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Be brave enough to suck at something new

Product & Engineering
Iris Jiang

Iris Jiang

Software Engineer

April 25, 2022

I have always been fascinated by how the brain works when confronted with new problems. Humans have a unique ability to direct our own neural changes. Surprisingly, errors are the basis for neuroplasticity and learning. That feeling of frustration and agitation when you are trying to learn a new skill is actually required to trigger neuroplasticity. When we make errors, we send signals to our brain that something is wrong and cue the neural circuits that something needs to change. The brain changes when neurochemicals such as acetylcholine, epinephrine and dopamine are released, which allows for neurocircuits to be marked for change. Acetylcholine helps with focus; epinephrine increases alertness; dopamine assists in motivation and cognitive control.


Last year, around this time, I set my heart on taking a risk to go into software engineering. I have a background in business finance and worked as a Financial Analyst out of college. Most recently, I was a Product Compliance Team Lead at a startup in San Francisco. As with most people in San Francisco, I found myself surrounded by tech and engineers. I worked with engineers and saw engineering from a distance, but there was always that question in the back of my mind - could I be an engineer? They seem like magicians, coding in a foreign language, and voila! things start appearing on the computer screen. The thought of quitting my full-time job to pursue this new, unknown, path was terrifying, so I made a plan to study in my free time. I have to admit – this was really difficult. Quarantine gave me the chance to stop and think about what I wanted to do with my career. After some honest introspection, I realized that I was keeping myself busy without achieving my goals. I decided to give myself a clear goal and direction in my career. Once I solidified my desired goal, it was easier for me to work backwards and lay out the steps needed to get me there.

The first step into a new career

I took the plunge, quit my job and enrolled in a full time coding bootcamp. I knew this was going to be difficult, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to come. It was truly the most challenging, rigorous academic experience I have ever been through. Bootcamp was 13 weeks long; 9am to 8pm Monday-Friday; 9am - 6pm on Saturdays. Those are just the official course hours; I was up until at least 1 am most nights to get my work done. We had Sundays off, but I used that to catch up on class material. The pace was very fast, and I felt like I was constantly trying to stay afloat.

For the first half of the course, we were introduced to the foundations of Javascript, data structures and algorithms, client/server side concepts, and frontend and backend frameworks. At the 6th week mark, we were required to pass a midterm or were dropped from the class. The last 6 weeks consisted of group projects where we worked on building full-stack applications. I found such fulfillment in building projects! Even in times of painstaking error debugging, the ‘aha’ moments were always worth it.

After graduating, I was hired back as a part time TA where, in my spare time, I began my job search. It was not easy - technical interviews were almost as nerve-wracking as the bootcamp itself. But I knew that if I could get through the previous 13 weeks, I could achieve anything I put my mind to!


Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

Learning about neuroplasticity transformed my outlook on the myriad challenges of bootcamp. I made so many errors during bootcamp, but I learned to remind myself that those moments are required for change. This helped me stay motivated despite the agonizing process and helped me focus on problems past the point of frustration.

My career trajectory has not been linear, and that is totally ok! I love the constant pursuit of learning and bettering myself. I feel so lucky to have landed here at Shepherd after going through this process. I am able to apply the skills I’ve learned from bootcamp on a daily basis. The most valuable skill I’ve learned is problem solving and overcoming challenges under immense pressure. This has prepared me well for what we are currently working on as we have to be flexible and apply what we’ve learned on the fly. I am so excited for what we are building, and I get to do it with such amazing people!

If you’re reading this and you can relate to my story, maybe this is your sign to go try something new. The outcome might not be what you planned; it may just be better!

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