How To Learn To Code While Working Full Time | William Lotherington

Ian L.:
Okay. Boom. We are recording. Today I have on. He is a current at Launch School in coding bootcamp that... well, I guess it's not really a coding bootcamp. It's a long form educational experience that teaches people to master software engineering. It's the slow path for studious beginners and it's a really, really interesting school that we're going to talk a little bit about today. So I wanted to bring William on because he is completing this learning to code journey while he is a full time employee and has a very full time significant other, he's got a lot of other stuff going on in his life so I wanted to talk to him about how he's balancing learning to code with all of that. So William, thank you for coming on today.

William L.:
Yeah, definitely. Thanks for having me.

Ian L.:
For sure. So you saw the list of questions, we're going to just knock out whatever we can in the little bit of time. But, for the first one for anyone that doesn't really know, can you talk a little bit about what Launch School is and why it's appealed to you for a way to learn coding?

William L.:
Yeah. So there's a million different ways out there that all try to advertise the same thing about like, "I want to learn to code." And everyone seems to be selling that option or having some way to do that. And so Launch School is part of that crazy slew and it's easy to get mixed in but from what I've seen and what I've researched, it's very distinctly different for a few critical reasons and a lot of it, luckily, they actually wrote about. So if you're ever curious, there's an insane amount of stuff you could read on their website which is awesome. But the short and simple is that instead of trying to get people from point A of not knowing anything to point B or Z or C or whatever it is of like you can actually... you have the marketable, professional skillset that you can do things with.

William L.:
Instead of trying to force that into a specific timeline like you go to school for four years and whether you understand 100% or 50%, you're pretty much done after that, instead of doing that they focused on removing the time barrier and making sure you actually understand every step of the way starting with the very fundamental, fundamental things. So that by the time you get to the end of it, you understand not only all the crazy little nuances of the tools and stuff out there that you need to have a very valuable skillset, we also understand why those are the important skills and all the fundamentals that they're built on top of that are underpinning the whole system. So at the end of it, unlike a lot of the different options out there, that kind of crash course, you do a lot of the stuff, some things you pick up really well, some things you kind of a glaze over and a lot of stuff is in the middle.

William L.:
And you end up with a patchwork of skill sets, it says they're going to be uncompromising where every single step of the way they want to make sure you understand every single step so you can have long term career and you could build on other things on top of that solid foundation. And they go super in depth on their website and whatnot but that's the core fundamental idea is focused on the fundamentals from the beginning and make sure you understand and master every single step before you move on so that you have something you could build on top of.

Ian L.:
Awesome. Yeah, that's what I got out of what I've read so far. And, like you mentioned, I think the biggest thing you mentioned, we're probably familiar with this because I know we both read a lot about Launch School, you're in Launch School, but for people that don't now a big part of what Will is talking about is that the time, there's not a specific time frame that you're supposed to complete this course in. And they really take this to the extreme with what they call mastery based learning where you don't move on to a new concept until you've mastered the one prior to that and if you ever run up against an issue of your understanding in one of these fundamentals, it's encouraged that you go back and there's ways to check your progress throughout the course. Now, I haven't taken it yet. Will, you have.

Ian L.:
Can you talk a little bit about some of the differences with this course with how those fundamentals are reinforced throughout the course and how you check your actual learning so you have these hard gates to pass through to let you know, "Yes, I can be confident in my ability at this point." Or, "No, I need to re-address some of these issues"? Can you talk about how that fit into the course compared to maybe any other comparable learning experiences you've had?

William L.:
Yeah. So I also did a handful or I've done a handful of other free options and some different things before so comparing [crosstalk 00:04:34] it those ones, some of the big differences is instead of like a lot of things out of the gate that are like, "Let's build this random little web app," so that you feel like you did something and you put it on the fridge or whatever and be happy about it. Instead they start with much more of the learning the details of the syntax and the mechanics of it so that you can commit those to memory before you start trying to solve problems. And then so for instance most of the prep course you're going through very fundamentals about... they begin with Ruby for their coding language so you go through how to read the Ruby documentation.

William L.:
If you don't know what a specific method does, how to look it up, they even go to the detail of when you pull up the Ruby documentation like what the different sections have, how do you use that cross reference and see related methods or how to see things upstream from it like what it's built on top of and things like that. And then you actually go through and have tons of exercises so you go through the mechanics of these over and over and over again. And then actually checkpoint of whether you understand a skill set enough is done by, they have assessments.

