- Out in the cold -

13th December '18

I lucked-out on my flight to Singapore, getting a row of three seats to myself, so I had the space to lie down for as much of the flight as I wanted to.

And on arriving, I went straight down into the MRT from the airport, and followed my Airbnb host's instructions to her place, which it turned-out was on the 27th floor, so I know what you're thinking:

'I bet you had amazing views.'

Well if you remember, this place was described as a 'Nice and cozzy room without window,' so no views for me.

My first impression of Singapore was... wow, this is much more Chinese than I was expecting.

Then I remembered I was staying in Chinatown, and this tower block I was staying in was very reminiscent to a Chinese estate.

Not especially clean or welcoming, but nice views before I got into my room without window, which I too will politely describe as... cozzy.

It certainly wasn't the roomiest room I've ever had, but it was actually impressive how much they managed to cram into such a tiny space.

It was generously 2m × 2m. In fact, I could stretch-out and touch all four walls at once. I tried.

But in this tiny room were shelves, cupboards, a desk and chair, a floor-to-ceiling mirror, a fan, air conditioning, three lamps, a hair dryer, a kettle, a towel rack, and more cables than I knew what to do with.

They seemed to have catered to every possible appliance that I could've brought with me.

I always say that I value practicality over aesthetics, and in that sense, this place was great.

I don't know if it was the cabin pressure or what, but on the flight over here I'd taken my phone out of my pocket to put on a podcast, only to take one look at how much the battery had expanded compared to before boarding and thinking... actually, I think I'll just power it off.

Getting my iPhone sorted had long been the plan for my first day here, and this just compounded that even more.

Looking at how bad this short-haul flight had made the battery swell-up, I wasn't sure that it could survive a fourteen hour flight to London without exploding. So after settling into my cozzy room, I was straight out and walking to Singapore's Apple Store a couple of miles away.

I stopped at a vegan restaurant in a food court for my first food in over twenty hours, to regrettably be reminded that out in the real world, not only are restaurants rather expensive, but only a tiny fraction of them cater to vegans.

Especially in Chinatown.

It was stark contrast to my utopian existence of the last two months. Now I was back in the real world, which was a shame.

I had no appointment at the Apple Store, and they were full, but one thing I've learned through all my iPhone sixes with swollen batteries, is that if you say 'swollen battery' to an Apple employee, they forget all protocol and make your case a priority.

If you remember the damage to Samsung's brand that their Galaxy Note's exploding did a couple of years ago, Apple really doesn't want the same, so no matter the issue, if you need Apple to look at something for you, just say 'swollen battery.'

I had to wait a little while to get seen, but the blatancy by which my phone had a swollen battery, which was now pushing the screen so far away from the body that you could see the phone's insides, meant that they didn't even take it away to open it up.

The girl who saw me took one look at it and said 'because this is a health and safety issue, we need to replace this handset immediately, so we'll replace it for you for the cost of the battery.'

No way. You're kidding, right?

There was a very faint hope in the back of my mind that this is what was going to happen, but after being told what I had been in Thailand, about having to pay for the full cost of the handset due to water damage, I was expecting the same result here, in which case I was fully prepared to part with £550 to get an iPhone 8, or perhaps even more to get an iPhone XR (because I'd been looking at them as I'd been waiting, and they were rather nice and not that much more expensive).

I really didn't want to spend that money because as I've said already, the longer I can survive on my savings, the greater the chance I have of being able to make a living from programming. So I just thought I'd try my luck and... I can't believe it worked.

The lesson here, is that if you risk blowing your balls off every time you put your phone in your pocket for a couple of months by waiting-out the situation, then Apple will eventually replace your phone for you.

You've just got to wait so long that it's an obvious health and safety risk.

I'd gambled and I'd won.

And if you remember the controversy last year where people were accusing Apple of slowing-down iPhones, we're still on the resulting 12-month programme where batteries are cheaper than normal. So I paid just S$38 (£21.64) and walked out of there with a new iPhone 6.

Alright, I know it's not the same as having a brand new XS, but I was pretty happy.

It was 2014 that I bought my first iPhone 6. This was the third time that Apple had replaced it for a swollen battery, and I'm going to keep on milking this cow for as long as I can.

The one downside was that it obviously wasn't set-up.

I'd backed-up my phone to my laptop before going to the Apple Store, and my laptop was in my room. So without the help of Google Maps for the first time in years, I instead had to use my memory to guide me home. Which was weird.

It then took a couple of hours to update iOS and restore my phone from my MacBook, so this entire half-day in Singapore was more or less dominated by getting a new phone, but I'll take it.

