Mirha Masala's Leap of Code

Hello! Can you tell me more about your career?

I have a Masters in European Studies, but except for interning at an embassy in Holland, I didn't do much with these credentials.

I wanted to study journalism, but a friend of my parents discouraged me. Besides, one couldn't study journalism at an academic level, and my parents wanted me to go to university.

My second choice was to study English. I loved the language and was good at it, but my mother disapproved. She thought I already spoke English well enough and that knowing English wasn't going to be a differentiator.

In the end, I picked European Studies because the program allowed me to choose two languages, and my parents to brag about their daughter going into foreign affairs.

Not long into my internship, though, I knew I wasn't going into politics. With that finding came the understanding that I had no idea what I was good at, or what I wanted to do for a living.

I thought back to an old idea I had, a wish to travel the world for a year while immersing myself into twelve different lifestyles. Now, this idea could help me discover what to do next.

I shared my 12-in-12 idea online in the form of a blog, which became The Spin-Off Project. The project, however, took me five years to finish.

During this time, I learned that trying to monetize anything I loved doing was a sure way to kill that pursuit. I almost stopped writing.

I also found out that I enjoyed tweaking the design of my blog, and started thinking about learning to code. I figured coding could help me get the balance I needed. I would write on the side, but make money with coding while getting to stay creative and keeping the remote lifestyle I loved.

I signed up for a coding boot camp in January 2018, and ever since finishing it, I've done just that: write and code.

What made you decide to take time off for self-led learning?

A few months into my first job as a web developer, I realized I was in the wrong place.

When I applied, the only thing I asked for was to have a senior developer from whom I could learn. Unfortunately, the man who was supposed to be my mentor confessed that he hated questions. That wasn't cool.

Besides being in desperate need of a friendlier learning environment, I also realized that I lacked an overview of the new terrain. I needed to learn more about the people, companies, products, and possibilities in web development. My current situation wasn't going to get me there, and it was also all starting to make for a rather dull story.

In search of a northern star, I thought back of my most recent good story, The Spin-Off Project, and like that, I remembered Victor Saad.

Victor and I met right when I was doing The Spin-Off Project, and he was doing a 12-in-12 project as well, which he had called The Leap Year Project. It was a self-designed MBA, which included twelve projects that he had planned to tick off in a year.

Victor's idea was just what I needed.

That's how I created my own web developer MBA, and like this, I also ensured that my next step as a developer would make for a good story.

Did you consider going to grad school instead?

No, with so many online courses, coding lends itself well for self-study. Besides, coding is the one field in which nobody cares if you went to grad school. People in this field want to see you creating things. That's how you show off your knowledge.

How did you structure your learning sabbatical?

I decided to approach my coding MBA like a bucket list and gave myself about a year to tick it off.

You can find the curriculum here: Leap of Code - The Curriculum.

Ticking off a list like this instead of following a detailed plan and timeline worked out great in my case. It gave me the flexibility to take up projects as they came, which was especially useful for the items on my list that involved collaborations and thus depended on both other people's schedules and mine.

On a side note, I don't necessarily recommend structuring your learning sabbatical as I did. If you don't trust yourself with the freedom of a list, you might be better off with, well, more structure.

As for finances, part of my MBA involved teaching for Le Wagon and doing freelance work. In between assignments, G would take care of our basic costs of living.

How did you keep yourself accountable?

Once I began planning Leap of Code, I reached out to Victor for advice. He responded that four other people had contacted him with similar questions. Victor brought us together, and that's how we ended up having a monthly "Leapers" call.

No doubt, the monthly check-ins with the group kept me accountable. I wanted to make progress because I thought it was essential to maintain the collective motivation.

I also published my plan on my blog and told my readers about it in a newsletter.

Although I believe in outside pressure, I've also learned to keep myself accountable for my own sake. It's part pride, part the need to finish something I started. Besides, learning is different now that I'm older. Nobody is forcing me to learn. And I love the second chance at being a nerd.

Did anything surprise you about the experience?

I'm always surprised to find that the payoff of challenging myself is more significant than I ever imagine it to be at the start of such endeavors.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter to myself from "my eighty-year-old self." The practice made me realize how much I've already done as a web developer since learning to code only two years ago. I have Leap of Code to thank for the majority of these achievements. 

Forging my own learning path enriched my new career and life. It really did make for a good story.

What's your advice to others considering doing something similar?

Assuming that your finances are in order (and do not glance over this part), leap already. A net will appear. Sure, it may have some holes in it, but it will be there.

Second, make sure your curriculum is a mix of practice and theory. Yes, read books, and follow online courses, but also take up collaborations, do interviews, meet people, write, make. Mix it up. It'll make for a more exciting and rounded experience. 

Last, promise yourself that you'll keep at it until the end no matter what. It's only at the end that you'll be able to connect the dots and tally your bounty. As Neil Gaiman said, "Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished." 

And if everything fails, you'll not only have learned something; you'll also have pocketed at least one good story, regardless of whether it's a happy one or not. Some of the best aren't.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

I'm working as a frontend developer for TourHero. We just launched a guide to travel restrictions.

In my free time, I'm building a recipe app. I also write at mirhamasala.com and send out a monthly newsletter called Paper Planes & Packets.

Recently, I started The Knitting Club. It's one of the most fun things I've ever done with friends (spoiler alert: there's no knitting involved), and I can't encourage you enough to start a club of your own.

If you'd like to connect, send me a letter, or find me on GitHub or LinkedIn.

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