I took two introductory Computer Science courses between 2002 and 2003 while attending college at the University of Iowa. I hadn’t declared a major, loved working with computers, and hoped that that might translate into a career, of some sort, in technology. Or at least a major, which — after two undeclared years — was about as far ahead as I was planning at the time.
It did not. The first course was terrible. I crossed my fingers that it was an exception and took another CS class the next semester with similar results. People who had prior programming experience seemed comfortable, but the rest of us were completely lost, and I can confidently say I learned nothing from either course.
I managed to avoid ever choosing a major (opting instead to create an interdepartmental studies curriculum focused mostly on philosophy 1 and religion that also suited my interests at the time), graduated, spent a summer working at an ice cream factory in Le Mars, Iowa, and moved to Los Angeles with my friend Paul in August of 2004.
Having no idea what kind of job I wanted, I got work logging footage for a reality show (great job, btw) before taking a job as a consultant for the consulting branch of Hitachi — again thinking, “Hey, I still like technology; maybe I’ll like this.”
I did not. I enjoyed applying a well-thought-out formula to an Excel spreadsheet, but not enough to stick around. In the spring of 2005, after six months with Hitachi, I quit.
The whole blogging thing was really taking off back then, and I decided I’d try my hand at “writing on the internet.” (That’s what I called it back then owing to the fact that, then and now, I was never able to call myself a blogger because it felt silly. Much better to say “I write things on the internet,” obviously.) I’d become unusually obsessed with a blog called Lifehacker that had launched a few months earlier, while I was still at Hitachi. More than anything, I was attracted to the straightforward, beginner-friendly guides to doing fairly esoteric, geeky things like setting up a home server or remotely controlling your computer.
So in August of 2005, when Lifehacker’s founding editor Gina Trapani posted a listing for two associate editors, my palms dampened and I fired off my email application (which contained, I still remember with terror, a benign but idiotic typo). I had been applying to a lot of jobs at the time, but that night I told my significant other that I had just applied for a Dream Job.
I did not get the job. Two other editors were hired, and I took a job at a Ted Nugent-based reality TV show. While at work, I used my Lifehacker-inspired remote access setup to write and hack on a WordPress blog I’d put together, learning a tiny bit in the process about copying and pasting snippets of PHP.
I spent the next seven years, in my spare time, falling in love with programming. Days at Lifehacker (first as an associate editor, which is what we now call a “writer,” eventually as editor-in-chief), nights coding.
I left Lifehacker at the beginning of this year and joined a startup. I left that startup at the beginning of this month (another post) with one very specific goal in mind: I want to become a much better coder, and I want to spend my time making things with code.
For twelve weeks, starting next Monday, September 30, I’ll be attending Hacker School.
Hacker School is a three-month, full-time school in New York for becoming a better programmer. We’re free as in beer, and provide space, a little structure, time to focus, and a friendly community of smart builders dedicated to self-improvement.
My decision to attend is the culmination of years of slowly inching toward a career spent making things with code.
Wish me luck.