Success Story: Pivoting into CS at 32 and going from never making over 45k to 120k as a new grad. After two great life failures, I finally found success in CS.

2021.12.06 23:34 realthrowaway12349 Success Story: Pivoting into CS at 32 and going from never making over 45k to 120k as a new grad. After two great life failures, I finally found success in CS.

Being up front
Because I will be sharing many deidentifying pieces of information, I have chosen not to write on my real account. I believe this allows me to share much more detail while still preserving some sense of anonymity. I hope that not only will this additional level of detail, of which seems to be uncommon in success stories will more than make up for any missing credibility by posting on a new account. I do not believe my story is particularly exceptional, but in the end people will need to make up their own mind.
I have provided my background and where I came from because it may help inspire some people. I think success stories are often less impactful than they could be because there is always a sense of "well you must have had x, or you were privileged in the following y,z ways." I don't intend to complete resolve that by sharing my background but rather just to make it less ambiguous. Some people will always have some excuse as to why they weren't or can't be successful. My goal isn't to make it sound like a "if I can do it, anyone can story."
About me I grew up in a lower-middle class family in the US. My parents had a nasty divorce when I was young and there was constant custody battles, I attended many schools, had no friends, and was constantly bullied. The police were not uncommon visitors to my house. In high school, things settled and I gained some notion of stability. Up until then, I had no vision of a future, no idea of how I could possibly make it in the world and no confidence. This began to change after I became inspired by the Japanese Anime Dragon Ball Z (yeah I know). It awaken me to the fact that one could self-improve through discipline and perseverance. This initially took the form of physical conditioning and after a while my confidence grew and for the first time I a "passion." From this came my first vision of a future - I set out to join the military with the goal of becoming a Navy SEAL.
I graduated high school (with a 2.1 GPA) and attempted to enroll in the Navy. However, I soon discovered I am medically disqualified from service. I had an undiagnosed kidney issue that barred me from enlisting. However I remained hopeful that if I could get it treated I may still enlist. So I began a 2 year process of treating the disease in hopes that I could get the levels of proteinuria (the diagnostic) to an acceptable level. But after being strung along by recruiters, I eventually got a hold of the recruiting command who said that even if my condition was cured, I would never be elidable for service - in any military service. The mere history of having it was permanently disqualified. That didn't matter in the end because the kidney disease is IgA nephropathy and is incurable and progressive. So here I was back to square one with no hope of a future.
I worked for a time as a fitness instructor and I continued to work on myself, personally. I soon become inspired again. I had always been interested in science, but I never thought I had a future in it. However, I had gained the confidence to pursue the academic route. I knew I wouldn't get into a decent university with the traditional route given my academic history (GPA 2.1, and ACT 18). So I went to a community college and did very well which allowed me to transfer to a good university from there. I took out student loans to cover tuition and expenses. By this time I was able to claim myself as an independent on the FAFSA and thus allowed me to get enough loans and grants to cover most expenses.
I had set graduate and pursue an MD/PhD. I wanted to practice medicine and I liked science. Most MD/PhD programs are completely funded and thus would allow me financially to pursue an MD. However, I failed in this pursuit. I had one particularly rough semester which sent me into a spiral of depression and self-doubt. I believed that since these programs were extremely competitive, there would be no way I could achieve success. In hindsight, I probably still could have been admitted. A big failure on my part was my failure to seek mental help. I had a certain sense of pride which prevented me from doing so. All my success until had been self-driven and I believed no one but me could help me, I didn't have the capacity to ask for help.
My depression spiraled and I was at risk of getting dropped from my program (biology). One semester I failed 3 out of the 5 classes I was enrolled in. I eventually completed my required courses by the skin of my teeth and graduated with a 2.7 GPA, but I found myself again (in my eyes) back to square one. Only now with a massive amount of student debt. I realized I could get some lab tech job, but I had no desire to pursue this route. The pay is poor and the work is not intellectually challenging. I was tired of being strapped for cash, living paycheck to paycheck and I thought if my life was worth living, I needed to have a decent income. So I went back to doing what I though could amount to a decent pay - fitness trainer.
I worked as a fitness trainer for a few years but I began to realize, this is a dead-end career for me. It was too intellectually unstimulated and I did not have the personality required for a long and successful career. I hated approaching people and I hated pressuring people to buy training. Eventually I heard about machine learning/deep learning. Up until then, I had no interest in CS or programming. But learning about deep neural networks greatly intrigued me. The level of empiricism involved reminded me of the natural sciences - experimentation, observation, etc. So that's when I started reading about the CS field as whole and I became even more fascinated - not to mention the pay is good.
My pivot into CS Until then, I had presuppositions about what it meant to be a programmeSWE. One of the big ones I had was that you had to be really good at typing in order to be a successful programmer, which was unappealing to me because I've always sucked at typing and had no confidence I could be proficient to a high level. I have large muscular hands with little finger dexterity. Obviously, I eventually realized this was ridiculous. So now I had my third inspiration for the future - become a software engineer. But with a BS in biology and a 2.7 GPA, I had to find a way to find a way.
After researching what the best approach was for me I decided that pursing a masters degree in CS would be best. That way I could feel like my bachelors was not a complete failure and I could theoretically graduate and have a job in just 2 years. I was ineligible for most graduate programs because of my undergrad (most need 3.0 at a minimum). However, I landed on DePaul University's Master of Science in Computer Science which had a 2.5 GPA minimum. Just as important, they allowed you the option to test out of the introductory CS coursework if you can pass the proficiency exams. This was huge for me because it meant I could save over $20000 and graduate a year sooner. The FAFSA direct grad loans were just enough to cover full-time tuition. I applied and was accepted to the program, to begin the following Autumn quarter. This gave me about 5 months to self-study and attempt to pass the proficiency exams (you only get one chance).
My CS journey To do this, I discovered the ample amount of study resources available online. This included, reddit, edx, coursera, and youtube. However, the most valuable resources I discovered came from the open-sourced materials and lectures from elite universities like Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT. I "audited" several courses in preparation. Here are the audited courses and the corresponding DePaul courses I used to prepare for.
DePaul MSCS (DeNero version)- CSC 401, Intro to CS (Hug version) - CSC 402, CSC 403, Data structures and - CSC 400, Discrete math
CMU Video lectures and CMU 15-213 - CSC 405, 406, Systems
I also realized that gaining some experience ASAP was crucial, so I began sending out applications for internships anywhere and everywhere. I was lucky enough to encounter a programming internship at a university research center which specialized in biomedical research. I think my bachelors in biology helped me land this even know I had no formal experience in programming. I started the summer before my first quarter began and I worked as an intern there the entire time I was in graduate school.
During my studies, I continually supplemented with additional material, auditing other courses. I wanted to land a good job after graduation and while I was glad to be admitted to DePaul's MSCS, the program was weak and I knew if I wanted a good job I would have to go above and beyond the coursework. I graduated with a 3.9 GPA and landed a new grad role at a F100 making 120k in a med CoL area at 34 years old.
I prepared for new grad roles through all the ways you frequently read about on here. Grinding leetcode (about 30 easy, 80 med, 10 hard over 2 months), doing mock interviews on platforms like Pramp, and applying to lots of places. I couldn't grind any more than that because I was working (20 hours/week) and going to school fulltime. I failed several interviews. However, all you need is one success and eventually I found it.
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2021.12.06 23:34 windblowncat Alley cat 🐈 not so alley, more indoor cat with street smarts.

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Slightly elevated cholesterol and blood sugar.
I vape.
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