- Ain't no gettin' offa this train -

11th August '18

All the blogs and articles that I've read by people that are on a path like the one I'm on, where they have no experience and are trying to break-into programming, follow a similar theme.

It's one of desperation. It's one of failure. Until suddenly, one day, they've made it.

I thought that this video that I stole from YouTube encapsulated that struggle very well. It encapsulates what I see for myself going forward.

Not the stuff about business or the stuff about paperwork. But the same feeling of a long, hard, uncertain path, that starts to feel like it might never end, until an ecstatic moment of relief when you realise that you have learnt enough that you can finally make a living. A moment that all through the journey, you felt might never come, and for many it won't

My goal is to do everything in my power to make sure that I'm not one of them, and just pray that will be enough.

And it might not be. My best might not be good enough. But I'd rather fail than spend my life not knowing.

I admire the guy in this video for his entrepreneurial spirit in starting his own business whilst he was learning. I'm not sure that I'm quite so resourceful.

My backup plan, should I need one, will probably be to start teaching online, but that won't be enough to make a living, rather to just slow-down the inevitable haemorrhaging of money that's going to come from living without a job.

My hope though, is really that I have enough savings that I can survive long enough to get onto the bottom rung of an employment ladder, or to establish income from programming some other way, like freelancing.

It's why finding £3,000 in a drawer the other day was, without wanting to sound melodramatic, a life-changing moment.

However many more weeks or months that affords me, could be the difference between making it or not.

It's also why I've been mulling over the cost of a bootcamp for such a long time.

If I didn't pay for the tuition of a bootcamp, how long could I survive on that money? And what do I expect when I do get a job?

I've said for a long time that whenever I do leave Bangkok, there's going to be an inevitable step-down in my quality of life.

For all the frustrations that I have with my current job, it does afford me comfort.

A small, but very nice apartment to myself, in the city centre. All my bills paid, I eat very well, and always even have a little left-over to save at the end of the month.

Things are going to get a Hell of a lot worse than that before they get any better.

Could I afford that lifestyle in London with my first salary as an inexperienced programmer?

Not a chance. I'm years away from affording the comfort that I already have, which is why leaving is such a hard ask. It's very hard to voluntarily make your life worse. But to me it's worth it. It's worth it so that my life is no longer stagnant.

My job now affords me a good life, but it isn't going anywhere.

I wouldn't want to be a manager of my school, and there are no other promotions.

I could stay in teaching and financially improve by, say, getting a master's or a PGCE and teaching at an international school but... teach kids? For the rest of my life?

Just no.

And the longer I stay in my current job, the more I'm trapped.

It's not like I'm paying a pension in Thailand, and they'll spit me out as soon as I'm no longer of value, and then what?

Come back to England at retirement age, with no pension to live on and no national insurance paid?

Or... I take this years-long dip in quality of life now, in the hope...the hope, that at some point in the future, years away, it pays off.

That's the long-play here, really.

Not only is programming something that I think that I want to do (only time will tell if I'm right), but it has the potential to give me a far better future than I'm currently facing. Things are just going to have to get worse before they get better.

One thing that I learned from my Udemy course, was that if you're only learning from books or from videos, but you're not actually stepping away and putting into practice the things you're being taught and using them independently, then you're not really learning at all. So when I did a reset after getting back to London, deciding to start from square one again using this book, I promised myself that this time, I'd use what I learned to build my own creations, however basic they may be.

To that end I spent maybe twelve hours building a functioning 'Hangman' app.

Yes, I know that's an obscene amount of time for something so basic. But for the first time, I went from starting with a blank screen, to writing my own code, to having a fully functional app that could deploy on an iPhone or iPad.

I'm kind of proud of that.

If you ignore the time that I was studying this Udemy course, which you can't entirely although you almost can seeing as I've forgotten pretty much everything, at the time I started making this Hangman game (August 5th), I'd only been learning for about nine days.

Anyway, here's a video of it in the iOS simulator.

I didn't pay much attention to appearance, that would be easy to improve, so don't judge it based on how it looks. This challenge was about coding the functionality of things like randomly selecting a new word, having the correct number of question marks for that word appear at the top, registering what letter you chose and disabling that button, whilst entering that letter into the word if it was present, or taking away a life if it wasn't, restarting the game from scratch once the words was either completed or once there were no lives remaining.

The experience of this gave me a couple of takeaways, one good, one bad.

