Bereaving Out Loud
Confessions of a grieving daughter...

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” ― William Shakespeare

Katherine L.

From Crosswords to Coding

February 3, 2023

How the worst time in my life led me to a new career...

From the outsider’s perspective, my recent career-change into the tech industry reflects that of the typical victim of the pandemic lay-offs. We all know the story, the exhausted 4:00 am D.C. commuter, working a job that barely paid the bills, inevitably laid off and left behind in 2020, who then decided they had enough of that lifestyle, and vowed to never commute on the hellish Beltway again, etc. etc. etc.

To be fair, my story does start as such. Yes, I was laid off, but I didn’t then decide to look around for fields with attractive salaries and WFH perks, and “voila! ”, Software Engineering! (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) In fact, a tech career did not even cross my mind until late 2021. My true journey began on an unexpected turn….okay, more like a hard swerve, so buckle up.

Most of the summer of 2020, I spent chasing down the D.C. unemployment office awaiting pandemic assistance. Working in the fitness industry, I was not going to be asked back to work any time soon. I pondered what my next career move would be, but that was immediately pushed aside when my Mom’s cancer returned.

I will not go into too much detail about the months to follow, except to add this tidbit as it relates back to my journey: I spent Christmas of ‘20 quarantined with my Mom. It was a magical time, together without the fear of covid worsening her already-fragile health, and most importantly, it seemed she had the cancer beat.

What have now become memories I hold dear, I recall the mornings we spent around the living room with our coffees in hand. They were quiet routines, and my Mom was always engrossed in a crossword puzzle. No, not from an app on her iPad, the actual crossword that comes on a smear-able, printed-on-paper, delivered-daily-to-your-home version of The Washington Post (I know, she was a boomer who still physically liked her newspaper in hand). What seemed so inconsequential at the time, would prove to be a major player in my life just months later.

Sadly, and swiftly, my Mom’s cancer proved too aggressive for treatments. On a Friday in late June of ‘21, I gathered some of the recent editions of The Post crosswords that lay unfinished, and picked up an erasable pen. Yep, I would definitely need that. I sat at my Mom’s bedside and decided to give my crossword-solving skills a try.

At the time, I figured it was something to keep my mind calm, plus, my Mom enjoyed them, so why not? Phew, they were hard! “Why in the world would I know that?!” was probably a question I asked myself on numerous occasions. But I continued on, inevitably stumped, but determined, as I sat by her side. Little did I know that as my Mom was slipping further away from one of her favorite past times, I was picking up right where she left off….

In the days following her death, crosswords became a daily routine of mine. They challenged me, and kept my mind occupied. Most importantly, they were a part of my Mom’s routine, and I was desperately holding on to anything and everything that made me feel connected to her. As weeks and months went by, I never missed the daily crossword. I actually became somewhat decent at solving them. I realized I was hooked on the challenge. The mental gymnastics, the clever puns; I was addicted to the thrill and adrenaline of arriving at the solutions!

Even so, although in the thick of my grief, life did not stop around me. I knew I needed to confront the ever-pressing question that had awaited: my career. I began to wonder how I would be able to translate this puzzle hobby into a paying gig. I enjoyed the intellectual concentration that crosswords brought, and realized how important these little challenges were to my daily being. Suddenly, it hit me! Coding. An industry of endless puzzles waiting for me to figure out where to put the pieces to make the bigger picture work! I was sold instantly.

At first, becoming a software engineer felt like a distant dream. I had already acquired a Master’s Degree and along with that, a mountain of student debt. The idea of school was far from appealing. But, I really wanted to make it happen. After a lot of research, I settled on a bootcamp, and with that, started on a new path. I was filled with motivation, energy, and excitement that I had never felt before. As soon as I took the first step, I knew I had made the right decision.

A year later, that enthusiasm I felt when I first started has only grown. I have found a niche that I never knew would hold a seat for me. I love the analytical aspect of programming. I love that I have gained the knowledge, and possess the ability and skills, to intertwine logic with my own creativity and see the results come to life on the web. I love that the possibilities are endless, and the learning never stops. I know I have barely scratched the surface of opportunity, and while my talents are unrefined, my determination to grow and improve remains stronger than ever.

I am often asked to explain why I chose to enter the tech industry. And while the story can be quickly dressed up and presented as a pandemic-induced career-change, what lies underneath is a much deeper narrative. The truth is, this story is the sole foundation of my Software Engineering career. It is one of great loss and unfathomable grief, yet encompassed by newfound hope and ambition. But most importantly, at the center of it all, is my Mom and her crossword.


    Eddy said on 2/23/23, 9:57 AM:

    Amazing story. Your determination and all the skills you already have are so inspiring. Way to go Engineer 🎉

    Kate said on 2/23/23, 1:34 AM:

    Such a thoughtful, inspiring tribute - delighted to follow along the journey ❤️

    Nick said on 2/23/23, 12:52 AM:

    So well written Katherine, you’ll make as wonderful a software engineer as you are a writer!

    Dorothy said on 2/22/23, 11:39 PM:

    Love love love. So much talent. Your momma is the proudest angel/hawk spirit I’m sure of it!!!!

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