Welcome to San Francisco, the city where dreams can die, come true, or get killed by living expenses. It’s 2:28am. I’m j chillin on my bottom bunk in a “hacker house” — aka a hostel-like configuration in which rooms are small, cost an arm and a leg, but are only places to sleep and store clothes. I’m here as a student at Horizons, a full-stack coding bootcamp by definition, but in actuality much more. Sure, I can bore you with facts about the various concepts and frameworks I’ve learned — they’re important, but not everything. There’s one particular instance that perfectly encapsulates the nature of my Horizons experience thus far, and it took place just two days ago.

Some people in my cohort, which consists of about ~30 students who are mostly undergraduates, decided to pull a prank and pretend it was someone’s birthday. It’s absurd, I know. It actually made absolutely zero sense. The coordinators went so far as to make a card and get a cake with the dude’s name on it. Wild. However, this all led to a chain reaction in which students and staff continued to shout out others who they appreciate. At first, I couldn’t believe what was taking place, but regardless, it was awesome. Four weeks ago we didn’t know each other at all. But day after day, week after week, we spent time pushing one another till the wee hours of the morning to finish up assignments. And that day, the bond that had been forming tangibly materialized.

There are people of all backgrounds who are partaking in this journey with me. Some are CS majors or even CS master’s students. Others are engineers in other fields. And then, there’s the group of people with little-to-no comp sci or technical experience, and this is the boat that I fall into.

So… why am I here? As an economics student, I know that most others in my major would be going on to work in some form of finance (predominantly investment banking), consulting, public policy, etc. I respect that. Heck, for the longest time that’s what I wanted to do, too. But a conversation with a finance-turned-tech mentor altered my planned trajectory.

I’ve always been interested in this world called “tech.” Growing up, I’d spend a lot of my time reading articles on sites like Engadget, TechnoBuffalo, TodaysiPhone, The Verge, PhoneDog, and many more. I remember jailbreaking my first iPod touch, falling in love with it, and ending up sucked into Apple’s ecosystem. I scoured eBay and Craigslist to try to trade for a newer iPod or iPhone. I became the plug for my friends’ and family’s gadget-related needs. So, as I got older, my tastes became more sophisticated. Instead of only looking at the latest tweaks on Cydia to figure out how to make my icons spin a certain way, I started tracking [mainly Android-based hardware] companies that began to chip away at Apple’s lead in the mobile sphere. I saw apps rise quickly thanks to the viral web. I began to see the rise of my generation’s equivalent of the dot-com bubble. And my interest in “startups” began to intensify. In high school, I didn’t really have time to venture out and start my own thing. I was too busy studying for the SATs, subject tests, math team competitions, and others. I don’t regret any of that, but I do wish I had learned more about the startup and coding world first-hand.

I came to college with the goal of one day doing something “cool” like consulting or product management. I proceeded to get wrecked by my first math and econ courses, but ’twas all good. I ate those Ls. Now, Penn’s finance and consulting pipeline is no joke. I remember attending a panel freshman year, in which a Spanish and French major flaunted his banking offer. When I say the finance presence runs deep at Penn, it runs Mariana Trench deep. Straight facts. I bought in. A lot of the people I thought were cool were doing it, and for good reason: you get compensated well, gain important skills, and get to network with some of the smartest people in the world. Then, the heat of on-campus-recruitment came during my junior year, and I was really forced to prioritize my goals. What did I really want for myself? As I thought about it more and more, it became clear that I felt my true, unadulterated interest was in tech and adding value to society by building things. I talked to my advisor, saw that I could still graduate on time, and decided to take the plunge.

I’m so glad I did. I love SF. I love my cohort. I love the rapid pace of learning. I love seeing lines and lines of words and characters coming alive on a web page. I love gaining confidence in my ability to make stuff happen. These are strong words. Maybe I’m simply enamored by the novelty of this experience. Maybe I’m enjoying the sketchy but eventful 2am walks home a little too much. But for perhaps the first time in my life, I’ve begun to love the relentless grind. And I think it might finally be loving me back.

Concepts studied:

Week 1: Javascript Fundamentals (toughest week by far)

  • Closures
  • Object prototypes
  • Asynchronous
  • Linked lists
  • “This” (ode confusing…)

Week 2: HTML, CSS, jQuery (doable, but requires patience and lots of trial/error)

  • Flexbox
  • Bootstrap
  • AJAX
  • JSON
  • APIs

Week 3: Node & Express (v fun and practical)

  • Command line
  • NPM
  • Servers & databases
  • MVC (model-view-controller)

Week 4: Middleware, APIs, Heroku, Security (not as fun, but v practical)

  • OAuth/cookies
  • Web security
  • Passport
  • Heroku

Notable places visited:

  • Oracle Arena (GSW v OKC)
  • Golden Gate Bridge (worth walking across)
  • Twin Peaks (don’t do a morning hike — fog will ruin the view)
  • Fisherman’s Wharf (touristy but cool)
  • Ghirardelli Square (straight fattening)
  • Union Square (please check out the Apple and Nike retail spaces)
  • Chinatown (home of the cheapest haircuts)

Personal development:

  • Frequenting the gym (callouses suck)
  • Joining solid communities
  • Eating healthier (thanks Trader Joe’s)
  • Journaling more (s/o Self Journal)
  • Waking up earlier (these 8am ~ 2am days are rough man)
  • Being more cognizant of my progress and focus

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