£21, and I'll hopefully get a couple more years out of this one.

I didn't really have any plans for the next day, other than to wander around and look at things, which is all ever do when I go somewhere. Although I had a couple of things in the back of my mind that I wanted to buy.

I was very aware that winter was just a day away now, and I don't own any winter clothing. So if I could find a cheap winter coat, that would be one less thing to do in London.

And the day before, when I stopped on the way to the Apple Store to get some food, I looked down as I was walking along after I'd finished eating, only to notice that my belt had snapped in half.

Not the belt itself, but actually the metal belt clip had broken in half. And I don't mean at a joint, I mean literally that the metal had snapped in half.

'What... the fuck?' I thought to myself. 'Did I really get that fat in Bali?'

I guess I need to buy a new belt then.

Both my own research and my Airbnb host told me that a place called Mustafa Centre was the best place to go and buy cheap things.

That was a couple of miles away, so my plan was to slowly meander down to there, going where I fancied on the way, and to perhaps walk out with a new coat and belt.

So that's what I did.

One problem that I found with Singapore was... well it's rather expensive.

Just to be economically responsible, I was eating as little as possible, and another problem with Singapore is that the tap water is drinkable.

That's a good thing, for everyone who has access to a tap.

In my Airbnb though, there were several rooms, mostly with continually closed doors. I think that they're also rented-out as Airbnbs.

There was just a toilet, a shower room, as well as my own bedroom that I had access to.

And even if the water in the toilet sink was drinkable, which I wasn't convinced it was, the tap was positioned in such a way that you couldn't fill-up a bottle from it anyway.

And the problem with being in a country where the tap water is drinkable, is that buying bottled water costs an absolute fortune.

I'd had to buy one bottle as a means of survival already. But to refill it, I was having to knock on the bedroom door of my host because she had a sink in there.

But not only was she often not there, but as someone who drinks a lot of water, I felt bad disturbing her anytime I was thirsty.

I'm a notoriously low-maintenance person, mainly because I don't like to disturb or inconvenience other people.

So I came up with a simple solution:

I'll dehydrate myself.

But being hungry and thirsty made walking all around Singapore far less enjoyable than it might otherwise have been, especially once it got to the afternoon.

I actually quite liked the Mustafa Centre, which is rare for me. I normally hate shopping, but this was like a giant, six storey Primark, if Primark sold everything. And was muslim.

It was really just a super-centre of everything, but at discounted prices.

I ultimately left with only a belt, because although they had winter jackets for as little as £20, I can never face parting with money unless I really have to and... well it's not cold yet.

My shorts are falling down though.

I've always said that shopping is more exhausting to me than running.

I'm not sure if it's just a mental thing, or that I'm just not someone who can move slowly.

I just hate moving slowly. It makes my back hurt. I walk quickly wherever I go.

So I emerged from Mustafa's hungry, dehydrated and exhausted, so I recharged in Starbucks for a while because... well a tea in Starbucks costs the same as water here anyway, and it comes with AC, free wifi, and a comfortable chair for a couple of hours.

And that was really... how it finished.

Apart from going to the airport early the next morning, this riveting day of going to buy a belt was how I marked the end of this ten year trip.

Although if I'm honest, it didn't really register with me at that moment.

My mind was still in code-mode, and these two days in Singapore almost felt like they were getting in the way of time that I could've be coding.

Compared to my expectations for the price I'd paid, my £176 flight to London was remarkably pleasant.

It was a Dreamliner aircraft, and as they said on one of the announcements, the way that Dreamliner's get air into the cabin helps you to arrive at your destination with less jet-lag.

'Yeah, bollocks,' I thought to myself. But they actually weren't kidding.

I normally suffer horrendous jet-lag travelling west, and for a journey of this length, I'd expect to feel terrible for a week or longer.

This time, I honestly didn't notice a thing.

I stayed-up to a more or less normal UK bedtime on my first night back, without even really feeling tired, and my body clock was basically on UK time from that moment onward.

Not once did I feel tired or jet-lagged, so whatever the magic air was that they were pumping into the cabin, it worked.

I'd visited the UK several times over the past ten years, but I'd never really made any attempt to assimilate myself back into the way of doing things here because... well it was always a temporary visit.

On this occasion though, I have no idea how long I'm going to stay.

Although I would love if I could go back and live in Bangkok on a programmer's salary, either freelancing or working for an international company there, I don't know if it's ever going to happen.

As far as I know, I could be in the UK for the rest of my existence, so... well I'd better get used to how to do things here again, and catch-up on what I've missed for the past ten years.

So one of the first things I did, even before going to the shops to get food, was set-up Apple Pay.