The good was how much I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had one session of more than six hours where I didn't take my eyes off my laptop, and I just enjoyed the process of programming.

You have a problem, how can you solve that problem?

Call me crazy, but that's fun to me.

The negative was that it was an incredibly long process. And sure, if I knew what I was doing, it would have taken me fifteen minutes, but difficulty is relative. And I was happy to do it now, because I was creating something, by choice, that I wanted to create.

If I had put that same time and effort into something, day after day, creating something for someone else that had been assigned to me, would it still have had that same allure, or would it have been as tedious as any other job?

I guess that there's only one way that I'm going to find that out

With the smugness of a functioning app in my back-pocket, Wednesday rolled around, and that was the day that I was going to a talk at Le Wagon in London.

It didn't start until 7pm, and was just over an hour from my house by train.

I left about 3pm.

Why?

Well the real reason is that I figured... hey, if I'm in a new part of London, I may as well check-out the local vegan restaurants.

What really happened was they were all too expensive for me to eat at, so I spent the extra time mulling around the area, thinking about if this could actually be a place that I'd live.

Le Wagon London is in Hoxton.

Nope, I've never heard of Hoxton either.

Lived here since I was born, never once heard the word 'Hoxton' ushered.

And although some of the people that boarded the train to get there looked like they'd just escaped rehab, Hoxton itself was actually kind of cool.

A bit hipster, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

One quirk of Bangkok, is that there's a very standardised view of what is considered attractive, and everyone more or less aspires to it.

Here there were so many different looks and races and languages being spoken, that it was refreshing to see a little individuality.

There was a black girl sitting outside a restaurant eating pizza, wearing old fashioned pilot's goggles on her forehead, with the lenses Tipp-Exed out.

Why?

I'm not sure, but it is a perhaps welcome change from Bangkok when people aren't afraid to be different.

I said a couple of blogs ago that my immediate impression of Brits after getting off the plane, wasn't the best.

It didn't help that I was jet-lagged and not of especially good mind. But it also didn't help that the area surrounding Heathrow airport is kind of a dump.

My first impression was looking out of the car window on the way home and... well maybe I'd be pissed-off if I lived next to an airport too, but you get my point.

I've softened that negative stance now I've been back a little while.

I mean there are certainly people here that you see or hear, and immediately think... I don't want to get too close to that guy. And there are far more people like that here, than there are in Bangkok. But when the area surrounding Heathrow is the first thing that you see after getting off the plane, it can only get better from there.

I didn't get an especially good first impression of Hoxton either, because my first port of call were these nearby vegan restaurants.

If I'm going to be studying here everyday for nine weeks, then I want to see what's available in the local area and... oh, that's expensive.

On a very lavish meal, I might occasionally spend £8 in a restaurant in Bangkok, but that'll be getting a couple of dishes and a drink, and will be a once in a while kind of thing.

Here... ohh £8, just for a burger. You want me to pay another £4 to get a side and a drink? And you want a tip?

Yeah, I'm... I'm suddenly not that hungry.

If you look back at the table that I put into the last blog, restaurant prices in London are more than three times those of Bangkok, where as grocery prices are almost comparable.

Why would you ever go out to eat here?

Perhaps the time saved by not eating was a good thing though, because it gave me the time to wander around the local area, and just watch how people lived their lives, seeing if I could imagine that being me. Could I live here and be happy? And... I think I decided that I kind of could.

Bali was still my most likely place to study, but I hadn't ruled-out London, mainly because I saw there being some networking advantages of studying in the city that I plan on living and working in afterwards. And as my mind tends to do, I was thinking of all the logistics.

The train journey to Hoxton was actually cheaper than I expected.

In my mind, the cost of public transportation in London is extortionate, hence why I've walked everywhere for the last few years.

And when you compare it to Bangkok, it is extortionate. But a one way trip to Hoxton only cost £3 on the train, and took 67 minutes.

Assuming a nine-week course of studying five days per week, I'd have to make 45 return journeys and... that's only £270.

I say only, that's almost a month's rent for me in Bangkok, where my train to work costs an equivalent of 44p, and if I take the bus home, it ranges from free to 33p. But... it's not as bad as I was anticipating.

One thing that I did look-up as I was mulling around, waiting for 7pm, was the cost to buy a decent bike.

When I studied in college, I used to cycle there. When I studied at university I cycled there. When I used to go to my gym here, I cycled there.

