Allen Whearry is a self-taught iOS developer who transitioned from a professional sales career to a software engineer role at Yelp. He believes that anyone can learn to program with enough time and effort, which led him to found Codeine Coding, which offers blog posts and learning resources about coding.
In a discussion with Dice, Allen breaks down what got him into programming, why he loves Swift, and how he’s achieved ideal work-life balance.
Why did you choose to start with Swift?
Swift is a great language and I think it is very beginner-friendly. Additionally, I believe there is a lot of room to grow, which is why I chose to learn Swift first instead of attempting to learn Objective-C for iPhone mobile development. Looking at Objective-C for the first time, I said to myself, “What is going on here?” Ha-ha!
Please describe your learning process a bit. How many hours a week did you devote to studying programming?
I adopted a learning strategy from an older gentleman I met at a Meetup. He called it L.T.A.: Learn, Try, Apply.
Reading books and tutorials was my learning stage, or should I say, consuming stage. Next, I had to “try” exactly what the book said, word for word, line by line. Finally, I applied what I learned and tried, making little changes, trying to break it, or implementing a version into my own personal projects. It’s hard to say how many hours a week I put into studying. I had a full-time career in sales and have a family with two small children. I’d say about 4-5 hours a day, 20 to 40 hours a week. My only real time to study was when everyone was asleep.
How did you effectively balance that out with family, etc.?
It was tough. Usually when you’re so laser-focused on one thing, you forget about something else or something suffers. For me it was sleep. I was OK with late nights, going to bed at 2-3 A.M., sometimes later, because I knew it was only temporary. Family is forever. My partner really helped me to be in the moment when it was family time. My advice to others on a similar journey is to be in the moment for whatever you’re doing. At your current job, be in the moment. When you leave, be in the moment with your family and friends. Finally, when it’s time to study, put everything you’ve got into it.
What’s your advice for conquering imposter syndrome?
Own it. Understand what’s triggering it. Understand that it may never go away, but you can make it so it’s not a hindrance. I think imposter syndrome pokes through when we feel we haven’t done something or know something in comparison to someone else—whether it’s real or, even worse, a fictional, almost idealistic developer we’ve put on a pedestal.
For example, I felt imposter syndrome knowing I did not have a Computer Science degree. I have a Psychology degree and I am self-taught in programming. I felt CS majors knew so much more than I could ever know. I thought, “How could I match up?” And then I realized I just needed time to learn.
Additionally, keep track of your wins, no matter how small. You printed “Hello, world!” on screen. Great! Track it! You changed the background color from white to a custom color after clicking a button. Amazing! Track it! Soon all your little wins will start getting bigger and bigger. Next thing you know, you’ll have some pretty impressive wins that you can look back on when imposter syndrome shows up.
What appealed to you about joining Yelp?
Yelp is a company whose mission is to connect people with great local businesses, and maintaining the trust consumers have in Yelp is a top priority. For a person coming from sales, that is exactly what you strive to do with your customers. I felt an instant connection. During my interview process, everyone was so kind and welcoming. I always ask each person, “How long have you been here” and, “Why have you stayed thus far?” I received excellent responses from a range of experience and years. I could see everyone’s body language change, as well. Smiles would get brighter and their postures would straighten up as they spoke about the company culture and their experiences. I could not sense unnecessary stress in their eyes as they switched from interview mode to personal experiences. Everyone seemed very hard-working and not overworked. That is why I chose Yelp and I’m honored they chose me.
What technologies/languages interest you right now, and why?
It’s funny, as far as languages, I’ve actually started learning Objective-C after avoiding it for so long. While I still love Swift, I’ve definitely started to see why many developers love Objective-C so much. I want to be a more rounded iOS Developer, so it only makes sense to learn the language that’s been a part of Apple development for decades.
In one of your Medium postings, you talk about the value of creativity. How does creativity factor into your daily developer process (i.e., are you using it to solve problems, build new products, etc.)?
I’m using my creativity all the time to solve problems. I believe it helps me come up with multiple possible solutions. I think some people think creativity is always some new flashy groundbreaking way of doing something, and that is not always the case. Sometimes it can be very simple. Creativity could be four lines of code condensed to three without losing readability and improving performance.
What are your ambitions as a developer?
For me, it’s super-simple: Learn as much as I can to provide the most value I can to my team, department, company and developer community.
Now that you’ve come this far and completed this amazing transition, where do you see the next stage of your career going?
I’ve always seen myself in management—specifically managing teams to provide great products to consumers. Also, I want to do more interviews and talks. I want to help those who are deciding to make a career switch into developing and let them know that it is possible.
Is the tech industry responding well to BLM, in your opinion?
Overall, I think the tech industry has responded well to BLM; however, they cannot be the only one’s making changes. If Black lives are to matter, we need all companies to make changes. We need our justice system to do a way better job at identifying the inherent biases they have when looking at a Black life.
Do you think tech companies are doing enough with regard to diversifying their employee ranks and taking everyone’s background into account?
I don’t think we will ever know if the work being done is enough until everyone is on an equal playing field. I think we are just at the beginning, and that the conversation can never stop. Some tech companies have already taken a hard look at themselves, identifying their biases and faults. We need to keep brainstorming. Share ideas with other companies. Utilize the same ideas and successes other companies have had. Due to COVID-19, a lot of companies have put a halt in their hiring. We will find out if anything has changed when hiring starts back. When you can identify your weaknesses, you can work toward strengthening them. I am hopeful that we will get to a point where diversity in employee ranks is more prevalent.