That's not available in Thailand or Indonesia.

And for the majority of things I've bought since getting back, I've paid using my Apple Watch.

Isn't technology awesome? I don't even need to carry cards anymore, I just pay for things with my watch.

I also registered for a Tesco Clubcard, seeing as that's where I'm going to be buying most of my groceries, and that lives on my watch as well, and get this.

My watch knows when I'm in any of my local Tesco stores. So when I walk into Tesco, it sends me a notification with the barcode of my Clubcard, so I just go to the till, scan my Clubcard from my watch's screen, tap the button on the side of my watch twice, then hold it up to the card reader to pay, and I am done. I am out of there.

Ten years ago, I had to carry around cards and stupid things like that. Now... just need my watch.

Because this is another one of those countries that has "drinking tap water," my age-old system of filling-up three water bottles at the beginning of the day and making sure I drink them before bed doesn't work so well here, mainly because I don't want to have to pay for three bottles of mineral water to get started.

So I also downloaded a water-tracking app for my watch that I use to record everything I drink. And what felt like moments after getting off the plane, my watch had multiplied in its usefulness.

Now being back for a couple of weeks, I think I'd struggle to live without it.

My biggest fear of course, was that I hadn't seen a winter in almost four years, and even up to this moment, I still haven't got used to cold weather again.

Before coming back, I hadn't been cold for four years, and your body kind of... forgets how to be cold. So I'm having to learn to do it again.

That might sound like a stupid thing to say, but I guess that you climatise to your surroundings. I used to be fine working on a mountain in -40°c in Canada.

Nowadays though, this is more or less the first time in four years that I haven't been in t-shirt and shorts weather, and as I write this sentence it's 2°c, and it's definitely taking some getting used to.

I've now been running three times since I got back, and the reason it's been so little, isn't that I'm feeling lazy or that I'm feeling unfit. I feel great once I get started.

It's that my only running clothes are a t-shirt and shorts, and when you run in these temperatures, as my experience is telling me, it's not until you've run about 4km that you finally start warming up.

For those first 4km, you're going to feel uncomfortably numb, and it's very hard to motivate yourself to wilfully go through that.

So I have struggled with the cold. I'm not too proud to admit that. Although as I'm slowly building-up my wardrobe to something more suitable for a winter, it's slowly becoming more bearable.

There wasn't too much of a settling-in period though. I was very aware that the knowledge from the bootcamp would leave my mind as quickly as it got there, if I wasn't using the things that I'd learned and was writing code more or less everyday.

So from that first day back, I was coding-up my own app, which due to the URLs available at a reasonable price, became known as 'Plant as Usual' (an ironic play on 'bland as usual.' Shut up, the URL was cheap).

It was predictably a vegan recipes app, where users can sign-up and add their own vegan recipes.

And it took me roughly ten days to get it to the point where it is now (which in my opinion, is far better than the final project that four of us managed at the bootcamp).

But for a couple of reasons, I wanted to get this solo project completed post-bootcamp, before moving onto anything else.

Partly it was for my own education. To prove to myself that I could do it, without teachers on hand to ask for help when I got stuck, and I actually surprised myself with how little difficulty I was able to put this website together with.

Where I did find gaps in my knowledge, I just figured-out how to fill them.

And that was important to me, because on these group projects, you weren't doing everything. You were only doing a quarter of the work, so there were things that I simply hadn't done yet.

The other reason was that I wanted to have more to show a potential employer than just this final group project that we did, because in my mind I still saw it as mightily unimpressive.

And beyond that, it's not even hosted in a manner that it's actually functional, so if I were to point a prospective employer to that website, I might get laughed out of the room.

I wanted to have something that I understood, that I created from scratch, and that I was actually hosting, so could ensure was online and functioning properly.

So that was how I spent my first... maybe week and a half back.

And although there's still plenty more to do on this website, and although it doesn't yet, and perhaps won't ever have many visitors or contributors other than myself, it's at least finished to a functioning standard.

And I really enjoyed making it. I enjoyed writing the code for hours everyday.

But with it online and functioning, a couple of days ago, I moved my focus onto instead searching for a job.

Long before I ever did this bootcamp, the glaring flaw in studying from October, was that I was going to arrive home a month before Christmas, and in my mind, that was going to be the worst time of year to try and find a job.

It's now mid-December that I'm ready to apply for jobs, and who's hiring now?

I knew this long before I went to the bootcamp, but I just figured that there's always going to be a reason not to do something.

For example, if I hadn't done it in October, but had instead opted for January, well... my next annual bonus in my Bangkok job was due at the end of February, so am I really going to leave all that money on the table? Maybe I should study in April instead.

