January 01, 2020Tweet
I was going to tweet about my decade but I quickly realized I had a lot to share. I wrote this for myself as I don’t expect very many people will read this. Everyone has their life challenges, their ups, their downs. It’s during the downs when you either break or persevere. You’re stuck at the base of a mountain where you can’t see the top. That mountain is seemingly everything that sucks about your life and the only way out is to climb your way to the top. Never trying to make the ascent is the easy choice, or give up halfway. The large majority of us never make it to the top on our first try. We’ll slip, fall, quit climbing for a while, it’s during those moments that will define us and our legacy on this Earth. Hell, whenever you watch a documentary about someone, the title is often focused around their success at the top of the mountain. However, the entire plot of the story involves their journey up the mountain of suck.
I was two years removed graduating from college. Ok, let’s rewind, one sentence into this. I began my career working on the help desk soon after graduating from college with a Computer Science degree. The U.S. economy went to shit in 2008 and I struggled to find my first developer job. No one wanted a kid with zero experience, not in this economy. Rent was due soon. I needed an income. A high school friend of mine set me up where he worked. I accepted their first offer, $35,000 a year. Fuck…my first career learning experience. Negotiate…
The decade began exactly how the previous decade ended. I had gone nowhere. I was young, single, and I didn’t have a life vision other than I wanted a new job position and more money of course. The highlights of my week were often the gym, and with no money, I’d pick up a movie from Blockbuster, grab some Taco Bell, and “Netflix and chill” before that was ever a thing. I thought I wanted to be a Network Engineer. It seemed like the next progression from the help desk. I took a Cisco class 2 nights a week in pursuit of my CCNA. I was often there four nights a week. Working harder than any of my classmates. What I had developed was a fierce work ethic and the hunger to succeed. These two traits would later define my career. An important event happened that would later help my career growth, it had nothing to do with the piece of paper I was pursuing. The game that started my love for computers was Starcraft. It was my favorite game of all time and the long-awaited sequel was set to release in July.
“Hell, it’s about time…” -Jim Raynor
I remember my brother and our friend since grade school Ely, waited in line at Game Stop to buy the game at midnight. Is that still a thing these days? We set up our computers in the basement and played all night and morning. During breaks when we weren’t talking about Starcraft we discussed our career pursuits. I thought I had life figured out and when Ely mentioned he was taking programming classes from Devry. I took a slight interest in this, but mostly still went down the path of network engineering. I also had aspirations of being a full-time pro gamer in Starcraft. At the time, this was unheard of in the U.S. and I would surely be laughed at if I tried. I loved to compete, As the year wound down, I was the last student still at the Cisco lab studying. I had noticed the lab technician had what looked like a Starcraft forum of sorts on his screen. I spoke with him about Starcraft and he showed me what he was looking at. A site called Reddit…
Everything I had worked for came to fruition. I passed my CCNA certification. I remember celebrating with my friends thinking I had made it in life. I was already taking night classes for the CCNP. I was on the rise and a great career would be mine in no time. My passions didn’t align with my career pursuit. Something I ignored the entire time I was trying to force my way into a Networking Engineering career. I loved Starcraft 2 and at this point, I was practice and competing for several hours every night. When I wasn’t playing I was watching Twitch streams and reading everything I could about the game on Reddit. I took particular interest in the posts where someone quit their job to pursue a pro gaming career full time.
I had mostly given up the dream of trying to be a pro gamer. Something I knew would eventually happen. I obtained my CCNP certification. Something many network engineers never accomplish. What happened next might shock you. I quit…My professors were shocked, they were telling every company they spoke to about me. Even after I told them I was done, they didn’t believe me and kept putting great opportunities in my lap. I ignored them. Something wasn’t right. I wasn’t passionate about network engineer where your sign of accomplishment was a successful ping.
Some of my best work friends were developers. While I was on call at the help desk 24/7 and working at 7 am - 4 pm. They showed up to work around 9 or 9:30 am drank coffee, mingled and started working around 10 am. We’d go to the bar. I had three blackberries on me at all times. I’d have to leave the bar, go to my car, fire up my laptop, plug in my Sprint 3G broadband card, RDP into my on-site PC and support whatever issue I was called about. This wasn’t the life for me. I wanted the life my developer work friends had. I went home, scoured Reddit about which programming language would be my golden ticket to becoming a developer. I gave Ruby and Python a try. I signed up for night classes to re-take programming classes. My intro to programming class used C++. Shit…it was hard. I was doing well in the class yet I failed the skills final. Next semester I took the follow-up C++ Object Oriented Programming course. I failed!!! Where did I go wrong? How could I be so passionate about something and fail so hard?
