November 6, 2017

Setting a New Course

Bryan Travis Hooper

Recently, I began pursuing a new professional path that, on first blush, might seem like a radical change in direction. However, in the context of my life story, I think it is a fairly reasonable change and I am hopeful for some interesting new opportunities.

First, let me give you some background.

For my professional life so far, I have served as a United Methodist pastor. I was drawn to ministry for a number of reasons: a passion for the church and the rich questions of life that the church wrestles with, a love of people and a desire to serve my community, a knack for speaking and a capacity for leadership. For many years, working in the church was very rewarding and endlessly interesting.

But, eventually, the church began to become a place of frustration for me. Churches are wonderful places, but they are also broken places. The mainline church faces immense challenges - shrinking congregations, crumbling buildings, decreasing cultural resonance, insufficient resources and a basic lack of clarity around mission and purpose. In addition to all of that, the church is engaged in endless debates around sexuality, gender, and power structures - debates that don't really interest most people and serve to make the church an even less attractive option for Sunday mornings.

While my convictions as a Christian remained intact, I grew increasingly disenchanted with organized expressions of my faith...even of the ones I was leading.

I toiled in this frustration for a while and tried different opportunities, but in the end, I concluded that I would be of more use to the church and happier as a person doing something else professionally

That began a long period if introspection and reflection. I'll bore you the details except to say I have an amazing and graceful wife.

In college, I majored in Computer Science. I was an average student, on a good day. But as a child I had developed a fascination with computers from the first time I touched an Apple II (yes, I'm that old). My dad bought an Apple clone (the famous, and illegal Franklin Ace 1000) and I learned to write BASIC programs and play video games. In college, I continued my interest into computers, but I was a typical college kid of Generation X, with out any real direction. Seminary gave me direction so off I went - but now my old interest in playing with computers is returning to the fore.

Over the years, I'd built websites for the churches I served and friends. I took a stab for a while as a freelance web developer, but I didn't really like working for myself and I always wanted to hone my skills so I had more to offer. So, at the end of my reflection, I concluded that I would like to set aside some time and really develop myself as a coder/programmer/developer. At the moment, I am hoping to work in the health care field, continuing my interest in helping people, but I do not want to close myself off to any opportunities that might come my way.

As I began exploring how I might proceed, I discovered a number of "schools" that offer to prepare people for careers as web developers. To be honest, I was skeptical about them, since they were non-traditional educational institutions, usually for-profit, and with little information to confirm their effectiveness. Eventually, however, I found the Flatiron School. I was impressed with them for a few reasons. First, I read about them on a blog I follow, and the reports seemed to be quite positive. Second, I noticed that Flatiron was unique among these "code camps" in that they submitted their results to an independent audit. Finally, Flatiron has a strong commitment to educate and place women and minorities in tech careers. Their values seemed to line up pretty well with mine. That isn't to say all things are rosy at Flatiron. The need for programmers and coders has far outpaced the supply. Consequently, these "schools" have popped up in an effort to meet the need. But it feels a little "wild west." More than others, Flatiron seems committed to bringing standards and professionalism to their emerging industry - and I hope they are sincere and successful.

So, I've begun. So far so good. The road ahead is long and challenging for me, and I'm not sure where it will end up. But I am excited to find out. In the weeks ahead I'll be posting additional blog posts here about my progress and what I have learned.

Oh. There's one other reason why I want to do this. I find it fun. I enjoy it. Sitting in front of a monitor trying to make the stupid computer do something interesting is my idea of a good time. So....that's no small part of this new adventure.