I Once Thought I Couldn’t Code

I started learning simple HTML when I was just 13.

Geocities had this really cool feature that allowed you to drag and drop on a visual builder, but then toggle to see what you’d created in the code behind. Think Classic WordPress’s editor but on steroids but also like a version from 2000.

I spent years getting better and better at front-end development because I liked it. I enjoyed creating something from scratch, going from a blank webpage to a full website. Even at 16 and 17, when I was doing “volunteer” and cheap website builds for my school and educational connections, I enjoyed taking a web presence from 0 to finished.

My First Web Development Job

When I was 18, I started my first full-time job working as an in-house web developer for a local computer repair company. I mostly tinkered with their website (everything was so much more manual in 2005) and kept it up to date.

I went off to college out of state just a couple months after I started, but my new boss liked me so much that he allowed me to work remotely my freshman year.

Let’s just take a moment, here in 2021, to think about the fact that in 2005 a business owner trusted an 18 year old kid enough to let her work 2 states away while attending college full-time. My new roommates asked me what I did for work, and I explained that I worked for a computer company managing their website. And I could work whatever hours I wanted and from anywhere I wanted as long as I had a laptop and an internet connection.

It was wild at the time!

Learning PHP

My first year of college went pretty well. I mostly had an easy time with classes, managed to work about 15-20 hours per week, and was thinking about ways to improve the website that I was working on all of the time.

Sometime during my Fall semester, my best guy friend at the time and I discovered a PHP class being taught in the Spring. He was also interested in coding, so we thought it would be great fun to take a class together and learn something new.

If any of you actually took coding classes in college (even if you were a computer science major), your experience was probably a lot like mine. The teacher (who was honestly just a TA but led the class), got up and taught a concept for about 10 minutes. Then he basically told us to turn to our computers and code something.

I loved it though! I’ve always been better at being self-driven and honestly, PHP spoke to me. It worked with my brain and my logic and I was thinking through all the ways that I could improve my company’s website to make my job updating it a little easier, but also allow them a bit more freedom and flexibility than a static HTML website was going to allow.

And Then Disaster Struck….

I went home for the summer after my freshman year, which meant working more or less full-time in my company’s office now. To help boost my hours, they were letting me help out with marketing items, I was building cool Flash websites, and just generally kicking ass.

Until they discovered a new CFO had spent the last several months embezzling from the company and gone were the funds that kept me and a few others employed.

I was let go towards the end of the summer, which was a blessing, but I immediately started looking for coding work on campus.

(Look, I’m no dummy; I could have worked in the Writing Lab with the other English majors, but they made $7/hour and worked very few hours. Coders could make $14/hour and work up to 20 hours a week.)

I found a job working as an on-campus coder for the Family Home and Social Sciences department. Just one caveat – they worked in ASP.Net C# instead of PHP. Was I OK to learn that?

I Hate .Net

Um, sure, I said. I took a Visual Basic class in high school (for the easy A) and was OK trying my hand at C#.

Yea no.

I spent three years coding largely in .Net. I was fine; I just never excelled at it. Things didn’t click for me like I thought. It took me longer to code projects than I would have liked (my boss never cared) and I spent far too much time thinking about the logic of everything.
Why did it not work well for me?

Well, for one, .Net C# was really my first foray into object oriented programming. What is object oriented programming?

“Object-oriented programming (OOP) is a computer programming model that organizes software design around data, or objects, rather than functions and logic.”

At the time, PHP followed a much more logical structure. The first piece of code you wrote on the page was what was executed. That wasn’t true for C# and that just didn’t compute for me.

But I kept trying because .Net C# were the jobs that were hiring in 2008 and 2009, and I interviewed, and even worked at, a couple of start-ups that used it.

When I decided to go get my Master’s in Scottish Literature, I told myself I’d never code again.

Finding My Way Back to Code

I’m not sure I was ever great at not coding at all. For the few years that I worked other jobs unrelated to code, I was still code-adjacent. I was still building HTML websites and enjoying myself.

Shit, I tried to hide the fact that I could code from a boss where I was working as a copywriter and digital strategist but somehow he found out. Probably from my resume. Logically. He didn’t make me code a lot, but I was still expected to work on our Magento website from time to time.

When I moved back to Scotland in 2012, I tried to find jobs that were writing heavy. But uh, as I discovered in college, coding jobs simply paid better.

Eventually, I began work as a full stack developer for the Scottish Government publishing contractor.

I Rediscovered My Code Creativity

It was really this job that saved me and spun me back on my journey as a coder.

Sure, a lot of the work I was doing was glorified HTML data entry, but I was learning the importance of digital accessibility.

I was building web apps in PHP that allowed us to convert CSV files into a custom XML format.

I was building full websites, responsively, in WordPress and Drupal.

And suddenly it all clicked.

I loved to code. I loved to code PHP. I loved to code full projects. I was back to what I’d already learned in high school – I loved to go from a blank page to a full web presence.

I loved telling stories through code.

Coding is a Journey

Here’s the thing that most “normal” developers won’t tell you – coding is 100% a journey. It’s 100% learning a new language and not all types of coding are going to click with your brain.

I can’t tell you how many new coders I’ve heard complain that they “don’t get” Javascript or can’t understand Ruby or just struggle with a new-to-them language.

I’m not saying that you can never learn and get better at a language. I definitely got decent in .Net C#. But I never loved coding in C#. And I think that’s largely because the end goals of the PROJECTS I was building in the code didn’t align with what I wanted to be doing.

You have to discover, for yourself, why you want to code. You have to know what drives you, what moves you forward. If you don’t have something that pushes you to be better, to keep learning, to tackle that new Javascript library, well, frankly, what’s the point of doing it at all?

Coding is a skill, yes, but it’s a form of expression. Dig into the reason you want to use code to express yourself. Suddenly, it all becomes a lot easier.

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