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!
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#.
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’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.
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.