This post is about how I became so interested in coding and the events which have shaped and brought me to this new chapter in my life. It has taken 26 years for me to work out what it is that I like and want to do. I've had ups and downs along the way and even a very dark patch which I don't care to go into details about. I'm finally learning to accept that my sister was right, I am a geek. I've always been a bit of a geek and now it's maybe time to embrace that.
This post is about how I became so interested in coding and the events which have shaped and brought me to this new chapter in my life. It has taken 26 years for me to work out what it is that I like and want to do. I’ve had ups and downs along the way and even a very dark patch which I don’t care to go into details about. I’m finally learning to accept that my sister was right, I am a geek. I’ve always been a bit of a geek and now it’s maybe time to embrace that.
I grew up in a tiny town in New Zealand called Waihi, with a population of around 3000 people and at a time when having a computer at home was all the craze (and I’m not talking fancy flat screen monitors or wireless keyboards).
Being a small farming community, I was educated at a decile 3 high-school with limited facilities. I remember the IT teachers office being the size of a large cupboard, overflowing with bulky hardware and cables (of course I didn’t really understand the term ‘hardware’ in terms of a computer at the time).
Looking back now, I guess I should have gotten into coding when I was 12 and my internet permissions were revoked at school after accidentally spamming the entire intranet. I mean, really, who would have thought that if I sent an email to recipient “everyone”, it would send it to everyone in the whole intranet and not just everyone in my own contacts list… And that’s got to be the best case scenario because surely I don’t have the privileges to be able to do that anyway.
I spent almost every evening for about 5 years getting home as quick as I could after school to sit at the computer, just because it was such an amazing machine. I pretty much wasted that entire time playing games, downloading music, experimenting with changing settings, and chatting with friends on instant messenger. I never really thought about the potential future of IT, although I did enjoy the limited IT lessons we’d been exposed to at school. I wish I had’ve known then what I know now. High school IT just didn’t appeal to me as a subject, I wanted to do art, graphic design, and learn about maths and science. Plus, there was like 5 guys taking that class and none of them really appealed to me either…
By the end of high-school I was dating a ‘computer guy’, that is to say he was very interested in computers and had even built his own for personal use. Being the person I am today, I don’t quite understand how I had stayed with him for as long as I did, the main thing I remember him saying to me often was “Girls can’t use computers.” Go figure.
At any rate, I went on to study at Victoria University of Wellington and began a degree in Landscape Architecture. The main reason for this was because I knew I wanted to get a degree, I would be the first person in my family to make this accomplishment, I would make my family proud. I also didn’t really know what I wanted to be. Going through high-school I found that I wasn’t really terrible at anything, I excelled a number of things but I wasn’t the best at any one thing. Well, anyway my favourite subject had been graphics, and I managed to score Excellent for every assessment of the year, internal and external. It was suggested to me by my high-school graphics teacher that I should study to be an architect and I kind of just went with that, seemed like a good starting point and I was particularly passionate about technical drawing by hand any way.
I had found some parts of my design studies far more interesting than others and concluded that overall after two years, studying other designers works didn’t have the same appeal as paving my own way. The fact that most of the world’s best and most famous designers and architects had failed, dropped out or not even attended university has resonated through me since I was 18.
Once the decision was made, and it wasn’t made lightly, I had some thinking to do. I needed to get some sort of qualification or experience that would enable me to build a future. Surprisingly to those who know me the best, I was already working full time in a busy bar and restaurant in Wellington as a bar tender (I’m not the most socially outgoing person at the best of times and I have a tendency to make situations unnecessarily awkward). But when I’m behind the bar, I’m in my element. On a stage, putting on a show, playing a character and there’s a feeling of safety between you and the customer, particularly when they’re drunk and you’re selling them stuff. This was towards the end of the era when boozy business lunches were expensed and sometimes went on all day and half of the night, and bar maids always got tipped. Getting paid to party the way that we did when you don’t have any real future plans and you’re in your early twenties, just seemed like the most logical choice at the time.
Back to getting qualified, I was always savvy with my finances and have always managed to have some excess cash flow. I’m also big on saving and remember the first bank deposit I ever made, I was 7 years old and had saved $100 after counting it almost every day from when I could count, it was a big deal. I’d already racked up a stupid amount of student loan, which hadn’t resulted in any certificate and I wasn’t really prepared to do that again. I also didn’t enjoy the lifestyle of being a full time student. So I went on to complete a triple diploma at Weltec in Business, Management and Accounting, I figured I could apply those qualifications to almost any job I ever have. The papers where significantly less intensive than what I had been exposed to at the School of Architecture so I managed to work full time hours, study full time hours and go shopping every other weekend. I paid off my qualifications as I went and started to develop a ridiculously large wardrobe..
