A Meandering Path to Web Development

Rachel Ralston
4 min readFeb 13, 2017
Not all who wander are lost.

Ultimately, none of us knows what we’re doing. We all have a sense that we’re imposters in some part of our lives. We’re all guessing and doing whatever we can to stay engaged and grow. It’s ok to follow the turning path of your life and find fulfillment as you create it. This is my meandering path into being a professional full stack developer.

#OregonTrailForever 🐴

As far as my child self was concerned, computers were weird boxes that gave me fun games. One fateful day in 5th grade I heard the siren’s song of the dial up modem for the first time and it suddenly clicked for me that I the world wide web could crack open up my tiny world. I was hooked. You couldn’t pry me away from the family computer once I got my hands on a copy of HTML for Dummies and a bootleg Photoshop. I can still remember after hours of struggling, the pure crystalline joy the first time I got my browser to display an image that I had made.

omg omg omg omg it WORKED!

For a few years I was off and running; I made fan sites, had the god damn coolest myspace page around, and devoured books on the topic. But as middle school turned into high school my passion cooled off and I eventually refocusing my attention on softer skills.

Late 90’s goth was a good look.

Looking back, I realize that I did the classic teen girl thing: I subconsciously fell for the cultural messages that girls aren’t good at science and math and the micoraggressions of my peers. While falling behind was in part due to very real learning disabilities, my mindset led me to believe that my minor or coincidental set backs were evidence that I wasn’t able to succeed. Despite my early love of computer science, by the end of high school I was so turned off by the idea of pursuing the sciences that I went to art school, figuring I’d never have to take a math or science class again.

Fast forward to college graduation in 2008 and months of unemployment. As it turns out, when the economy is in free fall a BFA in Oil Painting isn’t a particularly useful for gainful employment. I looked at my skills and started developing myself, turning my art training into graphic design skills and brushing up on my decade old hobby of web development.

Years later still, after wandering through many jobs that ran the gamut from cleaning toilets to customer service, I founded a branding company that helped small and medium sized businesses find their authentic voice and build their web presence. Entrepreneurship was amazing and taught me so much about myself, but it was also exhausting and deeply challenging.

After that I moved into a Design and Marketing Lead position, which was professionally rewarding but personally not a great fit. I’m thankful for the challenges the position handed me because it helped me realize that while my whole life all I wanted to do was make things, my career had morphed using my skills to convince people to buy things. The exploration of that moment led me to look over my life and think about what would actually make me happy to do, not just what would keep me fed. A few months later I quit that job and made the transition into web development, attending a full time intensive professional apprenticeship program at Learner’s Guild.

First day of Learner’s Guild. Don’t they just grow up so fast?

Getting into engineering has felt like coming home. I get to use my creativity in finding elegant solutions to complicated problems, my entrepreneurial systems thinking to wrap my brain around large projects, my empathy and people skills in working in team and advocating for great user experience.

The world is a different place now than it was when I was a kid. The song of the dial up connection is literal history, and it now feels strange when the internet isn’t at my fingertips to answer my every passing whim. Looking back over the whole story, I feel sad for my young self that gave up on her technical abilities. I’ve realized now to my surprise that I’m actually pretty good at this. I hope that my work can help to inspire the next generation to trust in themselves and break through barriers.

Rachel is a developer and designer living in Oakland, CA. She likes toast with butter, rock climbing & going for hikes with this lady. Get in touch with her on twitter or through her website.



Rachel Ralston

software engineer, blockchain nerd, diversity advocate, nihilist rainbow unicorn www.rachelralston.com