In January I joined a software engineering team on a project in Toronto, Ontario, for the first time departing from my warm, familiar Excel-modeling blanket. Until boarding that inaugural flight, creating Excel models was my one and only jam, my professional bread and butter. Changing career paths is a daunting endeavor – there are many unknowns, many self-doubts and a lot of second-guessing. Fear of failure is a powerful, persuasive force.
I can remember wanting to learn a programming language from that first, magical time I played Prodigy Online checkers against an unknown opponent from an unknown place, over dialup, on my parents IBM Aptiva desktop.
Compared to today’s standards it was like we scrawled our moves on stone tablets and sent them back and forth by courier. But it was still so cool, and I wanted to learn how to do it myself.
Now almost twenty years later, I’m finally making it happen.
I’m doing real Java development for a real, paying client. I’m learning SQL, Oracle database tuning, JSP and Apache Ant. I’m exploring a unique, culturally diverse city with so many interesting foods to try I hardly know where to begin.
I joke that I’ve had more Indian food in the past few months than in my entire life (but I’m not actually joking).
It’s a message we’ve all heard a thousand times in a thousand ways: do what you love, follow your dreams, pursue your passion, and so on and so forth. The cruel reality is that most people, for circumstances both in and out of their control, will never practice any of these clichés. A free market economy prevents the masses from traveling the world as freelance writers.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. My final tipping point came when I realized that the plunge I was about to take wasn’t permanent. Not by a long stretch. If it didn’t work out, if my worst fears came true and I failed spectacularly, I could always return to my familiar blanket.
The Toronto project ends this December; five months in, my fears of spectacular failure seem like a distant memory. What I’ll do or where I’ll go after that is an open-ended question, and that’s okay. It’s actually kind of intoxicating.