I continued taking programming courses, this time on Java. I once again failed the skills final. Wtf, why was I so bad at this? I spent all of my free time reading Reddit about the most in-demand programming languages and frameworks. Constantly reading about code…but never coding… My developer friends both accepted a job at Teva. I wanted to follow them in hopes of becoming a developer. They got me an interview and nailed it. Seemingly on top of the world, I took a vacation to visit my friend in Los Angeles. I spent a week there including being there for the 4th of July and my birthday. While I was there, I was offered the job as an “Applications Support Specialist”. I once again accepted the first offer after I at least tried to work benefits into the deal unsuccessfully. The offer was a never-ending contract with no benefits and $60,000 a year. This was a $15,000 raise for me, I was rich! Or so I thought.
I arrived back home and what happened next split my life in half. Before this, and after this. My mother wasn’t herself. I spent all night on WebMD, not sleeping a single minute. I was terrified. My mom was my everything and someone I depended on. I took her to the ER first thing in the morning. After an X-Ray, my mom and I got the news. Stage 4 lung cancer. My mom and I were crushed, the unimaginable just happened. My moms’ life was going to be over soon and my life was fucked. After spending a week in the hospital I was to start my new job with my mom still in the hospital. I was supposed to be happy on my first day at the new job but I wasn’t. I was placed at my desk and quickly realized I was going to hate every minute of this job. I had hoped this would be my foot in the door as a programmer but quickly learning I was just there to reset passwords and help people use their iPads.
I spent the rest of the year depressed with no clue what to do. I continued my studies with programming off and on but still never coding. The only avenue to clear my head was playing Starcraft and watching Starcraft streams. My mom was a fighter and continued doing everything she could around the house. Maybe she could beat this? Maybe all of the statistics are wrong?
Hungover from a fun new years eve, I woke up motivated to turn my life around. I was far from a ladies man and far too depressed to even care about dating. I was in search of love and happiness like everyone else around me. I hit the gym HARD. I was there every weeknight, never missing a gym session. The gym was therapeutic, great for my health mentally and physically. I was feeling confident. Spring was starting soon and I was ready for the cold midwest winter to end. Spring had started and I still didn’t want to go to the bars or put any work into dating. Online dating sounded more up my alley but fuck filling out a long dating profile.
I discovered an app called Tinder. At the time, I had no idea what it was for but the thought of swiping quickly swiping through the app in hopes someone else would like me seemed great. I quickly discovered I still had the same problem I always had. I was in search of the perfect girl. No one seemed appealing. The next day I was bored and fired up Tinder again. The first girl I saw I knew I wanted to match with her. Her name was Jessica. Fuck, how do I match with her? I had spent so much time swiping no I wasn’t sure how to match with her. I can’t screw this up. Me being me, I googled “How to match with someone on Tinder”. Swipe right. Ok, but what if something goes wrong. I’d never get a shot with her. Damnit what do I do? I was so enamored with her pictures I failed to notice the UI had left and right buttons. I quickly clicked the Swipe right button. Wtf? It just showed me another girl. Did I screw up? Did it not work? Pissed off with this new app I went to the gym. This girl was on my mind, I was motivated yet unmotivated to lift. I can’t explain it, nor will I try to. My phone vibrated. I looked at my phone “You have a match!”
No way, this girl is out of my league, I have no chance. What do I say to her? Too scared and unsure of what to say I left my workout early. Something I hadn’t ever done. I ate dinner and started drinking hoping to gain some liquid courage. I decided to joke with her and she’d either think I’m an idiot or laugh. She did both. We texted back and forth all night. The next day I got her number. I deleted the app and text her non-stop. Memorial weekend was here and I had no plans to go to the lake. I spent the day at the pool with friends drinking in downtown Kansas City. I again built up enough courage to ask her if she wanted to meet somewhere downtown. To my surprise, she quickly said yes. This is happening!!! Wait…fuck…I have nothing but swimming trunks and I live 30 minutes away. I was to meet her in two hours. Luckily I was only casually drinking so I drove all the way home, changed my clothes, and drove back to my friends’ place. I went to the bar with my friends, the bar I agreed to meet this girl at a bar called PBR. I hated country music but whatever, that didn’t matter.
