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Turning a cruise ship

2012 October 7
by Richard Harrington

tl;dr I found a job!

During the six-month hiatus between the last blog post and this one, I quit a job I’d been at for fifteen years, and ventured into the new world (for me) of programming professionally. It wasn’t easy. At times I felt like I was trying to turn a cruise ship. And I couldn’t really blog about the process because of the whole don’t-let-your-boss-see-your-job-hunting-blog-post thing.

It took a bit longer than I expected, but here’s how I did it, in a nutshell, in case you’re thinking of making a similar move:

  1. I found a problem in my life that could be eliminated (or ameliorated) by using software. I was on a co-ed soccer team at the time, and we were sending each other 80 emails each week trying to make sure enough people were going to show up for the game, so I taught myself PHP and MySQL and made a simple attendance website. You can still find a demo version at turtleherder.com/bobcats. Feel free to mess around with it — it’s a fake team.
  2. I was working as a print designer, so I spent the next couple years slowly learning JavaScript for InDesign. (Adobe uses it as an embedded scripting language for all its products.) I made life easier for myself and my co-workers by automating a lot of already-existing tasks and coming up with new workflows that couldn’t even have been done without scripting.
  3. I’d dabbled in web design pre-CSS, but I’d let my skills lapse, so I started getting them up to date again: HTML, CSS, the DOM and all the fancy new object-oriented JavaScript techniques to go with them.
  4. I started to think about making the jump into programming as my primary living, but I suffered a bit of an existential crisis for a while, in that I was afraid it was going to take over my mind. I enjoyed programming, but I got very intensely focused on whatever project I was working on, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to turn it off at the end of each day when I got home from work. I resolved this issue by talking to a lot of working programmers. I met some people around the country who worked remotely and seemed to have a good work-life balance, and also a lot of people at tech Meetups in New York. Eventually, I decided I would be able to handle it. As indeed I have.
  5. Once I got over my existential issue, I took a couple classes in JavaScript at the NYU School for Continuing and Professional Studies. The first one sucked. I’m not sure why I took the second one, but I did, and it was awesome. That class got me excited to be a programmer.
  6. Three months after the end of the inspiring class, at the beginning of 2012, I dropped my hours at work down to two days a week and started spending all my free time studying programming (JavaScript, HTML and CSS mostly), going to Meetups and hackathons, and working on side projects, the main one of which was a multi-user drawing program (using Node and Socket.io) based on a static version we worked on in the aforementioned class. That can be found at here (with code here).
  7. Last but not least, I wrote a resume and started slowly looking for jobs. It took me months just to get around to writing the resume itself — the psychological block that gets built up around that after fifteen years at the same job is quite formidable — but eventually I did it, and then I made a blitz, both on my own and through recruiters. One week in late May I went to six interviews, the last of which was four and a half hours long. I got a few rejections, but just when my savings were almost gone (going down to two days a week had been a calculated risk that began to seem a little scary towards the end there, financially), I ended up with two offers for half-year contract positions. I took the one that was the smaller company, 35 minutes closer to my house, $5 more an hour, and had a pit bull puppy in the office.

The job turned out great, but that’s a topic for another post. I’m over half-way through it now, and looking for my next gig. Whatever happens, I’m sure the process will be a piece of cake this time, in comparison.

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