Most programmers when asked to describe themselves will begin with their first introduction to computers. My story is much different. My family was not technical, and I even bent more toward creative outlets such as writing and art. I’m not fond of math either, and short of gaming in college I didn’t invest much time in front of a computer screen. My degree is in journalism, and my first job out of the university was as a copywriter.
It was the mainstream adoption of the Internet that ultimately led me toward programming, albeit in small steps. In college an advertising professor introduced me to HTML, and by my junior year I was webmaster for the college newspaper’s online presence. The responsibilities were limited in scope, and although it was interesting I didn’t give it much thought as to a career – not until after I graduated.
Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.
~ Albert Einstein
A few months into the job I received a call from an art director who had befriended me, but who had already left. He knew my penchant for web technologies was growing, and said he was employed at an interactive agency looking for design technologists. I didn’t know what a design technologist was, but they offered me stock options and a forty percent raise. I took the job.
It’s not a very familiar story now, although it was at that time. The dot-com bubble brought with it a demand for professionals that could only be filled from outside fields. Musicians became network engineers, account managers became information architects and a slew of programmers were born out of physics, history and health sciences. I was one of those metamorphosed.
Of course, as everyone knows now it didn’t end well. By early 2001 the dot-com bubble burst led to the evaporation of a large swath of tech sector jobs. Many of those unable to find work aligning with their competencies transitioned back to their majors, or went back to school. I was blessed enough to have a wife still working full time that could support us, and so I continued searching.
It was only after a series of contracting opportunities and occasional freelance that I eventually settled back into full time employment. As I look back on the last fifteen years I have been mentored by some incredibly talented individuals. While I’m self taught my growth would have stagnated if it were not for the many contributions of colleagues and friends. Professionally now I’m in my prime and I try as often as possible to return the favor.
The harsh reality is that this trial-by-fire approach to learning cost me many late nights, long weekends, and even some of my health. The best I can explain it is that some part of my brain clicked on that had been shut down all of my years as a young man. My new found skills were like a rush of endorphins, and the deep technical knowledge I was gaining became addictive. I absorbed everything I could, and I still find myself needing to take a step back from it all.
As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
~ Proverbs 26:11 (KJV)
As I continue forward with the next fifteen years my focus has changed considerably. With a wife and two children, and many personal obligations I find that I desire greater intimacy with those around me, and less time in front of a computer. Ultimately, I hope to marry my technical expertise with changing other people’s lives forever. Knowing that someone could eat, sleep or be sheltered because of some service I could provide has immeasurably more reward than any paycheck could ever offer.