William L.:
And this is critical because you can do stuff self paced and spend your entire life learning whatever you want but it's also good to know not only that you've learned enough but also it's good to know what that threshold is so you don't spend too long on things, going into too nuanced details that are not really critical for if you're trying to become a software engineer because you can go too deep into stuff and get off track. So, the way they find that sweet spot for what's enough and what's a good level is they have these assessments that they structure similar to coding interviews. So if you're in Silicon Valley and going into some startup for an interview, it's similar where they give you problems and you're streaming and you're talking to them over that so you actually solve the problem and as you code and go through the problem, you actually talk through the whole thing.

William L.:
So they could get an understanding of your approach to it, your understanding, they could actually see you type up the code so you could see your approach and if it makes sense and if you have a good, logical understanding of the problem. And then also a good handle of the mechanics to make sure you're able to execute the code well. So they're able to differentiate between whether you are weak or strong on just things like syntax and formatting. Or if the bottleneck is the actual understanding the logic of the problem.

William L.:
So they could help guide if you do need to sure up any of that stuff, they're able to help give you very specific feedback on what types of things to focus on and that's where they're famous for having... like a B plus doesn't let you pass. You have to get an A, otherwise you're going back and spending time learning or spending time more deeply understanding the topics. And then that's how the whole thing is structured where you have a pretty big body of work or body of exercise and work focused on learning one core topic so learning HTTP or learning fundamentals of sequel or learning the fundamentals of Ruby. And then learning object oriented Ruby and all these different modules. And then when you get to the end of it, there's either this live coding assessment or some of them are a project based one where you have 24 hours or 48 hours to complete some sort of project or some combination of those types of things.

William L.:
And that's the checkpoint of if you're ton with it, one you get the external validation of someone who's way more experienced than you saying, "Yeah, they're at a good spot." But also it gives you a lot of confidence because it's usually you're completing something that's a pretty task at that point that gives you a pretty good confidence that you understand all the different pieces that went into the assessment or the test or the project.

Ian L.:
That's awesome. It sounds like everything builds on itself logically and I love how you talked about the teaching you how to go through the documentation for some of the Ruby methods because that's one of those things I wouldn't even think about as a person who only has a minor amount of experience coding. But I do remember going through looking at how different methods worked and Python and Java Script during some of my previous little coding experiences and just having such a huge pain when different methods go through updates and not knowing what the basic foundation for those methods was and feeling like it's all just these little magic boxes I'm trying to read documentation on. So learning about everything upstream of those sounds like a really awesome thing to learn that seems like it is left out of a lot of curriculum.

William L.:
And actually just touching on that really quick. A lot of courses and stuff that are trying to get you to build something cool and flashy right out of the gate, you learn different frameworks or different things which do get the job done but you don't understand what's working behind the scenes. So Launch School, they always say, "Yeah, eventually you will learn all the different frameworks because they exist for a reason because it makes certain jobs and tests easier and more efficient," but they don't actually teach frameworks, they teach the fundamentals because they want you to get to the point where not only do you understand what each framework is, what the trade offs are for the different ones but also they want to get to the point where you could build your own if you wanted to.

William L.:
And some of the Launch School students actually have done that to some degree, they built little mini sample ones and different things for exercises. And it's totally true. You can actually unpack the code for the different things. And it takes a while and whatnot but you could actually go through and you have the confidence and framework to understand the different pieces if you want to which is super cool.

Ian L.:
Wow, okay. That's super exciting. I had seen actually they have some copy like that on one of the home pages that says something like, "Do you want to know how to build a framework or do you want to just be able to barely use one?" Something like that. I'm paraphrasing horribly. So you're saying some of the launch school students actually have built really light weight or like made little frameworks that they have to use?

William L.:
Yeah. And that's way earlier in the courses than you'd expect. People have done some pretty cool stuff for building frameworks and then if you go down all the way to the other end then once people are done and working the capstone groups, those groups build very high level, very impressive projects that are professional grade, these are real capstone, interview ready projects that they put together. And they go around and a lot of them go to different talks and actually give talks on these at different conferences. So when you get to that point it's very, very present stuff but even halfway through the program, the first half is back end stuff, the second half is front end stuff.

William L.:
Like around the end of the back end stuff, I think it was only like a year ago, one of the guys actually put together a lightweight framework that you could build stuff on top of. I'm like, "That's crazy that somebody has been doing this for..." I'm not sure how long he'd been doing it but it's like halfway through the course being able to understand things deeply enough where you can start building your own tools and stuff.

Ian L.:
Yeah. That's really exciting. And there's so many different ways I could go with this. I'm going to have to do a huge intro because right now this podcast is super tailored to people who already have a very high interest in Launch School and they're just interested in some of the fine details. But I'll do more of a pitch overall for the school in the intro when I edit this. So, let's keep rolling with this line of thinking. So, you're in the school, can you talk a little bit about how far you are, what your opinion is so far, where you're trying to go with this?

