Why I became a front-end web developer
From FrontPage ‘98 to Now — and why kids should get into web design.
When I was sixteen years old, I had a fan website dedicated to my favorite music artist, Eminem. I put nearly all of my free time into it, I bought all of his underground records on eBay and streamed them from my site using RealPlayer. I would buy magazines and scan all of the photos out of them and put them up in a photo gallery. I even made a diagram of all of his tattoos with explanations of their significance. The site was getting thousands of people coming to it a day.
It gave me a very entrepreneurial spark. Believe it or not, it was really competitive and I would stay up until three in the morning most summer nights making promotional banners, coming up with new designs and trying to brainstorm ideas of what I could do that would set me apart from others. It basically turned into my summer job and my hobby, I was the only teenager I knew who got paid in checks from music-related advertising. I bought my first car, a 1992 Honda Civic, in cash. I probably isolated myself too much, I did not even find out until later that most kids started partying in high school — not college.
I started off intrigued by the idea that I could have my own corner of the web. I navigated through free web hosting sites like Geocities and Tripod. My parents really encouraged this in me, they saw how much time I was spending on the computer building small ideas that they bought me a copy of Microsoft FrontPage for $99. I was floored, it meant that I could start building pages from scratch using my own tools. It forced me to learn the entire web development cycle, how to register domain names, find hosting, FTP files to the server, track analytics, etc.
Exploring a Niche
I went to the University of Iowa because of all that it had to offer as a business school, and spent the first two years of my college career in the Pappajohn Business Building. I did OK — with a “B” average but really could not motivate myself to spend nights studying accounting and calculus. I explored switching majors my junior year. One summer I managed to land a technical internship with internet radio station, AccuRadio. I built websites and a social media campaign for their indie rock radio station. The office was as casual as it gets, I would get in at ten in the morning and leave around 4 o’clock. We would have meetings on the roof that included cases of beer. I distinctly remember meeting my manager at a bar in the morning one work day to watch the World Cup. I absolutely fell in love with working at a place where it did not feel like work.
We’re smart too late and old too soon. — Mike Tyson
I did a really good job in college of not thinking about the future. After graduation, I moved into a house with four friends without a job lined up. I spent my first week in the real world as an adult in my room in the attic watching DVDs of The Simpsons. I eventually convinced myself to hop on Craigslist and apply to jobs on there. I met with a company that made barcodes, a lawyer looking for a personal assistant, and eventually a small web shop who was looking for contractors.
I got paid $600 a week to sit in silence with headphones on and create and code designs for small clients I was given from the sales department. At the time, I knew how to design but not code, I would create an entire design in Photoshop and do an “automatic” slice that just spits the site out in absolutely positioned tables. I knew a little bit of CSS and I knew I needed to figure out how to do this for real.
Finding a Work Home
After spending time learning how to actually code HTML and CSS without tables, I realized I needed to find a job with health benefits and a salary. I had a short interview with a company called liQuidprint and afterwards they called me while I was still in the parking lot to offer me the job. It was a sort-of dream job at the time, with a full service web development company that had a beer machine, a weekly basketball game, and free bagels on Friday mornings. I spent almost five years there pouring myself into projects, from everything from building sites with every content management system known to man to project managing and eventually joining the management team and mentoring others.
At twenty-seven years old, with about six years of experience under my belt, I challenged myself to keep learning and refused to grow stagnant in a field that changes quickly and often.
Now — and Looking Ahead
Duo Consulting— a Drupal web shop with a great crop of clients and talented team, offered me a position as an interaction designer last year. Joining them has allowed me to see the advantage of investing in my own skill set and having a healthy balance of work and life.
In the last eleven months, I have learned Sass, Compass, how to work locally and from the command line, Foundation, gotten intimate with Drupal, written technical and design-related blog posts, and built responsive design projects.
A few things that I have found to be constants across every place of business I have worked at since graduation: casual dress, beer in the fridge, late start times, a laid-back culture, happy, upbeat, talented coworkers and ping pong tables.
I became a front-end web developer because it allows me to be creative, analytical and build things that help other people find and consume information. It connects me to an endless amount of interesting people and never grows stagnant. I consider myself a truly lucky person; having a job I enjoy certainly helps. Coding is a skill that can benefit anyone. I’m getting married in a few weeks, when we eventually start a family and my kid asks me what he should do with his life, I would not hesitate to tell them to learn to code.