Why did I decide to learn software engineering?

I have been pondering the question, “Why did I decide to learn software engineering?” not just for the sole purpose of writing this blog post, but for myself and for the people in my life who are asking about my surprising direction change. For me, defining my motivation and my goals will help keep me on track, focused, and inspired as I learn a whole new language. And for the people in my life who are curious about this new trajectory, this is my story. These words encapsulate the reasons I am making a 180 in my life and learning to code:

Change

Learning

Problem Solving

Security

Impact

Change

My background is in mental health. I was accepted into a PhD program in clinical psychology this past year. I was trying to figure out what my life was going to look like as a doctoral student and mother. Then the pandemic hit. Challenges came rolling in like waves for my family, as they did for many all over the world. Times of change are an opportunity for us to adapt and redefine what is in front of us. I was not able to start my PhD program. I was furloughed from my job. I was at a loss about what my next steps would be. I had time to think, write, and consider my life. Did I even want to be a full-time doctoral student for the next six or so years? Could our family take the financial strain of a PhD? Did I even want a career that often left me feeling the weight of the world? Why was I pursuing something that didn’t feel secure or offer the freedoms I was looking for?

I am someone who strived for a meaningful career, only to realize I want more than that. I want a meaningful life. There had to be other solutions; a method that would include a meaningful career, but return a meaningful life. Over the years, I had been told multiple times that I would enjoy coding. I was told that my curious, creative, detective-like mindset with a determination to fix things and make the world better, would make me a great programmer. I will be honest; I did not see it or believe it until I was out of a job, my PhD plans crumbled before my eyes, and decided to try the Flatiron Bootcamp Prep. I fell in love.

Learning & Problem Solving

Like having to run tests in your code to see if it works, in life I need to test whether or not something makes my life run the way I want it to. I define my goals and determine how I can create my expected output; I am looking to build a life that includes continued learning, research, and problem solving. Though a PhD would satisfy these passions, what with years of school and then continuing research, I did not want my family’s financial situation to suffer endlessly as a result. Working in the mental health field partially fulfilled my interests by helping create solutions to needs and struggles. Yet, I was constantly reminded of countless and persistent bigger issues in our society that I didn’t have a chance to solve. This left me drained many days. What if I address far-reaching issues by coming up with solutions that would touch more people’s lives? Stretching our brains through learning, research, and problem solving keeps us sharp, creative, and passionate in ways that I’m convinced improves quality of life. As an art therapist, I used the creative process to help clients explore, learn, and resolve dilemmas so their daily lives would run more smoothly. I see a parallel to programming in this sense. I am passionate about solving difficult questions, but also invested in understanding what is behind the particular matter. Searching for and discovering what is broken, and then getting to fix it, is an incredible feeling. Coding is riddled with these experiences.

Security

Though there were many rewarding aspects to being in the mental health field, it often felt like an uphill battle and I was struggling to find a job that was a good fit. I never experienced great pay, benefits, flexibility, or job security (which was a big part of why I was planning to pursue a PhD in the first place). We can go years barreling forward without noticing the toll they are taking until we slow down or stop. I did not realize what I was sacrificing in my life while trying to help others, until the pandemic forced me to stop and see what I was not doing to help myself and my family. I want financial security and time for my family. I recognized six plus years as a PhD student would not give me that, and there was not much of a guarantee that work as a clinical psychologist would grant that without years in the field. I realized there were other components to my end goals that would not come to pass with solely a doctoral degree.

Impact

Though I was part of a multidisciplinary team, I was craving more collaboration and opportunities to work on a team that could make sweeping impacts. Not just chipping slowly away at one problem, one person at a time (not to underestimate the power and importance of this). I have always been someone who wants to make a positive difference in the world by helping create access to opportunities, giving people a voice, contributing to research, being a part of important discoveries, and creating new knowledge. Not unlike my work in mental health, my goal remains to recognize needs and then create solutions that will improve people’s lives.

As I continue on this journey of learning software engineering my motivations and goals will grow with me. I plan to continue learning beyond my months as a Flatiron student. I want to help shape and allow myself to be shaped by an evolving field. I am learning to code because it energizes me. I want to learn to code so I can create a career and a life that is meaningful; a way of living that allows for a sense of freedom and sense of accomplishment. I recognize struggles in others and our world. Learning software engineering will give me the language and skills to be able to create solutions to these needs that improve lives and make a positive impact.

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Mary

Software Engineer, mother, and former therapist. I am a runner, reader, chai tea drinker, nature lover, and information nerd.