On making a career change to become a web developer

How I Got Here

In 2017 my wife and I did the unthinkable. We left our jobs and traveled to 13 countries in 6 months. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. Our friends and family thought we were crazy. Why would you give up your stable government job just to go “play”? I had doubts in my own ability to find a job afterwards, but we would regret it if we didn’t. So we took a leap of faith and did it. It was the most freeing and exhilarating thing we’ve ever done in our lives up to this point. By the end of our trip we didn’t want to go home. Should’ve gone for a year! I became a different person on the trip. I went 4 days without bathing while trekking to Machu Picchu. I traveled from South of Vietnam to the North on a motorbike Top Gear style! I had confidence! I was a new Chris!

Me and my wife on a motorcycle
My wife and I riding from Da Lat to Nha Trang, Vietnam 2017

After the trip we settled back at home in Toronto. I found a full-time job and things went back to the way they were. New Chris slowly faded away. Everything seemed fine. Then 2020 happened. I turned 40. Oh and also the pandemic thing. But turning the big Four-O should have some significance, like hitting a milestone. People at my age typically have accomplished a few things: like an established career. Instead, I found myself unemployed. This time it wasn’t by choice.

When I first lost my job I was depressed. I worked hard and performed well. I thought “Why me?” As I reflected I came to realize that my full-time job was a crutch. It gave me a false sense of security and purpose. I was so consumed with my work that it became an excuse not to have to think about anything else. More importantly, I didn’t have to think about me and I let my new self fade away. Now that the crutch has been removed I had time to think again. I realized I was given a second chance. I was no longer bogged down by a job that was all-consuming of my time and energy. I have an opportunity to pivot and change careers into something I actually enjoy doing.

So I thought about what I enjoyed doing throughout my professional career and what I enjoyed as a hobby. In my professional life, I enjoyed collaborating with others and using software and technology to solve different problems. As hobbies, I enjoyed traveling, photography, editing and designing stuff. So web development seemed like a good career choice for me, but then I thought “I’m 40. Shit. Am I too old to do this?”

Age Is Just A Number

As I reflect on the last decade, I never thought I would actually do those things in my 30s when I was starting to be perceived as “old”. Here is a list of things I learned since I turned 29.

  • At 29: learned to snowboard
  • At 33: learned to ride a motorcycle
  • At 37: quit my job, traveled for 6 months and learned to scuba dive
  • At 39: learned to surf
  • At 40: learning to code

When I look at this list, one thing stuck out that I knew kept deterring me before. Fear. Fear of physical harm and fear of failure. The idea that everything was dangerous and I would get hurt from it. The thought of shame that comes with failure and time wasted. Instead of being afraid to even try, I now try to first understand the risks then learn with the help of experts.

Photo of a sea turtle
Scuba diving in Okinawa, Japan 2018

The important thing is if there’s something you want to do, don’t wait too long before you try it. The more you sit on it, the more excuses your brain will come up with. Just go for it. It’ll be hard at first and discouraging, but if you stick with it- eventually it’ll click. One day you won’t remember a time when you didn’t have that skill or experience. You’ll realize “Oh it wasn’t so bad after all.”

The experience of our 6 month trip was exactly that: putting yourself out of your comfort zone and prove to yourself there is nothing to fear or have a healthy sense of fear and take calculated risks, the rest you will figure out along the way.

The Pivot

Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

Once I decided I was going to make this career change to become a web developer, I self-studied through online resources to develop my fundamental skills in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I want to further build on my existing skills and leverage my strengths to: consult with clients to develop requirements, prepare mock-ups, develop the architecture and determine hardware and software requirements and build websites and/or applications.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” — Iris Chen

I eventually enrolled into the Web Development Bootcamp at Juno College of Technology here in Toronto. I decided on Juno because I believe their values are inline with my own, which is to embrace diversity and allow people to feel included, welcomed and accepted.

Now two weeks into the bootcamp, I can safely say that I’m accepted for who I am and can learn in a non-antagonistic environment with like-minded people.

As Iris Chen, author of Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent said, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” That’s how the wonderful people at Juno makes me feel everyday. Guess what? New Chris is coming back!