Zero to blockchain; how I became a blockchain programmer.

“Get an IT job in 6 weeks”…they said. “Study on your own time”…they said. “You’ll be making six figures before you know it”…they said. You know, like Jimmy, who was working two jobs just to make ends meet, just 6 weeks later working for more money than he ever imagined possible. I wanted to be Jimmy!

I swallowed, I took the medicine, I swallowed the red pill. And now, a year and a half later, not only am I working in the blockchain industry, I’m working for the world’s leading Ethereum software company.

I’m not here to sell you something, so I have no reason to sugarcoat it. It’s not nearly as easy as they make it sound!

It’s difficult! It’s frustrating! It’s overwhelming! It’s time-consuming!

But it’s also incredibly satisfying and personally fulfilling!

I’ve managed to become a developer! 18 months later. It says so, right there in my title, and there on my certificate as well. And yes, I’m making a good deal of money!

My journey initially began back in 2018 when I first learned about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. I bought a computer specifically designed to mine Litecoin and started investing in other crypto currencies, and generally educating myself about the technology driving this new force of investment. But the journey began in earnest in early 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic started. I was a restaurant manager at the time, and after a lifetime of working in the hospitality industry, I had a desire to abandon the restaurant industry for some years now. I viewed this as an opportunity to escape, and I enrolled in a full-stack developer boot camp that promised to take me from ‘zero to blockchain’. The Bootcamp came with a rather hefty price tag, but the school also offered a zero-up-front ‘Income Sharing Agreement’ program which allowed me to forego the cost upfront and repay it over time once employed. At the time, it seemed like my dominoes were lining up nicely and that I’d be able to start knocking them over, leading me to the promised land and a high-paying career in no time.

Whoa…slow down there Jimmy!

To be fair, the boot camp wasn’t a 6 week affair, but instead a 9 month, 3 days per week engagement with an additional self-paced program after that. We had over 100 students that started the boot camp, but only about 20ish that actually graduated with the certificate. So simply looking at the numbers, there’s a 80% chance you won’t finish what you start…just saying.

There is a general rule of thumb that states that exceptional expertise requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. At the time of this writing, I’ve spent maybe 5000 hours over the past year and a half learning to code, and I can tell you that I am nowhere near half an expert. The world of computer programming is so vast that your 10,000-hour clock doesn’t really start until you decide to focus your attention on a subcategory such as IT Security, UI/UX front-end or back-end, gaming, networking, or the likes of blockchains, their networks and smart contracts.

I wasn’t a complete ignoramus when I started the Bootcamp, I do have an M.B.A after all. But never had I taken a CS class, and beyond pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping, and what I consider an above-average knowledge of programs like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint; I had absolutely NO idea how to get something like ‘Hello World’ to pop up on a computer screen! I didn’t know what Visual Studio Code was. I didn’t know what functions were (outside math vernacular), let alone how to get them to execute. I’ve always been amazed, and intimidated, by the people who can pop open that little black window, begin typing and watch the computer come to life. “I want to be that guy”, I said to myself.

I’d been told by people who knew what they were doing, that I didn’t need a formal education in order to learn how to code; acquire the certificates and that will show employers you know what you’re doing. So I had attempted the ‘self-taught’ approach more than once in the past, with very little success. I’d get started, but become overwhelmed and frustrated, and life would provide enough excuses for me to avoid spending the necessary time, and the learning would slowly fall to the way-side.

Now that I have a solid foundation of coding and know what I’m doing, I understand what they mean. There is so much free material available on the internet (as a programmer, you’ll spend a lot of time looking at that free information), that any educational curriculum will seem like a waste of money to those who know what they’re doing and know where to find the answers they need. But as someone who didn’t know what he was doing, and didn’t know where to look for that information, that curriculum and the structure that came along with the boot camp were vital! I feel like my money was well spent, and I would suggest to anyone considering becoming a computer programmer to invest some time in finding a good school or boot camp and spend the money! I would also suggest finding:

A. a mentor who is willing to answer your questions and point you in the right direction when you’re feeling stuck. Seek out someone who is both patient and available…you’ll need both.

B. a good study partner.

The former will help you find the light; the latter will commiserate with you when you need to vent.

There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers!

Also know that you’re gonna want to invest in some solid equipment. Just like any profession, the better tools you equip yourself with, the more efficiently you’ll be able to tackle your assignments. You’ll eventually have no less than 50 different windows open and screen space will become a commodity. Multiple screens are recommended, I have three, plus a laptop, plus an all in one available.

Probably the biggest obstacle any programmer has to overcome is this: he/she doesn’t know what they don’t know! It’s not until you know what you don’t know that you can begin finding the answers to what you don’t know; then you’ll learn something new you didn’t know that will change how you feel about what it was you originally didn’t know, but now know to be irrelevant based on what you now know (whew!). See what I mean?

Writing code is easy. Writing good code isn’t. Writing good, functional code is even more challenging.

“You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy” — Jane Marczewski

Think of it as learning a new language, such as Spanish, or Russian, or Chinese. Writing code is in essence communicating with a computer, so what you’re embarking on is learning a new language. This language allows you to communicate with your computer and instruct it to work with other computers. You wouldn’t expect to learn and speak Spanish, or French, or Japanese in a short amount of time, so don’t expect to learn to write computer code in a short amount of time either. First, you’re gonna have to learn the alphabet. Then you’ll have to learn to put the letters together to form words. Next, you’ll have to learn to put the words together to form sentences. Then you’ll have to learn the syntax of the language so you can form proper sentences, with proper spelling. Then, to really fit in, you’ll have to learn the slang, the lingo, the shorthand; all of which takes time, effort, practice, and muscle-memory. And if you’re aiming to write a novel, well then you’ve really got your work cut out for you!

