Jonathan Bell

What I Did with 3 Months Off

From approximately September 2018 to the end of December 2018 I did not work. Well, I didn’t work in a way that would be considered a normal way to work. I studied JavaScript and made a lot of personal apps/projects in order to learn new tech.

The idea to take 3 months off came from the desire to attend a coding bootcamp wayyy back in about November of 2016. TBH, I had not heard of coding bootcamps until I heard about them on a tech podcast. I thought the idea was cool so naturally I looked into them.

The more I looked into bootcamps, the more I came to realize two things: 1. They were expensive. 2. They were geared primarily at people who had never coded before. Regarding point number 2, a lot of the coding bootcamps marketing teams will tell you that they are geared for all levels of coders (and to some degree, I’d agree with that). However, after doing some research and checking out the graduates’ final projects, I realized that I could probably (with some time) create the same kinds of projects without too much instruction using my existing skills and augmenting missing blocks of my knowledge on my own.

So, back the drawing board… How to learn the skills I needed to level up my technical skills as an intermediate developer while not breaking the bank? Answer: 1) Leave your secure job of over six years (closing your iron-clad pension) and study inexpensive or free resources online all while hoping that your gamble will pay off. 2) Use your savings to buy groceries and pay the rent and hang out in your in-law’s basement all day on the computer until they ask you if you are OK. 3) Make sure to apply lots of motivation to this plan and when Call of Duty magically appears on your screen, turn it off and keep working on your JavaScript array methods.

Totally doable, right? Well, actually, yes! It worked! Just this past month I secured a position at Benevity as a Software Developer and I couldn’t be happier! I’m really pleased with how things panned out.

My Process

When I made this choice I wasn’t starting from scratch. I actually had several years of developer experience under my belt (so the risk wasn’t as great as someone with zero experience doing the same thing). However, I was starting to see the writing on the wall - I wasn’t happy at my previous position. Additionally, jobs (front-end and backend) were starting to ask for skills/knowledge that I didn’t have. The tech stack at my previous position was old and it was hard to initiate changes to it in order to innovate (and learn new things). This is a recipe for career disaster in the tech world. Since there was little opportunity for growth, it was time to move on. I took the leap (and I quit the old job) and did not look back.

I wanted to share a little bit about what I studied and how I got motivated. Staying on task while self educating was a really hard thing for me. Well, I think it would be a hard thing for anyone - but it felt like it was extra hard for me, personally.

The first thing I did was to take any article or inspiring tutorial that I found online, and make a note of in my note taking application, Workflowy. I threw everything in there. Slowly, some learning themes started to take shape and I started to categorize my thoughts into things like: new CSS, JavaScript, React, new PHP frameworks, etc.

I then had an idea of what to study. Unfortunately I was still doubting myself. When I left my job at the BC Public Service, I panicked and started taking contracting jobs. I was worried about income. I was worried about security and I was scared in general. Taking on side jobs was a blessing and a curse; I had income to live on, but I did not have time (the one thing you need a lot of when you want to study pretty much any subject). Eventually, my contracted work slowed and I was able to re-focus on studying. But guess what? I still didn’t have a good idea of what to study. So, I asked my favorite web development podcast! At first the ShopTalk Show podcast hosts, Dave and Chris, (jokingly) said, “Learn AWS deeply.” Later, they added to their answer, “JavaScript” and then later they mentioned React and Vue. I actually really liked their answer(s). They helped me realize that it doesn’t really matter what I study at this point and that I just need to start studying something. If you have a moment, listen to their reply (starts around 45:40). After hearing my question answered on the show, I realized that there is NO right answer. I needed start - and taking that first step was the thing that was scaring me the most (the unknown).

With an eye to learning more JavaScript, I combed through my Workflowy lists again and started doing the small tutorials right away and reading the short articles that I had bookmarked.

I realized that there were some medium-large tasks that I wanted to accomplish also. I decided that, for those tasks, I would port them over to a Trello-style project board on GitHub:

I started making small apps - just silly ones at first, in order to learn a new technology or framework or even a new language. Obviously, it worked out and I’m really pleased with the results of my sabbatical.

You may notice that at the time of this writing (Dec 2018) that a lot of the tasks on my project board are still not done. This is because I bit off way more than 3 months worth of work/study. I get excited about new things and (clearly) I scheduled too much work for one person to do in 3 months time. I do, however, have the personal goal of completing all of the items on my project board. I will have to be patient though as the lion’s share of my attention will now be devoted to my new job.

If you are a junior or intermediate coder considering a sabbatical, feel free to reach out with any questions.