by Michael Tombor
Don’t worry, be happy: How to build your future tech career in 5 simple steps.
“Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “It’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.” — Laura Vanderkam
Changing careers is very difficult. Add in a full-time job and a couple of kids and the task seems nearly impossible. Yet, even if you are busy, you can prioritize and make the time to focus on what matters to you and build the skills to level up your career.
Engineer your future with code
I started my coding journey just six months ago. Now I am one project away from completing my front-end developer certificate on freeCodeCamp. I’ve also completed the web developer boot camp course by Colt Steele on Udemy. And I did this all while raising two kids and working in a full-time job.
When I began using these tips, I saw my progress increase tenfold. I know I would have accomplished much more if I had implemented them earlier in my journey. I have not only benefited from increased productivity, but I feel more balanced and am having more fun than ever before.
My pivot into web development
After being in health care for the last five years, I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong - I loved helping people on their path to health, but I hated seeing the system break down for them. I hated when people could not afford their medication, or when their care plan wasn’t in sync with the treatment they needed.
I wanted to do more to help these people. But I knew that I couldn’t do more unless I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture.
I was not always interested in coding, but the more I looked at the forces making real change in today’s world, the more I saw that tech was behind these advances.
I saw an opportunity to make meaningful change, and that is when I became interested in coding.
Why are you coding?
Whatever the reason is, really think about it and pin it down. Use it as motivation to propel you towards your coding goals. Having this end goal will help you bust through plateaus and push through the hard parts (coding is hard).
Every day that I spend at my current day job motivates me to get home, boot up my laptop, and continue my journey of learning how to code.
The good news is that building coding skills is simple. All you have to do is code a lot. But unfortunately, this is where the hard part comes in. Fitting time into your busy life to routinely code is difficult, to say the least.
How to climb the coding mountain
There is a gap between where you are now and where you want to be. That is why you are reading this article. That is why you work day in and out, and end up sacrificing time with your family and loved ones.
If we are spending all this time working towards our goal, it is paramount to make the most of the time we spend learning how to code.
Here are five steps to turn this dream into a reality:
- Create your personalized goals
To make the most of your time, nothing is more important than making actionable short-term goals. This will not only help you feel a sense of accomplishment every time you meet a goal, but it will help make the coding journey feel a lot less daunting.
To help you come up with focused goals, I want to encourage you to do a quick exercise that I picked up from Laura Vanderkam.
1. Picture yourself one year from now. You have crushed ALL your coding goals and landed your dream job. You have given five talks at conferences around the world, and you built up your App and it was successful. Whatever success looks like to you, picture your future self. Please be ambitious, maybe even dream a little.
2. What 3 - 5 goals did you accomplish in that year that made it so successful?
3. Write these goals down.
4. Repeat this exercise for your personal life goals. It is impossible to work all the time, and to be successful you need work life balance (or you will burn out).
Now you have 6 - 10 ambitious goals that you want to accomplish during the next year. To break these larger goals down into action items, think about and plan about how you can meet these goals.
For example, if you want to complete the freeCodeCamp front end certificate, you need to schedule time to work on it throughout the week. If you want to run a marathon, you need to buy running shoes, sign up for a marathon, and schedule time to train regularly.
2. Make a Schedule
I’ll be honest - I am definitely not the scheduling type. I thought that I could wing it day by day. But realistically, you need to set time aside to focus, or your goals will pour over into the rest of your life. I found myself feeling anxious about coding during time with my family or when I was putting my kids to bed, because I hadn’t coded yet that day.
The thing I looked forward to all day (coding) started to negatively impact my quality of life.
Splitting your time into focused blocks allows you to be 100% in the present moment. When it is coding time, you can have tunnel vision and hack away. When it is time to unwind, or hang out with people you care about, you can be present because you coded that morning, or have time scheduled later in the day.
Here is an example of my personal schedule:
As you can see, I schedule a lot of family time. Family is really important to me. Your schedule will look a lot different, but the point is to create a schedule that will allow you to meet your goals without you hating life along the way. Just try to account for everything, so you can stick to your schedule.
3. Audit yourself to find time opportunities
Write down all the activities in a given day or week and see what you really do with your time. You will likely be surprised by exactly how much time you spend mindlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed, or binge watching a new Netflix show (I love Stranger Things).
I’m not telling you to cut all of it out but keep a balance. You can definitely turn some of that idle time into some serious coding gains.
There is more time than you think
If you are still thinking to yourself, “yeah, but I still work a lot and (insert excuse here) so I can’t find time”, then here is a fun fact! There are 168 hours in a week. If you work a full 40 hour week and subtract 8 hours of sleep per night (which I definitely don’t get) you still end up with 72 hours of “free” time.
Look at all the time you have in your life situation and squeeze as much “good” stuff into that time as you can. There IS time.
4. Fill your time with quality
Here are some tools that I use to help me accomplish my coding goals and stay focused on my learning path:
Seriously one of the best tools for meeting goals. The curriculum is right there for you to follow and work on, it even tracks your progress!
100 Days of code on Twitter
This 100 day challenge consists of coding every day and tweeting about what you did. It is a great tool for tracking progress and measuring how far you have come. This community is full of inspiring people from all over the world and is a great way to meet like minded developers.
The Web Developer Boot Camp
I am almost finished with this course, and it has patched a lot of holes in my coding knowledge. Colt doesn’t just show you how to do something, he also explains why you do it a certain way. Plus, there is now an advanced web developer boot camp that I am going to take once I’m done.
This isn’t a resource, but you should embrace the tech community by living it. Listen to podcasts while you drive to work or do the dishes. Follow leaders in the industry on Twitter. Read articles. Immerse yourself in tech and you will learn without realizing you are learning.
5. Multiply your time
We have set goals, and now have several larger goals broken down into actionable goals. We have gone through how to fit these goals into your busy life and I have helped give you some ideas on how to fill your time. Now, I want to tell you how you can make the most out of the time you put into coding.
The Answer: Be Happy!
What does being happy have to do with managing time, you ask? Simply put: it is everything. The idea is called multiplying your time.
Being present and deeply focused leads to increased productivity. This in turn multiplies the time you spend by increasing efficiency. Plus, who doesn’t want to be happy?
According to Shawn Achor, who studied the effects of happiness and its link to productivity, your brain performs 31% more productively when you feel happy.
Dopamine, which floods into your system when you feel positive, does two things:
- It makes you happier (duh!)
- It turns on the learning centers in your brain. They help you learn things more easily, and allow you to spend less time on learning while retaining more information.
Turn your brain into a dopamine producing machine!
You can release more dopamine by creating lasting, positive change. There are five things you can work into your routine to turn your brain into a dopamine producing machine:
1. Write three new things that you’re grateful for each day. This creates the habit of scanning the world for positive things, instead of negative ones.
2. Journal about a positive experience you had in the last 24 hours. This allows you to relive the positive experience which leads to the same dopamine response.
3. Exercise. Go on a short walk before a coding session, or bust out a quick workout. Exercise releases tons of dopamine.
4. Meditate. Meditation trains your brain to focus more on the task at hand, all while releasing dopamine.
5. Random acts of kindness. Thank someone in your social support network for helping you, or help someone out. This not only releases dopamine for you, it also does the same for the person you helped (and they may pay it forward).
Use blocks of time to build your future
Even if we are busy, we must take out time for the things that matter the most. When you focus on what matters, you can build the life you want with the blocks of time you have.
Thank you for reading this post! You can find me on twitter @michaeltombor