My Journey from Construction to Coding

By Andrew Merritt Jun 20, 2018

This piece originally appeared on Medium on April 6, 2018.

I started college in the fall of 2010. Two months earlier my wife and I celebrated the birth of our first son. Our family was growing and life was looking great. A few weeks later my wife lost her job. Suddenly the world felt like it was falling apart. Life changes quickly and our responses are the most important things we can control. Before going further, let me rewind a bit.

I graduated high school similar to most graduates. I was tired of school and had very little ambition towards college. With no idea what career I wanted to pursue I found it hard to justify taking on college debt. Instead, I decided to wait a year before going to college and took a job with a construction company. It was work that I found satisfaction in. The ability to use my hands and see progress every day gave me a sense of accomplishment that I enjoyed.

My one year furlough quickly turned into two, three, and four. Soon I was married and no longer felt like it was possible to go to college. I believed I was stuck, so I was. Construction was not my dream job, and I always thought I would grow up to work with computers. I continued doing what was comfortable, what I knew. This is a place where many people are; not quite happy with what they are doing but comfortable doing what they have always done. This is the lie we tell ourselves: I’m held back by circumstances outside of my control. That statement is almost always not true.

I needed a catalyst to break me out of the lie. Something that would shake me to the point that I could objectively look at my situation without seeing it through a lens of victimization. It would need to overcome the years of excuses and doubts that built up. Excuses are easy but change is a challenge. That moment came when my wife told me she was pregnant. I knew during the months leading to my son’s birth that my career was not sustainable for my family in the long term. It was not entirely about money, there was also my personal safety and happiness. I didn’t enjoy my job anymore. Every day I was putting myself at risk and accidents happen quite frequently. I had also reached a pay ceiling that could only be broken by moving into management. That’s when I made the choice to go to college for something I loved: Technology.

My choice was more than just getting a college degree. It was to do whatever it took to provide for my family. When my wife lost her job shortly after I began my first semester I still hadn’t found a part-time job. Our income consisted of whatever construction jobs I could do outside of school hours. My wife and I both continued to look for work. Instead of quitting school to focus on full-time work, I doubled down and enrolled early in my next semester. My resolution to provide was a long term goal that I couldn’t lose sight of. Looking back it was a gamble to continue to rack up debt and leave bills unpaid instead of finding full time work.

Andrew and his family

I would be remiss not to mention that my wife shared my vision. Her resolve and support was as strong, if not stronger than my own. Eventually my wife got hired at a local college which greatly helped with tuition. I found part-time work and continued to do construction on the side. I worked for two different woman’s clothing retailers during my college years. It was difficult to transition to a sales role. It was even harder to integrate into woman’s fashion, but every experience offers a lesson. These jobs taught me a lot about humility and doing whatever a job requires. I worked there because the hours allowed me to still go to school full time and it helped pay some of the bills.

Finding time to complete assignments without ignoring my family was difficult. I frequently would start my schoolwork when my family went to bed, allowing myself a few hours to sleep each night. All my decisions came back to the resolution that I had made previously: “to do whatever it took to provide for my family”. There were days when I would play hooky from class to catch up on school assignments. Other days I would stay home and do nothing, allowing myself a break from the constant stress. The stress affected me in positive and negative ways. It taught me about dealing with very real struggles like not being able to pay bills and facing the possibility of failure. It also led to bouts of depression where I didn’t want to interact with anyone. I was not the same person during those stressful years and it was apparent to anyone who knew me. I was constantly tired both physically and mentally but there was a shining light at the end of the tunnel.

I began classes in the fall of 2010 and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and a Minor in Mathematics in spring of 2016. My GPA was not top of the class, but it was above a 3.0 and I am proud of it. More importantly I was offered a position with a phenomenal company a few months later. I love my job, and I have not been able to say that for a long time. Two years after graduation I can look back and say it was worth the difficulty and risk.

There are some important takeaways from this portion of my life. The keys to self improvement are a shift in viewpoint and motivation. I changed my viewpoint from being a victim of my circumstances to being in control of what I did and ultimately changing my circumstances. I found that I can control my reactions to situations. Every setback was a potential lesson if I was willing to learn. Even selling clothes to women taught me valuable life lessons about how to interact with people. Lastly, my family was the motivation for me to make a change. Maybe you are in the same place as I was, needing a career change. Maybe you have a fitness goal or a financial goal. Make a change in how you view the situation, realize you can be in control, then do what is necessary to achieve your goal.

You are not stuck unless you never move.

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