It’s Monday morning. I find myself at a coding school called Ironhack, nestled in a co-working space in Mexico City, surrounded by fellow programmers, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and discussing the usefulness of node.js. If 6 months ago I would have thought about where I’d be today, my idea of what life would be like would have been a little different, but the reality is that I’ve been preparing for this for a while now! Here’s what happened.

I’ve always been the type of person who has enjoyed figuring out how things work. This core intuition has drawn me towards many different pursuits in my life, among them are: cooking, bicycles, DIY home repair, foreign languages. The common thread running through all these pursuits has been curiosity. “How can I find out a little bit more about this?”; “why does this work this way?”; “is there a better way to do this?” have been uttered so many times in my head (and under my breath when the pressure is weighing in) that they’ve become my ethos for navigating the world. Without curiosity and the draw to learn more, I’d never find myself in all the pursuits that have become a part of my life and personality. Now, this curiosity has been laser-focused on developing a new skill set and way of thinking.

The path to today started while I was working for Target.com’s e-commerce operations, managing merchandise listings for sale on their website. While I was familiar with the world of retail, this spark of curiosity would keep me more interested in what happened under the hood, that makes websites what they are. How does an online store work, exactly? Where does all this information come from? How does online security function? How do you build a customer facing experience?

Over time, it became apparent that retail merchandise didn’t give me the same spark as the website itself did. I had also been wanting to spend more time in Mexico after meeting my amazing girlfriend, Fabiola, who is from there.

Faced with a tough decision, I left my job to set out on my own doing freelance work in a variety of different areas tied to my interests (translation, home renovation, travel, repairing and selling bikes, things I already understood decently) with the big focus on teaching myself how to program with the rest of the time I had.

This was the new career plan. It was always in my mind, it didn’t seem like an interest as much anymore. It was now a goal. I was going to become a web developer.

Over the last year, I jumped into as many free online resources as I could find, namely codecademy and freecodecamp. I read about what languages I needed to learn, how to do the basics, and doing online modules for hours. Eventually, I made a rough-looking simple portfolio web page with my info on it; I also could make some javascript functions that did little calculations. I was already an expert on this stuff, right? Not exactly. While doing little modules and problems is an excellent way to build the programmer mindset and learn how various languages work, I felt that there was still something I was missing about how to put all the pieces together. I still didn’t have answers for the questions I had been asking myself that were the impetus for starting on this path!

In the middle of last year, the ebb and flow of self-education was starting to make me question my own ability to build something truly impressive. I was getting anxious. I also realized that my freelance jobs (I was at the time investing a lot of time working with a friend’s travel business), even though they were fun and tickled my jack-of-all-trades tendencies, were taking a significant toll on the progress I needed.

Over some beers in a Minneapolis taproom, my great friend/mentor/startup veteran, Mark Flannery, recommended programming bootcamps to me as a way to build a foundation that accounted for all my knowledge gaps. Here’s why I found his recommendation appealing:

  • Bootcamps require a major time commitment: I needed to break out of my routines to dedicate myself to 1 solid goal. This was the opportunity to do that; web development was no long one of several goals. It was THE goal.
  • Bootcamps provide more structure than self-education: After swimming in self-education content, I found this to be a huge need of mine as I wasn’t sure what I needed to know to become an effective developer, what I didn’t need, and how all the knowledge comes together.
  • Bootcamps are called bootcamps for a reason: They aren’t easy. There’s so much content, and the days are highly demanding of attention and effort. I wanted a challenge to see if I could handle the pressure, both mentally and emotionally.

  • Bootcamps are people doing lots of cool stuff with other people: Learning alone is tough sometimes. Having common collaborators that are all doing similar projects is immensely refreshing. One of the best ways to learn is to help others with things they’re struggling with, or to get a hint from someone else when you’re deep in the struggle and running out of time.
  • Bootcamps can help get job prospects in motion: Whether working for a giant company or a startup, this is a great way to make connections and build a network if new to an industry.

After searching for places in my city, Minneapolis, Minnesota, I broadened my search to look at some different options. Soon after I found Ironhack; they were starting up a branch school in faraway Mexico City. It clicked. After discussing the prospect with my girlfriend, it was apparent that everything matched up perfectly. I jumped at the opportunity, maybe even lunged (not literally, well maybe a little towards my laptop).

It’s been 5 months since I made the decision to come to the bootcamp, and I’m currently in the 4th week of the 9 week bootcamp itself. I love being in a new city, learning so much more than I thought possible, and programming so many things in ways I didn’t know existed. I’ll be writing more about the details of the experience in my next posts. Until then, I’m going to keep typing in Javascript and looking forward!

– By Lance Meier