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Spark to ignition.

“So there I was, arguing with people on Facebook about politics during a pandemic.”

I’ve always wanted to be a programmer. It may not be high on many kid’s lists, I’m sure ‘astronaut’ and ‘rock star’ rank much higher in general. For me however, the dream was sitting behind a screen staring at code. While other 13-year-old’s were socializing (I guess?), I was glued to my ‘Cybiko – Handheld Computer for Teens!’ trying to piece together my own text adventures in cyBasic, and dreaming of someday becoming a video game developer.

Fast forward almost 20 years, and well… Things don’t always go to plan. Working on my third attempt at college and having spent the past 6 years working as a mostly physical labor CDL driver, which although it paid well was something I fell backwards into and never enjoyed doing, I was left with the feeling that it would just drag on forever and I finally had enough. I saved up and prepared to leave my job to instead focus on both finishing my degree and getting a start in a new industry. It was February of 2020, when I decided that it was finally time to quit. I put in my notice and soon after departed my job with just enough saved to make a mad dash for it. But as I said, things don’t always go to plan.

For those who haven’t yet realized what came next, I’ll remind you as you certainly already know, the whole world shut down. A global pandemic hit just as I began my risky venture. Trying to find a job in a new industry, which was an already difficult task, was now pretty much taken off the table entirely… And with no longer being employed, in a world shut down by a virus, all I could really do was study and waste time online. So there I was, arguing with people on Facebook about politics during a pandemic. Nothing particularly unusual for my routine at that time, that is until one of the people I was arguing with directly messaged me. Probably a “troll”, wanting to argue some more I assumed. I checked the message and saw that he was asking about my college degree. With that I figured that I was right and he likely wants to argue about or insult my education. However, for some reason rather than just ignore it and move on, I responded. I wanted to see where “Joe Wilson” was going with this.

Ignition to flame.

“It quickly occurred to me that I had no idea what I was doing.”

The reply surprised me, and not because of the horrible things that it said, but because it wasn’t horrible at all. Despite the strange start, Joe Wilson was no “troll” looking to lob insults my way. This wasn’t a continuation of the conversation, but rather a whole new conversation all together. Joe had moved right past politics and seen me as just another human being, taking a sincere interest in my education and career path. As it would turn out, Joe Wilson is the CTO of Ignition72, and he was interested in offering me an opportunity.

One of my biggest fears going forward and chasing what I wanted to do was never even getting the chance to try. It seemed for a long time something would always just get in the way. Be it personal, financial, just not being able to find the time, or even a worldwide pandemic it always seemed to get pushed back just a little bit further. Yet, there I sat as opportunity hadn’t just shown up at my door out of the blue, but it actually took the effort to reach out to me on Facebook. I accepted of course, that’s what leads me to writing this now, and so would begin my internship, while finishing my degree, during an ongoing pandemic. Sure, why not?

Getting started began with a daily virtual team meeting, due in part to the pandemic, and a question “What are you working on today?” One by one each member of the team would be named and was asked this question, and yet when I heard my own name it caught me completely off guard. “Umm. I’m not sure” is all I could muster as I grasped to comprehend the question. I thought someone would tell me that. Coming from job after job where I took orders from management rather than set my own path, I still sometimes find it difficult to break away from responding with “what do you want me to do?”

From there, my impression was that the daily meeting is fairly symbolic of how Ignition72 seems to run as a whole. Here’s the keys, remember to lock up when you’re done. There isn’t really much instruction outside of a general list of what’s being worked on. There is a good bit of variety in the projects, although it adds even more complexity to trying to figure out where you should try and help out. You more or less are just unleashed to figure out how you can contribute yourself. The downside being that, if like me, you aren’t used to that sort of independent workflow, it can be very overwhelming especially when combined with the general anxiety of a new job. In ways both good and bad, it felt more like I was an employee who’s been there years and was just returning from vacation rather than the new guy who hasn’t even located the bathroom yet. However, trying to look over my options and find where I can help out, it quickly occurred to me that I had no idea what I was doing.

In the flames, we create the tools that drive us.

“I’m still in way over my head 75% of the time.”

Though that might sound bleak, I believe Ignition72’s workflow is a solution not a problem. My discomfort comes from the many businesses that instruct and monitor our every movement, not with Ignition72. Businesses that do it not out of concern for our improvement, but because they are certain we’ll fail. In actuality my discomfort is with being trusted to learn and figure something out myself, and that’s an unfortunate thing to be uncomfortable with. So I’ve been working to adapt, because I’d much rather be uncomfortable with the business that expects you to fail, rather than the one that gives you the freedom to fail and learn from it.

Last week I was working on a plugin, something I had never done, and nobody was looking over my shoulder, figuratively or literally. I was able to just learn and figure it out, solving problems as they arose because I wanted to, not because I was told to. Originally the words “What are you working on today?” were nothing more than a source of anxiety for me. However, when you get into a good flow and you have a solid answer to the question, it feels really empowering to be able to say, without just repeating instructions you were given, “This is what I’m working on and this is how it’s going.”

All in all, I’ve enjoyed and valued what I’ve gained from this internship, though it’s not over yet. And honestly, I’m still in way over my head 75% of the time. But that’s ok, because next week it will only be 65%. So, whether it’s numerous attempts at college, powering through a job you hate to create opportunity for yourself in the future, navigating your way through a new internship, or even making it through the stresses a worldwide pandemic, while things don’t always go to plan, sometimes they do, so just keep moving forward and you’ll get through it.

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