In this episode, Nicole helps you work through your feelings and obstacles when you feel like giving up on learning to code.
It happens to all of us.
We’re plugging alone, doing tutorials and maybe building some small projects. And then things start to get hard. (It’s super rare that people continue feeling confident like they do in the beginning, trust me!)
So what do you do? You can hunker down and work harder or smarter, or you can choose the easier option: giving up entirely.
I gave up entirely when I switched out of my Computer Science degree, and it still bothers me somewhat to this day although I’ve ultimately come to terms with it. The stress and imposter syndrome even in low-level college CS courses drove me to believing I wasn’t a good fit for the industry. And seeing where I am now… I couldn’t have been more wrong. I just wasn’t learning properly.
Whatever your reason, when you find yourself at the point where you want to give up, there are things you can do to mitigate those strong emotions leading you to question your skills and potential. I want to help you build that resilience so that when you inevitably fall… you’ll always get back up. 🙂
Even if you’re not looking at the exit currently, I hope this episode will help you to understand the reasons why we decide to quit, a little about my own story, and how to stay standing when the experience of learning to code gets super rocky.
Peace, love, and code,
Hello hello my friends! Thanks for joining me for another episode of the podcast, and if this is your first time listening, welcome!
We have fun here exploring some of the under-discussed topics in the development industry—and not just limited to tech topics, because you’re a whole person who is also a developer, working in an industry with other people with similar goals.
I want to help you be the best person and developer you can be, so I really hope you’ll go back and listen to some of my older episodes so I can teach you all the valuable things I know!
Alright, so today, I want to focus on a particular part of our developer journey that can have dire consequences for your career and life. That experience is when we hit a wall in our learning, and are beginning to consider dropping coding altogether.
First off, I want to make it clear that some folks DO drop off their programming journey for various reasons that are valid for them at any given time! It isn’t always a bad idea to put programming on the back burner when life gets in the way.
However, I’m focusing in more on the folks who are stressing, feeling deep-set imposter syndrome, feel unable to start or finish a project, don’t know how to get the skills to get a job—the people who are in real danger of giving up on something that they think they’re not good at, when really, they just need to take a deep breath, a step back, and flex some skills I’m going to teach you today to strap in and ride it out.
We can always get up when we fall down. You can always come back once you walk away. Shoot, that’s what I ended up doing after I switched out of my Computer Science degree.
But the thing is: that whole experience is stressful and frustrating. I’d like to help you avoid having to work through it entirely, because it will take a lot out of you.
Alright, ready to dive in? Let’s go!
When I was teaching myself to code, I went through a whole lot of different, strong emotions. I was excited, I was thrilled, I was proud of myself, I was nervous, I was frustrated… I went through this huge spectrum emotions, and often, especially when I was already dealing with shit in real life, it felt like too much for me.
And we have a whole lot of places along our journey where we can get overwhelmed by these emotions. The negative ones have the particular risk of derailing your education, frustrating you, and ultimately leading you to abandon your coding. It might not even be a conscious decision—it could just be a “break” that turns indefinite.
Like I said before, you can totally come back at any time after stepping away. But it’s a rough experience, and you have to go through all the messy parts involved with letting your emotions drive you to a low point.
So here are 4 tips I offer to coders who are feeling the strain and considering giving up!
Find your why
The first thing I recommend is that you find your why as soon as possible. Write it down, put it somewhere, and really internalize it. Why do you want to take on this super challenging endeavor? What’s going to keep you going when things get hard?
Initially, my developer goals were more oriented around money. I was sick of being broke all the time, and having my really strong skills overlooked or worse yet, taken advantage of. I didn’t make more than $20/hr until I was 29 after graduating into the recession.
Now, my why is based more in my drive for entrepreneurship. A big part of me pushes forward because I have been telling myself for so long that I couldn’t do it. I want freedom, too. I don’t want to answer to anyone else. Seeing the alternative every day, and having that taste of freedom now… that’s what keeps me moving ahead.
Whatever your why may be, if you forget it, and you hit a wall, you are MUCH more likely to fall as opposed to stumble. Motivation comes from our why. We use that to initiate action in a direction toward achieving that why, and keep our momentum going to the best of our ability.
I was kinda doing voice notes for this episode and putting stuff out there really stream-of-consciousness, and I was talking about this topic out loud while recording. When I merely THOUGHT about what it would look like—how I would feel—if I didn’t work in tech industry, I legit cried.
I can’t see myself belonging anywhere else. I love it here—I love the people I’ve made connections with, the communities I’ve formed, the code I’ve written, the projects I’ve build… all of it!
I would have a giant hole in my life if I didn’t have the tech industry. It’s given me purpose, direction, and family. I could even go as far as to say that it saved my life at a time when things were not looking good.
So, GET EMOTIONAL about your why. Imagine what your life would look like if you didn’t fulfill all of your goals related to that why?
Those emotions will override the negative ones you experience when you hit struggles. And you’ll remember your why much more strongly—crying about the visualization of my life without something I love so dearly will be something I remember for quite a while. It was a little jarring actually, and I think it might tie into my PTSD somehow haha, but I will always remember that moment because of how I felt.
Start from scratch
Next, I recommend that you try starting from scratch. Yes, from scratch. Your first thought is probably that this sounds like a move in the wrong direction… but I promise you it isn’t!