But then there would be another reason, and on and on it would go.

So I was aware that I was going to be starting my job hunt at perhaps the worst possible time but... well, it is what it is.

And when I'd chosen Le Wagon as the school to study at, I was also aware that they make no guarantees about post-bootcamp employment.

Some schools guarantee jobs afterwards.

I don't know how they make such promises, but I assume they have partner organisations who'll take anyone, but do I really want to work somewhere like that?

So I didn't necessarily see that lack of guarantee of employment as a bad thing. It gave me the extra motivation of knowing that I was accountable. That didn't mean that I wouldn't welcome any help that they could offer though.

Unfortunately, that help to this point has fallen far shy of my expectations.

To be diplomatic, I would call it underwhelming. To be more honest, I'd term it as downright shameful.

To preface this, let me make the admission that in previous blogs when I referred to the manager of my bootcamp, I was actually referring to one of two people.

There's the person who owns the Bali franchise, who I thought would be the manager when I was there, so I started off by calling him the manager.

As he's soon going to be going off on other endeavours, while I was there, although this guy was often sat at the back of the room, someone else was actually running things, so I in turn started to call that guy the manager as well.

It seemed more confusing than helpful to try and differentiate between them by that point, but for the purpose of this blog today, I'll refer to them as the owner and the manager.

And back when I was at the bootcamp, the manager always told me to contact him whenever I was going to start looking for work, and he'd be able to contact the people who could help me.

I really liked him at the time, but my opinion of him has dropped since leaving, because immediately after the bootcamp finished, he started sending me these messages of feigned interest, that were lightly-veiled attempts to get my to leave reviews about the school.

I'm not sure if he was sending these to everyone or not. There had been a post-bootcamp survey by Le Wagon, which was unclear whether it was anonymous or not. And having that lack of clarity, I'd perhaps been more kind in my words than I would have been under the veil of anonymity. And it turns-out this survey wasn't anonymous, so I think because I said such nice things then, he might have picked me out to write about the school, assuming that I'd be equally kind in my reviews.

I'm not sure. Maybe he was asking everyone.

I said from the outset that I was happy to write some reviews. Just send me the links, and I'll get on it.

What's really got my goat about this, is that he's refusing to send these links, and instead insists that I 'send a draft of your review first. Then I'll send the links that I want you to post the review on.'

Ummm... that's not really how this works.

If you want me to write a review, that's fine. But you don't get to look over it first.

If I'm putting my name to it, and I don't work for you, then why would you get to look over a draft first?

Maybe this is me being pedantic. Maybe other people wouldn't view this with such apprehension, and I'd appreciate any second opinions about whether I'm being unreasonable or not, but I just found it a bit rich.

You've got to have some integrity, so I ignored his messages. Which made it harder to go back to him to ask for help looking for a job.

Never mind, I think all he was going to do was point me in the direction of the people who could help me; what can he do from Bali after all? And I think I know who those people are anyway.

The first was this girl in Paris. I'd been told by so many people throughout the bootcamp, to contact her if I wanted help finding work.

Her Slack profile on the Le Wagon group even reads, in English, 'If you're looking for a job in Paris, contact me! I will help you :)'

I'm not especially looking for a job in Paris, but as I said to her, I'm open about location.

If I've got to go to Paris, I will.

Her response was simply "Do you speak French?"

I said 'no,' and she just directed me to someone who works at the school in London.

Wow, for someone who I'd heard so many times through the bootcamp was the person to help you find a job afterwards, she was kind of useless.

Unfortunately, I'd already contacted this guy in London, and he'd been equally underwhelming.

His response was basically, 'I'll add you to the London group chat, and subscribe to our Meetup group for the different events that we organise.'

Well... I'm already a member of the London group. Have been for a while. It has 324 members.

A total of three jobs have been posted there so far in December, so it's not exactly a well of opportunity.

I was also already subscribed to the Meetup group. This is the list of upcoming events:

He didn't really seem willing to help any more than that, so to say that I was unimpressed would be an understatement.

And I was never expecting someone to go out there and get a job for me. I was expecting more help than this though. More help than a job posted every few days to a group of more than 300 people.

I was hoping for some people who I could contact, some advice on how to find jobs specific to this bootcamp, perhaps some advice on things to work on, and maybe what to expect from an interview and some advice on presenting a tech CV because... well it's all new to me.

Nope. This seems to be as far as it goes. This bootcamp seems to offer little to no employment help.

Are you sure that you want me to write you some reviews?

