12/31/2013 - 12:42 AM

New Year's Resolutions for the Burgeoning Self-Taught Female Hacker

New Year's Resolutions for the Burgeoning Self-Taught Female Hacker

#New Year's Resolutions for the Burgeoning Self-Taught Female Hacker

Last January, I attended my first hackathon and commited to learning to code. Fast forward to May, and I landed my first full-time position as a Developer.

When people ask me how I did it, I always say that the most challenging aspect of a career transition is psychological. The technical learning can be done with elbow grease, but no career transition is possible without psychological fortitude.

Along the way, there will be self-doubt, hundreds of rejected job applications, cold recruiters, and days when you feel like your goal is too far beyond your reach. To this, I say: you can do it.

So in light of the new year, I've put together a non-prescriptive list to inspire your 2014 resolutions. If you are a burgeoning self-taught female hacker: you go, girl.

  1. Dare to imagine your future self, even if it is hard to find role models who look like you.

    Dare to care about money. As women, we are often taught not to care about money, and that wealth is not necessary for happiness. However, this attitude can work to our financial disadvantage, and it can impact our own success. You aren’t being “greedy”. You are requesting fair pay and planning responsibly for your future - your retirement, the house you want to buy, your children and their college educations, your trip to Paris, your right-hand ring, your first startup, the expensive electronic device that is going to change the world of communication and open career opportunities to you in a field that you love. Dare to recognize that salary can affect your self-esteem.

    Dare to invest, and dare to negotiate. Dare to call yourself a developer, an engineer, a hacker. Dare to ask questions, even if you feel alone. Dare to imagine the tech stack differently than what you have been taught. Dare to take huge risks just like the one you're taking now.

  2. Believe in yourself. You can do anything you that is within your capacity to believe. Other people may or may not believe in you. But in the end, your belief is the only one that matters, because you will walk into the interview room alone. This one can be tough, but try for just a little bit more every day. Ask your future loving self what she would do, how she feels about your path, whether she believes in you. She does!

  3. Remember that business is business.

    Companies that provide internships, apprenticeships and immersive programs may be a stepping stone to becoming hirable. They have good intentions, and their students often succeed. But at the end of the day, they are also trying to earn a buck or two. And they should, to keep training more hackers. But that buck or two may depend on you perceiving them as a dependency for your success and an authority on your education. And this is an attitude that you may need to overcome, because you are an independent thinker.

    Remember that you are a problem solver with your own learning style and career trajectory. Your education is in your hands - and your hands alone - whether or not you sign up for a program. You need to do the research to find out exactly what skills will make you hirable for the job you want. This includes the skills that your program or internship doesn't cover. The internet is your playground, so there are no excuses.

    By the same token, your future employer, another business, will also try to make a buck or two. This is good, because their profits have to do with your future job stability. But it also means that they will try to bring you in at the lowest salary they can get away with and turn a profit on their investment.

    Remember that you are also a business. The business of you. The business of you requires that you steward your learning, your growth, your finances, and your health. It requires that you step up to the plate to renegotiate things that aren’t working, and leave the relationships that are pulling you down. It’s also up to you to be proactive in seeking new markets. Go get ‘em.

  4. Show up, show up, show up to hackathons and Meetups. You'll learn which technologies are hip, and which are yesterday. You'll get a glimpse into the current computing challenges of our day. You'll learn git, you'll learn how a tech team self-organizes, and you'll run into the technical problems that will show up later at your job. You'll know who's who and who’s hiring. The inner naysayer in your head who says that you have nothing to contribute is wrong. You do. You'll see when you go.

  5. Make a website - it can be your portfolio. A place to showcase your work and your code is even more important than a resume. You can include the demos you've made at hack nights. You can include the exercises you did in class. Start now, no matter how small, and keep filling it out!

  6. Be yourself - all the other people are taken, right? You don't have to be a radical activist to change in the world. You will change the world just by being the authentic, awesome, unique you. If you want to wear a geek t-shirt, go ahead. If you want to wear heels and lipstick, go ahead. You can be a hard ass, or soft spoken. You can be masculine, feminine, both, none, or anything. You can care about female empowerment, or just your own empowerment, or just the code. Nobody can represent you but yourself.

  7. Apply before you feel ready. Apply for jobs you may not be interested in, so that you can practice and get an overview of the process. Applying early is just a part of learning about the industry and what it will take to make the career change. Applying will also help you take rejection less personally, and it will help you negotiate better when you receive an offer from a job you want. If a question comes up that you didn't know the answer to, look it up afterwards. They might ask again in round 2 or 3 or 4. If they don't, somebody else will.

  8. Listen to your heart. So many people, myself included, will give you advice. Especially because you’re new, and maybe especially because you’re a woman. It’s going to be up to you to filter the good advice from the bad. People have radically different life experiences, so what they offer may or may not be what you need.