Monday, May 24, 2010

Get Your Paint Brush

I've been painting a lot lately. I recently had the intense urge to splash bold color on my bathroom walls. And I have to say, that while I love making drastic changes to a room and gazing admiringly at the finished product, the actual process of getting there drives me a bit nuts. While I was prepping and painting, it gave me a lot of time to think about... well, everything - including coding, mentoring, and blogging. And it struck me how much painting is like coding.

Maybe you don't paint the way I do, but as a typical perfectionist coder-type, I'm pretty picky about the end result. I always tell people that should this coding thing not work out for me, I'll go into interior design (LOL!). Finally, I've found a way to tie two of my passions together! At any rate, I hope you enjoy the analogy.

It's All in the Prep Work
First of all, I hate blue tape. Not because I have an aversion to the color blue, but it stands in the way of what I'm really looking forward to - the transformation that comes with brushing and rolling a new color onto the walls. And in an effort to paint the wall a dark purple with bright white trim while avoiding getting paint on the floor, it meant either a very steady hand or the use of blue tape.

While I was taping, my mind wandered to the people I've talked to who are trying to get into the coding field and how I often hear complaints about the education piece of coding. I liken taping off a room to getting a coding education. No one is going to recommend my painting skills if there is paint slopped all over the place. Likewise, no one is going to recommend me as a coder if I'm not educated.

Do You Have the Right Paint Supplies?
I wish I could say that my project took only one trip to the store to get the paint and the few supplies I needed (since I have the desire to paint something every year or two) -but it took three. The first trip resulted in a gallon of purple paint, ceiling paint, a tarp, blue tape (!), and a couple of other essentials that I couldn't remember if I had or not. The second trip garnered me a few more paint brushes for trim.

I thought I was set.

If only. At 6:00 pm on Sunday, I started going through paint cans of redecorating sessions past trying to remember which subtle shade of white was the right one for the trim. When I eventually found it, I opened the can and it was dried solid (when did I paint last anyway?!). I thought of using another white for trim, but while it wasn't dried out, it was in a sad state and ready to be retired. I thought about forgetting it and worrying about it next weekend. But I know me - it would probably never get done. So I headed back out for one last trip to get some trim paint.

Then I was set with another decision - which color of white should I get? If you've ever chosen white paint, you know there are about 5000 different shades of white. The old colors I had previously used were either a little two yellow or a little too green. So I selected a shade in the same color family as the purple and soon I was back home, painting the trim.

So how is this like coding? Well, if the prep work is the education, then your supplies are the educational institution you select. A higher quality institution means a higher quality you. I could have painted the trim with the yucky, rotten back up paint, but it wasn't the shade of white I really wanted and I knew the end result would not hold up to my standards. You can select an education based on cost, time, or promises the institution makes to you. But is it really a quality institution? There's a reason some educational institutions are more expensive. The only real answer to this is to get references from people in the industry. If you are working with a school, ask them to provide references from graduates. Make sure that the education you're seeking will set you up for the job you want, which means preparing you for the right certifications.

If you select the wrong educational institution only to find out later that it's an issue with hiring managers, be prepared to go back. Trust me. I was not happy that I had to go back to the paint store. But I am very happy with the end result. If you can't get anywhere with the education you received previously, find out what you need to do to get the education that will get you somewhere.

Don't Forget to Accessorize
Since I have fantasies of making a living transforming people's living spaces, for me no room is complete until it's been redesigned down to the last accessory. I've had this bathroom remodel planned for months, inspired by some personal stationary. I searched in stores and online for the perfect (and affordable) shower curtain, wall hangings, light fixture, and other room accessories. The end result was a complete cosmetic overhaul - the only thing I kept in the room besides the existing plumbing fixtures were the towel bars and soap dispenser. These final touches make all the difference. Let's face it - without them, this room is just a giant grape.

I always recommend that people accessorize their coding careers by picking up a specialty (or two). It's going to make the difference between you as a coder and you as a highly skilled coder. Specialties such as interventional radiology, cardiac catheterization, pain management, and radiation oncology are very difficult areas in coding. If you can code any of those specialties - and keep up with the frequent changing in coding rules and regulations - you will be highly marketable. But be careful. Unless you are willing to relocate to get a job, make sure you are seeking a specialty that is in demand in your geographic area.

When is the Painting Done?
I would like to tell you that the bathroom is done and it's beautiful and I will never change it. The truth is, I still need to replace the broken light fixture, hang the vanity mirror, and do a couple of touch ups. In another few years I will probably be sick of the color and want to change it again.

Likewise, once you complete your coding education, you won't be done. Coding requires continuous education to maintain your certification and keep up with medical technologies. And just when you get that most difficult area of coding down, Medicare will change the rules and you'll have to learn it all over again.

So keep up those painting skills and best of luck on your career remodel!