As my friends and I were walking to the bar this beautiful blonde girl with cowboy boots and short pink shorts walked right passed me. Wait…that was the girl I was supposed to meet and she was walking the other way. I told my friends to go to the bar without me. In my head, I was being stood up and didn’t want them to see that. I stood at the entrance of PBR for about 5 minutes then she arrived. We hugged and I was in love? Love at first sight? The thing I always thought was complete and utter bullshit. She seemed to like me, she was pretty and I loved hearing her voice. We were at the bar until it closed at 3 am. We stood near a post and talked the entire time.
I left to go home. The night was amazing but it seemed too good to be true. Would I ever see her again? I got a text from her. She told me she had a crush on me. Our relationship quickly progressed. We got an apartment in Lee’s Summit, MO together at the start of July. She had a 4-year-old son of her own, I knew nothing about kids. Scared of what to do I tried my best to make him happy. Jessica and I did everything together and that fall we both met each other’s parents. Life was starting to get a lot better but I was still suffering from my mothers’ illness.
I continued coding off and on. I spent most of my time with Jessica and her son. Progress was slow learning Angular. Based on my mothers’ most recent scans the tumor had shrunk by 75%. Incredible news. In March my world was quickly flipped upside down. My mothers’ cancer had progressed and there were no further treatments to try. She was placed on hospice and told she had 30-60 days to live. News I never wanted to hear, my mom was going to die. I quit everything except work and Jessica. I tried spending time with my mom whenever I could. It never felt like enough time. For a month she seemed ok. She wasn’t getting worse. My brother and dad were taking care of her full time. The hospice nurse came to visit daily. Then in mid-April so stopped eating, drinking, and started sleeping all the time. I had planned on telling her so many things and thanking her for everything. I thought I’d have a little bit of time to do all of that. One night I told her goodnight and goodbye. Then the next day she slept and never seemed to be conscious. She was dying and I hadn’t told her everything I wanted to tell her…still my biggest life regret.
On April 24th my mother passed away. I had never seen anyone pass away before and there was nothing beautiful or graceful about it. Don’t let anyone sugar coat that. It was terrible. After she took her final breath I had to watch the funeral home cart away her lifeless body, still, an image burned into my head I wish I had never seen. I went through every picture I could find of her, reliving so many great memories.
My mom was the hardest worker I ever knew. A trait she blessed me with. I wanted to carry on her legacy and make her proud. I believe and still, believe she’s watching over me. Her ethereal presence drives me every day to go that extra mile, to be the best, and if I’m not the best, work until I am the best.
I was working my ass off in the evenings and often in between support calls at my shit job. I was motivated to obtain the frontend certificate FreeCodeCamp had. Fighting the constant depression of living life without my mom Jessica and I went on our first vacation together. We spent a few nights on the beach in San Diego. It was everything I needed. I had fallen down the mountain and hit rock bottom. I was on my feet and starting to climb back up.
In October my life long MLB team the Kansas City Royals finally won the world series. Jessica and I were at the Power and Light district when it happened. It was everything I dreamed about when I thought about the Royals winning a world series. Of course, they were always so bad I never thought it would happen. When Wade Davis stuck out the final batter chaos erupted. Screams of excitement, streamers flying through the air, beer showers galore, it was one of the most exciting moments of my life and one of the only good moments of 2015.
Jessica’s mother suddenly became very ill. Wtf, how is this happening? Just a few months ago my mother passed away. It was still very unknown what exactly was wrong with Jessica’s mother. We spent time with her but she never seemed to get worse and to our knowledge, she was getting better.
Two days before Thanksgiving, I received a phone call I never thought I’d receive. My contractor called after hours which is never good. He told me my co-worker had been let go. Wtf why? Instead of answering, he let me know I was being let go too. I was speechless and terrified. I had very little money in savings with lots of bills to pay, with a girlfriend and 6-year-old boy to support. The holidays are quickly approaching, what am I going to do?