William L.:
Yeah. I started May of last year so I'm like a year and a half in, roughly. And from the course standpoint, it's hard to gauge because courses take different lengths but just looking at the numbers or so I'm about three quarters of the way through.

Ian L.:
Congrats.

William L.:
So who knows if the last bit will be on the same pace as the other ones but it's been my major outside of work focus and commitment for a decent while now. And at this point I've finished all the back end courses and I'm working through the front end courses. So now I'm learning the back end stuff talks about... like a programming language that works the back end so they use Ruby. And then you go over Sequel and HTTP. And then some of the frameworks that help tie all of that together and then now I'm working on the front end side so I'm going through the Java Script fundamentals right now.

Ian L.:
Oh wow. That's exciting. Man, that is wild. People spend so long on this course and I know it's because it's so thorough. I looked at the hour estimates and they're pretty substantial. I think for the two parts of the course, the regular one and the capstone, capstone obviously being more intense and compressed they're both, I think 800 to 1600 hours. What has your schedule been like? So this is the most interesting part to me because I know that on Launch School's website, they recommend a minimum of 15 to 20 hours a week and I know that between the study habits of different people that 15 to 20 hours there's a huge variability in how much someone actually gets done. So obviously we just have one data point but what has your experience been, what is the average amount you're studying week to week, what does that look like, does it change a lot?

William L.:
Yeah. When I started off, that was kind of threshold where I heard the same weird tribal knowledge of like spend 15 hours a week at a minimum. It comes up all the time, no one knows where it came from but it's this urban truth I guess [crosstalk 00:14:12] but when I was deciding whether or not to jump in while also working full time and stuff, that was a big concern. So, I went through their free prep course which is a good... it's representative of the rest of the course in terms of just time commitment and if you could get that to work with your schedule then the rest of it's pretty in line with that. So I went through that and I set the bar for myself where if I can commit 15 hours a week and if that works then I'll go full time. And I was able to and it's been... for the first year it was probably 15 to 20 hours, closer to 20 hours.

William L.:
And then life got crazy, like my both of my bosses at work switched to other roles so I became the sole person in my group that knew all the weird nuances of the job. And then I also moved apartments and I decided to make my life more complicated and I started an Airbnb thing just on the side so it's been a weird [crosstalk 00:15:19]... yeah, so the last six months, I might have overextended a little bit. So that month where everything hit like the job stuff and the move all happened, I pretty much took a month break. I dabbled here and it was maybe five hours a week just during that crazy transition. And since then it's pretty much been at 15 hours a week. So of that 15 to 20 hours, it's on the lower side but after that month of craziness then gotten it back up to about 15 and ideally I'd like to go more but realistically for balancing everything out that's been pretty much the magical level for me right now.

Ian L.:
Okay. Wow. So still right in that urban legend sweet zone.

William L.:
Yeah and actually talking to that really quick, I do think that's probably a good... again, it's super arbitrary but if you think about it like it takes about an hour to an hour and a half to really get into the groove of something so you don't really... that's really, at least for myself, the minimum block of time for being able to think about harder problems and actually being able to work through some new material. And then plus some weird fluff on the ends and what not and rework and going back and learning, if you think around two hours or so is probably the daily go for myself to be able to review some stuff, have a little fluff for misunderstandings or whatever inefficiencies and then having a solid hour to hour and a half to really dig into new stuff or deeper understanding.

William L.:
And then that times seven days just so there's the constant touches so you don't forget stuff and you could keep that review session pretty short. That's, for myself, at least right around 15 hours makes sense where it's pretty much two hours for pretty much every day. A little bit longer on the weekends so you could dig a little deeper in some of the stuff that you've been stuck on. So I think, at least for myself, that's where that number rings true where that's just a good session on a pretty regular cadence.

Ian L.:
Okay. I love that setup because that just seems so reasonable to where only under the most extreme circumstances could you not fit that in if you really, really, really wanted to because, yeah, getting at least some solid deep learning every day of the week and then maybe a little more here and there when you can, that's really reasonable. So, if you're doing this sort of schedule or that's your baseline that you're layering all of your studying on top of, what does that look like for you, is this one time in the morning or is it split up on some days, what are the different options you give yourself for, "Okay, I'm going to study a lot today, I break it up like this. If it's minimum I do it like this"?

William L.:
Yeah, it used to be way messier when I first started just because of my work schedule and what not. So I used to do 45 minutes before work, like I'd go to work and just sit downstairs in the lobby and look ridiculous and have my laptop out and wave to all my coworkers and stuff. And then I would do 45 minutes at lunch and I would do around an hour or so after work and that was just how things worked. I guess it's been maybe four or five months now, I switched my schedule at work so I just show up an hour early now. So now I still do a half hour to 45 minutes at lunch and I usually use that for the review stuff, make sure I remember or work through whatever little things and then so when I come home after work I could spend a solid unbroken block of one to two hours on the deeper learning stuff. Which has worked out. It's a way better setup so that's been pretty good.

