Lorna Dennis, May 18, 2015 | 4 min read

Kicking Butt and Taking Names – Coding after Cancer

This is my third week of code immersion. To say that it is challenging is an understatement! I first entered this course feeling apprehensive and anxious. I did not know what to expect. Fear of the unknown has always been a big deal for me. I was however, strangely excited about learning a new skill set which had the potential to rewrite the last chapter of my life. I should add that I am 50 years old now and I entered this program with absolutely no prior knowledge of programming and only minimal computer skills.  In 2012 I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.  At the time I was a flight attendant for one of the major carriers.  After a long exhausting battle which included chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, my company decided I was too much of a liability and offered me a severance package in exchange for my resignation. Suddenly I was completely at a loss for what to do with my life. I knew that the time had come for me to reinvent myself so to speak. I needed a set of skills that had no expiration date and that I could perform as long as I was able to do them. One day I stumbled upon the Tech Talent South webpage and found out that they offered a scholarship for women to encourage female participation in the tech industry. I applied and the rest is history.  I can not express how grateful I am for this opportunity to show the world that I plan on surviving and I still have quite a bit to offer.

Lorna Dennis - Survivor

Week 1 was a whirlwind tour of Ruby. Everything seemed to run together… It was like everyone was speaking French and I spoke only English. I spent the entire first weekend on youtube watching Ruby tutorial videos! Looking back, it was probably information overload, but I felt I needed to find a way to catch up to the rest of my class.

On Monday of Week 2, I began to understand pieces of what we were doing. Suddenly I felt encouraged. There were methods, arrays, hashes and interpolation… and I was bound and determined that I would not give up until I mastered Ruby and Rails. By the end of Week 2 I felt as though things were starting to fall into place. I began to understand more of the material that was presented and went home full of hope. Over the weekend, I was to write an inventory program and I was actually able to begin my program and get it to do 2 of the 4 required actions by myself! This for me was a major accomplishment.  Finally, the light had come on. I started looking back at my notes and watching more tutorials online and I actually understood what was going on! I could not have been more excited and my entire family celebrated with me.

And then… Monday morning of Week 3 came. We had a lecture and exercise in Rails which deflated my spirit. It seems as though I am back at square one. I left today feeling depressed and incapable of achieving the goal that I have set for myself.  A mental block has set in and today I feel as though I am my own worst enemy.

One thing that gives me a sense of calm is that my instructor for the rest of this week will make sure that everything we covered today is broken down until I understand it. I am glad to know that Zach is as invested in my success as I am.

Though this has probably been my worst day in the course thus far, I will pick myself up, shake these emotions off and take my seat on the end of the front row tomorrow morning. I will keep plugging away to ensure that this opportunity has not been wasted on me. Tomorrow I will be looking for the switch to turn the light back on! I am confident that I will find it.

Update – Tuesday of Week 3 started out a little rocky, however, just as I expected, my instructor Zach was there to help me pull it together. He actually took extra time after office hours to ensure that I had a clear understanding of the homework assignment and that I was at a comfortable spot to move forward on my own.  Guess what…? The light is back on, and I was able to complete my homework tonight on my own. I can not commend the instructors at Tech Talent South enough for going above and beyond to ensure student success. I feel as though my success matters to someone other than me and that gives me the encouragement to keep fighting. Hopefully by my next blog entry everything will have fallen into place and this emotional meltdown will be a distant comedic memory.