I'm no stranger to commuting by bike, even if I haven't done it for a while, and it hasn't been lost on me how little exercise I've done since getting back.

I've gone running a couple of times, but my knee is in a phase of fairly consistent pain, so I've resisted doing any more than that.

In fact this morning I got up planning to run, but just walking to the bathroom hurt enough to make me think... yeah, let's not push this.

The impact of running on your knees can be pretty damaging.

But what's an alternative that's very low-impact?

Cycling.

And if I was going to have this long commute everyday, then why not make it my workout? Kill two birds with one stone.

According to Google Maps, Le Wagon London is 19km away. So cycling 38km everyday would give me something that my lifestyle's currently missing.

It wouldn't exactly be the same as staying in a guesthouse next to the school and the beach in Bali, but it's a more positive way of looking at it.

In my time before this talk, I also looked-up the cost to rent an apartment in London.

As I've said already, I'm accepting of a drop in quality of life... to an extent. I'd still want a place of my own though. My days of having roommates are, I hope, long behind me.

It wouldn't need to be the biggest or the nicest apartment in the world. Just something small and simple in a decent area. And based on what I said above, I wouldn't even mind a commute if it could double as my exercise for the day.

I've never had to rent in London before, so this is all completely foreign to me, but I concluded that £1,000 per month would cover the rent of somewhere decent enough.

From the time in Bangkok where I recorded every penny I spent over the span of six months, I can tell you that roughly a third of the money that I spent went on rent, roughly a third on food, and roughly a third on everything else.

That's obviously not going to translate directly to London, because again looking at the table that I added to the last blog, rent in London is almost three times that of Bangkok, but groceries are almost comparable. Utilities would be more expensive in London though, but as a rough guess, what would I need to live in what I deem an acceptable level of comfort?

£30,000 per year? Maybe £25,000 at a push?

It'd still be a step-down in quality of life from how I have things in Bangkok, but I could live with it.

According to livingwage.org, "the London living wage as an annual salary might be £10.20 × 37.5 × 52 = £19,890."

The average nurse in London makes £25,128.

So that's the sort of range I'm aiming for to have a decent, if lesser quality of life here.

And could I make that as an inexperienced programmer?

Well according to totaljobs.com, the average salary for coding jobs in London is £47,000.

No one is going to pay me anything like that for a very long time, but I'd be happy enough to get their basement figure of £27,000.

If I'm able to secure even the worst-paying programming jobs, I can live on that.

This was all starting to seem very feasible.

I can actually see myself happily living here, I can see it being financially viable.

After a lot of wandering and mulling things over, I eventually walked to Le Wagon at about 6:30pm.

It was a good idea to get there early because it meant that I got a chance to hangout with and talk to people, before the talk that I was actually going to see started. And that free-time was incredibly valuable.

The current students were in a class when I arrived, so the people just hanging-out drinking beer, were former students, who were now helping-out here as teaching assistants.

I asked them about all kinds of things; basically all the stuff I've wondered about in this blog. And they couldn't have been more friendly, or spoken about this school any more highly.

And I don't think there was any in-genuineness in their answers, they just thought really, really highly of this place.

Almost made it seem too perfect.

I went in expecting a programming bootcamp to be similar in intensity to my CELTA, which was one of the hardest four weeks of my life.

It was going to be this maddeningly intense course, and afterwards it would be a long road ahead to find a job.

Even if false, I think it would be a good attitude to take into it, to be prepared for the worst.

But no, they all seem to have loved it so much that they never left, and the people that have looked for jobs, all seem to have found them fairly easily.

I did definitely appreciate from going there, the value I could get from studying in this city.

Of getting to know all of these people, and hearing what they know about all the local jobs.

I'd been welcomed with open arms, just wandering in off the street, so I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to do as alumni of the Bali school either. But it probably wouldn't be quite the same as studying here and getting to know people for nine weeks.

Once they came out fo their class, I also spoke to one or two of the current students, to get their thoughts, and similarly, they spoke very highly. Didn't seem to have any regrets about studying here.

It just seemed an all around, positive atmosphere to be a part of.

I was definitely one of the older people in the room, but not so much that I felt out of place. I might not be able to say that if I stayed in Bangkok for another five years. Now it just feels... right. It feels like the right time to take this shot and to see where it gets me.