Ian L.:
Okay. That's interesting. And you say it's better just because you have that unbroken time block every day?

William L.:
Yeah. So not splitting up because before I had three different blocks and that was... I would get stuff done for those shorter half hour to 45 minute blocks but I didn't get a lot of very deep learning stuff done. So it was good for review or for just going through exercises to stay fresh on certain things I learned but not really for digging deeper into some new topic.

Ian L.:
Interesting. Yeah, no that totally makes sense. This is cool. That's definitely pretty reasonable. And I remember reading some real intense stuff about how you're studying... I think you had some screen extender for your laptop or something that you were using to have two screens in your car open so you could study code. What made you so, I guess, just persistent and dedicated in this journey of learning code? Have you just wanted to for a long time or is there anything in particular that makes you so dedicated to this?

William L.:
Well, first of all to the two screens, that was mostly because after four or five different windows trying to organize that, it gets a little crazy. And I totally recommend it for... I just bought an iPad and there's a little, I forget what it's called, I don't know but it's some little clip that lets you just clip it to the side of your laptop and it works amazingly well as a second screen. The dedication side, I don't know exactly what that is. Part of that's, I don't know, personality. My mom always joked where I'd just sit in my room and play with one Lego set for like six hours at a time. So maybe part of it's some weird tunnel vision thing and I don't know.

William L.:
I think about three years ago or something, I'm not sure what the catalyst was, but I got super focused on I want to achieve these kind of... or I want to... I had a much clearer idea of what I was going for and then that made everything else a lot simpler as a motivator and as a way to simplify and choose what I want to work on. And so I'm not really sure but I think everyone's had different things in their lives where when you want it, you want it really badly, it's not a huge sacrifice to do odd things now and then. But this isn't a super good or clear actionable but I guess maybe that just ties to spending enough time to understand your why, like your core motivator, before making the decision and if you have that clearly understood and it's something that deeply resonates with you, I think the motivation in that side follows more naturally in general.

Ian L.:
Yeah. Totally. I think getting clear on why you're doing anything, especially after you've been at it a certain amount of time or you're putting in a certain amount of effort, at some point it almost becomes necessary. You're spending a year and a half doing this every week, pushing [inaudible 00:22:00] work time, I think it's pretty much necessary at that point. So, for you, can you talk at all or would you be open to sharing at all some of your why for why you're trying to do this? I mean, it sounds like you're already pretty successful, you're renting out a house, got a pretty good full time job, everything else. What makes you want to go into this completely separate type of career field?

William L.:
So, the whole like what my core motivators are, I don't know when exactly but maybe three or four years ago, I just sat around a lot, I guess, and the things I came up with I want like my four core freedoms. And my freedom of time, being able to spend my time how I want and do things how I want to. And then freedom of location like physical location if I want to move around to a better spot or a different spot, but also location in terms of who you're working with and who your community and who you surround yourself with, I want the freedom to optimize that as much as possible. And then freedom of mind which is more of a discipline like spending time exercising control of your own mind and emotions in that side, which helps with everything else. And then freedom of body so making sure from a health and physical standpoint, at a minimum it's not limiting you from the other things. And then ideally it would open up other options and stuff down the road.

William L.:
And so given those things, my big limiting factors right now are time and location where I do like a lot about my job and I like this job more than any other job I've had and I think I'm okay at it. My coworkers think I'm okay at it so it isn't like a pain point in terms of something I'm trying to get away from. But it does have the limiting factor where I do have to be in a specific spot. And I do have to go into the office in specific hours so my time and my location are completely mine to choose. So even if I had all the money in the world and all that stuff, I probably wouldn't be doing exactly what I'm doing but I want to buy back the option of doing something else if I want to. And so that led to a bunch of other stuff where coding became a potential tool which made my skillset and my value in the workplace or the value I can create and what not, a little less industry and a little less institution dependent.

William L.:
So right now my value mostly is because of the industry knowledge I have from working in the same industry for about five years. And then the institution knowledge I have where I know a lot about my company and so if I went to any other company to do the same job I'm doing I'd get paid less because I know less about their company. And if I went to a different industry I'd get paid even less because I lose both those things. So coding to me is a much more industry of institution agnostic skill set to give me a skillset I could potentially use to open up other options to get more time freedom and more location freedom. That was a long winded thing. That's kind of the core motivator that I'm shooting for and the pain points are the flip side where I don't have the freedom of moving around or spending my time exactly how I want right now.

