I just left my profession to spend a year working constantly for no pay.
I made the decision on a Friday. For months, I’d been bombarding myself with questions: Should I leave my job? Should I leave my field? I took years to get my Ph.D. How could I possibly switch to something else? Can I do this? Am I being ridiculous? Can I really pick up something totally new at this point in my life?
Then I finally took my own advice and just chose.
Before that Friday, I was working as a clinical psychologist. In that capacity, I’d helped many people stop ruminating about decisions and take action. And here I was, doing the same thing.
I decided on clinical psych as a career when I was 17. I’ve been treating anxiety-related disorders and conducting research in clinical psych since 2002. In 2008, after almost eight years of hard labor, I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Washington. After that, I completed a postdoc researching and treating post-traumatic stress disorder at the VA hospital in Seattle.
By that Friday in February of 2015, I had been practicing at a premier specialty center providing evidence-based therapy, the Evidence Based Treatment Centers of Seattle (EBTCS), for just shy of four years. I was also the Director of Research at EBTCS.
I was doing well. I was in a leadership position. I helped a lot of people.
But something didn’t feel right.
Have you ever had a pair of shoes that you really liked, but they didn’t quite fit right? And you wore them anyway because you really liked them? And then, at some point, you had to face the fact that you couldn’t wear them anymore, even though you loved them?
Ok, bear with me here as I test the limits of this metaphor: It was like that, except that one of the shoes fit better with each passing day, and the other one used to fit well but was now making my feet ache. On the research side of my job, I was developing systems and writing functions in R, the statistical software environment. That shoe felt great. The more nerdy code stuff I did, the happier I felt. The therapist shoe was the one causing blisters.
It was as if some strange, slow, hidden process had been mutating my feet. The shoes were the same, but one fit fabulously and the other was making me limp.
It was confusing.
The weird part is, I didn’t dislike being a therapist, and at times it was still fantastic, but it just felt like I didn’t want to keep doing it forever.
Back to that Friday: I decided to quit. I scheduled the “I’m leaving” conversation that day. Fortunately, I already had an inkling of what I wanted to do next. I knew about Ada.
Ada Developers Academy is a yearlong, tuition-free program that teaches women to be software developers. Yep, computer programming. That’s what I want to do. I quit my established job to spend a year learning to code.
From 9 to 5 every day, I code. I do homework in the evenings and on weekends. I have no income. It is fantastic, crushing, and humbling.
To put it mildly, it was hard to walk away from the profession I’d been pursuing for more than a decade. I gave up a stable salary, lots of autonomy, a tidy professional identity, and a (mostly) flexible schedule that allowed me to go on bike touring vacations on a regular basis. (Side note: Bike touring is awesome!)
Read the second installment in this series: Learning to code: Self-acceptance and Star Trek
Now I’m a student again, starting at the lowest possible rung on the ladder. Sometimes I don’t understand the material. It can be overwhelming. Flexibility? No way! If I miss class, I’ll fall hopelessly behind! Biking and other hobbies (of which I have many) get shoehorned in around the edges.
But here’s the kicker: I love it. I. Am. So. Excited. This is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
GeekWire asked me to periodically write about my experiences at Ada. This is the first in a series of such articles. I’m eager to hear from others interested in Ada, programming, and increasing diversity in tech.