by David Bruno

From mechanic to coder: how following my dreams changed my life

I still remember the dirt underneath my nails, the sounds of the bays, the clinking of the hammer, the revs of the engines. The long hours, the sore back, the showers that seemed to last 30–40 minutes.

Today, I write this from inside my home, preparing for my latest assignment as a coder. It’s a far cry from what was — and shows the purpose of following your dreams and making real life changes. Don’t worry: It’s not sappy. Here goes.

Getting into cars

Growing up, I was nobody special. I had no special trait that set me apart — either from the kids at school or within my own family. The only thing that set me apart was ADHD. If there was anything I wanted to learn and lock into my memory, I had to reread or practice it many times. I never did well in school — I was a C and D student — and I only did what was needed to just get by. I didn’t necessarily disagree with studying; I just didn’t like being told what to do or what to learn.

I also had trouble identifying interests or what I might be passionate about. The only thing I really enjoyed was playing video games. Then the first Fast & Furious movie came out. I remember watching that movie and becoming excited about the cars, all the engines, turbos, the colors, the sounds when the wheels peeled off the pavement. I was 15 years old at the time. I remember specifically being entranced by the import tuner culture.

That was the day my hobby for the race car life began. I eventually pursued this interest in import tuners by buying my first — a 2000 Honda Civic Si. It was a beat-up car, and neglected too. But it had a five speed manual transmission that ran and drove.

Discovering my superpower

When I was 18 years old (the year was 2012), I enrolled in Vatterott College. I had the goal of becoming a professional automotive technician and soon found myself on the school’s honor roll. But around that time, I dropped out. It was because I realized I had a special ability: The ability to teach myself anything.

For instance: The ’97 Honda Prelude. Instead of asking the instructors or a student above my level to help with repairs, I downloaded a service manual and would take the car into the school’s parking lot, tearing the car apart and fixing things that were broken. The learning was through trial and error but I realized — I’m fully capable of teaching myself.

Even the shop’s teacher was impressed: They would tell the other students to watch me as a I worked.

Then there was the debt. The three months enrolled in the college had landed me a little over $8,000 in student loan debt, and if I had stayed there for the full two year program, I would have been over $40,000 in debt, with an outstandingly high interest rate.

This confirmed my realization: I am fully capable of teaching myself and I can find a job out there that will pay me to learn as I go.

And I did just that. Soon after leaving college, I approached a local automotive performance shop that worked on anything that had an engine. They also modified cars and installed performance parts. Working for them, I was able to pay off my $8,000 debt in ten months.

I worked as an automotive technician from August 2013 until October 2017. I got really good at what I could and had a really great boss; however, it was hard labor, as we had a small five bay shop that would be booked 2–3 weeks in advance just for people to get their cars in for repairs.

Each day, I’d move between 15 and 30 cars to open the shop up, then move them all back into place to close down. About 90 percent of the time, I was outside in the weather — hot or cold, rain or snow, pulling engines, dropping transmissions and many other labor-intensive jobs.

It was around that time that I got tired — both my body and my mind. I was weary of working in such conditions, and the pay wasn’t really that great. I wanted more out of life and because I was a homeowner with an expensive car hobby, the income of being a mechanic wasn’t enough.

I knew there was more: A job where I could live comfortably and not have to work nearly as hard to keep the bills paid. It was around the beginning of 2017 when I finally began to get serious. I knew that for my life to change I needed to take action.

Although every day I worked, I would get destroyed, be tired, exhausted, and nine out of 10 times filthy from the dirty work, I’d go home and start learning about what I could do. I looked at many things: buying and selling products online, retail arbitrage, starting a drop-shipping company, building passive income. I also looked into careers, ones that could lead me to a high-paying comfortable lifestyle.

The goal was to work remotely and make great money. I tried many things, but nothing seemed to work for me. I never gave up. I knew something would click with me as something that would interest me and lead to the life of my dreams.

Making changes

Then a friend of mine, who I worked alongside at the automotive shop, got a night job configuring, diagnosing, and repairing routers. He was doing Cisco CCNA work and had no college education or prior work experience that would’ve led to getting this job. He was paid well (if he did this full time for the company he would have made six figures) and had gotten the job just from a reference. I couldn’t believe it.