By the age of 21, I was the General Manager of a late night bar on Courtenay Place. Open ’til 6am, five nights a week. It was a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’roll lifestyle. Naive and heavily influenced, I got paid way too much, lived in nice places, owned a multitude of material objects and wore a still unbelievable wardrobe of designer and vintage clothing. At one stage, living in a 3 bedroom city centre apartment where one of the rooms was the wardrobe. This lifestyle exuded me for almost four years, I played the part of a hard bitch that most people didn’t want to mess with, feeding off my own perceived accomplishments. I had to, it was the only way I could be taken seriously as a young, skinny, female trying to run a business where your primary market is drunk, lewd, and at times aggressive men who’s girlfriends were often spoilt brats and behaved like they owned the place. I even spent a massive amount of time working/learning the front door and dictating who could come in, I made my mark. I always ensured everyone knew I was in charge and I wasn’t backing down.
I played the game for around two years before I began to bore of it. It had become too easy, I learned to operate a bar, I taught a now close friend how to do it too, I’d topped National sales in marketing promotions, I’d broken turn over records, I had reduced staff turn over, I’d maximised time efficiency and I could literally cash up square, dollar for dollar whilst blinded (no exaggeration) drunk at 7 o’clock in morning and be back by 9pm to do it all over again. That wasn’t enough I wanted more.
I gave notice and began to search for another Hospitality Management position, maybe in a Hotel or resort, I don’t know. It wasn’t long before one of the bar’s shareholders had found an opening at one of his other venues and convinced me that a day time, office management position would be a good way to enter the corporate world. Again, taking the best opportunity available at the time I am still managing those office files, I’m now also operating the whole rest of the restaurant as well. Moving into this new day time position, I had to start over, I had to work out how to live like this, during the day, finishing work at 5pm, free weekends, it was all foreign to me. It took me well over six months just to be able to sleep before midnight. It wasn’t long though, before my everyday job started to become mundane, I’ve grown irritated with the various software ‘designed for hospitality’ failing to meet my needs; the inefficiency of running reports that don’t portray the information the way you need them to; and the endless updating on the same document in several different formats for all your different locations of online and social medias.
With all the free time, I started to get restless, I needed to find a hobby, figure out what I wanted to do. I had always played sports as a kid and now, because of the bar lifestyle I had become so unhealthy that I couldn’t even walk for 30 minutes without being out of breath. I decided I wanted to join a Kick Boxing Gym in the city. I had wanted to do this when I was 20, still at Uni but could never find the time between work and study. Anyway, I didn’t want to go to the gym and make a fool of myself and there was a potential that I could actually be really uncoordinated. I had never attempted any sort of martial art or combat sport before, the closest I came to ever actually throwing a punch despite popular belief was when a patron was being ‘glassed’ in a bar at 5am and I half hit/pushed/something a drunk glass-thrower out of the way, naturally he fell. Realising that it was unlikely I could gain kick boxing skills before actually joining the gym, I figured that if I could at least be fit I might have a leg to stand on. I went running during the evenings until I could do it every day for an hour, without stopping. It took me almost two months to get to that stage before I finally found the balls to go along and try out something that I’d wanted to do for ages! Today, I have been training in the sport of Muay Thai for two years and have stepped into the ring 4 times.
At around the same time as I was trying to get fit, I started to get into coding. I had been talking a lot with one of the patrons who I had kept in touch with from the bar I had been running before. He taught me the basic concepts of computer science and helped me write my first program. I’m not really sure how it all started but soon it became just normal for me to be learning how to code. I learned about binary trees, stacks, pointers, and wrote a dice game in Assembler 68k. It all made sense, it was interesting and I had to think about it, I wanted to learn more!
Since then, that patron has now become a very close friend, like a brother and has introduced me to concepts and code that I most likely wouldn’t have found otherwise. He’s also introduced me to a number of other intellectuals, with whom I’ve had some of the most thought-provoking conversations of my life. It was also with his help that I landed my first developer job, it was going to be transitional, part time running restaurant operations and part time development.
Prepared to work hard to get to where I’m going and not generally one to back down from a challenge where it would be satisfying to beat the odds against me, I took it on. The restaurant was running smoothly, I had some Kick Boxing matches lined up and Development was going great! I loved it, I got to sit with the CTO, I was excited to go to work early in the morning, I learned something new every day. Working with a real world application really put a lot of the study I had done into perspective as well, particularly MVC.
That job sealed the deal, I want to get into dev full time. Watch this space.