My Story — Why Did I Get into Development

Since a young age I have been interested in technology and computers. I got my first computer — a fossil by today’s standards — at the age of 12, and I did what any 12-year-old with a shiny new computer would do: I took the machine apart! I wanted to know about the inner workings and what made the thing tick. As you can imagine, my father was super happy with this choice (sarcasm, much?)

As I grew up, I took an interest in the web and how it worked, and in high school I took courses in web design and coding. The courses covered the basics of HTML and CSS (no JavaScript and nothing back-end), and they taught the very basics of design. I enjoyed it, and in my free time I continued to read and practice development, and by my senior year I had built a few sites for family businesses, local businesses in my community, and different programs at my high school.

Even though I was fully engulfed in web development, I ended up taking a different career path after high school graduation. Shortly after I graduated, I fell into some legal trouble (I was 19 and dumb) and one of the conditions of the program that I was in to amend my legal issues required me to get a job fast. I had court fines and restitution payments, and there weren’t a lot of tech companies in my area looking to hire a 19-year-old with little experience, no college education, and legal problems.

Because of this, I ended up taking a dishwasher job at a restaurant. The restaurant job satisfied my diversion program and allowed me to pay off my legal fees, but dealing with court dates and working full-time pulled me away from web development and put my goals for college on hold. I emersed myself in work at the restaurant and moved up quickly from the dish pit to the prep table and shortly after the cook line.

As a youngster without any other work experience, I quite enjoyed working in a kitchen. The other cooks and staff at the restaurant became a big support system for me and the chef of the restaurant that I was working at saw my potential and became my mentor in the culinary field. I learned a lot in a little bit of time and by the end of the first year at that restaurant I became a lead line cook on the busy dinner shift, and part of my job was to mentor and train new staff members. It was fun, and I felt as if I was adding value to something that was larger than myself.

As I was working my way up in the kitchen my dad’s health started to deteriorate. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and we were told that he did not have a lot of time left. In order to get the best treatment for him, it was recommended that he move to Arizona where he could see specialists and be in a drier climate, so I quit my job and my girlfriend and I moved with the rest of my family to the Mohave dessert of Arizona. I was able to get hired on quickly in a casino restaurant, and I built my career in food up from there.

Being in the kitchen and working my way up did not offer too much time for studying coding, so I pushed off college and web development indefinitely to focus on building my culinary career. In five years, I moved from one casino to another and worked my way up to a managerial level as a chef, and I opened up two restaurants in that time. I moved to Tucson, Arizona a few years back when my wife decided to attend the University of Arizona, and I got hired on at the University of Arizona as a chef, and I helped to open the newest dining concept on campus inside of the honor’s college.

Overall, for most of the ten years that I spent in food I enjoyed what I did. The downfall to this career was that when events and celebrations were happing at home, I was working. Every weekend, every holiday, every special event I worked. I missed valuable family time. This became especially more demanding when I moved from being an hourly employee to being salaried. It really started to hit me hard three years ago when my long-term girlfriend and I got married and decided that we wanted to work towards starting a family. In the evenings when she was out of work and school, I was working. On the weekends when she had days off, I worked. I just was not sure when I would have the time to help my wife raise a family.

I started to feel burned out from working all the time, and I reached a point in my career where I felt like I had advanced as far as I was going to. I wasn’t interested in graduating to the executive level and spending even more time at work and away from my family life. Because of this, I also realized that I was at the top end of the pay scale for my current career path. The amount of money I earned simply did not justify the time commitment and stress levels that I endured.

The final tipping point for me was when my executive level boss told me that people in this line of work must be passionate about spending most of their time at work, and that their families must learn to be okay with this. An executive in another restaurant that I worked at stated that the people you work with are equivalent to your family, and if you call in sick or take a vacation, you are “letting your family down”.

I did not agree with this philosophy at all. I have never believed that any person should live to work. In my mind, it was the other way around: I worked to live. On top of this, I was no longer passionate about what I was doing, and I dreaded going to work.

As I started to realize that working in a kitchen for the rest of my career was not ultimately what I wanted to do, I decided to make time for coding and learning web development. I was very rusty, and technologies had evolved way beyond my knowledge over the ten years that I was focused on building my food career. Getting back into code really reminded me of my passion for tech and web development, and I knew without a doubt that I was ready to change careers. Seeing all the success stories and freedom that other web developers boasted about made me want to change careers even more.

I built up on my coding knowledge and began taking on freelance work around my full-time chef job. I signed up for courses online and started watching tutorials and building projects, and my skills continued to grow. I became so engulfed in my coding studies that my managers at work were starting to notice that I had a new passion, and they started lecturing me about where my priorities needed to be and questioning my commitment to my job and the “family” that I have at work.

Even though I was taking on freelance work here and there and I felt like I was on the right track, I was still struggling to figure out just what I needed to do to finally make the leap to a new career in development. I did not have any mentorship or guidance whatsoever, and I felt stuck in my current career, and I didn’t know how to make the transition. I didn’t feel financially secure enough to quit my job and focus on my web development, and the COVID pandemic did not make this any easier.

Late in 2020 I signed up for the Devslopes academy and started to get the mentorship that I very much needed, and now I am working on transitioning from career chef to career web developer, and by the end of the current year (the same time that my wife graduates university to become a school teacher) I will be a developer fulltime. The journey has not been easy, and the most difficult part has been trying to overcome the imposter syndrome and the lack of confidence that I will succeed in my new career path, but the mentorship that I have received the past six months has been instrumental in helping me build that confidence. The past three years as chef have had me feeling “stuck” and not very enthusiastic about my career and lifestyle, but with my sights set on becoming a paid developer, I have a whole new outlook on my career and life overall!

Becoming a developer is a lot of work, but it is definitely worth it!

What are some of your stories? What has brought you to wanting to learn to code? Feel free to share them in the comments! It is very inspiring and encouraging to read the stories of success from others!

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Patrick J. McDermott

Patrick J. McDermott

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