And I think that I can partly blame this on the time of year. I assume that the London Meetups will pick-up after the festive season, as will the number of job openings.

But I also assume that this is down to something that I feared would be the case when deliberating between London and Bali, and that's simply that I don't know this guy who works at the school in London. And he's going to put the forty people that just graduated from his branch of the school, ahead of someone that didn't.

Is he really offering such pathetic assistance to someone who just finished Le Wagon in London?

So the one last place within Le Wagon that I could actually look for help, was the school in Bali, which seems ridiculous, because why am I having to ask people on the other side of the world for help looking for jobs on my doorstep? But that of course presented me with the obvious problem of, I still haven't written them any reviews.

I first contacted the owner. After all, he was the one who I did my Le Wagon interview with, and who had told me, prior to attending, that it would be no problem getting help from Le Wagon London, despite studying in Bali.

But his answer was simply, 'you should ask the manager to help you.'

So I instead messaged him, and I knew exactly what his response would be.

"Of course I'll help you. Oh by the way, have you written those reviews yet?"

Meaning, "I'll help you if you write us some nice reviews. That I get to approve before you post them."

It was one of the reasons I went running this afternoon, to drain my energy, and not respond in haste with something that I later regret. Because is it really worth making a principled stand against writing approved reviews, at the cost of having a greater struggle finding a job?

Probably not.

But I've just lost so much respect for this school. I mean, firstly, was my decision to attend Le Wagon ultimately the result of some faked review like this?

I looked at other bootcamps, but ultimately decided on Le Wagon. And I might have been duped by one of these reviews as well.

That alone angers me.

And then this utter lack of assistance, with the possible exception of after being blackmailed into writing a review, is just frustrating.

As we speak, the manager of this school is on a flight, so he hasn't yet got back to me from that last comment. So I don't know if he might actually be any help.

I doubt it, because he's based in Bali. How's he going to help me?

So I've kind of come to accept that... I'm on my own. The bootcamp isn't going to be much help. But at the same time, I'm kind of going into this blind.

I've never worked in tech, and I have no idea where to start really.

I've updated my CV in a manner that... well my attitude towards presenting things, is always 'hide the negatives, accentuate the positives.'

If something's a negative, like my total lack of ability and experience, then don't even mention it. Focus on the positive things.

Focus on the bootcamp, on the skills that I learned. Focus on the website that I just built unassisted. Focus on my ability to work in a team (huh?). Focus on the skills from my previous jobs that carry over into these ones.

And I've written a beautifully presented CV that attempts to pad-out these positives enough to overshadow the negatives.

And from there, it's basically been any links to jobs that I can find online where I might be qualified... hey, have my CV.

But the marketplace is kind of how I expected it to be.

People always talk about how in the tech world, demand for labour always outstrips supply, but it's not true.

Demand for high quality labour outstrips supply, and I'm finding endless jobs that, if I can get two or more years of experience, will pay me salaries higher than I could have ever dreamed of.

At the very bottom though, the supply of low-quality labour like myself is available in abundance. And down here it's much more of a rat-race to find any way to get the prerequisite experience that'll move me onto those higher rungs a number of years from now.

So I'm finding jobs that I actually have a realistic chance of getting, few and far between. And I'm sure that each one is getting dozens, if not hundreds of applications.

In fact, when I'm scanning over job boards, what I've found to be the easiest way to filter through jobs, is by just looking at the salary.

Almost every job pays way more than I could expect to earn at this stage, so I'm in a rare situation where I wish that there were more lower-paying jobs.

I said long ago that I wouldn't expect to have any success before Christmas, so I certainly shouldn't be getting too dejected after looking for just two days.

It's not going to stop me sending-off many more ignored applications before ringing-in 2019, but just being realistic, I don't expect to find success any time before then. So I'm instead turning my focus onto ways of improving, and proving myself.

I can see through all the requirements for these jobs, which skills employers value that I don't have. And if I can start to learn one or more of them over the next three weeks, and maybe even make apps to show I can use them, I might be able to better my prospects a little.

I've said and I maintain that the bootcamp was only the beginning, and this is going to be an 8-12 hour endeavour until I find a job.

Maybe an hour or two per day, scanning job boards and sending-off my resume. But for the rest of that time...

If I was able to learn in eight weeks as much as I know now, then the three weeks until the new year is actually quite a long time. I might surprise myself how much I can learn.

There's unfortunately a long, hard road ahead. And as I've known for a while, things are going to get a lot, lot worse, before they get better.

I think that I'm years and years away from being able to afford the life that I already had in Bangkok. I'm just hoping that those years of sacrifice ultimately pay-off.

But with that in mind... better get cracking.