At the interview, I sat in the room with the lead JS developer, Blake. I felt comfortable answering all the questions. I was then told to build “FizzBuzz”. Thanks to FreeCodeCamp I had already solved this problem before. I quickly fired up CodePen and solved FizzBuzz, logging the result to the console. Blake had said wow that was fast, but can you output the results to the DOM on the screen instead? I froze. I couldn’t remember how to select an element on the DOM, or even initialize jQuery. Damnit, I had skipped the jQuery section on FreeCodeCamp. I tried for 5 minutes trying to make it work before I finally gave up. The news was out, I was an imposture. I was as green as Shrek himself.
I still wanted this job badly and followed up every day. They offered me the job but it was the same rate the other company offered me. I had already done the math from the other companies offer and knew I could live on that amount. They took a chance on me and hired me on full time at the minimal amount of money I could scrape by with. I started December 15th and I had just used up the last of my savings. My boss Ryan, told me the way the pay periods work I would receive my first paycheck until January. I had no money and no way to put presents under the tree for Jessica’s son who by this point had already taken him in as my own. I didn’t know what to do and mentioned my life problem. Ryan did something I’ll never forget, he gave me half of my paycheck as a “bonus” so I’d have money to live on and give my family a Christmas. I’ve never forgotten this moment and I’ll be forever grateful for this gesture. I was doing what I wanted and for the first time in my career, I felt like the people I was working for genuinely cared about me.
I was climbing the mountain faster than I ever have. One week into my new job, Jessica’s mother passed away. This rocked our world. Why was this happening to us? Within 6 months I had to watch both of our moms die. I didn’t know what to do, other than do whatever I could to support Jessica and her son.
The year began with Jessica and I again found ourselves picking up the pieces. We had each other, and that’s the only thing that got us through losing our moms. Early in 2016, I started hearing about a framework called ReactJS. AngularJS was already widely adopted so I had no interest in React. I then began learning about the pitfalls of AngularJS. I picked up a tutorial on React by Tyler Mcginnis. The course was awesome and I loved how simple the API was for React. My job had landed a deal with a local pub to build a loyalty program app. Luckily for me as a junior developer, this project wasn’t very high on the companies priority list so I was given the project.
I need a way to manage the state of the application and found Redux. I discovered a cool site egghead.io. The pace of the videos was different from what I was used to. The videos were fast and to the point. The Redux videos I watched were authored by Dan Abramov. I was still pretty junior and found his tutorial and the words he was using way over my head. I needed another tutorial before I could come back to this one. To this day, I still refer back to these videos as reference material. I discovered a Redux course by Wes Bos. The tutorial had me build an Instagram clone. The videos were fun and his beginner-friendly teaching style stuck with me. I used the code from the Instagram clone to help build the application I was building at work! Wes had mentioned following him on Twitter. At the time I loved twitter for sports news. Sure I’ll follow this guy, maybe I’ll learn something. I then discovered the React community on Twitter which led me to learn so many cool things.
In the Spring of 2016, I also began a new endeavor. I became the little league baseball coach of my step-sons’ team. My life was about to change even more as Jessica was pregnant with our daughter. She would be due in January 2017! I became even more motivated to succeed.
By the end of 2016, I built a fully functional professional React and Redux application. I wrote my first blog post “How I learned React and how you can too”. I couldn’t believe tens of thousands of people would read something I wrote on the internet. I realized I could make it as a developer. Regardless of the imposture syndrome I constantly faced.
The year began with one of the best days of my life. My daughter was born on January 5th. I no longer had much free time with a newborn in the mix. I adopted many principles from the Getting Things done book. It helped to get everything I need to remember out of my head and into my favorite app, Todoist. I wrote a handful of blog posts. People started to view me as a React SME. While still very much a junior developer, I understood something well enough to teach others and loved it.
I decided the time was right to buy an engagement ring. I wanted to propose to Jessica during our family trip to Panama City, Florida at the end of July. VueJS was picking up in popularity. As someone who loves trying new things, I fell in love with it. Also around this time, Airbnb dropped a BOMB on the React Native world. They announced they were dropping React Native in favor of Native. One of the big selling points to me for React is that I could also use it for mobile development.
As fate would have it, I was on my way to Portland, OR to attend Chain React. Americas largest React Native conference. I went into Chain React unsure about the future of React Native. The first night there I saw Nader Dabit was going to be the speaker at the local Portland React meetup. Before this, I had read so many great blog posts and tutorials from him. I had never heard of the topics he was talking about. My current job did not need something like AWS. I was completely lost on Amplify and App sync, yet I was blown away with what AWS and those products could do. More on AWS later…It was also a pleasure getting a chance to talk to Nader at one of the conference booths.