At that time, the bills from my first home were putting pressure on me. And here he was, working remotely, not doing any physical labor, and getting paid very well. He basically faked it till he made it — and made it, you can bet, he certainly did.

He told me, “Start learning Cisco CCNA work. If a position opens up, I’ll try to get you in.”

So I started researching online courses and schools that offered CCNA Certification classes. It was around July 2017 that I stumbled onto a local school that offered the course. It was called New Horizons Computer Technology. I submitted my information and got a call from a recruiter.

We chatted for a good 30 minutes and he explained that the courses I wanted were pricey: $6,000 total cost for the two weeks of classes. I was disappointed. I was living close to paycheck to paycheck and generally only had enough money to covers bills and save up a little.

The recruiter understood. He told me about a special Tennessee grant program for adults below 25 years old who made less than $30K yearly that would pay for the courses, making them free. I was only 24 years old and it gave me hope.

He sent me to an orientation where I brought specific documentation such as a high school degree, birth certificate, and pay-stub, to prove I was qualified. They collected the information and sent it off. Nearly three weeks went by before I finally got the phone call.

They’d pay for the courses.

Overwhelmed with excitement from this new possibility, I began fulfilling all of the requirements for enrollment at the school. A couple of weeks passed, the school and I came to an agreement that because I had no prior experience with Cisco computer work, I would take Comptia A+ for the first two weeks, with merging into Cisco in the second set of two weeks.

Even though I had little experience, I would do whatever it took to learn so that when a position opened up, I would be ready to get it.

The classes ran like a typical work week: Monday through Friday, 8am until 5pm, for four total weeks. The good part, which made this financially viable, was that I could choose on which weeks to take the courses. This brought me hope: ‘I have a way,’ I thought, ‘to get out this daily cycle of hard labor work and living paycheck to paycheck.’

The date was set for October 2017.

But I also knew that my work wouldn’t approve of me taking off for such an extended period of time. It was a step, and a big one. I chose to put my two weeks’ notice in on the first Monday of October.

I was placing all my money down on this set of cards — this new possibility of a new career choice. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve never left a job without having another job lined up. I had several part time jobs available, supervisors who were willing to hire me on the spot if things got too hard.

A couple months prior to leaving work, I had made a plan. I saved as much of my paychecks as I could. I cut costs and bills, things I didn’t need, such as the Netflix bill. I realized I had to put all my momentary needs on hold if I wanted to change my life.

I also timed things well. I spread out my classes so that I could take side jobs as an electrician, carpenter, computer repair person, and auto technician, for instance. As an “if all else fails” back-up plan, I had a stockpile of named brand performance parts that I had accumulated from years for a project car. I could sell these if nothing else.

I had a plan and was moving forward but it was difficult. I could no longer buy things for loved ones and still had a mortgage over my head. It was extremely daunting and I was fearful, but I couldn’t let my fear take over me. I worked to strengthen myself.

I started to research successful people, and not just the wealthy. Some inspirations came from those who built successful companies. Apple, Dell, Tesla, Space X. Elon Musk was a huge inspiration.

Motivational videos and self-improvements videos were constantly running on my phone and computer. When successful people spoke, I took note of their habits, as I had learned that success starts with a daily routine of small habits, an insight I applied instantly.

December of 2017 approached. I was in the final week of my CISCO class and I realized it was nearly impossible for someone to learn everything about the two certification tests — ICND-1 and ICND-2 — in just a matter of two weeks.

At the same time, the school’s advisor was notifying me of any entry level IT job openings. But I was discouraged. I attended interviews and hiring events only to be told my starting hourly rate would be $14, because I didn’t have a magical IT background or a college degree.

I’m sure you can feel my frustration here. I had worked hard to get this far and taken a huge risk. The last day of classes came and went. I crammed down all the knowledge and soon learned that I hated the stuff in the CISCO classes. It was dry, boring, and mixed with my ADHD very difficult to stay focused on.

The situation was like this: The first round of tests were paid for thanks to the grant; however, if I failed, I had to pay the cost of the tests. These were around $300 a test and even if I passed, I would still start out making less money than a full-time mechanic. And I knew, with my bills, that wouldn’t work.

It would take three to six months to study for them. I decided not to take them, which was a bitter pill to swallow. I had invested so much time in the course already, and that I thought this was my “golden ticket.”

The disappointment stung.

