I remember it like it was yesterday… I was all set to head into medicine, which was a path I had solidified for myself early on in my high school days. When I at long last, departed into the world of post secondary, I already imaged myself as Doctor Kris. I mean, everyone already knows who they are going to be while leaving high school, right? So naturally, I found myself studying biomedical sciences. Of course, when the reality of whether I would actually enjoy biomedical science emerged, it hit me like a train.
Whoever put this notion into my head was either lying to me, or was under some type of odd delusion. I’m sure some people luck out and end up on the right path from the get-go, but I certainly didn’t. In retrospect, I truly think that there is no possible way I could have determined who I wanted to be with so little life experience at the age of 18. How can you possibly know if you’ll enjoy a field before you have any real experience it? I don’t have the answer to that question.
Three years in, I was miserable. I loved science, but hated how it was taught. I suspect I got rather unlucky with my lecturers, because I did and still do read science books on my spare time. Seriously, I’ll take a Feynman book over Harry Potter any day – I mean, its FEYNMAN! Any who, I hated where I was, and needed to either fight or flight. This resulted one of the hardest choices in my life, but I am ever so glad I made.
Three years and over $25,000+ in the hole, I left biomedical science. During this time, I felt like I was wandering a busy crowd. Everyone around me seemed to be so happy and contempt – when here I was, depressed. My parents were most definitely worried about what I had done and to be honest, so was I. How is it everyone knew what they were doing? How is it that people seemed to know who they wanted to be so early on it life? It didn’t make any sense to me at all, and was rather frustrating if I’m honest.
It was at this time when I sat back for a little and gave a good look at the world. You know, in the same way a captain of a ship would gaze at the vastness of the ocean mid-voyage. I needed to know where my ship was headed, and more importantly, if I would be happy at the destination.
It’s easy to feel like you’re on an island when it comes to your career. You made a choice, you’re there and you’re stuck with it! It’s a scary notion, but one I don’t believe is in fact, true. After much thought and at the age of 22, I signed up for software development (Bachelor of Technology) and so, began to write my story all over again. My life was like a startup that just lost funding and had to pivot 180 degrees.
After a year of school, I managed to get a summer job at a telecom company writing python web applications in Django. The man who hired me (he knows who he is), gave me a chance. He gave me a chance, even though he knew I had absolutely no experience in the field. Thinking back to that job, it was the hand that he had extended me that summer that set up the rest of my career. This is a favour I feel absolutely obligated to extend to new developers, should the chance ever arise in my future.
Although I worked very hard, I soon realized how complicated the field of software was. At the time, I felt like I was on a treadmill, stuck at 5 MPH while everyone else looked to be running triple my speed. It was then, that I learned a valuable lesson that summer: There’s no way of short-cutting a solid 5 or more years of experience in software engineering. You really are the lone astronomer, navigating the cosmos. If you want a sense of that ‘frontier’, just visit the homepage of Stackoverflow. No matter how many languages or frameworks you may know, there will always be questions that you do not have the answers to. Our industry is ever expanding in every which direction, and there’s no way for one person to consume all of it.
Over the course of my time in school, I wrote a bunch of fun applications that I found interesting at the time. For example, Txt2Text was a simple slang translator API that can be plugged into any <input> or <textarea>. Basically, it turns acronyms into their actual word meanings. Txt2Text was never going to change the world, but it helped me change my world. With every bit of code I wrote, I made loads of mistakes. Oh gosh, did I made mistakes. But with every mistake, I learned more and more about what makes good software as opposed to what makes bad software. I was gaining ‘experience’ and experience means everything in our field.
During the winter of my third year, the time came to look for coop positions. After realizing I didn’t like what my school had to offer, I took a shot and applied to the Amazon Internship Program through their online portal. You see, the school I attended wasn’t exactly prestigious, and so, did not have any affiliations with the ‘big four’. In essence, I applied, dreamed for a little, and forgot about it.
About 2 months later, I got an email informing me that Amazon had accepted me into their interview program. Why did they choose me, out of everyone? It certainly wasn’t because of my school or program. In fact, I believe it was because of the experience I had gained over the last 2 summers working for a person who was kind enough to give me a chance. As I mentioned before, this simple kind gesture made all the difference. Two months later, I managed to pass the interview process and was on a plane to Seattle.
Amazon was awesome. I read a lot of horror stories online that I’m glad to say, were unfounded by me and most of the other interns. Everybody there was kind, bright and very willing to teach. When I look back, that internship was the best experience of my life. I learned more in 11 weeks, than I did in three years of school. The big take away from that internship was the following: If you want to be an software engineer, you need to engineer software. There’s no shortcut, nor is there a book that can replace this process. Write code!
After the internship, Amazon reviewed my performance and I was accepted as a full time engineer, which was one of the happiest moments of my life. I get to work with people who have the same passions that I do. But I could not have achieved this on my own. I’m here today, because of kindness of our wonderful community. I find it amazing that so many of you are so passionate and willing to teach, when you could in fact be doing anything else. I find that simple fact inspiring, and is truly one of the major reasons I’ve fallen in love with this field. In fact, it’s why I created this blog in the first place. I’m trying my best to extend help to others, in the same way help was extended to me.
I just want to close by saying the following. If anyone has any questions or could use a hand, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I don’t know if I’ll be able to help you depending on your situation, but I can certainly try.
Have fun learning, take some risks, make lots of mistakes, and enjoy the journey!