Taking Risks

March 19, 2018

Your greatest dreams are on the other side of fear and caution.

It began a couple weeks before my 25th birthday, strangely on cue. I had planned a joint birthday event with a good friend of mine, and we’d been looking forward to it for weeks. We were excited to be celebrating this milestone and take another step into adulthood — as if the very next day we’d be serendipitously granted the next level of maturity and a renewed outlook on life. So it was surprising that the days leading up to my birthday were less of celebration and more along the lines of uncertainty, trepidation, and a lingering sense of dissatisfaction. Was this what they called a quarter life crisis?

And with that began my in-depth re-evaluation of myself, starting with what I spent the majority of time doing: my career. I spent the early half of 2017 buried in CFA books, moved to a new role in corporate finance, and within a few months found myself strangely disengaged. I’m the type that always needs to know my next move, and I quickly realized I no longer felt excited about any future opportunities in finance. I felt a desire to create value, and felt increasingly detached to the repetition in my work. At the core of it, I yearned for a career beyond a role or a company, and I simply could not see myself running financial reports until retirement.

Tech was a no brainer. It’s hard to ignore when technology permeates every inch of society as we know it today — from the way we communicate and socialize to the way we run errands and organize our lives. When I decided I needed a change, I — like most people — wanted my next path to be all sorts of new, exciting, and challenging. Initially, I made the mistake of jumping on the first thing my mind landed on: buzzwords. Could I do something in data science? Machine learning? AI? As I brought myself down back to reality and considered the extensive technical knowledge these professions employ, I aptly realized that the core of all these exciting new developments involved a deep understanding of programming.

In the beginning, I went through all the stages of self-doubt. Luckily, I did some programming when I was younger, so I had a faint idea of what awaited me and what coding actually felt like. In high school, I built and managed a graphics design website in HTML/CSS, PHP, and MySQL. But was this the same? Languages have evolved eons ahead since then, I could barely write a line of SQL now, and no one even uses PHP anymore! My mind rummaged through all my attributes and shortcomings, and I spent countless hours reasoning with myself whether or not this would fit me. At the same time, I was frazzled as I knew in my heart my current path was not the future I wanted for myself and I needed a different path forward.

It was nerve wracking to make the choice to leave everything I worked so hard for up until now and pivot. In behavioral economics, there’s a concept known as the sunk cost fallacy that applied to this situation perfectly. It’s the phenomenon of making decisions based on your past investments rather than rationale, and this was exactly what I fell victim to. For someone who’s always considered herself a logical person, letting go of loss aversion was more challenging than I expected, but was the first step in learning to recognize the right opportunities. With my mind cleared, I thought back to the times I spent after school glued to my desktop, and the immense satisfaction that came with tinkering around and making things work. I hadn’t touched code in nearly a decade, but the feelings of fulfillment never left me. To this day, I’ve never found anything quite like it, much less with the added expectation of making a career out of it. I owed it to myself to give coding another shot.

I considered going down this path when I first graduated from college, but it took me a long time to get comfortable enough to believe in my ability to succeed. At that time, I barely knew anyone getting into it and I was afraid to take the leap. In those few years, I wasted a lot of time listening to what other people thought would be good for me at rather than asking myself the same question. Although feedback from others is imperative for growth, no one knows you better than yourself. When I started asking myself for answers, I realized the right focus wasn’t whether or not this engineer persona would fit me. If I kept searching for some sort of a guarantee, it was unlikely I could ever find one to move me forward. The terrain ahead was filled with uncertainty, and my survival gear was my passion and determination. If I wanted to succeed in software engineering, I’d have to carve my own path out for myself.

And just like that, within 3 months, I quit my job, signed up for a coding bootcamp, disappeared from my social life, and just started my third week at Hack Reactor. There’s still no guarantee whether or not things will work out in programming for me, but choosing to take this risk was the best birthday present I could’ve given myself.

Hoping my story will inspire others to take the risk they’ve been contemplating. Clap and follow me on my journey as as a software engineer!

Originally posted on Medium.

Written by Evelyn Chan. Follow me on Twitter