Thursday, September 18, 2014

Initial decision on how to learn programming

Once I made the decision to switch careers, the first plan of action was to start learning to program. One of the things that I really admire about the computer science field is that it doesn't seem to care about convention. You don't need a four year degree to get a position, you only need to demonstrate that you have the skills for the job. Potentially, this could work in my favor. I wouldn't necessarily need to go back to school to enter the field (go back to school, I guess I haven't left yet :-) ). A lab mate of mine did exactly this after graduating. He spent about six months learning the skills and building a portfolio of mainly javascript projects and landed a job at Menlo Innovations, which by the way sounds like a great place to work. It's easier than ever to learn to program with all the great resources out there, particularly interactive sites such as, and Self-learning is one viable way to teach yourself to program.

Relatively, I am a very disciplined and motivated person. That being said, I thought a program with more structure than the self-learning route would help me learn faster. Additionally, I liked the idea of building a community of classmates and teachers, even if it was only online. This lead me two other options, developer bootcamp or an online CS degree from a brick and mortar school. I found it difficult not to get sucked into the developer bootcamp hype. Here's a quote from, "100% of Hack Reactor alumni are now software engineers with average starting salaries over $100,000." It seems almost too good to be true, but after researching it a bit it seems like Hack Reactor has a very good application pool. I noticed that several of their students had very impressive backgrounds and they seemed like the type of people destined to succeed with or without Hack Reactor. Some of them even had CS degrees. Certainly the bootcamps offer several advantages such as learning in a setting that is more similar to an actual job setting. At Hack Reactor, students work on real projects in a pair-programing paradigm. More than that, student's reviews of several of the bootcamps are eerily stellar. However, I feel like there are potentially some drawbacks to the developer bootcamps. While I think you could take many of the web development skills and apply them to other areas, I worry that I might be pigeon-holed into a specific area of technology. If you're a newbie like me, it seems slightly unwise to choose to study web development when you have yet to be exposed to multiple areas of programming. Secondly, with web developer bootcamps popping up everywhere, there are bound to be differences in quality. I'm not sure if I am ready to travel to California where bootcamps are required by the state to accurately advertise their student's success rates. Most bootcamps have little to no oversight regarding their claims of past student's average wage and percent employment. Lastly, my biggest issue with the developer bootcamps is that they are ten weeks long. It may seem that I have a very negative view of bootcamps. I don't and I may end up choosing this route in the future. I think for some people they are the perfect solution and they have some very attractive advantages. To see a list of popular bootcamps go to, For myself, I wanted a little more foundation in computer science theory. This is something that I don't think is feasible in ten weeks. Past experiences have proved to me that difficult to grasp concepts, or just new concepts, take time to digest and necessitate re-visiting to truly master them, even for the disciplined and motivated student.

Here we are, the last choice, the online CS degree. Here's a pretty good list of several of the options, Eventually I settled on OSU's accelerated post-bac online degree. I liked it because it was something that I could simultaneously do while finishing my PhD. I could take one or two classes right here in my home. It would give me enough structure so that I would feel compelled to keep going, even as my doctoral studies took their toll and sapped my motivation (this could be broadly applied to anyone with a full-time job). It would also expose me to subjects that I might not necessarily be interested in pursuing on my own, such as discrete mathematics. The cost is reasonable given the current price of undergraduate degrees but unfortunately it is the most expensive option under consideration. Unlike some other online programs, this is a post-bac program so it consists of only CS related classes, no fluff. So far, I am happy with my choice and I think it's a good fit. However, here's the best perk. Ironically, OSU is my and my mother's alma matter. My mom received her CS degree in 1989 with honors from OSU. I can further entertain myself by trying to beat my mom's GPA. That alone is priceless.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Everything will be more than okay; it will be great!