I left the conference very motivated. I started blogging and I listened to the Infinite Red podcast on my flight home. I realized there might be cool opportunities out there and I was potentially missing out by keeping my doors closed. A few months later I still didn’t want to leave my job at Code Koalas. I was happy. I felt I owed it to myself, and my family to at least put myself out there for potential job opportunities.
A few weeks later was our family trip to Panama City, Florida. As soon as we got to the beach house I asked permission from Jessica’s dad to marry his daughter. A few days went by and I was more than anxious to pop the question. I finally found a place I wanted to propose. From a little pier bridge on the beach, we watched the sunset. Right as the sunset I got on one knee and asked Jessica to marry me. There was a large crowd on the deck of a restaurant nearby where we received a lot of cheers and congratulations. It went perfectly. Let the wedding planning begin.
In September I decided to put my self out on the job market. I was contacted by a contractor who had an immediate need for an experienced React developer who also knew Redux. I told the contractor I wasn’t interested in other jobs unless it was the perfect opportunity. The contractor threw me a salary that blew me away. I had a few days to prepare for the interview.
I had a 45-minute commute back home before I made it home the contractor called to congratulate me as they wanted to hire me. I was pumped but I had learned from my past failures to never immediately accept the initial offer. I was still unsure I wanted to leave a job I was perfectly happy at. I told the contractor I would need to sleep on the offer and decide the next day. The contractor immediately bumped the offer to $5,000. At this point I felt good about my decision. I told the contractor that is very generous but I have a personal rule of sleeping on big decisions.
The following morning I woke up to a text asking if I had decided what I was going to do yet. I told the contractor I was still thinking about it. The contractor called me and increased the offer another $15,000. $20,000 more than the initial offer I was already blown away by. Throughout my time at Code Koalas I was given generous raises. Something I never experienced at my previous jobs. Even with these raises, the salary offer was nearly double my current salary. I couldn’t refuse the offer and accepted. I was sad to leave my first developer job. The job that gave me my chance.
This year was ruled by our upcoming August wedding. It was my main focus for the year. In February, my company sent my fiance and me to San Francisco for a weekend getaway. We had never been there before, we touristed hard! What an amazing city. The spring flew by and it was summer before I knew it. By the time summer came around, I was worn out from the stress of wedding planning and I was burnt out at my job. I needed a break. Jessica and I decided on a quick 2 day getaway to Vegas. It gave me the break I needed from work and the upcoming wedding.
I met some friends from work who started a Discord group to get together every Thursday night and play Starcraft 2. We have a great time catching up, drinking, and playing SC2. I look forward to Thursday every week!
The baseball season (I’m still coaching little league baseball) went long due to a bunch of rainouts. The final game was in mid-July where we finished with a 3rd place trophy. It was quite an accomplishment for the team. Without much time left before the wedding, it was a mad dash to get everything done and finalized. Including the honeymoon planning.
A week before the wedding I was promoted to Lead Senior Engineer III at work! I would now be in charge of a few offshore teams as well as the lead for all things front end.
Our wedding day turned out perfect. Cloudy with a high of 72 degrees. If you’re familiar with August in Missouri you know how rare of an occurrence this great weather is. The wedding was amazing. Best of all, there was no more wedding planning. I could shift my focus to our honeymoon in Aruba.
After we got married, Jessica quit her job to be a full-time stay at home mom. This has been great for our kids and we are blessed to be in a position to do this. In September we spent 9 nights in Aruba. If you’ve never been to Aruba I’d recommend it over anywhere else in the Caribbean. The country is run on tourism so everyone there is extremely friendly and helpful.
With the wedding behind us, I had a little more time. I used this time to obtain my first AWS certification.
This decade had a series of events that ripped me to pieces. I hit rock bottom more than once. I battled back now I’m ready to find my way to the top of the mountain. Hopefully, this decade has fewer hurdles than the last. I’m motivated more than ever to begin a side hustle I’ve always wanted to do. I believe serverless is the future and I’m going to invest in it heavily. I’ll be studying for my next AWS certification soon. Obtaining a passive income has long been a dream of mine. Stay tuned…