Ian L.:
Man, that was like a perfect answer. I feel like [crosstalk 00:25:19].

William L.:
I run through it in my head all the time.

Ian L.:
Yeah, you got to motivate yourself. That was really good though. No, I totally agree with so much of that. Man, it's really interesting. I can't emphasize how much I agree with that enough. The thing about the skills, I totally agree. I was actually in the military and that was a big fear I had when I was in there is these skills are all proprietary to military, very specific industry, not a lot of them translate anywhere. And like you said, even in a lot of big companies, you have these proprietary skills that are industry specific, they're not something that you can offer on an open market and having those skills that you can offer on an open market at a standard price for anything you want to do.

Ian L.:
And coding's a great example because there's a pretty standard price you pay for different levels of developers on contract, salaried, and then that's not even to mention all the things you can do if you get a different contract as part of the team or long term or you create your own products and value that way. So, it's like I do agree in terms of optionality, it seems like it's one of, if not the best, skills to have especially the kind they're teaching in Launch School which is web apps ad some of the most common uses for coding. Yeah, I just really agree with that. And then the four things, too, defining what you want in terms of the freedoms that it gets you, that's awesome. I've never heard of that, I'm wondering if you came up with that yourself or is that something you read and adopted or where does that come from?

William L.:
I'm sure I'm stealing from a whole bunch of different people but those specific terms and phrases I typically attribute to myself. And I think it all ties eventually back to a... there's a weird, random book called Flatland which is, I don't know if you've ever heard about it, but it was written by... I think it's some maybe math professor or something but it was written by some guy back in the 1800s I think. I should probably know more about the book I base so much of my life on. So in that it's, just to try to not go on too long, but it's if you think of a plane, so a 2D plane, and all the people on this plane are just shapes and stuff, and then they have no conception of the third dimension. So you can't talk about three dimensional stuff, everything's on a plane. And then one of the squares gets picked up by a sphere and picks it up and shows him like, "Here's what you live in. This whole plane."

William L.:
And the square's like, "This is crazy." And so he has this crazy mind altering experience and then the sphere puts him back on the plane and the little square runs around and tries to tell everyone else about the third dimension and they think he's crazy and they lock him up. But that whole idea of wherever you are like the whole plane of existence, there's this other dimension you can't even conceive of that's at a right angle to everything else and that's how they describe dimensions. And from that the whole idea of like wherever I am right now, wherever I want to end up or wherever the perfect place for me to be is probably something I can't actually conceive of so instead of trying to, I don't know, limit myself to the options I see right now, instead of finding the core seed of the thing you're the best of, the thing you can have the most value in.

William L.:
And then hyper focus on that because that will potentially open up options for these big paradigm shifts and what not. And then so from there, this whole philosophy of everything breaks down to four, where we have these two fixed points where you can't achieve 100% freedom of time, you can't achieve 100% freedom of location because that's pretty much like when you have enough money or when you have enough skillsets to open up those two things. And then the mind and body are more like the infinite goals where those are always going to disciplines you have to work on kind of evolved out of that idea. So I don't know exactly where it came from. Some mix of that and a million other books and much smarter people than me. But that's been the distilled version for myself for quite a while.

Ian L.:
Nice. That's interesting. That's super interesting. And before we get back on the real... split this interview. I want to stay off a little more. You said those are infinite goals. Can you talk a little bit about how... why developing your mind and body freedom for you is an infinite goal compared to maybe some of these career goals that relate to the location, time freedom?

William L.:
Yeah. So that's mostly where some goals like freedom of time and location are things you can literally calculate exactly when that tipping point is. So, for instance I see freedom of location as as soon as I have a skillset where I can go anywhere in the world and still get a job and cover my cost of living then I have freedom of location. So coding, that's very easy to figure out exactly when that'll be. And for the time one, that's similar, it's just taking a step farther where if you have enough money to cover your cost of living forever, then you have freedom of time because you don't have to work ever again. And so that, if you ever get into the whole... the FIRE community, the Financial Independence Retire Early community, there's like a bunch of very simple ways you could figure out, given my cost of living, gives exactly how much money I need invested like conservatively so I can do whatever I want forever. So those two make sense. You could measure them, you could set goals, you could track them.

William L.:
The mind and body ones are different because those are susceptible, well the body is susceptible to all sorts of breakdown and decay and disease and stuff and it does disappear eventually. And the mind is something where if you don't do anything with it, it won't improve. And those are things which, since they're different types of goals, instead of trying to track these big tipping points and stuff, it's more about developing the disciplines for maintaining that. And so those are, at least for myself, I have to approach them a little differently where actually trying to develop habits and eternalize them so it just becomes automatic so you can build on them over the long run.

