How I went from a starving artist in a call center to a work-from-home coder

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I graduated college in 2009, right in the aftermath of the 2008 housing crisis. Jobs didn’t exist, especially not for someone with zero experience holding a limp Fine Arts degree.

My life quickly stalled, but this is how I pulled myself out of a tailspin thanks, for the most part, to Python.

I had slid through my undergrad with just enough scholarships to keep me (mostly) out of debt. I had some college loan credit that helped me survive that first summer without a job.

My main medium is linoleum printing, so I threw myself into my art.

I thought I had been clever.

See, painters have a problem. Once they’re finished with a piece, they can only sell it once. Sure, they can pay to have prints made, but that’s extra expense and your final product – no matter how you spin it – is basically a cheap poster.

Linoleum printing is different. Basically, I get this fat pad of linoleum that has the texture and toughness of really hard clay. Then I carve out a piece of art using a set of special blades.

Once my design is complete, I take a roller and spread extremely sticky, thick ink all over the surface. Think pitch black molasses. Then I press a piece of paper to it, and walah! A work of art ready to dry and frame.

Mass production was my angle. Unlike painters, I could make as many prints in-house as I wanted and just keep selling them.

Only problem was… nobody was buying them.

My ratty apartment was soon cluttered with monochrome prints with my increasingly less-confident signature scrawled across the bottom.

I thought I had been clever.

Cash was running out, and fall was looming, so I went to apply for a job at a coffee shop.

Realizing that I was essentially becoming a walking cliche, I bailed on the barista application halfway through.

(shudders)

With few options and little understanding of the “real world” I decided to hide out in academia a bit longer. I got a master’s degree, but I still hadn’t learned my lesson.

Instead of getting something practical, I went with Visual Arts.

I ended up answering phones for an internet service provider.

It soon became clear that the 9-5 workflow didn’t agree with me at all. Every night I faced a horrendous dilemma. I could:

A) Go to bed early, meaning the next nightmarish day would come all the sooner or

B) Stay up late, postponing the next day but guaranteeing it would be even worse for my exhaustion.

I started trying to pick up some freelance design work on the side, but this was futile. Kids on Fivver are churning out good-enough work for most businesses’ purposes in a time when everyone is cutting corners.

My life, my nightmare

I wasn’t marketable.

I was getting thoroughly plastered with my friend Julian one Friday night, venting my frustrations to him.

At some point, I realized that I had no idea what Julian actually did for a living. He always seemed on social media in the middle of the day, and he never missed a party or complained about office politics. As far as I knew, the guy didn’t even have a degree.

I asked him, and he told me developed software remotely for several companies. He never clocked in, never had to commute, and only rarely had to pick up a phone.

Of course I was interested in how he got into this line of work, and his story was that he kind of just fiddled around with programming after high school for a few years living with his parents. Eventually, he had enough work to move out.

I wanted that. I wanted his lifestyle.

He never clocked in, never had to commute, and only rarely had to pick up a phone.

But I didn’t have the luxury of moving back in with my parents, and I was living in daily agony. My soul was being ground away one “Thank you for calling, how may I help you” at a time, so I didn’t think I could survive tinkering with code for the next few years just to develop a base skillset.

I needed a faster solution.

I was no stranger to investing in myself, and in spite of my situation, I still believed in the value of education. I’d paid off my student loan debt through meager living, but I was going to need to go into debt again to make this happen.

I threw several thousand dollars into online courses centered on programming.

I wanted his lifestyle.

I’m not going to lie. It was a massive uphill battle. Instead of drinking my evenings away, I would battle traffic from the office just to throw myself back in front of a computer. I would study coding until my eyeballs felt like they were about to fall out of my head, then the next day I’d do it again.

And again.

At the time, it was exhausting. But looking back, I remember those days as a Rocky-style montage of fingers flying across the keyboard and Starbucks canned espressos piling up in the trash can. Cue “Eye of the Tiger.”

My saving grace, sweet nectar of the gods

Six months later, I landed my first remote programming gig.

I told them I was fluent in Python and currently worked for an internet service provider. They never asked what I did there, and I never told them I just answered the phones.

It’s hard to believe that was three years ago.

Today my life is radically different.

I wake up at 10am most mornings, do some coding for my clients, and surf the web. I have a full workload, but I still have time to work on my linoleum prints. I’ve even sold a few.

I’m making more money than I was answering phones, and I love my life. There’s no traffic, no office politics, no cubicles.

Some days I don’t get out of my pajamas. Some days I crack a beer or two in the early afternoon to hit that Ballmer Peak.

In fact, I love what I do so much, I’ve become pretty evangelical about it. I want others to have the kind of freedom and life enjoyment that I do.

One of my pastimes now is staying abreast the kind of online classes that helped me get my act together and sharing them with people I think might like them. When I went all-in on learning how to program, I probably seriously overspent.

I threw several thousand dollars into online courses centered on programming.

If I had done a little more research, I would have discovered that many of these online courses have artificially increased prices so that instructors can occasionally hold massive price drops to attract new students without losing money.

There are a few of these flash sales that look really valuable to me currently going on at Tech Deals.

The Python 3 Bootcamp Bundle is 315 lessons spanning 9 courses, and you can get them all for $41. This includes the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Django, a popular course that’s normally $200 all by itself.

Python is a tremendously valuable programming language to learn. I got started here, and for a while, it was my primary skillset.

If you’re lucky and know how to sell yourself, you can probably land a job just with fluency in that one language.

However, if you’re serious about changing your life and becoming a master of your own day, you’ll probably need to develop some additional skillsets as well.

Ethical hacking is a good base of knowledge for anyone dealing with networks, and a beginners bundle is currently going for $49. That’s 9 courses, 340 lessons, and a solid five-star rating with over 6,000 students enrolled. You’ll have to jump on this one quick, though, because it’s ending very soon.

Learning Linux is also important, especially if you want to angle your career in the direction of a systems administrator. Another solid 5-star set of courses is currently going for $69. The Complete Linux System Administrator Bundle takes you from Linux noob to network God over the course of just a couple of months.

The mobile-minded among you might be more interested in focusing on Android app development. Although I’m personally less familiar with this programming landscape, there are two attractive looking course bundles currently available:

For beginners, there’s the Complete Android N Developer Course by Rob Percival, a veteran in the online code learning realm. Even if you don’t know anything about app development, Rob will walk you through building 17 apps of increasing difficulty. This one is also ending quite soon, so you’ll want to act quickly. $17 during the sale, normally $200.

The Professional Android Developer Bundle is a brand new bundle currently going for an introductory rate of $39. Considering the sticker price of all 5 courses is in the $300 range, this is a great opportunity reinforce your development knowledge if you already have a foundation.

Finally, if you’re more interested in the web development side of things, Rob Percival is back again with The Complete Web Developer Course 2.0. The original CWD course was one of the most popular in existence and gave a tremendous boost to Percival’s reputation in the industry. The 2.0 version is revamped, and currently discounted from $150 to $19. Once more, this one’s closing up shop soon, so you’ll have to jump on it.

If you were like me and failed to research the way online courses are packaged and sold, then you might have wound up spending several thousand dollars on all the courses I’ve spotlighted here.

But if you’re smart, and you’re willing to commit to it, then you can start building the life that you want from your laptop at home. You’ll even have the time to pursue your side interests, be it linoleum printing, self-improvement, or writing the next Great American novel.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope these resources help you out!

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