Okay, I said I would write a post on why I’m leaving academia. I actually want to defer to this list, 100 reasons NOT to go to graduate school.
It’s a good summary of what is and what is to come for graduate students. Of course I did not see this before entering graduate school. However, I probably would have ignored it anyway since many advanced graduate students had already told me not to go. I easily dismissed them as grumpy, burnt-out students that would not go far in the world with their current attitude. Surely my boundless motivation, passion for solving problems, and chipper attitude would prevail. I wasn’t completely wrong, all the above served me well for several years and I have a very respectable academic CV to show for it. However, what I didn’t realize is that those fifth and sixth year graduate students were once bright-eyed students similar to myself. As you begin to approach the end of your graduate school career, the veil begins to slip from your eyes and you are forced to see the realities of life beyond graduate school. Suddenly, reasons such as number 71, “Tenure track is brutal”, or 83, “It narrows your options” come barreling down on you like a ton of bricks. It forces you to re-evaluate yourself and your goals.

Although I could write about the injustices of graduate school and the emotional trauma that students endure, I don’t want this post be about the negative experiences of graduate school. I’ve come away from graduate school with a lot of new, translatable skills in my personal toolbox and the confidence to learn new skills and manage a variety of projects. I’ve also narrowed down what are the most important aspects that I will look for in my next job. However, it would be a bold face lie to say that some of the negative experiences are not influencing my decision to leave, but you and myself might question if it was so bad as to necessitate a 180. Last night as I sat around a table of my peers enjoying a good conversation about recent scientific findings, I thought, “Do I really want to leave this?” I will go from being an expert to a novice all over again. Instead of enjoying some of the fruits of my labor I will instead struggle to gain my footing in a new field. Science is undeniably producing fascinating discoveries and a lot of exciting opportunities continue to exist.

However for scientists, as is for many who combine their identity with their career, science is a way of life. Despite my achievements and upcoming completion of my PhD, I can no longer ignore the small voice that has been telling me, “This isn’t who you are,” “This isn’t where you want to go.” I’m okay with this and it’s not too late to change. I’ll take what I’ve learned and move forward in another direction. Am I scared to change careers? Hell yes, but I’m not going to let fear get in my way. I can do this. Others will question my decision or doubt that I’ll be able to find what I want, but I don’t care. I’m already happier just for having made the decision and this happiness is seeping into all facets of my life becoming recognizable to my friends and family. So here I am, starting my career as a programmer and I’m beyond excited to learn as much as I can. The best part is, I once again feel a passionate energy coursing through my veins and it feels… wonderful.

Monday, September 15, 2014


I am amazed. I just finished picking a template with a lovely blue hue and I already have had eight views. The web is a phenomenal and complex universe.

My about me page will give reader's more a background about myself, but I wanted to state my goal in the first post. I am about to graduate with a PhD in Human Genetics from the University of Utah and to put it bluntly my plan is to walk away from the Ivory Tower FOREVER (imagine Inception-like trumpets blaring). For real sound go to this link, (there's a big red button you get to click on). It's not much of a plan yet, I know. However, in the world of academia this is a momental step. As many others have attested to, there are endless feelings of guilt associated with "quitting" academia. I will address "why I'm leaving academia" in a future post. Let's get back to the real reason for this paragraph. What am I doing with this blog. Quite simply, it's going to be a journal of my experience of switching careers into CS. Who is it for? I guess the primary recipient of my blog will be... Me! If you want to read what I have to say, go for it!

I realized though that perhaps I've already given away that I am a CS newbie just from my title. Some of the advice that I've received as an inchoate coder is that programmers are a dime a dozen (I think people are actually referring to coders and not programmers). Here's a couple of related articles, and I particularly like the statement in the second link, "True, for many it is too late to be undertaking a second degree in a new field of study, not to mention the drastic costs of post secondary education." Oh, oh, I'm in trouble :-). Any who, the advice that coders are a dime a dozen and in order to go beyond the basics of coding you need to have skills in advanced math and logic. While I believe this statement is true, I still like to imagine my friends saying this in a raspy voice reminiscent of one of the Scooby Doo villains. So my take home message is, I AM a novice programmer and I will continue to demonstrate this throughout my posts. So have a heart and remember this if I ever open this blog up to comments.