When I first met Coding Dojo Founder Michael Choi, he immediately asked, “Why do you want to leave NASA?” I told him that I didn’t necessarily want to leave NASA, and that it was really his job to tell me why I should leave. He laid out his vision, and challenged me with the idea of leading Coding Dojo’s Washington, D.C. campus. I took that challenge, and stepped away from a career where I was able to program everything from websites to weather balloons. Michael helped me with my decision, and I’m writing this with the hope that it might help you decide what it is you want to do.
I’m thankful for the privilege to be part of such an incredible team at Coding Dojo. In the eight months I’ve been here, we’ve grown from just two instructors to a team of 10. I consider the team in D.C. my friends and a group of thoughtful, caring people that display the kind of integrity that defines the mission of Coding Dojo. We’re invested in other people’s success.
Inspired by TED Talks
So, back to my story: I love watching TED Talks. One day, I came across a talk by Gary Vaynerchuk, “Do what you love! (no excuses).” His message was simple: “Do something that you love — or else.”
The question he raised is something that I’ve thought about for years now, and coincidentally, right before I started working for Coding Dojo: Am I doing what I love?
At the time, I thought I was. I wasn’t working in a dead-end job, or someplace where I was struggling to find happiness. As a senior applications developer working at NASA Langley Research Center, I felt privileged, happy and successful. The atmosphere, history and people I worked with made Langley a place that I’ll never forget. It provided a wonderful lifestyle for my family and allowed me to push, and to expand my knowledge, specifically in the areas of data visualization and data science.
During my time there, I programmed for kiosks in science museums, built websites, data visualization tools, mobile apps and even software for transatlantic zero-pressure weather balloon systems. I am proud of the engineers, scientists, and programmers I worked with for more than seven years and I’ll always be part of NASA in some way. My former colleagues keep in touch and I’m still able to volunteer from time to time. I never thought I would ever leave, but, the grass is always greener on the other side, right?
Doing What I [Thought I] Loved
A few years back, I tried starting my own company, a direct response to that question Gary posed. I thought that running my own company might be the answer. I moonlighted, stayed up late, spent money I had saved up and made a real go at it. I thought I did everything right.
Eventually, I owned over fifty websites and had registered over a hundred domain names. Success, right? Wrong. I was miserable. I was trying to manage and create content for my sites, and at the same time, collaborate with developers and content producers around the world. This was all happening while working my 40 hours/week at NASA—not to mention, raise my son and be a good husband. I barely slept and then I crashed. After about a year I threw in the towel and pleaded “tax deduction” to my wife. She wasn’t impressed.
Finding Coding Dojo
I spent some time off from all side work and just focused on my work at NASA — I forced myself to be content and satisfied. For the most part, I was — even though I would look at job listings and positions from time to time, nothing ever jumped out and grabbed me.
One night I was online and I came across a listing for “Web Development Instructor.” I’d never seen a job like it and I immediately decided to respond. Everything just clicked. After reading the description and looking at the website, I thought, “that’s me.” Within two hours I had the essay questions finished and submitted a CV with no edits or changes. Then I sort of forgot about it. Two weeks later I started talking to Michael Choi, Coding Dojo’s founder. The rest, as they say, is history.
Make Others Successful
So, let’s put this in perspective and add some context. In the summer of 1994, I read the book, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napolean Hill. One point that stuck with me after all these years was Napoleon Hill’s advice: make others successful, and you will be successful. That resonated with me back then and still does today. At the time, I had no idea how to achieve that, and I definitely wasn’t thinking I’d be an instructor at a coding bootcamp. Without knowing, I was given the chance to make a big difference in other peoples’ lives by sharing my expertise and love of computers with them.
Everyday I wake up and I get to live that one bit of advice from Napolean Hill. I have the privilege to work at a place where people are eager to learn something that will transform their lives and provide opportunities for themselves. I feel like I’m guaranteed to be successful because I get to be a part of other peoples’ lives and assist them in achieving their goals. There are times that I’m overwhelmed with a deep feeling of responsibility for this honor. Watching people edit and create new futures for themselves and their family is humbling and a pleasure to be a part of in any capacity.
Join Coding Dojo
Our work is expressed through the people that come to learn and work with us, and some of those people become part of our lives forever. It’s exciting to watch people work so hard to learn how to code. Not only am I proud of them for their effort, I’m grateful and thankful that I’m part of Coding Dojo.
Now that you’ve read my story, you have just one thing to consider. Are you doing what you love? If not, consider joining me at Coding Dojo. Whether you want to enroll as a student or help us teach the next generation of developers, I encourage you to take the next step.
Daniel H. Oostra [Tyson’s Corner, VA], is currently serving as the captain (administrator) responsible for all on-site activities at the Washington, D.C. campus of Coding Dojo. His current hobbies include: 3D printing, augmented reality and making great pho stock. You can email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to Melissa Cafiero, Charlie Mead, Tim Chen and A. Rae Gaines for their edits, candor and suggestions.