The talk itself was with a guy named Alexis Wiazmitinoff (try saying that quickly) who's a product manager of UniVista at the London Stock Exchange (I think I've got that right). And even this was conducted very well.

It was basically a town hall meeting, where he answered questions that anybody had, and was clearly a very bright guy.

I came out, not feeling even an ounce of negativity about what I'd just seen.

I was planning on quitting my job in the next day or so anyway. And this day in London to think about my possible lifestyle, and to look at Le Wagon, was the second last thing that might make me change my mind.

The last was that at 9am the next morning, I had a video call with the manager of Le Wagon Bali. And we spoke for around fifty minutes about all kinds of things.

I had a lot of questions to ask, particularly about the importance of networking, about why the course in Bali is eight weeks instead of nine (it's because visas last for sixty days, and so unlike London, on five out of the eight Saturdays we would study instead of having a day-off) and about life in Bali in general.

He wanted to know about my background and motivations, and had particular concern about my history as a teacher, because apparently in the past, they've had teachers who were very rigid in how they thought than things should be taught, and ultimately caused problems.

I tried to ease his concerns by saying that I'm receptive to the idea that there is more than one way to do something. He seemed fine with that, and we set next Thursday (a week later) as a deadline for me to have done the prerequisite work necessary to sign-up to study there.

I was also honest with him that I was still considering London as well, and we left it at that.

We'd speak again in a week.

He did tell also tell me that ten of the twenty spots for October 1st were currently filled, and that if everyone who was at the same stage of the application process as I was, did sign-up, then they would be full, but most likely they won't.

I certainly don't have long to mull over this decision though. From today, maybe another four or five days.

I'm yet to actually to contact the London branch as a prospective student, because Bali has always been at the top of my list. But I'll work by the assumption that London is a viable option (meaning that they still have places available for October), and I now have four or five days to choose between them, or my forgotten third option: To not go to a bootcamp and just study on my own.

I'm loving studying Swift and I'm making great progress, and Le Wagon, despite being what I see as the most reliable route into programming, is a step away from what I'm doing and what I'm enjoying now, so I haven't completely disregarded it as an option.

Throughout this whole process, I've struggled to make any kind of decision until time has forced me to do so. But one deadline which I had now reached, was whether or not to resign from my job, and there wasn't any doubt in my mind.

I hadn't for a moment since getting off the plane, envisioned ever going back and working at my school.

In fact I had to keep on reminding myself that I did still technically work there, just so I wouldn't forget to resign.

So despite still lacking clarity about what it is that I ultimately will be doing, I was now committed to seeing this programming endeavour through to its conclusion.

It still might end badly. It still might end in failure. But in the words of Barret from Final Fantasy VII, "there ain't no gettin' offa this train we're on, till it gets to the end of the line."

I'm committed to this now. And whatever the ultimate outcome, whether it be success or failure, I'm going to keep on going until I get there.

I don't want to spend the rest of my life asking 'What if..?'

The last thing I really had to do before resigning, was speak to my ex-girlfriend in Bangkok and just... clear it with her, I guess you'd say.

In the vision I now had in my mind, I'd likely be living in London again by the end of the year. We'd be thousands of miles apart, and this is the one and only person in Bangkok that means something to me. And although there was probably nothing she could've said to make me change my mind, and nor was she ever going to try, I still wanted to... just tell her I was leaving Bangkok, before resigning from my job and making it official.

So we messaged for a bit, and it did make me sad.

She told me that she'd never forget anything about me, wishing me the best, and to not forget about her.

Seeing as I'm in London now, but will be back in Bangkok in two weeks, these 'goodbye' messages felt a little misplaced. Especially as we've barely seen each other recently anyway, thanks to conflicting work schedules. And as I told her, 'if I come to Bangkok on vacation once per year, I'll see you as much as I have done recently.'

It was still sad to know that I'm going to be moving to the other side of the world from one of the few people that I really care about, but with that done... time to resign from my job.

There was a part of me that wanted to go out with a big 'fuck you,' highlighting every instance of my boss' incompetence, but I didn't really see what purpose that would serve.

Were it not for him, I probably wouldn't be leaving this job and going down this path anyway, so his incompetence pushed me in the right direction, so no need to be angry about it.

I just composed a very short email, half of which was taken-up with visas:

Visas were important to know about, because I'm going to be entering Thailand again two weeks from now, and if I try to enter on my current work visa, but it turns-out that my work has cancelled it (as they're supposed to do when an employee leaves), then it could cause me problems.