The end of December approached and I still didn’t have a plan of action going into the new year. I wanted a job in the IT field but couldn’t work for years at the lower levels, earning little income. But I trusted my motivation. I needed to keep trying different things, investing in myself, working side jobs until I found what I wanted.

The game-changer

January 2018 came. I was listening to a motivational video of a very successful person. He said, “If you want to be successful, then you need to surround yourself with successful people.” Then he mentioned something specific: An app called MeetUp.

I downloaded it soon after, and it became the best decision of my life.

In the app, I soon searched for technology and found a subcategory called Blockchain. I knew very little about it, just having a coinbase wallet with a small amount of money invested in bitcoin, ethereum, and litecoin. But it sparked my curiosity. It caught my attention.

A list of local meetups popped up. The one with the most members was called Blockchain901 (901 being the area code of Memphis) and they had a meeting scheduled for end of January, just three days after I had downloaded the app.

Do you believe in destiny?

Here is where I think it came into play.

Because, at the same time I was looking into blockchain, I was exploring the option of real estate. People made a lot of money in real estate and it was a way to build up a great deal of passive income. And, you could’ve guessed it, the soonest meetup was scheduled for the exact same date as the blockchain meetup, and at the exact same time.

I pondered. Both events were in different parts of the city. The one I picked would be the one I stuck with.

When the day came, it was pouring rain. This was either a sign: Not to go or overcome an obstacle. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I knew that either choice would remove me from my comfort zone. But this was necessary: To make my dreams come true, I had to buckle down and step outside of it.

I wrote down pros and cons, for both the real estate meetup and the blockchain meetup. With real estate, I knew I would struggle. I had little money saved up for investing. But the blockchain meetup posed opportunity. I could invest myself in knowledge of blockchain, which might lead to a better paying job. I felt my odds were greater with blockchain, and I followed through.

I drove through the storm to the FedEx Institute of Technology, which was on the University of Memphis campus. When I arrived, I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I was several minutes early, walking across campus, and the room was already full. I was blown away.

Luckily, there was a seat open at the very front of the room. I quickly walked to it and sat down with my notebook. The large crowd might have been due to a specific reason: There was a special guest speaker flown all the way in from Taiwan (he was a big player in the blockchain industry called Everex). Alongside the guest speaker was a local Memphian called Brian.

As the door closed for the meetup to start, I took a look around. It was a massive classroom where every seat was filled and people lined the walls standing up, preparing to hear the speakers. There had to be 100 people in a classroom meant for around 60.

There were introductions. Brian introduced himself as a local Memphis software developer who specialized in blockchain and was also starting up a blockchain company in Memphis.

As the two hours of the meetup flew by, I took many notes and asked several questions. When it ended, people began to disperse, and I summoned the courage to approach Brian.

Ignoring my nervousness, shyness, and anxiety, I walked right up and said, “Hey, man, loved the speech and lessons from the class. I wanted to ask you if you guys had any positions opening up or if I could come hang out and learn from you.”

Brian was baffled and caught off guard.

As he hesitated, another man quickly approached and introduced himself as Aaron. He said, “You really wanna learn this stuff?”

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Good, then here’s my contact info. You are going to meet me downtown at this address.”

I had a huge mix of emotions. On the one hand, I was exploding with excitement for what could go right, but on the other hand there was a good amount of doubt and fear of the unknown.

Brian chatted with Aaron for a moment, then said to me, “Totally go with Aaron. He’s a good guy and will show you what you need to start doing.”

Between the meetup and my scheduled meeting with Aaron, I did what I was supposed to do. On February 2nd, 2018, I wrote my first line of code and made my first Git push to github. I followed up with Aaron, confirmed the time and place.

Heading towards downtown Memphis, I approached the address given to me. It had led me to a massive 19-story skyscraper. He had told me to meet up on the 19th floor. I remember thinking how crazy — me meeting this man at the top floor of a massive skyscraper.

I approached the room and knocked on the door. Aaron opened it and quickly I noticed all the windows overlooking nearly all of downtown Memphis. In the room was a table with just his MacBook on it.

He sat me down and showed the project he was working on. There was the front end and the code that changed was basic HTML and CSS, and I had no experience with either. He instructed me to figure out how to change the front end and add some styles to it.

