This post is part of a series interviewing folks who have recently participated in the #100DaysOfCode challenge.
Today, we’re talking to Elias Rostad, who goes by the alias @CodingParamedic on Twitter. Why the Coding Paramedic? Because he worked as a paramedic for 10 years before turning to code. Elias’ work as a paramedic ranged from big cities to small towns to a ship in the Pacific Ocean for two months to AirMed on a helicopter.
As a paramedic, Elias was getting burned out, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. His wife noticed how much he enjoyed playing with the Grasshopper learn-to-code app and suggested he explore programming further. So, Elias bought a Python bootcamp on Udemy, and thus his journey began.
Now, just shy of a year later, Elias has accepted a position with Amazon as a systems engineer, taking his first big step into a new career. Follow @CodingParamedic on Twitter for updates on what Elias is learning, building, and thinking, as well as what lessons he’s learned in a decade of trying to save lives.
Let’s hear what Elias has to say about the importance of networking and what he gained from the #100DaysofCode challenge.
Tell me about the #100DaysOfCode project you picked. Why did you pick it?
So, I didn’t go into the challenge with a specific project in mind. Really, I went in with EVERYTHING in mind. At the time I started, I didn’t have much idea of what I wanted to be. Back end, front end, full stack, data science, infosec—all of it was so darn interesting that I hadn’t a clue what direction I wanted to go.
Instead, I used a lot of that time to figure out where I wanted to fall within the world that is tech. I started working on back-end stuff with Django and Flask. I studied front-end work with #100Devs. Heck, I even installed a VM of Kali Linux and tried my hand at malware for pen testing (and, it turns out, I’m really no good at it).
In the end, I learned—mostly—where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do in this brand-new tech world that I’d stepped into. I’ll say “mostly” because it’s still all fascinating to me, but I’ve learned more about myself and what I find interesting and it turns out, the same drives that got me into emergency medical services (EMS) are the same drives that helped me find my niche in tech and coding.
Why did you want to do the #100DaysOfCode challenge? Did you hope to accomplish anything specific?
I started the #100DaysOfCode challenge after I’d already been studying code for a while, not because I wanted to complete a specific thing but because I was starting to lose the motivation to keep learning. Coding, especially for someone coming in from outside, is incredibly challenging. It forces you to think in new and different ways, and I found myself banging my head against the wall, asking if this was really something I wanted to do, or if I could even do it.
I enjoy Twitter quite a bit, so I created the @CodingParamedic account to see if I could find more devs and engineers online, and maybe find some of that motivation that I had when I first started.
I believe I started the #100DaysOfCode challenge just a few days, maybe a week, after I started the account, and since then I’ve found more friends, more support, and a more amazing community than I could ever have dreamed of.
What coding experience did you have before the challenge?
Before starting the challenge, I had some coding experience, but not much. I remember doing a bit of HTML back in college when I was working as a tech with the on-campus technology center, but before recent history, that was the only coding I had done.
After that, in January of this year, my wife began using Udemy for classes to help with her business, and she suggested I grab a “learn to code” class from there because she knew that I had enjoyed the Grasshopper app.
Taking her advice, I picked up a Python bootcamp from Udemy, and here we are.
What are you most proud of now that you’ve finished the #100DaysOfCode challenge?
Just that I did it. I mean, 100 days is a lot of days! It’s just shy of a third of the year, and, man, I can’t believe I managed it. I’m planning on starting again, even with the job.
How instrumental was your project in securing your job at Amazon? Did your project have any relation to the type of work you’ll be doing there?
Specifically, no, but generally, yes. I really started focusing on back-end frameworks—Django, Flask, and so on—and just really digging deep into Python itself.
For my job, I connected on LinkedIn with my current boss. We chatted, connected, and he gave me some advice on what way to start learning. It ended up being more about the connection, my drive, my background, and my desire to keep learning than the base tech stack that was the key to joining his team.
Not to say that tech knowledge isn’t important! I had to be able to pass tech assessments before anything was even considered or brought up, but he told me he was looking more for a connection—someone who would fit in well with the established team and someone with an eager desire to learn and grow within the space itself.
It’s something that I’ll stress, and something that much smarter people than I have been stressing all over Twitter and LinkedIn: network, network, network. It’s killer out there for anyone looking for a job, but doubly so if you’re a junior.
Let your drive, your passion, and your personality out there, backed by your skills, and you will find your place.
What did you find most surprising and/or challenging during #100DaysOfCode?
I was most surprised just by how many people there were that were doing the #100DaysOfCode challenge! I wasn’t alone! It’s a great feeling to find people in the same place as you. It really helped motivate me to keep going, keep pushing, and stay regular with my work.
Were there times when you felt like quitting? How did you push through those moments?
Oh, loads. I think it’s something every new dev goes through, that feeling of “this is just too hard” or “I’m not learning as fast as I should.” I just kept going. I mean, despite the feelings of dread and self-doubt, it really is that simple, isn’t it? Don’t stop. Sure, take some time off. Go outside. Do something to clear your head. But don’t stop.
I think that’s one way that my background in EMS does give me a bit of an advantage at times. We couldn’t stop. Have a bad day, a bad call, maybe something bad happens at home, but people still need help, the ambulance needs to go out, so you just keep going.
My Twitter is filled with times where I wanted to give up, walk away, and just…go back to where I came from. But, in the end, just don’t stop.
What mistakes did you make that you think others following in your footsteps could learn from?
My biggest mistake was not reviewing fundamentals while working on the more advanced concepts. It really came back to bite me later, when I was finding myself looking up extremely simple concepts that I really should have known but had forgotten.
Keep studying the basics. Use active recall. Eventually, I made myself digital flashcards of the most basic of basic ideas in Python, and I used those to refresh myself every day or two. Then, when I needed that information, it came back easily.
Everything is built on fundamentals. Keep ’em fresh, and the rest gets easier.
Is there anything you would do differently if you could start this challenge all over again?
I’m not sure. Not to say that there aren’t things I should do differently if I could go back, but nothing specifically comes to mind (minus what I wrote above about my biggest mistake).
What advice would you offer to people considering doing this challenge?
Just start. Don’t think about it. Don’t make a big deal of it. Just start it like you would any other thing.
And make it a habit. A little bit every day. Even 30 minutes of coding in a day is 30 more minutes than you had the day before. A little bit every day adds up incredibly quickly.
Who has influenced you the most so far in your programming journey?
Oh, man. There’s so many, I’d be remiss if I forgot to name anyone.
The #CodeNewbie tag on Twitter was brilliant for meeting people and finding a community—same with the #100DaysOfCode challenge.
There’s so many devs on Twitter, ones without degrees, self-taught, who worked their butts off to get to where they are, and seeing them encourage people like me is incredibly heartening.
What programming reference materials can you not live without?
Ha! Man. Google, YouTube, Stack Overflow. I mean, there’s everything you want on the internet; you’ve just got to go find it.
I can’t forget to mention Udemy because it did get me into coding, but don’t get caught in the Udemy classes trap! Only buy what you’re going to do. Having a stack of classes that you’ve never touched is just a money sink.
The point is, it’s out there. You just gotta find it. Work on that Google-fu as hard as you work on coding.