On being a designer learning code and the challenges of re-inventing yourself.

I remember the exact moment I started falling in love with coding. And believe me, my former self would never would say that...

Annie Liew

We so often define who we are early on in life. And in that process, it can be difficult to re-create yourself later on. Did you ever play that game where you had to think of adjectives starting with the same letter as your name to describe yourself? Well, I was ‘artistic’ and ‘adventurous’.

And my life had thus far reflected that.

I was the girl who drew dolphins and Disney princesses, went to a special Arts school and wrote stories. Later, while my friends were getting mortgages and climbing the career ladder, I backpacked and hitch-hiked solo around Canada, Europe and Asia. I placed a high value on independence and freedom over a stable income and routine.

In society, there’s a general idea floating around that you’ll be successful and love what you do if you follow your passion. But what if you don’t have one passion? What if you’re interested in SO. MANY. THINGS. I wanted to be a Disney animator! A jockey! A detective! All of the above! So that’s where it falls apart…

I’m of the school that says if you find something you like and get really good at it, then you’ll become passionate about it in the process.

Here’s my story.


The backstory (ie. Setting the Scene)

‘Artistic’ Annie saw me graduating uni with a BA in Multimedia Design.(Because it was art, but with computers = not a broke artist).

Working as a web/graphic designer, I had experience coding my own websites but always viewed coding as a necessary evil. At the time, it was HTML 4 and XHTML which I found messy and quite frankly, a bit of a dog’s breakfast. It was great being able to understand, manipulate and build websites, but using tables and other hacks for visual layouts was just so… ugh.

I worked as a designer for a few years in both my home country of Australia and also the second home to most Australians: London, UK. Shortly, after the financial crash of 2010, exotic Japan beckoned.

Photo by Agathe Marty on Unsplash

Like most foreigners, I ended up teaching English because when I landed, my Japanese was limited to, “Hello”, “Please”, and “Thank you”. In Japan, there’s this word; Karōshi (過労死) which scarily translates to ‘death by overworking.’ Um… no thank you. As a teacher at a private institution, I was able to set my own hours and took the opportunity to travel whenever I could. (Which was as much as humanly possible.)

Although I wasn’t designing, I utilised my creativity in how I taught and quickly became the highest evaluated and most sought-after instructor there. I loved the impact I was making on students’ progresses.

But there was no career growth.

I had long identified that being stagnant was one of my greatest fears in life. After six fun years, it was way past time to move on.

With my Canadian partner, we crossed oceans to Toronto and I decided to jump back into design.

A harsh reality-hit. (ie. The crisis)

I soon realised life in Japan had basically encapsulated me in a bubble. I was ill-prepared for how the design landscape had COMPLETELY changed. Not only that, the competition in Toronto was fierce. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to just walk into a job as a motivated skilled individual. It was time to up-skill or be left behind.

And thus begins “The Search”…

Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

As part of my research, I stumbled upon something called a ‘bootcamp’, which was different from the 150 burpees I used to do in Clapham Common, London. Schools were offering short, intensive full-time courses in desirable skill-sets, designed to help students get work afterwards.

At first, it kinda sounded like a scam; “Pay us $15k and after 2 months, we’ll help land you a $85k job!” So I did my due diligence. I scoured the internet for reviews and attended info nights and free classes all over Toronto. I talked to past alumni. And slowly, it dawned on me that this alternative education path was legitimate.

Web Development? UX Design?

Honestly, I wasn’t sure about getting into this “Web Development” thing… I hadn’t really enjoyed it that much previously and to me, a ‘developer’ just didn’t have the same ring as a ‘designer’

I was actually leaning towards UX design. Reflecting on what I’d most enjoyed at uni, I was deeply interested in motion, interactivity, beautiful visuals and the way people interacted with digital experiences. I was using the term user experience before it was really as much of a thing as it is now.

I remember not only had I designed and built an interactive narrative from scratch at uni, but I had also pushed my learning in Lingo (anybody still remember Macromedia Director??) because I wanted to do all these cool things in my project and couldn’t without it. Likewise, I used Actionscript in Flash the same way.

Hmmmm… put it that way, development sounded like it was definitely worth another look. Also, there’s no way that learning to code would be a waste. If in the future, I decide to transition into UX/UI, knowing my way around code can only be an advantage.

In my bootcamp research, one name kept coming up: HackerYou. I attended a free ‘Intro to Web Development’ class there and found the positive and welcoming learning environment very encouraging and more personable than some of the other schools. Not only that, the HTML/CSS landscape was now completely different from what I remembered all those years ago. Intrigued, I signed up for their part-time fundamentals and advanced web development courses.

THAT navigation colour change transition… (ie. The Climax)

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with HTML 5/CSS 3.

I had just coded and successfully troubleshot a button transition hover state. I was rolling over the navigation links. It seems like a small silly thing, but admiring the subtle fade in and outs, the ghostly effect enthralled me in a way I hadn’t felt in a while. I remember “back in the day” when we did button hover states; I had to give the developer the various states of a button as images. The fact that I can do the same thing now completely in CSS blows my mind. Oh, the POWER and POSSIBILITIES! It was late but all I could think about was what else I could do with CSS.

Geeking out over beautiful semantic HTML and CSS possibilities in my head, it was past 3am before I finally called it a night on coding. In less than a couple of hours, I had to get up for a 6am opening shift at a yoga studio I volunteer at, followed by a full 8 hours in the office. It was going to be a loooooong day…

Adulting… so hard to do on 2 hours sleep. Source: https://giphy.com

Where I am right now. (ie. To be continued…)

After my part-time courses, I would often call my partner on my way home and chatter on about all the interesting, challenging and exciting things I was learning and how much fun I was having. I took this as a sign that coding could be a viable next career move.

I decided to apply for HackerYou’s highly acclaimed bootcamp… and got in! The imposter syndrome regarding me being a developer is very much there. But as I code, learn concepts and spend time with other determined developers-in-training, that title is starting to sit a bit a bit more comfortably every day…


Maybe this personal account of my venture into Web Development inspired you to give something you once disliked a second go! Maybe not. Whatever. It’s all GOOD. You can find me on all the usual social places online: Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram.

Annie Liew

Written by

Front-End Developer | Multidisciplinary Designer | 🌏 Traveller | Optimist 🥛

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