Vertical fairy lights that look like purple icicles hanging from the ceiling of a dance club with a hot pink strobe light cutting through them

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Of Argyle and Engineering

“Are you open?” Alex asks.
“Sorry,” the bouncer says, “we’re closed. Private event.”
Or, I think, remembering that one scene in the movie Knocked Up, we’re too old and I’m too ugly.

We’re standing on a deserted street in Hollywood in front of a building with white plaster butterflies affixed to the side, white paint streaming down from them like some kind of Alice in Wonderland acid trip fantasy. It’s after ten, which means it’s past my bedtime. Alex is three months older than I am, but more like ten years younger in spirit, plus thin and gorgeous, and also brilliant and my best friend since we were penpals in 3rd grade (I’ll do the math for you – 22 years). She wants to dance, I want to be watching Netflix in my pajamas, but I’ve been promised we’ll do that after we dance for a bit.

“Try Argyle,” another bouncer pipes up. “Tell them Chelsea sent you. Ask for Kay.”

And just like that, my pajamas get a little further away. But we gamely march down the street to another club, with a line around the block. It’s populated by pretty young women wearing lingerie as clothes and men whose shoes cost more than my rent.

“Who are you with?” the bouncer asks, clipboard in the crook of his arm.

“Chelsea sent us,” I say. “We’re supposed to ask for Kay.”

“Good,” he says. “Wait here.”

When we’re waved inside, not even charged the cover, I’m mystified. As soon as we reach the dance floor I start laughing like a jackal and I can’t stop. It’s too loud for anyone to hear, too dark and chaotic for anyone to see, and so I tilt my head up to the flashing purple strobe lights and let loose. I’m probably half a decade older and at least four dress sizes larger than every other woman in the room. I wear glasses. I am the “before” from every movie where the heroine transforms into a popular hottie. I’m the last person who belongs in a Hollywood nightclub on a Saturday night, but here I am, and it’s hilarious.

I’m also a writer and a bibliophile. I’m the girl whose nose was always in a book before and after every class, who would take out a notebook and pen on the subway or at the bar to quickly jot character descriptions and plot notes whenever inspiration struck. I have a master’s degree in English and spent my whole life building toward a career in academia, but here I am – a software engineer at a tech startup. And in this moment, it’s hilarious.

I am multi-faceted, my life is an adventure, and I’m giddy with the sheer power of contradiction that flows through my veins. Or maybe that’s the rum from my drink at the last bar.

Six weeks in, I still feel like I’m going to wake up from a dream and be back at my old job, still on the fence about whether I have what it takes to make coding any more than a hobby. People are quick to claim imposter syndrome, but I don’t think that’s it. I’m a creature of habit, a type-A hyper-cautious virgo who craves stability and always has a plan. I transitioned careers – lives – so quickly I got metaphysical whiplash and my psyche is still reeling.

What is it like, walking into the office on the first day of your first proper job in tech? For me, it was surreal. It was kind of like walking into a party where you’re not quite sure if the invitation was actually meant for you or if it got misdelivered, but you’ve decided to take your chances. Staring out the sixth-floor windows over downtown San Diego I was transported back to Startup Week two years ago, touring startup offices in high-rise buildings. I remember staring at the knick knacks on people’s desks and the cardigans hanging on the backs of chairs and feeling so incredibly different from the people who possessed those knick knacks and cardigans. So different that I was unable to even fathom the possibility that I could, somehow, someday, find myself on a path that would lead to belonging in a space like theirs.

Growing up I, like many millenials, was told I could do anything I put my mind to. I didn’t really believe it though, because if that was true for everyone, then no one would have a pile of discarded dreams collecting dust in the back of their closet while they labored miserably at their day job. I didn’t “know people” or have any kind of special connections. People who made it, in some way, were special. My motto was “I am the rule, not the exception” long beforeĀ He’s Just Not That Into You hit shelves and theaters. I had resigned myself to the idea that, professionally, I would always simply have to do what I could get, even if it wasn’t what I wanted. I guess it all comes down to this: having an engineering job has upended my personal worldview in the best possible way, and I’m still adjusting to the cognitive dissonance.

I wish I could end this post with the magic formula to grant a career transitioner their first job in their new field, but I don’t have it. I also wish I could reassure you by saying “If I can do it, so can you!”, but I never found that particularly reassuring when other people said it. I guess what I’ll leave you with is this: life is crazy and silly and weird and unpredictable, and your ability to successfully transition careers is far more likely than the most unlikely thing that’s actually happening at the very moment you’re reading this sentence. I’m not a betting woman, but if I was, I’d bet on you.

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[Photo credit: CodeCopyCoffee]

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