When Grit and Opportunity Meet: a new programmer’s journey

I think I can summarize the majority of my Code Platoon experience just by explaining my individual project: unlimited potential, ever-present help, and a community that cares.

For me, it was my personal project where I finally felt like a real programmer.  When I started Code Platoon, I had little experience, and the pace very quickly started to make me nervous if I’d be able to keep up.  But there was one thing I didn’t properly account for at the beginning, and that was the support of the instructors and my fellow classmates.

I knew I wanted to do something that would be challenging, unique, and fun.  After a slew of ideas that sometimes lasted about as long as it took to come up with the idea, I finally had it.  I was going to make a digital game of Hot Potato that used each player’s phone as the controller via texting.  Now smart people plan everything out first; overly excited people like me recklessly jump in head-first.

Since the player interfaces with the game through texting, I knew I’d have to be able to figure this out for anything else to even be possible.  So everything started with this, and I had no idea what I was doing.  The downside to wanting to do something unique is you don’t have a working solution you can easily reference.  After scouring tutorials (and a lot of trial and error), I finally had it working, and you’d swear I just cured cancer!  It did one thing, and I couldn’t tell enough people about it.

The real excitement was watching this program grow from nothing.  As I kept adding new commands for my program to be able to understand incoming texts and to respond in kind, it was like watching a child learning how to speak.  My program was growing before my eyes, getting ever smarter and ever more adaptable.   The more it was able to do, the more I wanted to make it do.  The more situations it could respond to, the more edge cases I wanted it to be ready for.

As my project kept growing, my allotted sleep kept diminishing, because I never wanted to stop working.  Meals became protein bars because they had the smallest time-commitment.  Everything became a race to see how much I could make my project do before running out of time.

From esoteric host-player functions to being able to connect my backend to my front in real-time via Django Channels, I ended up with a project that I was truly proud of.  It really felt like my personal thesis.  By the time it came to present my project, there were way too many features than I’d have ever had time to explain.  But I knew what it could do, and for me, that was all that mattered in fostering my actual love of coding.  Before coding was something I knew I was able to do, now it’s something I want to do.

Here’s where I need to bring things back to Code Platoon. What I didn’t explain was what allowed me to get to the finish line, and my personal drive and lack of sleep was only a small part – the community was the rest.  I had support from every possible angle.  My fellow students cheered me on, anybody I reached out to for help, including instructors and teaching assistants, responded without hesitation.  Everyone supported everyone.  I hate to casually throw around a word like “magical”, but no regular word quite fits.  Thank you, Code Platoon, for a magical time!

Kenneth Malley is a 15 year Air Force Veteran. He graduated Code Platoon in April 2020 as part of Kilo Platoon.

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