Self made, a popular hip hop mantra has always been comical to me, until lately. I found it preposterous that anyone could be self made given the likelihood that we all, at some point had a coach, teacher, or role model along with access to information, resources or inspiration. It would then be hard to argue that your success, at least in some part, cannot be attributed to these things.
Upon further deliberation my perspective on being self made has evolved. At 6’2, Stephen Curry’s draft scouting profile was replete with weaknesses, albeit ones that seem absurd in retrospect. He isn’t now Steph Curry with the Shot simply because his dad is a NBA veteran which gave him access to state of the art arenas. The mere presence of inspiration and resources aren’t solely responsible for his range, consistency and accuracy. Steph Curry pulling up at half court with confidence and flicking his wrist at more than 3000 degrees per second is something to behold. It is as exciting to watch as the most explosive dunks and dizzying crossovers. Pundits didn’t give him a chance but an unwavering work ethic and stubborn discipline did. Steph Curry is self made.
In January of 2014, a friend of mine sent me link to CS50 because I told him I wanted to become a software engineer. Upon completing that, I started the popular Stanford iOS course because I wanted to write software for iPhones and iPads. As with the Harvard course, I had to watch some of the lectures multiple times and sought online help with the assignments. Completing that course at the time required a lot of discipline. The mere availability of these courses, taught by experts in their field and distributed for free wasn’t enough for me to complete these courses. My desire to be a software engineer had to match my work ethic and discipline. Importantly, my obligations to my family and job couldn’t take a back seat as I pursued this goal. It was up to me, and me only to make the sacrifices required to make this work.
Completing these courses gave me the ability to make simple apps but I needed a job working as a software engineer. This meant I had to network with other engineers and prepare for the dreaded technical interview. I filled out at least 20 applications; rejections, some silent, came pouring in. The the first few interviews I landed, I bombed, but I kept practicing. At the recommendation of engineers online, I bought Solving it By Computer, The Algorithm Design Manual, Cracking the Coding Interview and read them respectively. These books taught me a lot and bolstered my critical thinking and problem solving skills.
In February of 2016, Cate Huston who I didn’t follow at the time sent out this tweet which was retweeted onto my timeline by Gem Barret. I reached out and she was incredibly gracious. She scheduled a hangout and we spoke about what I was looking for. She took a look at my resume and suggested some changes. Further, she sent me some additional technical interviewing resources. I followed through and followed up. We scheduled a mock interview , which she did after flying back from South Korea and waking up at 6am. That helped me to identify my weak points which I sought to improve. Finally, she connected me with someone she knew was hiring. A few months later I had an interview at Glowforge. It’s been 8 months working my dream job.
There are a few notable things here. To be successful, it helps to put yourself in earshot of information that might prove useful. On Twitter, the majority of the people I follow are people I have never met but who have met the challenges I anticipate on my journey. Secondly, a mentor may have insights into what you can do to be successful but they cannot do the work for you! It is very important to follow up and follow through.
Now that I have a job, my goal is to become a better software engineer and help others who are starting out. To this end, I find mentors that I observe and talk to on a regular basis. My timeline mostly consist of content from iOS developers. I spend a good amount of my free time doing continuing education work or helping others. The journey continues.
Mentors and coaches can point you a path to follow but your success is more dependent on you following through and following up. self.made() is about taking yourself in its current state and transforming to one that you find more desirable. Only you can do that. It is true that this journey could vary remarkably from one person to next. It is true that society’s architecture is such that it may cast shadows on even the brightest dreams. But find mentors, reach out to them, follow up, and follow through. One day, you might be self.made().