The following advice is simply an accumulation of advice I’ve collected from others; they deserve all the credit. I haven’t created anything new here, I’ve just compiled their guidance and added my own experiences:

Step 1. Find a solid school or boot camp to attend and enroll. I realize there will be schedules to coordinate, and spouses to consult; there will be late nights and early mornings involved, and there are a zillion reasons not to enroll, but if you do, and you get through it, you’ll be impressed with yourself on the other side.

Step 2. Realize there is a lot to do between now and the moment you land that first job. Learning to code is frustrating and boring! So frustrating that you have to walk away at times. Have a stress ball available. And know that you’ll be doing a lot of things over and over again, trying to get it to work but it just won’t! It’ll turn out to be a simple typo you just couldn’t pick out among the dizzying glob of text (think The Matrix) you’ve stared at for the past 6 hours, but your buddy can find in 45 seconds. Learning to code also requires a lot of time spent in front of a computer. If that’s unusual for you, like it is for me, then prepare yourself for a lot of alone time.

Step 3. Learn how to use Google. I know, it sounded silly to me at first too, but trust me; you don’t know what you don’t know!

Step 4. Learn to read the DOCS! You’ll spend more time reading about code than you will actually writing code, so get used to it!

Step 5. Learn the lingo. You’ll look foolish trying to fake it in this industry. In the beginning you’ll think to yourself “what is he/she talking about? What is ____(fill in the blank)?”. So learn the lingo and sooner than later you’ll have the confidence that you know what is going on.

Step 6. Begin now to build yourself a reputation.

A. Speak up during your classes; ask questions. Collect the contact info for the people you meet along the way, and stay in touch with them.

B. Do the homework! Programming requires muscle memory; you really need to spend the time, lot’s of it, writing and analyzing the code to really understand it.

C. Begin building your tool chest; This includes acquiring a plethora of accounts, downloading a shit-ton of programs, files, SDKs, IDEs, the list goes on and on, and doesn’t seem to ever end. Here are a few sites/accounts you’ll want (not by any means exhaustive):

I. Programmer related: Github | GoogleDocs | Zoom | Stack Overflow | W3schools | MongoDB | …

II. Social Media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn | Slack | Telegram | Discord | Reddit | TikTok (I know, I know, really?) | Medium | Publish0x | YouTube | …

III. Software: Visual Studio | Visual Studio Code | Postman | Remix | Figma | …

D. Socialize/Network!

  • Whether it’s in a zoom call with like-minded individuals, or via your local Meet-up, or via one (if not several) of the bazillion different social media options; you’ll want and need connections beyond your comfort circle!
  • Hackathons! Join and participate. It’s okay to sit on the sidelines in the beginning, but the more you frequent these environments, the more coding you’ll do, the more people you’ll meet, the more projects you’ll work on, and the better your profile will look.
  • The people I’ve encountered and the friends I’m making along the way, have all been extremely willing and eager to be helpful. I can say without a doubt that the industry is full of kind, friendly, and helpful people, most of whom seem non-judgemental about my lack of knowledge.

Step 7. Work on that resume! This is a ‘show me’ industry! If you’ve been through a boot camp, then you’ll have at least a project or two you can display. My final project was a website; craftsbymckenna.herokuapp.com. My inspiration came from a keychain project my daughter had put together, hence the name Crafts By McKenna. It’s not fully functional at the moment, as it is not secure enough to handle payments, but it’s there amongst the IoT. It was built using React, Cloudinary, MongoDB, Google Authentication, Heroku, and Stripe; and I certainly had a lot of help getting it to work, so a shout out to my peeps, you know who you are!

Step 8. Put yourself out there! I began to write articles, such as the one you’re reading at this very minute, as well as this one about digital horse racing that was picked up by Consensys and posted on their blog site (thank you, Consensys!).

Step 9. Don’t quit learning! There is so much free information online that there is no reason you can’t continue to improve your skills; from now until the end of time. Sites like w3schools.com, CryptoZombies, CryptoHack, and consensys.net offer tons of learning opportunities. Even IBM has it’s own blockchain technology, HyperLedger, and offers plenty of material to learn and with certificates available upon completion.

My timeline of events:

Oct 2017 — Purchases an L3 Antminer from Bitmain; began mining Litecoin.

Dec 2017 — Invested in my first ICO- Electronium (ETN). Still hodling.

Jan 2019 — Lost my first investment via the hacking of the Cryptopia Exchange.

March 2020 — lost job & enrolled in online boot camp.

April 2020 — began studies with ‘pre-boot camp’ online learning material.

July 2020 — boot camp started.

April 2021 — final project presentation.

May 2021 — boot camp ended/began earnestly looking for a programming job.

June 2021 — started blockchain self-study (an extension of the boot camp).

July 2021 — completed my first Hackathon | began my second hackathon as team leader.

August 2021 — completed my second Hackathon as the lead engineer. NFT- Vision-Hack: ONLY!eXchange.online.

August 2021 — published my first articles about NFTs.

August 2021 — acquired my first position in the blockchain industry as a Community Manager for RareMint.network.

August 2021 — acquired my second blockchain related position as a Technical Support Engineer with Consensys, one of the largest blockchain companies in the world.

I hope my little story here is both entertaining and informational, and I hope you don’t feel I’ve wasted your time. If you’ve made it this far, hopefully your feeling motivated and will take the time to visit some of my work and see how far I’ve come…and who knows, maybe you’ll agree that I can call myself a developer.

Scanning the QR code below will take you to my personal website!

The links below take you to my respective accounts.

QRCode takes you to mckaystevenson.com

Github | LinkedIn | Twitter | Reddit | Facebook | Instagram

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