by João Henrique

It is never too late to be who you might have been — becoming a developer at age 36

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Yep! I made it! I’m a Full Stack JavaScript Developer working for a pretty cool German company in the sunny Algarve (Portugal). I have the privilege of working with the most amazing individuals, in a friendly working environment that embraces innovation and loves challenges. I get to grow my skills as a developer, as a team player, and as a person.

With some friends, we won two hackathons and we got to donate part of the prize to the local firefighter’s department. We are helping other students that are learning to code in local study groups. Made lots of true friends and got to know exceptional people that are committed in their own projects to push the region’s tech scene forward.

The journey I took made me more confident and assertive in my choices. I developed a growth mindset and I’m constantly improving my skills so that I can contribute even more to the community.

I’m pretty happy with the course of my life, especially with the kind of person I became. But, I was not always like this. I was not always so proactive, so confident and, I was certainly not always a developer.

In this article, I will explain to you the process that changed an average guy into an achiever, and how, if you commit to it, everything is within your reach. I will show you what I have learned during my journey to become a developer and try to inspire you to become the best you can be.

Why should you care?

We all have our lives, some are better than others but, we are living them as we please. Now imagine you are going to die someday, and then, somehow, you find time to make a retrospective on your life. Would you change anything? Would your attitude towards life be different?

An Australian nurse called Bronnie Ware spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives and put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. You can watch her TED talk here.

Bronnie writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. The number one regret is:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”.

I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is, you are still going to die at some point. The good news is:

“It is never too late to be who you might have been”. — GEORGE ELIOT

Are you too old/young for this?

Ok, let’s address the elephant in the room.

  • At the age of 17, Michael Sayman created an app that saved his family’s home from bankruptcy. Michael was recruited to join Facebook and became the company’s youngest employee ever.
  • Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook at age 19.
  • Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia at age 35.
  • The founders of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Kentucky Fried Chicken were all over 50 when they established their businesses.
  • There are even people jumping off planes in their 90’s.

Guess it’s clear that age has nothing to do with it. The only barriers are in your mind.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you cant… You’re right.” — HENRY FORD

Should you quit your job?

Well… not yet! At least not until you finish this article. But the question here should be, what is keeping you there?

Do you wake up in the morning with a mission? Do you feel part of something great? Do you love what you do? Are you making the world a better place? Are you exploring your full potential? Do you feel fulfilled?

If you’re not Tim Ferris from 4 hour work week, you spend most of your days working, so you should be spending your time wisely. Researchers claim that “being unhappy at work can be worse for mental health than having no job at all”.

Don’t worry. I spent 12 years in my previous job as a Senior Laboratory Technician. I was doing environmental analysis and I liked what I did but, I was no longer passionate about it. Every day was the same and there was a general lack of purpose. The only thing that kept me there was the money at the end of the month. Or so I thought…

Turn the auto-pilot off

There is a Zen story about a man riding a horse that is galloping very quickly. Another man, standing alongside the road, yells at him, “Where are you going?” and the man on the horse yells back, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.”

Are you living in auto-pilot? In my case, I realize that most of the time, I’ve been riding full speed through life but I had little or no control over the “horse”.

I could say that I could not leave my job because I had a family to support. Or how could I justify the money my parents spent in my studies for me to have a decent career? These were all viable excuses. But…what really kept me there for so many years was my lack of action.

Photo by Phil Hodkinson on Unsplash

Take control of your life

We often don’t act because we are waiting for something different to happen, something that will show us “the way”, something that will magically make our lives better but, life doesn’t work like that. Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.

Don’t wait for the prophecy to fulfill, don’t place your future in the hands of destiny and don’t blame others for what happens to you. You should be the one steering the “horse” because no one is coming for the rescue and you are the only one with the power to change the course of your life.

“The future depends on what you do today.”

How lucky are we?

I do realize that I’m lucky to be born in a developed country and that there are people that just don’t have the same opportunities as I did. Be it because they live in a place where basic needs are not fulfilled, in a more restrictive culture, or in a country devastated by war. For those, I have little to teach and much to learn.

But, if you are reading this, you have access to the internet and you have spare time. That’s basically all you need to start. If you still feel that you are not in the privileged group, you should check the Dollar Street Website. I bet you are doing better than you thought. Right?

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” — ZIG ZIGLAR

Get out of your comfort zone

Staying home all day, watching Netflix or playing games won’t do it. Sorry! You must do the work. You must push yourself. There’s a world of possibilities waiting for you out there. The magic happens out of your comfort zone.

If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done”. It’s not an easy path. You will face lots of challenges and you will suck at it at first. But, if you want to grow, you have to put yourself out there and take some risks.

“A ship in harbor Is safe, but that is not what ships are built for .“ — JOHN A. SHEDD

The power of failure

Yep… get used to it. Failure is part of the process. In school, they teach us that failure is a bad thing. No wonder many of the successful entrepreneurs are dropouts. “You learn more from failure than from success. Don’t let it stop you. Failure builds character.”