But with that little thought-out email, I left the longest-tenured position I've ever held, and found myself unemployed for the first time in almost three years.

He responded the next day and... it's done.

There ain't on gettin' offa this train now.

And if you asked me exactly what is going to happen from here, I'd say there's a 95% chance that I'll be studying in a bootcamp on October 1st, and that it's almost certainly going to be the one in Bali.

Missing-out on the networking opportunities that I'd get by studying in London does concern me, but the lure of studying by the beach compared to London is just too strong.

When I was speaking with the manager of the Bali branch, he told me that was the reason that he opened the school there. He thought it was important to balance-out the stress of programming, and what better way than having your school a five-minute walk from a tropical beach? He even held-up his laptop and showed me the view out of the window.

Couple that with how much cheaper it is than London, and if all goes well, I'd assume that is what I'll be doing.

The one sort-of... dilemma that's still lingering, is how much I'm enjoying learning Swift. That's the programming language to develop iOS apps.

The Le Wagon bootcamps use multiple languages, starting with Ruby, the basics of which are what you learn in this prerequisite work.

The dilemma that I'm having, is that I'm loving studying Swift, but this prerequisite work about Ruby is fucking boring.

In my Swift book I've now completed the first eleven projects, each making a functioning app. The most recent was a game where you drop balls into certain holes from the top of the screen by bouncing them off obstacles.

That's fun to do, and spawns all these ideas about what I'd be able to create myself.

This Ruby tutorial is just theory, without actually building anything.

'If X goes into the value of Y then it equals...' that kind of thing.

And I've got these two options in my mind.

Either I can go to a bootcamp, or I can teach myself to build iOS apps.

They're very different choices and will likely lead to very different outcomes, and going to a bootcamp is far more likely, just because I think that it gives me a far greater chance of success.

But at the same time, when doing this prerequisite work is boring me to sleep, and feels like it's just getting in the way of studying Swift, I do have to ask if I'm making the right call.

Of course, it won't be theory forever; I'm banking on that. This prerequisite work is just building some basic knowledge to save time in the bootcamp, and is perhaps intentionally boring as a way of weeding-out the people that don't really want to do this. But I'm still at a stage of... 'fucks' sake, I guess I'll do this boring bootcamp work instead of studying my fun Swift book today then.'

I can't help but wonder if I'm making the right call.

And I suppose that on the assumption that I do study at a bootcamp, the way that I see these two currently individual pursuits eventually joining together, is that even if they're different languages that focus on different platforms (the bootcamp would focus on web applications, where as Swift is focussed on iPhone/iPad), a knowledge of how the web works could help making iOS apps. Or perhaps any web apps I do end up making, will want an iOS accompaniment. But if not, then kind of how I wanted previously, making iOS apps could just... live on as a hobby on the side.

That would be cool actually.

If I was able to make a living from web development, I could make iOS apps in my free time without any financial pressure. That'd make it a fun endeavour.

Would that put too much on my plate?

Probably. But when have I ever not tried to do too much?

24 hours has never been enough hours in the day for me.

I liked what this guy said on Reddit last night:

"So what I'm saying is that it doesn't matter if you don't know that the path you're on is the right one. It really doesn't matter, as long as you do SOMETHING. Just learn to program, whatever you want, however you want. Be prepared for the opportunities, and eventually you'll get there!"

Thank you random stranger from the Internet.

I said in the last blog how negativity was spawning all this indecisiveness, but in this blog, everything's pretty much decided. Really just going through the formalities of it now.

I've quit my job, and I more or less know what it is that I'm going to do.

Is it coincidence that for each of the last eleven days, I've put aside thirty minutes for meditation? To just focus on my breath and clear my mind?

Maybe. That's the problem with meditating, I've never been able to decisively prove to myself that that's why I'm feeling better. But I am.

I'm also continuing with this experiment of fasting, and since the second day off the plane, I haven't gone any less than sixteen hours between the last meal of one day, and the first meal of the next, and haven't eaten for more than an eight-hour window each day.

Is that maybe helping as well?

Who knows?

All I can tell you is that I'm feeling a hundred times more positive about life now. So much so that I quit my job.

Within the next five days or so, I should be certain about a bootcamp or not, and where it will be. And from there...

... there ain't no gettin' offa this train we're on, till it gets to the end of the line.