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wild idea ... please consider

August 19, 2018 was my 10-year anniversary of moving to San Francisco. And I wasn’t feeling very celebratory. Summer 2018 had not been easy for me: I was getting over a breakup, and I was unhappy in my job, and it was the coldest, foggiest summer in recent memory. Nonetheless, I planned to take myself out for a nice dinner, thinking I could be kind to myself even if I were sad, only to have my plans derailed when my dad sent me an email at 6:48 PM titled “wild idea … please consider”.

“I think you should learn ‘high tech’ – more specifically computer science,” Dad wrote. “I think you could get another bachelors. With a degree under your belt, I think it would build confidence within you and obvious outside world credibility.”

So then I had to spend the next two hours thinking of how best to respond to my dad’s cockamamie email. One thing you should know about my dad is he gets wild, expansive ideas. The other thing you should know is that he is perfectly willing to have those ideas shot down, as long as you make a persuasive case for your position. If I wanted to tell him “No, that’s crazy,” it would have to be a well-argued No, a considered No, rather than a reflexive No. I would have to do my research. I would have to make him a better offer.

(That’s how it was when I was a kid: I’d complain about having to go to church on Sundays, and he’d always say “Make me a better offer.”)

“I agree it would make sense to look into tech careers and get the necessary training, if desired, to switch onto that track,” I wrote back at 8:36 PM. “But I don't know what you're thinking with this suggestion of getting another 4-year Bachelor's degree.” I pointed out that the 2018 school year was about to start, so the earliest this plan could be executed was 2019, at which point I’d be a 32-year-old freshman (ugh). After Googling for info, I pointed out that very few American universities permit second bachelor’s. I pointed out that we didn’t even know whether I liked or had aptitude for coding, and it would be pretty ridiculous to sign up for a 4-year degree without knowing that. I recalled that tech boot camps were springing up all over the Bay Area, and said I was surprised that Dad hadn’t suggested that as a way to get training, since it certainly seemed more commonplace than a second bachelor’s.

I did some more Googling. I can’t remember the exact keywords, but probably something like “beginner coding bootcamp san francisco.” And God bless the algorithm, for it led me to Hackbright Academy’s page about their part-time Intro to Python course. It wouldn’t require me to quit my job. It wouldn’t break the bank. It was a friendly, all-female environment. And if I got accepted into their September class, I could start learning to code in just two weeks!

I knew that I had found my better offer. I knew that I wanted this. It felt so good to want something, after my sad and foggy summer, that I almost cried. I sent Dad another email, at 8:55 PM, with a link to the Hackbright intro course. And then, hungry, dazed, confused, and emotional, I went to treat myself to a late dinner at Nopa.

I do an ongoing photo series called “Empty-Bus Selfies” and on August 19, 2018, I got to take one on my way to Nopa. “10-Year SF-Versary Resting Sad Face // contemplating my past and future, a deer caught in the glow of passing ambulance lights” I captioned it on Facebook. It’s not a flattering picture, yet I’m proud of how well it captures my mood on that night.

I do an ongoing photo series called “Empty-Bus Selfies” and on August 19, 2018, I got to take one on my way to Nopa. “10-Year SF-Versary Resting Sad Face // contemplating my past and future, a deer caught in the glow of passing ambulance lights” I captioned it on Facebook. It’s not a flattering picture, yet I’m proud of how well it captures my mood on that night.

So yes, Dad’s email was obviously crazy. But it started me down the path that I was meant to go down. I started that Intro Python course the day after Labor Day. I aced it. I quit my job at the end of November. I had twice-weekly (or more) phone calls with my dad about my future. I still questioned whether I ought to become a software engineer, or seek a less technical path to a tech job (product manager? technical writer?), until the week in April when everything happened at once and I finished my translation of Cyrano de Bergerac on a Monday and got accepted into Hackbright’s full-time bootcamp on a Tuesday. I studied. I made new friends. I built an app that got 500+ retweets. Despite returning to being a full-time student, despite being a newbie software developer in a city where it seems like everyone else can solve Fizzbuzz in twenty different languages, I felt more capable and adult than ever before.

And now, I am pleased to announce that exactly eleven years after moving to San Francisco, and exactly one year after my dad sent that cockamamie email—on August 19, 2019—I will start work as a software engineer at Lex Machina.

Funny thing, too, about that. The first full-length play I ever wrote was called Deus Ex Machina—because I was a pretentious teenager. (It won a national teen playwriting contest, too. You can look it up.) And friends had suggested that working at a legal-software company might be a natural niche for me, considering that I worked at a law firm for eight years and my semi-viral app had to do with text processing. So when I saw a legal-analytics company called Lex Machina on the list of tech companies that were sending representatives to our Hackbright demo night, I knew. I just knew.

Sometimes I regret having spent so long in my old job (especially when I see what a salary bump I’m going to receive by becoming a software engineer). I regret having believed the myths that prevent people like me from going into tech: that every tech job requires you to work crazy 80-hour weeks, that techies and artists are natural enemies, that there is no place in tech for women who like to wear pretty dresses and go dancing. But the advantage of waiting till my fourth decade of life to make this career transition is that I don’t feel pressure to change my whole identity just because I’ve learned a new skill. It took me this long to understand that I will always be myself—and that the core of my identity is a love of learning and intellectual challenge, which makes me a natural coder. It took me this long to see that everything—my birth to a computer engineer in 1987, my play title I came up with in 2002, my move to SF in 2008, my nerdy historical-fiction app from this spring—was leading me here.

Another empty-bus selfie, nearly a year later. Riding the N-Judah to Caltrain last week, in my purposeful blazer and lipstick, on my way to Menlo Park to meet the team at Lex Machina.

Another empty-bus selfie, nearly a year later. Riding the N-Judah to Caltrain last week, in my purposeful blazer and lipstick, on my way to Menlo Park to meet the team at Lex Machina.