Going back through the basics a second time will give you a new perspective on your language, and increase your confidence. You’ve already encountered this information, you’re really just solidifying it now.
But really, don’t worry about losing time going back, because quite frankly, the alternative is dropping off entirely. So what do you have to lose?
Going back to basics is a good idea for anyone, really. You can’t go wrong, and it’ll challenge your current perspectives. You’ll ask questions you didn’t know to ask the first time you went through the content, and seek your own answers!
Build your resilience
Another piece of advice I have is to learn how to recover and get back up. You have to build that grit, or you’re going to fall when you get pushed. And even then, instead of buckling entirely, you’ll be able to center your why and get back on track
We get burned out because things get hard, and that’s totally natural! Learn how to take a good break that will let you come back. I fell off many times and it is absolutely possible to recover.
Build resilience. I didn’t know how to love something that was so damn hard on my ego. You’ll be your worst enemy if you put too much pressure on yourself.
Also, I burned out because I was trying to do much, too scattered, with no plan or goals. Like so many new developers, I didn’t know what kind of job I wanted, and was just kind of winging it as I went along. You can get a ways down the road toward a job that way, but it’s really not sustainable. At some point, you need to stop and
I now teach my students to find the job first and have something to work through. Disconnected skills will increase risk of burnout because things are less streamlined and don’t build on each other.
If you never feel like you’re moving forward, it’s just fodder for imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome isn’t the root cause issue though, and it’s totally possible to see it coming from a ways away and avoid it.
And you don’t always have to be moving forward constantly to be a valid developer. It will help you to build skills, but it doesn’t define you. Please don’t let yourself convince you that you aren’t welcome here.
Join a community
On that note, you will NEED a community. Any community, really, but always one that is supportive and encouraging for people like you. People who you can lean on for support when things get difficult.
I isolated so hard at first. Joined #CodeNewbie community, made friends, first women’s groups didn’t feel like I had anything to offer folks. I was new and didn’t know much.
The community I have now is INSANE—I feel confident that I could enter any community of developers and confidently introduce myself and make connections. I attract people to myself by being myself.
I didn’t like stiff vibes at a lot of the tech events I attended, so I’d become disinterested—which was totally not their fault, but I know what I want in a community.
This year, in 2020, I built my own community as a result of kind, funny, emotionally intelligent, well therapized individuals who don’t treat me OR each other like shit. I literally just started holding Zoom chats, and people contacted me to join them. It turned into a weekly Saturday night Zoom party I’ve been holding with new friends since lockdown in April.
I’ve been hosting #CodersTeach chat now for two years, which I host on Tuesday nights, and they’ve become my community as well. You can have lots of communities—whatever makes you feel positive, supported, and energized by your environment and connections.
We need emotional support because emotions are tough to navigate, and strong enough emotions will lead you to doubt yourself and lose your passion for your “why”. PTSD made things even harder with me because of school issues—I still had ALL these really strong feelings about the experience of learning to code as a result of failing my attempt at a Computer Science degree.
Other people in the communities I belong to helped to gas me up and help me realize that I belong here. Healthy, kind people WILL support you if you’ve attracted them to yourself. I’m at a peaceful point in my life because of my chosen family! 🙂
Even forums like on freeCodeCamp have support structures in place for students! They have a category called You Can Do It!, which I highlight every week in my newsletter, because they’re often stressed-out folks wondering if they can actually learn enough to get a job. If they may have made the wrong choice.
In reality, they’re just burned out, and need some emotional support and a bit of direction. They’re often much further along than they think they are, they just don’t have clear steps in their process to be able to measure their progress against.
Read others’ stories
Finally, I suggest you read other people’s stories. Allow yourself to get inspired. Everybody feels like they just want to give up sometimes—some just talk about it openly and others pretend they’re not experiencing it out of shame or embarrassment. I started talking more openly about my struggles and people flocked to me as a result.
I was featured as a Treehouse student success story, and people engaged with my story because they saw my passion as an inspiration to them and helped them to see that they could absolutely make the same career transition I did.
Reference this episode when you’re getting stressed and doubting yourself enough to consider stepping away from your coding. I mean, by all means, take a break if you need to, but you need to know how to return to the path to your goals and dreams.
If coding is something you really love, you need to be aware that there are going to be things that will try to get in the way of it. For me, it was the difficulties I encountered with my CS degree attempt, then the many bouts of low self-worth and confidence I experienced on my way to my first developer job.
I went through periods of 2-3 weeks where the idea of coding was actually pretty repulsive to me. If I didn’t get something, I felt like that was that. But it wasn’t, and please know that there are folks out there who want to see you succeed.
Alright, if you enjoyed this episode, and the podcast in general, please be sure to leave me a 5-star review and a little love note on the La Vie en Code iTunes reviews. I love the feedback I get, and honestly, I don’t get enough of it because I never ask. So, please consider supporting me and the podcast!
Next week, I’m going to introduce you to the concept of visualization as it pertains to helping solidify your programming skills as you learn them.
It takes the experience of coding in front of a computer, but challenges you to put yourself in that situation wherever you may currently be.
When done right, visualizing your code can provide deeper understanding of both the content you’re learning, as well as how you learn it! So that will be another great episode you don’t wanna miss.
Alright my friends, it has been a pleasure to learn with you today—and until next time, peace, love, and code.