myself, how can anybody “know” me? Sure, I can let them into my life, and as Rilke so wisely said, “Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again;” I don’t have to alarm people, but I also don’t have to cater to them. Perhaps that will ruffle some people’s feathers, but isn’t that better than being boring?

Point Reyes, CA
Point Reyes, CA

Paving the Way for Focus

If focus means being fully in the moment, I must do everything in my power to clear my internal distractions and clutter that block my way (i.e. negative self talk, living in the past, worrying about the future).

The first step is to determine which THINGS I need in my day-to-day life. Backpacking trips have taught me that I’m able to live off the contents of a backpack for days at a time, and I love that. Over the course of my life, I’ve stockpiled things, only to have to worry about all these items that I don’t actually need to survive. I find that the less I worry about accumulating things, the more conscious I am of how little I actually need in my day to day life.

One of those things that I don’t actually need every minute of the day is my smart phone. It is actually an exercise in self-control for me to not use my phone for even one whole day. But I’ve found that going off the grid is freeing, because I choose when to look at my phone, and it isn’t constantly beckoning me to check on it. I can set aside a specific time to look at it, which might be during my lunch break, or at night before I go to bed.

I find that without my phone, I’m more likely to be 100% focused on whoever I’m with or whatever I’m doing in a given moment. I think it’s because by removing myself from the possibility of constant communication, I’m forced to communicate with the people and the nature around me, even when I’d rather zone out and distract myself with my smart phone.

I do want to stare at digital screens less. The less I passively consume, the better. Sometimes it’s painful to be mindful about what you are doing or consuming, but I know that I benefit from intentional living. The more I worry about what has not yet happened or things that already happened, the less I will experience the moment, because I will be concerned with things I can’t do anything about. The only time I have is now.

As soon as I’m not attached to things, as soon as I’m doing and loving more than I’m complaining or thinking, I’m living a rich, joyful life.

I want to volunteer, explore, do meaningful work every minute of every day. Every minute sounds unreasonable, but I think that sometimes meaningful work just means seeing the beauty in the situation I am in and fostering positive thoughts and ideas.

Because the only thing I can control is my mind. Just like how full, intentional breaths in yoga pave the way for relaxed, focused control of my poses (for example, I was able to hold a headstand for more than 10 breaths today!), focusing on quieting my mind will give me the strength to focus in any situation.

This quote sums it up pretty well: “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” -Marcus Aurelius