William L.:
And that's where a lot of the ideas of all the compound interest stuff and all the virtuous cycle things come into play and all the building habits comes into play. So that it's not a task and something that can build on itself and you get those long term gains of just being happy and healthy because those are huge limiting factors where if you're chronically in pain and stuff then it kind of gets in the way of everything else so those are just the long term goals which you have to make them a part of yourself in the long run versus checkpoints to achieve.

Ian L.:
Yes. Yeah, they're not necessarily anything you're going to check off at any point. That's really interesting. I appreciate you sharing that a little bit more. I know that's not necessarily the topic of this podcast but that's a really interesting wheel.

William L.:
People are going to come here for Launch School and be totally thrown for a pretty big loop here.

Ian L.:
Hopefully they enjoy it. Okay. So I just have a few more questions that are going to get... one or two that are real specific and then maybe one or two more general ones. I know we're running out of time here. So one are the really specific ones, just going completely opposite direction is a big concern a lot of people have is they want to learn the latest things in software engineering, latest frameworks, Ruby on Rails is not a new framework. A lot of people really... it's kind of polarizing. A lot of people don't like it, they're like, "Ah, it's falling out of favor. It's a waste." When you think about learning Ruby, how do you think about it? I know a lot of people right now back in technology say, "Just learn Python. It's used way more. Why wouldn't you learn that?" What would you say to those people, what has your experience been, how do you look at it?

William L.:
Yeah. I forget who but some... one of the podcasts I was listening to or someone that I just accept everything they say with unbiased or unfiltered belief, they were talking about how when you're choosing what to learn and what to invest your time and your... you have very finite time and money and resources and stuff, like what to spend your time on. In the beginning, a lot of the times the biggest factor is what's the best teacher you have access to and I think that's super, super true in this case where if you had the same exact version of Launch School in terms of support, the network, the material, the mindset and everything but you had the same thing but stamped out for every different option out there, then I think that's a valid thing to start deciding like, "Okay. Maybe for where I am in the jobs and the companies here, maybe this is what I want to choose for that reason."

William L.:
But I guess the first step I'd say is like of all the things I've researched and seeing there is nothing similar or even close to the level of just depth of knowledge you'll learn. At least for myself what I've seen. So for me, I didn't even consider that at that point, it's like whatever... I just trust their direction so much where whatever they say the path is for learning, I'll just go with that. And that's by far the best coaching network support and material I've ever found. So, that was probably the biggest factor I'd say where go with the best coach that you have available to because that's a bigger factor than whatever you spent... I mean, no matter what you're doing you're going to be learning for the next 10 years of whatever you're trying to do in coding. So, the biggest advantage in the beginning, the limiting factor isn't what language you choose, it's the coach you have and the material you have and the peers you have and stuff. So that's the first thing.

William L.:
And the second thing is I think the Launch School curriculum was done very intentionally because everyone there, all the teachers and all the different TAs are like... they're very, very good at this and have done it professionally for quite a long time before they decided to focus on teaching and everything. So I think it was a very intentional decision and still is. And I hacked around with Java Script enough and some other different languages enough before to have an understanding of syntax and what not. But after going pretty deeply into Ruby, I do think, at least for that, if you've never done coding before and learning how to code, Ruby, like the trade off it made compared to other languages is it tried to be very expressive. And it has a lot of, they call it, syntactical sugar or just weird magic stuff behind the scenes that make things work so it has a lot more of that than other languages.

William L.:
And that's an intentional trade off the language creator had to make it more readable, more accessible, more intuitive. And that makes for a first language to learn. I think it actually makes a lot of sense so you don't get super caught up in, "Did I remember or forget this random period or comma or dot or semicolon somewhere?" Or, "Did I indent enough times?" Or whatever where it makes the barrier of entry... or I guess it lets you get past the learning the mechanics of the language and move to the actual problem solving, the deeper thing, parts of the language much quicker. And those are the things that are really more important that are going to translate to every other language you learn and the nice thing is if you have a very deep understanding of the problem solving side of it, then you can pick up other languages much more quickly.

William L.:
And so a lot of people that go through the Launch School program, they get jobs and they never touch Ruby in their actual job and they're learning all sorts of other things. But because they understand the language so deeply and understand programming as a tool so deeply, they're able to pick up other languages very quickly. And a lot of that's helped out by the fact that you don't have to spend as much time at the very beginning deal with just the mechanics of the language as opposed to digging into the core philosophy of programming. So, for the whole value side of it, it's like I think it's much harder to learn the problem solving side than the mechanics of a language. So, first of all, they're better coaches so I go with them anyway. But then, in retrospect, I also think it was intentional because it lets them focus more on the long term skills that are transferrable to any language you want to pick up down the road. So, that's my take on it.

