Episode 48 – What’s more exciting – Working on aircraft or software?

It doesn’t matter where you begin so long as you begin. Regardless of any of your personal stats or background, if you want to gain your footing in the tech industry, there’s always a way in when you put sheet will and effort towards meeting that goal. Our next guest, Amanda Daley, shows us just that.

Amanda began her journey as a college student, but like most students, you need outside funding to complete your education. Amanda met this challenge by joining the military, specifically, the U.S. Air Force where she spends her time working on aircraft. In her free time, Amanda is pursuing her education in software development through an online coding school and facing the many challenges that all new and aspiring software developers face head-on. Listen in while Arsalan Ahmed and Amanda Daley discuss the trials and tribulations of the journey into tech and how to overcome them.

Amanda Daley’s Bio:

Amanda Daley is currently active duty in the U.S. Air Force and working on aircraft while pursuing the tech skills needed to one day become a software programmer. Amanda came from a military family and it was during college that she chose to enlist and serve our country while also furthering her education in the tech industry.

Episode Highlights and Show Notes:

Arsalan: Hi everyone. Today my guest is Amanda Daley.  Amanda is not your everyday developer or new developer. She’s doing something pretty cool. I think its way cooler than writing programs or making websites. She’s fixing really complicated air crafts for the Air Force. Amanda, how are you?

Amanda: Hi. I’m doing well.

Arsalan: It’s so amazing to have someone on whose doing active duty and wanting to be a developer. You came across this podcast somehow and you were inspired to get in touch with me. How did that come about?

Amanda: I got onto your podcast by searching through software developer podcasts and it popped up. At the end of your show, you always say “I want to talk to you even if you’re a little bit nervous” and I said, “hey, he’s talking directly to me.”

Arsalan: That’s exactly right. I am talking to you. I’m talking to people like you because I have been there. I have experienced it. When you’re starting out, you’re not sure. Even if you are someone like me who has been in this field and doing this for many years, I still get nervous because there are lots of things I don’t know. I know some of the things that I’m not very good at. So, I’m self-conscious. It happens and it’s going to happen to you. But, you found some courage and you did get in touch with me and now you’re on the show. I think that’s great.

Arsalan: So, if you’re listening to this show right now. Go ahead and let me know if you want to be on this show and talk about your experiences, or if you have any comments about Amanda’s.

Arsalan: Amanda, the thing that struck me was that what you’re doing right now is not something that is undesirable. A lot of people would want to be in the Air Force and fix air craft or fly them. That sounds pretty exciting. So, how did you get into the military?

Amanda: I was going to college and I started to run low on money. My dad was in the Army. So, I figured that I could go the military route to get some money for college. I picked the Air Force.

Arsalan: Is it hard work?

Amanda: It is.

Arsalan: Do they make you run laps? What do they make you do?

Amanda: There is a pt. They do test you for physical fitness all the time, but I find it more difficult to just work on the air craft when you’re outside and it’s hot, you have to climb up the stairs and worry about your safety equipment and all the noise that goes on out there. I think that’s the biggest thing.

Arsalan: Do you feel pressure from the idea that if you make a mistake someone could die and you really need to be very careful. Do you think that is a weight of expectation on you all the time?

Amanda: I do, but I think you get used to it because everyone feels that way out there and if you have leadership who believes in you and treats you like people then it gets better. I’m not so worried about getting it wrong because you have the books to fall back on and other people to ask for advice. After a while you just know. When you get into a higher level of any craft, you get more confident in it.

Arsalan: Yeah, that’s totally true. This is something that we mention in this podcast a lot. Once you have done something enough times, you have this self-belief. Even if you find a problem that you haven’t solved before, you have this inner confidence that you can do it. In fact, a lot of times you feel that no one else can do it better than you. You’re just as good as anybody else. So, if it’s a new problem, you can probably solve it just as good as anybody else. This is exactly the skills and the quality that you acquire once you have been doing software development for a particular client over a period of time. What you’re learning in your job when you get out of the military and become a software developer, I think you will carry this confidence with you. What you’ve got to do is understand that what you’re learning now, you will have a similar way of learning when you are doing software development.

Arsalan: Now, people don’t know much about you yet. We know that you are in the Air Force and you want to be a developer, but tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell us something interesting that happened to you or just introduce yourself.

Amanda: My name is Amanda and I’m a student. I like to learn things. That’s why I call myself a student. I enjoy the air craft because I get to learn the different systems and when I got into computer programming, I was so fascinated with learning the language of the computer. Then I realized there was another language and I wanted to learn that. Then I found that you could do this and I wanted to learn how to do that. I love to get involved in new things.

Arsalan: That’s great! That tells me that your interest in software development is right on the money because this is exactly the kind of attitude you need. If you have this almost child-like feeling of needing to learn this, kind of like a child in a candy store where you have all these technologies and all these different software and working with problems through software, if you have that drive, then there’s nothing that can stop you from succeeding. All you have to do is take the time to do it. If you’ve done it in your current profession, it probably took you many hours of practice and study to get to a point where you’re confident about what you’re doing, right?

Amanda: Oh, yes. There were so many hours of just reading things and now that I think of it, getting advice from my peers helps out a lot, which I think is why I’m not as confident in programming because I haven’t had people around me who know how to do it and can look at my work and say “oh, you’re doing good. Keep doing this” or “stop doing that.” I just feel like I’ve been stumbling around.

Arsalan: Yeah. That’s exactly how a lot of us feel when we get started doing something. It happened to me and I know a lot of people that it happens to. They go in there and they’re unsure of themselves and they don’t have mentors. You don’t have a mentor and you’re just trying to wing it. Then, it’s just going to be hard because you are your own mentor. It’s just the hardest way to learn.