Not knowing what to do, I googled my heart out. I looked for the knowledge needed to accomplish this task a mix of emotions were running through me — desperation, fear of failure, excitement. Surprisingly enough, I caught on quickly. That old ability — to teach myself anything — took hold.

Aaron saw my potential. He gave me some advice: To use my free time studying on a site called freeCodeCamp. Then, after a few days of working with him, he made me an offer of paying me hourly out of his pocket to continue helping him with his project. It wasn’t much, but it was something, and it was much better getting paid to learn rather than the other way around.

Weeks went by. I continued meeting with Aaron during the late weekend night and coding nonstop for 8+ hours. During the weekdays, I worked my side jobs and spent my free time studying.

This opportunity gave me hope for the future.

Success at last

In time, I met Brian again and the rest of the Web3Devs team. They gave me more tasks to see how I would handle them and I exceeded expectations — because I was determined not to fail.

On August 21, 2018, I received my first salary paycheck as a junior software developer from Web3Devs. Since then, I have been given more responsibilities, taking on clients, handling meetings, scheduling events, and much more — still while coding and studying.

Soon, they were taking me on trips to hackathons.

On September 6th, 2018, we flew out to Wyoming for the Blockchain Hackathon. I was excited — collecting a salary while traveling. The Hackathon was a massive success. We won four bounties, including a first place prize. It was a divine moment being on that stage while the event was live-streamed.

Two weeks later, we went to Atlanta for the ETH-Atlanta Hackathon, where we again won the first place prize.

As these events were happening, more work opportunities were coming around and more doors were opening for me. Soon, November 9th came and we flew out to San Francisco for the EOS-Hackathon. Competition was huge, as there were travelers from all over the globe and massive cash prizes.

Although we didn’t get first place, this was my favorite trip. We made tons of connections and I proved myself to the team. It was a massive success for me.

Then, as New Year’s Eve of 2019 rolled around, I looked back at 2018, how it started and how it ended. I started with no guaranteed paycheck or a game plan for how to change my life for the better. Things had gotten hard — the mortgage payments, the loss of income, the challenges of moving forward.

But things got better. I studied the habits of successful people. I applied what they said. The right opportunity presented itself and I moved forward, sometimes with doubt and sometimes needing courage, but I did just that and I achieved what I wanted to achieve — becoming a remote software developer and living the life that I had wanted and set out to do.

Final thoughts

What I’m trying to say in this story — and hopefully share and convey — is that no matter how hard things are, no matter how much weight is placed on your shoulders, no matter how many times you fail or struggle, never give up. Never quit fighting for what you truly want out of life. No matter what education you have or what job you work, you too can fulfill your dreams. If that’s coding, that’s coding, but it can be anything else. The lessons in this story can be applied to anything you are passionate about. You are the creator of your destiny.

Fin. (Extra sections below for those looking to get started into coding)

Some tips for you

Here are some extra tips if you’re starting out (or looking to start out) as a coder.

First, for a programming language, I recommend pursuing JavaScript. JavaScript is a scripting language that allows you to implement complex things on web pages. It consists of HTML, CSS, and variety of other frameworks such as nodeJS and React (a popular Facebook language). JavaScript can be applied to many things, including blockchain applications. It’s also easier to get an entry level job with JavaScript than other programming languages.

The websites I recommend are as follows:

freeCodeCamp.org is a completely free site for learning in detail about JavaScript, NodeJS, React, and many others. You have to teach yourself as there aren’t any videos. It’s just straight code.

Another site, uDemy.com, has excellent courses if you prefer to learn code alongside an instructor. These courses are in-depth and lengthy, some having 40+ hours of coursework. A double monitor method helps with the videos from the instructors. A good course I took and recommend is “The Modern JavaScript Bootcamp (2019)” by Andrew Mead. uDemy.com also has regular sales so you can snag courses for as low as $10.

Lastly, if you’re curious about getting started in blockchain as a programmer, then I recommend, after learning some JavaScript, a site called cryptozombies.io. It is a completely free game that teaches you how to write Ethereum Smart contracts using Solidity as a programming language, all while building a zombie army. The game was created to inspire and teach kids in middle school how to code and the game creators are always adding more chapters. Solidity is a lot like Javascript, making it a good start into blockchain.

All three things listed will make you a knowledgeable programmer. Always remember that habits are everything. Practicing every day for thirty minutes will make someone that much more advanced by year’s end. The progress may surprise you.