Pt. 5: To Be Continued…

Editor’s Note: Making the Switch is a series of five parts written by Zach Jones, a Bellevue Dojo graduate. It focuses on his career transition from truck driver to developer and includes insights, anecdotes and advice. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here. Part 4 can be found here.
Hello! My name is Zach Jones and I am a Support Engineer for Microsoft through Collabera. This may surprise you if you’ve already read the previous entries in this series. For everyone else, buckle up. Let me give you a quick overview of my journey to this point. In November 2019, I quit my job, which I had held since 2011. I learned to drive trucks while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. I chose to be a Motor Transport Operator over infantry because it was closer to the action and there would be jobs when I got out. I worked on small programming projects and small pieces of productivity software during my trucking career. 2019 was a difficult year for truckers, and I had always wanted to learn programming from my childhood. It seemed like the perfect time to make a career shift into a tech job. I arrived in Bellevue on December 9th, 2019 at 5 AM PST. After several days of driving, I finally arrived at Coding Dojo. Over the next three and a quarter months, I spent almost every day programming, making new friends, and sometimes even getting to relax and enjoy local food and craft beer. COVID-19 came along and I returned home two weeks before my graduation. I was free on my virtual graduation day. What happened next? To give you some context, I will share with you what I went through after graduating from Coding Dojo. I had approximately 3 months to go before my last paycheck ran out. This was a very optimistic timeline, even though it was frugal. I would lie if I said that I didn’t panic. I applied for over 100 jobs. However, I also looked for small freelance projects that could be completed quickly to keep the lights on. With the help of my family and a part-time online position as a Coding Dojo teaching assistant, I was able to survive. It was hard. It was really difficult. I wish I had done more to speed up the process. I was also limited by my internet connection and my location. In August, a Collabera recruiter contacted me. She explained that Microsoft was looking for a new project and that I had previous experience. After a screener, code-a-thon practice of the skills I would need to nail my interview, and lots of additional studying, I received the news that my entire life was about to change. I was hired. I went from not being able afford medicine to wondering what type of savings account I would need in order to get the best out of my money. Even though I was training, it didn’t feel real. I was able to pay all my bills when my first paycheck arrived. I even had enough money for dinner and a movie with my spouse — while wearing our masks. What’s the Microsoft lifestyle like? It’s quite amazing. The team I’m integrating into has a lot of smart, kind people who have been nothing but helpful. Although there is much to learn, I am confident in myself as well as the team. Although it can be intimidating to be the only one without a degree in this field, we all have put in our time. What’s next? It’s a difficult question. I can recall a Marine who just completed 20 years of service. During his speech, he looked at me with a distant gaze and said, “This job is the only one I’ve ever known.” I don’t think I have spent 20 years at any job but I do know what he feels. This struggle is the only thing I have known since I was a child. However, I do have some ideas. I will continue programming for one. Programming is a perishable skill that requires daily practice to keep you sharp. I will also be focusing on procedural generation and programming for arts. My wife and I can now look at buying a house. It’s not a distant dream but a real possibility. The story was almost fairy tale-like, and I think I will take a long break before I start the sequel. It’s just “To be continued …”” for now.
P.S. This has been a long and difficult journey. Without the support of my parents, it would have been impossible for me to do it all on my own. I want to thank both my mother and dad for supporting me through this, even though I wasn’t always forthcoming about my living situation.
I want to say thank you to my wife. Without her, I would have lost all nerve and never had the courage to embark on this amazing adventure.