Arsalan: In our industry of software development in the last few years, since I’ve been in it, this is how it’s always been done. It’s only been recent that I’ve seen a lot of movement towards structured mentorship or unstructured mentorship. It’s just a little bit of empathy and a little bit of handholding doesn’t hurt. A lot of people believe that the right way or the only way to get a new software developer onboard or to get them started in software development is to throw them in the deep end and see if they don’t burn out or if they succeed. If you drown, that means that you aren’t meant to be a software developer. That’s kind of the attitude that a lot of people have.

Amanda: I think that’s the attitude a lot of people have about a lot of different things. Just go do it and you’ll see how it is. People will say to just go start a project or just get into GitHub, but I don’t know how. Can you show me where that is? Can I have just one person to tell me if I’m on the right track?

Arsalan: Then, if you don’t know more, why don’t you just Google it?

Amanda: Oh, yeah. I’ve actually resorted to Google a lot as a go-to for some of the challenges. So, I’m trying to learn to program through Free Code Camp, have you heard of that?

Arsalan: Actually, I have not. Tell me a little more about it.

Amanda: So, there’s this website called freecodecamp.com. It’s basically a path to a full stack developer certificate. They have a series of challenges culminating in a project for a nonprofit. They have a Facebook account and get-togethers. I haven’t actually gone to meet face to face with people and there are some challenges that say to try pair programming. I look around me. There’s nobody. So, I’ll just do it myself, which is why I spent two weeks working on something that might have less time. So, it’s a pretty cool thing and it works for me because I don’t have to be somewhere specific and it doesn’t cost any money, which is one thing that turned me off from going to any code camps. They were like “just give us $1, 000,” but I don’t have $1,000 to give them and I don’t have a few weeks that I can spend just coding. I have maybe a couple of hours a day.

Arsalan: And that’s a reality for most of us. Most of us have lives, obligations, financial obligations, and family obligations. We can’t just drop everything. There’s a certain segment of the population, a certain demographic that this type of lifestyle works for them. That’s the five-percenters. The other 95%, the rest of us, we can’t do it. We have to incorporate software development learning into our life the way it’s structured. For you to be able to spend 1 to 3 hours a day working on improving your skills, that is really commendable. This is the right way of doing it anyway. Instead of you spending 10 hours and burning out, that doesn’t help. Consistency of doing a little bit of it every day leaves it on your mind all the time because you’re solving problems little by little. This is the real world. If you become a professional software developer, you will find that most of your time is spent doing other activities, other work that is not technically software development. You will be figuring out what to do, which could be called requirement analysis, requirement solicitation, or requirement gathering.

Amanda: Oh no. That was the worst class.

Arsalan: That was a class that you took?

Amanda: Yes.

Arsalan: Well that’s kind of the real world because you need to know the reason getting correct requirement is so important. It is because if you don’t have it, then you are going to build something that nobody wants. It’s like taking a year off and building a new car engine that doesn’t have anybody who needs it. Nobody is asking for it. So, that was a wasted effort, obviously. If somebody is paying you, they don’t want you to waste your effort.

Arsalan: Requirements are important. They’re boring, but important. What are kind of controversial are the meetings, all day meetings, or sometimes half day meetings that you have with clients or people who are just hashing out solutions. They are sometimes just a total waste of time and it happens a lot. Do you have that experience too?

Amanda: Yes. Anytime there is someone in a higher position of authority who wants to hear everyone and everyone comes in and says what they think that person wants to hear, that’s not an effective meeting. There was another one where everyone at the same level got together and said that there was a problem we need to solve and we’re just going to be in here to talk about that problem. That was the most effective meeting that I had ever been in because there was nobody that we were trying to convince. We were all on the same level. There was no one that others were trying to suck up to.

Arsalan: Right and that’s exactly the right type of meeting. So, even if you’re trying to come together as a small team, you still probably won’t be able to get anywhere even if you don’t have an overlord because it would be hard to build consensus. But, if you have a small team meeting of 3 to 6 people, then you can get together and hash out a solution or try to find the best out of a couple of different options. That’s a great way of doing it because then you avoid the back and forth of I said this and he said that and she said this. We just get altogether and come out with consensus. That’s great and that helps a lot. When you get out of that meeting, you feel like you’ve accomplished something and can move forward. A lot of times there are meetings that are scheduled regularly and sometimes they’re called scrum meetings. Scrum in software development.

Amanda: Oh, I’ve heard about this. People used to write about it that it was the best.

Arsalan: It has a lot of merits if you do it the way you are supposed to do it because the idea for a scrum is that this methodology allows for the developers to take ownership. The morning scrum calls or meetings that you have allow you to structure the status and make it very quick so you don’t waste time having long meetings to talk about what everyone is doing. They are very structured, so they should end in five or ten minutes. That’s why they’re called stand up meetings a lot of times because you’re not allowed to sit because if you sit, that means you are in for the long haul and you shouldn’t be. It’s just a way of knowing what everyone else is doing and what may be blocking you or someone else from finishing something. Scrum meetings are more like “show me or prove to me that you’re working and not wasting time.”

Arsalan: It’s a good idea to learn about different methodologies. Have you heard about this term called Agile software development or Agile methodology?

Amanda: Yes. I actually have the Agile for Dummies book.

Arsalan: Okay, well that’s good. Okay, let’s talk about what you learned.

Amanda: Mostly they were pitting Agile vs Waterfall method. Basically, instead of doing one thing after another, there are some things that you can do two at a time. You don’t have a direct line. You just figure out the requirements, write out a plan, and then do it. While you’re doing it, you can look back at the requirements if they change. I did mine on video games because I like video games. So, you could do the art part of it, figure out the requirements and the plan for the art, and add in a different group and for whoever is doing the planning stages for the action.

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