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” — PAULO COELHO

One reporter once asked Thomas Edison if he was discouraged by all his failures. Edison replies cheerfully: “Not at all, for I have learned a thousand ways it cannot be done and therefore I am a thousand times nearer the final successful experiment”.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” — WINSTON CHURCHILL

In life, falling down is sometimes inevitable, but if you learn with your mistakes, every time you get back up, you will emerge stronger and wiser. Embrace failure as part of the process so that you won't be afraid to push your limits.

“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough”. — ELON MUSK
Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Learn to think positively

Yes, I do know this topic is a bit “cliche” but, believe me, this is extremely important. Having a positive attitude every day will make a huge difference in your life.

Optimists seem to have different ways of dealing with the world that set them apart from the average.

  1. First, they keep their minds on what they want and keep looking for ways to get it. They are clear about goals and they are confident that they will accomplish them, sooner or later.
  2. Second, optimists look for the good in every problem or difficulty. When things go wrong, as they often do, they don’t think the world is against them. They put their heads to work and make the best out of the situation.

I advise you to dig a bit more on this topic because it will make a huge difference in your life.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” — WINSTON CHURCHILL

Find your “why”

This is probably the most important thing if you want to reach your goal. You should have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. This “journey” takes lots of commitment and sacrifices. It’s easy to forget what you are fighting for if your “why” is not worth fighting for in the first place.

Be it for a better salary, to improve your life or the life of others, it has to be something that pulls you with immense force. Something that will give you strength in the hard moments. And believe me, this path is full of those.

In my case, I messed up in this part. My “why” was not clear enough and if it wasn’t for my good friend Eduardo Vedes, I would have probably quit and missed this awesome opportunity in life. Sometimes the obstacles lying ahead are just too hard. Find a good “why” (or a good friend that pull’s you up in times of need).

“If you are working on something that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” — STEVE JOBS

If everybody thinks you’re crazy, you’re on the right track!

It’s inevitable. When you are trying something bold enough, everybody close to you will think you have lost your mind. Be ready for this because it will happen.

In my case, I lost the support of most of the people around me. I still remember my parent’s reaction when I told them I was quitting my job:

“You have studied all your life for this. You are leaving a well-paid job, in a solid company, to pursue a dream? Think about your kids! How can you think this will ever work?”

Don’t be harsh on them, they still love you and want the best for you. Common people will always play it safe. But do realize you are now entering a different dimension. You no longer see the world as common people do. Don’t let others put you off track. Just because they haven’t made it, doesn’t mean you can’t.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things — they push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” — Steve Jobs
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Books are the guidance you seek

Imagine you had some kind of device, that allowed you to speak intimately with the most accomplished personalities that have ever lived. They could become your mentors and teach you all they have learned. So much wisdom they had accumulated in their lives, all at your reach. How cool would that be? That device exists. It is called a book.

If I could only give you one piece of advice, I would say get into books. This was what made me non-complacent with the course of my life and empowered me to start pushing the boundaries.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” — SIR ISAAC NEWTON

Build your safety net

Yes, I do know I am incentivizing you to start doing some crazy stuff. If you don’t have anything to lose, go ahead and take off to the stars. But for the rest of us is not that simple.

In my case, with a family to support, there’s a lot you have to take into consideration. You will have to come up with a good plan, and a better backup plan. Be smart about this and be prepared to improvise because things never go as planned. Don’t rush on the “quit your job” part. You can still improve yourself in your free time and keep that wage at the end of the month. I’ve quit my job five months ahead of time. Good thing I had my “safety net” in place.

Everyone starts small but staying small is an option!

When you are starting, commitment and resilience are way more important than skill. You will develop your skills along the way. It’s your attitude that really matters.

You don’t have to be bright or super intelligent to accomplish great things. You are more capable than you can imagine, you just haven’t realized your full potential yet.

It’s normal to doubt yourself at first, just don’t let that stop you from starting your own journey, to become the person you want to be.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” — LAOZI
Photo by Lucas Clara on Unsplash

Ending thoughts

This article turned out totally different from what I had envisioned. I wanted to write about my experience learning to code so that I could inspire others to become developers (since this is an emerging field with lots of opportunities).

But, soon I realized that it’s hard to learn how to code. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve accomplished so far and the problem isn’t the code itself.

The problem is that we are so used to being in our comfort zones that when we face a challenge like this, we get frustrated and often quit too soon because we get so uncomfortable that we think we will never make it. We start thinking that this isn’t for us and that we have to be gifted to make it work.

In this article, I did my best to show you that we are all gifted and that if we endure the initial pain, we will make it. And the best part is that you will not only be able to learn how to code, but you will feel that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to.

I hope I’ve empowered you to get out there and start facing those challenges, to build your future one day at a time. Keep pushing yourself forward and someday, the world may become a better place because of you.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars. — LES BROWN

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