How an Artist Became a Programmer

Originally posted on Dialexa’s blog.

After four semesters of computer science in college, I decided I hated programming.

I started enjoying programming, at my first job, when I realized that it’s just like solving a puzzle. There’s a new challenge and a new lesson in every task. I love how with a laptop, coding skills, and some creativity, you can build all sorts of things from scratch. And because the web industry changes on a daily basis, you are constantly learning.

Programmers are some of the most creative and intellectually curious people I’ve met. They genuinely enjoy programming, and are often building projects outside of work. Being surrounded by people that love what they do is invigorating.

When I was younger, I never imagined that I would grow up to be a programmer.

I did not enjoy math or science growing up. I distinctly remember first feeling bad at math when I was nine-years-old. I would cry out of frustration trying to work through weekly math problems with my very patient father, a corrosion engineer whose math and science genes appeared to have bypassed me. From an early age I identified as an artist. In elementary school my classmates knew me for my drawings, especially of horses. I sold little crafts to my friends’ parents from my playroom, wrote novels about witches, and made movies about things such as dancing mice with friends on Fridays after school. I slugged my way through calculus my senior year of high school, before breaking free to pursue The Arts in college - a magical math-free utopia!

Even though I didn’t have to take math, I did have to take computer science classes as part of my Arts & Technology degree. I was forced to take four semesters of computer science, when all I wanted was to get back to my drawing and photography classes. My professor was monotone and preferred talking about aliens than teaching us the material. We learned Java in those courses - well, other people learned it: I somehow scraped by with the help of my roommate, who was a Computer Science major. It was a miserable four semesters and I was happy when they were over.

It wasn’t until I decided to also get a degree in Marketing that I even had to think about math again. Statistics was on Wednesday nights from 7-9:30, with a professor who wrote material on the board verbatim from the textbook and explained it in a barely intelligible Russian accent. I bombed the first exam, decided I’d teach myself the material, and then made an A+ on the final exam.

“…Wait, I’m supposed to be bad at this stuff! How did that happen?”

It dawned on me that the teacher of a subject has a significant impact on how much I enjoy - and therefore how much I learn - a subject. Also, maybe I wasn’t as bad with numbers as I grew up thinking…

After university I was encouraged by a faculty member to interview for a position that involved web application design, as well as some programming. I had taught myself HTML/CSS (in order to build the website of the art collective I was in during college), but was not qualified for the programming requirements.

Fortunately, my boss, Eric, was a bit unconventional. I was hired because I met his primary requirements of an interview candidate: good energy, good communication skills, and a willingness to solve problems. (Apparently the willingness to solve problems was not a common trait.) I remember my three-hour interview actually being fun and involving questions like, “Why are manhole covers round?” and problems like, “Design the controls for a robot navigating the moon if it can move in these directions and its head can rotate these ways…” It was strangely fun.

Eric reminded me that solving problems is fun and taught me that programming is essentially problem-solving. This reinforced my growing realization that the teacher plays a critical role in how much you enjoy a subject, as well as how confident you are about your own abilities to solve a problem. My confidence grew as I successfully solved the type of problems that I had grown up thinking I just did not have the “right type of brain” for. Building this kind of confidence was empowering and I quickly began to enjoy programming.

Confidence from programming

Today, I’m a front-end developer at Dialexa, which means that I am the person that codes what you see and interact with on a website or app. As a developer, I’ve solved problems that I’ve looked at without a clue as to where to start, problems that I couldn’t figure out for days, and problems that I believed were impossible for my level of expertise.

The confidence you gain from figuring out complex problems is rewarding and a large reason why I’ve come to enjoy programming. If you’re interested in learning it, try online courses like Lynda or Treehouse. If you’re afraid to try it because you don’t have a computer science degree, don’t be! There are several people, like my colleague Chris, who have successfully made the career change. For anyone considering a career in programming, I strongly recommend that you take the leap!