Go Boldly Forward

Code School Book — Morgan Lopes and Tim Whitacre (29/30)

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It’s your turn.

ntil this point, we’ve worked to weave our (Tim and Morgan’s) stories together with other voices from the industry. The goal was to make the information more digestible and the stories more cohesive.

Now is where our paths diverge. Despite the overlaps and shared insights, we were shocked when we started by how different our journeys began.

Tim’s Beginning

Shortly after graduating college in 2005, I was sitting at my desk in the counseling center where I worked, wondering if this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. While I enjoyed aspects of the job, there was so much of it that just didn’t fit with what I wanted from life. On non-client days, I was able to get my work done before lunch and would spend the afternoons sitting around with nothing to do. I went to my boss and asked for more responsibility, but was told that there was no other work to be done and I should just enjoy the downtime. On those days, I decided to build my own website. At this time, WordPress was new and there weren’t many options out there. So I decided to build the site myself, using only HTML and CSS. There weren’t many online tutorials for learning how to code, so I walked a few blocks away to the library and checked out books on the topic. I would then spend these afternoons reading through the books and attempting to make sense of the content.

A few weeks in, I realized I needed help. I considered going back to school and went as far as applying to a Computer Science program. Time and money were not on my side. That’s when I decided to look for a mentor. I searched for some local software agencies nearby and found a few. I emailed each of them, and offered to work for free or pay for mentoring. No one responded. I searched for months. One day, a friend connected me to Jack, who had also gone down the self-taught path. I reached out to Jack who informed me he was really busy, but if I wanted to, I could buy him dinner and he would answer my questions. This was the process of my learning over the next year. I would check out books from the library, spend downtime at work and evenings reading and work through the material, all while saving my questions for the next dinner with Jack.

Being honest, I was disappointed with how hard it was to find a mentor. I was disappointed that none of the local shops would respond to my emails or even give me a chance. I should also point out that I was living in a fairly rural town, and while it might sound like excuses, back then, there just weren’t as many resources to connect with other local developers. However, I stuck with it. The deeper I got into learning, the more I enjoyed it and realized this was something I could do long term.

About two years after I started, I met Kurt. He was in charge of the marketing department at a web development company in town, and they were hiring. It seemed like a long shot, but I knew I had to make an attempt. After chatting with him about the company, I applied and was shocked to be called in for an interview. As mentioned earlier in the book, I got the job. This was the first time I would be able to learn alongside other developers. I finally had my chance to talk with other folks about their coding styles instead of just reading about it in a book. My hard work had paid off. I was the happiest I had been so far in my career.

While Kurt quickly became a life mentor, he wasn’t a software engineer. Almost two decades later, I’ve still never had a mentor specifically for software engineering. I’ve worked with great people who taught me different skills and helped me grow in my career, but I would have done anything for someone to come alongside me — someone to mentor me through my ups and downs. In Morgan’s story you’ll meet Jason. Someone like that would have been great but I’ve never been quite so lucky.

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CTO at Fast Company’s World Most Innovative Company (x4). Author of “Code School”, a book to help more people transition into tech.