Ian L.:
No, totally. Not having to just focus on mastering the syntax just to be able to get to the problem solving part. Yeah, that totally makes sense. Solving problems with code, there's fundamental lessons you're going to learn that are going to translate regardless of syntax so that's... yeah, that totally makes sense to me. So just a couple more. One of the ones I'm really curious about now, because you haven't talked about it at all which I'm very surprised, is what you plan to do? You mentioned you're remote so is your ideal outcome just equated to you going and getting a remote software engineering job, do you want to start building products on your own on the side, what would your ideal outcome for this experience be?

William L.:
Yeah. That is a good question. So that, I don't actually have a super clear vision of the future and I chose... the decision to learn how to code, I kind of followed a mental model framework that Nassim Taleb talks about in Antifragile and a handful of his other books where it's very hard to predict what the future's going to look like in a lot of scenarios but it's possible to measure the downside of things and measure the risk of things and so I looked at all the different skills and things I could spend time learning to get more of those four different freedoms I want. And then I looked at what would happen in the worst case scenario. If I lost everything like what would happen? And the whole idea is like don't bet the farm. Don't bet more than you can afford to lose.

William L.:
And so in that case worse, worse case scenario, if I use... if I don't leverage this new skill at all, I'll be in the same job doing the same stuff but it'll actually make... I'll be able to do my job much better because there's a lot of things that what I'm learning now have already helped in my current job. And then on top of that there's a very high likelihood I'll be able to switch within my own company to a job that's a little bit more in line with this new stuff. So, to me, that downside was basically zero. A little bit of opportunity cost but realistically, worst case scenario, I have the same job that I can do better or I have a slightly different job in the same company that I enjoy more. So there's basically no downside.

William L.:
And then the upside's kind of all the stuff you've touched on where it's like I am super curious about starting my own companies or building my own tools or building things like that. And I'm also curious about the remote option for even just switching to a different company, that I free up the location option earlier. And I'm not actually sure. So I read and listen to a ton of stuff and I'm always thinking about different side hustle ideas and testing different things out but I don't have a clear idea for the upside. But there's pretty much no downside so I figured might as well roll the dice and then it opens up a lot of really interesting upside potential things. And so no clear thing but it's, hopefully... we'll see. I don't know. I guess we'll see what happens.

Ian L.:
No, that's awesome. I'm kind of in the same boat, to be honest. I'm not like, "Ah, I need to get a better job. I got to get out." But, at the same time, I agree that when I look at all the things I could spend time learning, it's hard to really find a skill that would compare. And certainly not a learning option. Definitely more compelling with something like Launch School.

William L.:
It's a good problem to have, too, because if you have an acute pain point where you just hate your boss, hate your job or whatever and you're trying to escape from that, it's very tough to invest the right type of time and focus into something as long term as Launch School because you're so focused on trying to escape where you are. It's a divergent goal where you don't know where you want to end up but you know you don't want to be here and those are very hard to do. Whereas, I am in a pretty comfortable spot which is nice where I like who I work with, I like my job for the most part. So it's much more of a convergent goal where I'm trying to find what's the perfect fit for myself long term, whether in my current role or outside.

William L.:
I think that's a much better position to be in if you're trying to learn a new skill. Sometimes it's not an option but when that's an option, that's always the better place to be, to be able to be not in a divergent spot but trying to converge on a more ideal spot to be. Even though it's confusing and...

Ian L.:
No, totally. Yeah, I mean, when you're trying to really optimize it, it gets a little more nuanced than just getting out of a bad situation. Okay, I swear this is the second to last question. So, for Launch School, you're three fourths which is awesome. How much do you feel your skill as improved, what sort of abilities do you now possess that you didn't before, and are you headed to capstone, are you just going to stick with the fundamentals course?

William L.:
Yeah. In terms of skill set, there's the tangible stuff where there's just a ton of stuff I couldn't do before and where now if I actually want to build... like I switched up, I noticed I was gaining a little bit more weight because I was sitting in my car at lunch and just sitting on the computer after work, too. So I started to exercise a little bit more regularly and I was like, "It would be great to be able to track some of this stuff." And instead of doing what the normal person do and what I probably should have done and just download one of the billion apps out there, I'm like, "Let me make my own." And so in about a week or so I put together a super, super simple, just to track weight, track exercise, be able to create different workout things.

William L.:
And it's a very basic, basic little project. It's like the stuff you put on the fridge when you're in kindergarten type of a thing but still being able to actually come up with the idea, plan out what I want in there, and actually build everything from the database side of things and then all the back end stuff and then the front end stuff and actually publish it. And now when I go to the gym, I can log in and put my stuff in there. It's super rewarding. So being able to do that type of stuff is crazy and something I would never have been able to do the full thing start to end before with any of the other courses and free stuff I'd gone through.

