11/04/2013 01:17 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Adaptation: From Terrified Journalist to Techie

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We sprawled on a couch that night, a group of female engineers at a tech gathering. My friends discussed programming languages -- Python, Scala and the perils of Perl. And that was when it hit me: A memory of four years earlier in San Francisco. My boyfriend at the time, a software engineer, was sitting across from me at an Italian restaurant. He twirled gobs of linguine round his fork and flatly told me, "You hate technology."

Really, I don't hate technology. I'm a writer who now works as a product manager for a software company. In the past four years, I've learned to love coding -- the elegance of optimized solutions, the creativity of full-stack development. Yet, I sometimes feel like a deserter from enemy camp, carrying the angst of print media behind me. Other times, I simply feel privileged to work in Silicon Valley. But, most of all, I waver between the worlds of writing and technology.

For years, my life was consumed by writing. When I was eighteen years old, I discovered the works of Joan Didion. I remember sitting in my bedroom that night, absorbed in her masterful storytelling. It seemed natural and right to pursue a career in journalism. At the time, I clung to a romantic ideal -- the literary journalist, the irreverent scribe. Upon entering the field, however, I found a bleak reality. The age of Joan Didion, H.L. Mencken and Hunter S. Thompson was long gone, I was informed. It had been replaced by downsized newsrooms, SEO bait and the clamor of blogs.

So, who was responsible for the "death of journalism," or at least its undeniable crisis? The culprit, according to many writers, was the Internet. The online galaxy. The digital end of everything. I didn't plan to vilify technology but I didn't know how to fit into it either. In this new ecosystem, freelancers faced unlivable wages. Staffers feared losing their jobs. Writers couldn't compete with free and abundant content. This created a terrible paradox. As a journalist, I sought to "disrupt" the status quo. But journalism had become a "disrupted" industry; writers had become the status quo.

My professional aspirations were threatened. So, I consulted engineers and online experts for solutions. The advice wasn't encouraging. Typically, I was instructed to "adapt." These words felt empty. How could I simply "adapt," bypassing all the training, passion and experience that I had devoted to writing? And how could I rewrite my life plans? At first, I responded with defensive rejection. My instinct was to thrust back upon technology all the barriers that, as a journalist, I seemed to unduly face. Yet, over time, I began to reconsider my options. I wanted to evolve with my generation, not simply ignore it. This prompted a new approach: I would teach myself web development, or at least honestly try.

My journey began with a trip to the library, where I checked out "Head First HTML." Soon after, I enrolled in classes at San Francisco City College. To my surprise, I found the work enjoyable. It was imaginative yet results-oriented. Best of all, I could create content, entirely on my own. But this didn't signal an immediate transition. I merely considered myself a committed amateur. Over time, however, I built up the confidence to enroll in a software engineering bootcamp. There, I was encouraged to delve into databases, algorithms and web application frameworks. This was no easy feat for a bookworm, accustomed to metaphor over Boolean logic. Yet, after about five weeks into the program, I began developing my own web application. After about ten weeks, I was demoing my work to designers and engineers. The experience felt incredibly empowering and, by graduation, I knew that I wanted to work in technology.

As a blooming techie, I rediscovered my writing career, too. It was a relief to finally immerse myself within citizen journalism, real-time updates and multimedia content. For the first time, these industry
game-changers genuinely excited me. Meanwhile, I learned to welcome creative risk. No longer tied to staff policies or imminent deadlines, I increasingly focused on personal projects. Some were successful, others less so. But, over time, I mustered up the courage for my biggest project yet. It's still very new, traced with raw and searching words -- but it's happening. I'm writing a book.

Today, I'm a writer and a technologist. It amuses me to remember that I was once considered a hopeless Luddite. When I look back on that time, I see a young and frustrated journalist, worried about her future. It's understandable that I felt threatened. But, since that day, I've learned two lessons. The first is that "adaptation" isn't easy. Often times, it's terrifying. However, we must listen to voices of change, especially as more industries -- not just journalism -- will be disrupted in the future.

The second lesson is that adaptation isn't enough. I know this whenever I read a spellbinding novel or sit down to write. Technology is an inspiring field, full of possibilities. But it's not enough. My adaptation would have been meaningless, even lifeless, if I hadn't approached it on my own terms. It took years of carving out a niche for myself. It took yearning and searching for ways to preserve my love of writing. And it took a ton of resistance and internal debate. Now, I live between writing and technology, between the digital and textual, and happily in a state of conflict. This personal fissure is a blessing; it let me adapt, honestly and fully.

So, things fall apart -- and, well, that's life. But we carry on. Somehow on this journey I became a better writer. Most certainly, I became a better problem-solver. Nobody likes to see their plans obliterated. But, sometimes, we're presented with a big and scary choice: Learn to love the crisis. Rip it apart. Make it your own.