Jesse Conner

How I Got Into Programming and Being Me (Part 1)

Posted: 6/24/2021

This post started its life as the copy for my About Me page until I realized that the story was already 1100 words and nowhere close to being done.

The Early Years/High School

   I got my start programming in the earlier years of high school. One of my earliest assignments was in French class. We were supposed to make a personal webpage about ourselves (in French of course). We used Front Page alongside some considerably basic HTML with all the nasty tags that history is sill trying to forget (<frame>, <marquee>, etc.).

   From then on, I knew that I wanted to learn how to make video games and desktop software. When course selection came around, computer science sounded like an obvious choice. We started out with a lot of the fundamental stuff in Visual Basic .NET. If you were reading my bio for guidance on how to get into programming, that is not my recommended approach, so please keep reading. From there, I was hooked. I got all the different For Dummies books that I could find on coding. Most of them I just read snippets of, but one that really stuck out to me was Java 2 for Dummies. I am not entirely sure why that was the one I worked all the way through, but it did a great job setting me up for when we got to learning object-oriented programming via C# in high school.

   In that last year of high school, I also got to dabble with web for the first time. Outside of my earlier Front Page experimentation, I had only really touched some basic HTML and JavaScript. In grade twelve computer science we had a brief unit on PHP and SQL. That gave me the building blocks I needed. It also gave me all sorts of misconceptions and bad practices. For example, we did not really go over what the “relational” in “relational databases” meant, or just how easy SQL injection can be.

   I started working on a personal website. It was a message board for my friends and myself. The layout was table based. I am sure that if I went back and looked over the source code, the tables would probably be one of the things that I will be the least horrified about. I am still incredibly proud (amazed maybe) at what I accomplished without a CMS or anything like that, with only a few weeks of learning.


   After grade twelve, I did a victory lap, mostly just co-op and some more math. On the last possible day for acceptance, I got my letter from the University of Waterloo for the computer science program in the math faculty. I should have done much more research into what I was getting in to. I had greatly underestimated the role of math in the math faculty. I discovered quickly that high school had left me very unprepared. I was able to coast a lot through high school, so my study skills were almost non-existent. I also found that there was an abundance of topics that we had never covered in high school that I was supposed to be familiar with.

   Prior to this, and even at the time, I was not truly aware of mental health, and what some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety are. Already at a disadvantage, what I know realize was my depression was getting worse and worse as the semesters went on. It was preventing me from going to class, studying, or even continuing to work on the stuff I enjoyed, such as the forum that I had built. Most days were just full of blah and emptiness. I eventually dropped out. However, it was much later than I should have.


   I took the year off to work, and then enrolled in a Computer Programming diploma at Seneca. It was a much better fit for several reasons. The material was a lot more hands on and played to my strengths. I eventually finished the program and got my diploma. I am still amazed about it to this day as my depression was still largely unchecked. I still was not making any time for personal projects or further learning.

The Dark Ages (For lack of a creative title)

   For the next few years, I just continued working at my job that I had since high-school. I did overnights for two years. Aside from a few bursts of feeling good, it became apparent that there was something wrong and that things were only getting worse. I dreaded going to work every single day. I would sit in my car waiting for the last possible second to go it. All I would ever do is work. It was not even so much of that work was taking all my time, as I just did not feel like doing anything at all when I was not working.

   Finally, after hitting an all-time low in February 2017. I reached out and got help. Through tests and consultations, I found out that I was not just depressed. It turned out that I was struggling with a form of bipolar disorder, mainly having quick, rapid shifts between feeling very bad and very good. It was usually more on the bad side, but with enough good to string me along.

   Another big symptom that I exhibited but had not clued in to at the time was a messed-up sleep pattern. Being able to sleep for long periods of time without feeling rested as well as the opposite, being able to stay awake for very long periods without feeling sleepy. With this information I began working on a plan with my doctor to get better.

   Things got worse before they got better. When treating bipolar the approach is to get rid of the "ups" before dealing with the "downs" so that the patient does not end up in a permanent manic state. Getting used to the medication was tough. I was working overnights at the time and since it regulated my sleep, I was no longer able to stay up during my days off so I would constantly sleep during the day and be awake all alone in the middle of the night. The bursts of highs that I used to feel to offset the lows were all gone. The anxiety seemed to be getting worse and worse. Every night was a struggle and I found myself frequently taking the anxiety medication just to get through the night. It did not seem to help anything, but at that point anything was worth a shot.

To be continued...