William L.:
For those ones I always had to like... I could do exactly what they taught me to do. If they showed me how to do a to do list app, I could build a to do list and I could build 10 more if I wanted to. But I could never build something they didn't teach me to do. So being able to have that is kind of a crazy, very tangible sill set. And then there's a huge... probably realistically the bigger, long term like compound interest type benefit is the intangible of the problem solving approach and not only the learning stuff how to break down a problem and break it up into different steps.

William L.:
So that's something in my current job we don't... like nothing I do is formal programming but there's a lot of other things which are sort of halfway lightweight or different just abstracted versions that overlap. And I've been building different tools actually for the different sales teams and stuff now. And before they were super hacked together, everything was copy and pasted, and every time I built anything it would just increase the amount of time I had to spend trouble shooting it and fixing it and it was like a nightmare. But now in the last year it's the biggest measurable improvement I've seen where the tools and things I build, I take a lot more time on the front end designing it but once it's built, it's scalable, it doesn't take troubleshooting time, I can teach other people how to manage it and it works way better.

William L.:
And that's the side that that's transferrable. That's not a language specific thing, that's just the actual problem solving approach that is totally... I attribute 100% to Launch School. That's been super, super valuable. So there's the real skill set, what I can put on a resume, but there's also the actual confidence of being able to solve problems and work through those more complex problems and build things that are robust and real which is kind of cool.

Ian L.:
Yeah. That is super cool. That's really awesome that you're able to build something for an actual use in your own life. That is super cool. And do you think you're going to go through the capstone or have you thought about that?

William L.:
I have thought about it a lot mostly because I think it would be incredibly fun and challenging and rewarding and super fulfilling to work full time and focus 100% on this project and work with other people who are in a similar spot who have also invested a ton of their own time to this point. And so I do want to do it, it's just the timing of when that happens and that I'm not sure because that is very tough for me to figure out so that's what I'm working through right now of like when I either would quit my job and leave or take a leave of absence from there or some combination of the both or if that would be the catalyst for pivoting completely to something different, I'm not exactly sure.

William L.:
And that's something I'm working on a lot. I think the latest it would happen would be, if any of these random side hustle things I'm working on actually get to the point where they cover my cost of living, where I don't have to worry about the money side at all, then that would be the absolute latest I would do it and it would probably be sooner than that depending on what options and where work stuff is at.

Ian L.:
Oh, that's exciting. Yeah, definitely at a whole nother consideration. Super exciting nonetheless. Cool. Well, thank you William. I really appreciate you taking the time go into some of your experience in Launch School and some of your personal motivations and goals. I'm wondering is there anything I didn't ask you that you'd like to talk about or you think people should know if they're considering just learning to code in general or Launch School specifically?

William L.:
Actually, I think if anyone's thinking about learning any skill set in general whether that's coding or not, I think it's worthwhile to read through the pedagogy and all those kind of intro pages on Launch School just because the way it broke down different learning options and the different learning approaches and everything, it totally changed my perspective on all of it and shifted it. Where before I kept wishing I could quit and go back to college and do programming through college and all the boot camps were like a lesser version of that in my head where I wasn't getting the real thing.

William L.:
But now it's like if I actually have the opportunity of going full time to school or doing Launch School, I think it becomes much more of a decision of what my end goal is and my whole perspective shifted on how to learn and how to approach those. So I think everyone should totally read those pages just to see that perspective especially because so much more, as you mentioned, is becoming this distributed work force and this whole... the industry's changing, the jobs that are available are changing hugely. So people are all learning new skill sets and I think this is a very useful framework to understand when evaluating options. And then the second thing, Launch School recommends like when you're in the prep course, they have you actually read through a book called Mastery by George Leonard, I believe, and they... I don't know if it's a hard requirement or just a strong recommendation but they have you read that before you start the course.

William L.:
And that book, I picked it up and I started reading it Saturday morning and I literally just didn't get out of bed until I finished it. It's a fairly short book but it's also... everything in there is so, so compelling for how to approach learning and what the goal is why and why long term, that's the best way to do it. And so if anything I guess I'm just saying do a Launch School thing, it's the best thing to do which it makes sense, I bought in pretty hard but their pages are super helpful and that book is super, super interesting to read through if you're thinking about learning the skill set.

Ian L.:
Oh man. I totally agree, their pedagogy and methodology pages, which I'll link below this interview, are so good. It was mind blowing the first time I read it. I was like, "Why is this not everywhere?" It's really worth a read. But anyway, William, I want to thank you again for coming on. I will cut the recording and we can go ahead and chat after this but thank you a lot for taking the time to come on.

William L.:
Cool. Thank you. It was awesome.

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