Make Big Changes in Your Life by Celebrating Small Successes

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The following post was written by Jenny Allar, Developer and Galvanize Full Stack Graduate.

Joining the Galvanize community was a pivotal point in my life. To give you an idea of what my life looked like before moving out to Colorado, I’ll give you the quick and dirty version of how I got to gSchool (now known as Galvanize Full Stack). I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Television Production almost 10 years ago and was convinced that I was about to embark on a very successful career as a big time Hollywood movie videographer and editor… all while living in Detroit, Michigan.

Needless to say, things didn’t work out exactly the way I’d planned. While I did find work at public access channels and community colleges, I decided to look into other options for employment. I’d already been discussing a move with my wife, Lauren, and a former gSchooler suggested the program to me. I looked into it, and after some semi-serious encouragement from Lauren, decided to apply.

It was quite the experience trying to explain gSchool to friends and family in Detroit. The most common misconception came from the name. “gSchool? Like gangster school?! That’s so cool!” or my mom telling her quilting club that I was attending Gmail School. I guess they were all hoping I could help them make their own custom email signatures.

Slowly but surely, people started to understand why I was moving. The next challenge would be actually getting to Boulder in one piece.

At this point, without realizing it, I started to celebrate small successes. It helped in making such a big life change seem much more manageable. For example:

  • We put our house up for sale and sold it. Success.
  • We found an apartment in Boulder. Success.
  • We made the 1300 mile drive with two dogs and a cat without dying. Success.
  • I found the perfect little niche of lesbian developers at Galvanize. Success.

Then the program started. A few weeks into the cohort, I was talking with a friend and member of the Denver tech scene. She nonchalantly said to me “Yeah, I heard that new Boulder cohort is just an absolute shit show!” While I initially took offense, I really thought about our class and realized a few things:

  • We were 26 adult students in a completely new kind of educational environment
  • The instructors and TA had never really done this before
  • No one really knew what to expect

A huge part of what moved us all along toward success was the retrospectives we did every other week. In the beginning, it was what you might expect: a total mess. Put a ton of pressure, huge financial investment, and a foreign learning model on 26 adults and you end up with a room full of toddlers.

Thankfully, the Galvanize team was patient, gracious, and listened to even the most ridiculous of our requests. We didn’t like the chairs. So Jeff Dean, lead instructor spent a day swapping them out. We didn’t like the lights. So the team hired a lighting consultant. We wanted faster computers. So the instructional team gave us the option to upgrade. They did it all, even when student requests were coming at them nonstop.

Once we made it over the hump of learning the basics, we got into a groove and started acting like adults. The test-driven development that we were learning became a great lesson to use in a lot of aspects of life. Write small tests and celebrate the successes of them passing. A few examples of small but important things I accomplished in those early days:

  • Making it through my first assessment
  • Building a completely unstyled application that created a list of dog names
  • Surviving a socially-taxing happy hour with my peers

Lauren and I began to move from celebrating small successes to looking at the big picture – do we really live in this beautiful city? Is this really our life? Is someone actually going to pay me to do this cool stuff? As you might have guessed, we didn’t move back to Michigan. We ended up deciding to buy a house in Colorado, and I accepted a job offer at Welltok, where I work as a software engineer. Welltok has a partnership with IBM, so I’ve been lucky enough to do some really interesting and exciting work, like interact with and train IBM Watson on a daily basis.

After graduating from Galvanize, I’ve been able to continue and build upon my relationship with the community by attending demo days, happy hours, and even mentoring a student in the last cohort. It’s exciting to see new programmers come through the ranks, more campuses open, and the curriculum continue to evolve. This experience was one of the most intense things I ever took on – throughout my journey, things were never easy, and my inner toddler came out more than a few times.

But the most important thing I learned since starting at Galvanize is this: Almost everything in life is a shit show, and the only way to work your way through is to celebrate the small successes.