And NOW For My Next Act…

Guest Blog Post by Donny Lobree

Having just passed to the far side of 60, I’d guess I’m one of the older techies you’d ever meet.  I’m also a proud recent grad of Flatiron School.  How did I get here and where am I going?  Well, let’s see….

I’ve been in retail, been a tax preparer, bank teller, airline worker, and ran my own businesses. I’ve taught yoga, Reiki and even became a Certified Massage Therapist.  Somewhere throughout those decades I personally met Princess Diana in a hotel in Rio, fell in love and almost married a man in South Africa while traveling around the world more times than I can barely remember.  I lived through the worst of the AIDS crisis in the 80’s and 90’s in San Francisco;  lost a husband, Julio,  and became a healer.  Somewhere in all that, I learned to speak 10 languages and worked myself up to becoming a semi-professional violist.  Did I mention I wrote and published a children’s story about my beloved stuffed bunny?  I think my very greatest joy and challenge has been working off and on over the decades as a Midwife to the Dying–I help people die and I sit with the grieving.  To balance it out, I took my shirt off and became Mr. July 2016 for an SF non-profit and helped raise funds for our community’s most needy.

All that being said, it was a couple of years ago when I asked myself, “Well ok, can we please be done now?”  And the little voice inside of me said,  “ Sorry, Hon. There’s just a bit more to go.  And by the way, what are you really doing with your life, Donny?”

What indeed.

And so as I entered this next stage of my life, I began to ponder: how can I synthesize and bring together all that I have been?  What do I want my next contribution to the world to be?  How can I begin to compose a graceful “coda” to this life over these next couple of decades?  How can I help ensure a comfortable lifestyle for myself and my 71 year-old husband, Kirk, as we both continue to gather, examine–and release.

I have always been fascinated by computers and coding, having been firmly grounded in the contrasting pre-internet era of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.  “What would it be like to play with some HTML?”, I thought.  And so I begin to teach myself HTML/CSS and make simple websites.  The whole process reminded me of learning a human language with vocabulary and syntax.  The ability of thinking out of the box came fairly naturally to me as a classical musician: playing the viola has a lot of structure to it, but allows you to be creative as you play “on top of” your technique.

My coding experience just kept growing over months.  After HTML/CSS then came JavaScript.  “So many fun things to learn and cool-looking technologies to try,” I would constantly observe. These days, I’m expanding my repertoire by learning Java and the MERN stack (MongoDB, Express, React and Node).  I’m planning on tackling Amazon Web Services towards the end of the year.

I never cease to be amazed by the ability coding affords us to make something out of plain air.  And not just any old thing, but maybe something that will be of use to people to make their lives better or bring them closer together. Therein lies the “magic” of coding.

However, I had no real path in coding or any particular goal as I bashed around with coding tutorials.  Then one day a friend suggested, “Why don’t you let people pay you to code, Donny?”  What a thought!  So over the next few months as I worked with that idea, I realized I needed to put some form to all this new seemingly random coding knowledge I was collecting.  That’s when I started investigating coding schools.

It took me well over a year to choose my school.  I was on every email list for every coding school I could find and took many free and paid pre-code school prep courses.  I chose Flatiron School in the end.  Why?  What stood out about Flatiron as opposed to several other really good schools?

Flatiron is the only coding school I found that really truly has a heart–and big one at that.  

From my pre-school coding interview to the account executives; from the bookkeeping staff and, of course, down to my eventual teachers and post-graduation employment coaches, everyone unfailingly and without exception demonstrated care, generosity in addition to precision, excellent communication and responsiveness.  I have never for a second regretted my choice of code school and, as I like to say whenever I get a chance, “I am a grateful Flatiron School graduate.

Today, as I bring in all that I have been, or “soft skills” as you call it in techie-world, together with my fledgling “hard skills”, I find myself looking for a job in this era of COVID-19.

Although it is not impossible for someone of my age to get a job as a Software Engineer, the truth is that it is somewhat harder. “Age discrimination can be subtle,” as one counselor told me.  Perhaps the 25 year old lead engineer will be thinking, “Can I play ping pong with this guy?”  Or it can be more overt in the initial stages of the interviewing process where I have been actually asked, “How old are you”, or “What year did you graduate from high school”.  In both cases, I respectfully declined to answer the questions.  Below, I’ve included some resources regarding the federal and state laws regarding age discrimination if you’re curious.

Today, much like some of my colleagues from school, I continue the job search.  Maybe I’m just beating my head against the wall?  Perhaps taking the coding nomad approach would work better.  

Let me close our time together with one parting thought.  When you wake up in the morning, ask yourself the same question I ask myself: “What will I learn today,” and “How will I be of service?”  Then see how far you’ll go!
Keep coding out your dreams!

P.S.  I would love to connect with you and hear your thoughts.  Find me here on Linked In:

*Here are some links to articles regarding asking an applicant’s age during an employment interview:

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