Although it’s wonderful to know how to code, it’s definitely not essential in order to create a website today. So much has changed so fast since I began designing websites back in 1999.
I grew up in suburban and rural Ohio. When I was ten years old, my family moved from Perrysburg, Ohio, a quintessential Midwestern suburb, to a farm in the country. One of the reasons my parents gave for the move was to provide me and my siblings with a slower pace of life in a more sheltered environment away from some of the dangers of a more urban society.
Moving at that age was an enormous change for me, not having my friends that lived across the street or down the block anymore. All my roots were dug up and replanted in a big open plot of farmland – 40 acres to be exact. We had a strawberry patch, huge peony bushes, a pond surrounded by cattails, a big red barn with chickens that laid eggs every day, about 10 barn cats and two goats. My parents are white-collar professionals, so our “neighbors” (who lived miles away) rented our farmland from us and grew a rotation of corn, soybeans, and hay. I do have lots of beautiful memories of the farm, in the hot humid summers and the icy white winters.
Globally, this was an interesting time because computers had just become household items a couple years prior to our move, and the Internet was still an incredibly new phenomenon. My parents had no idea how to use it really, but they had it and it was connected through our second phone line via dialup. We couldn’t get cable Internet in the country – still can’t, only satellite ’til this day. I’ll always remember the absurd noise it made every time it I got online. It was like music to my ears; jarring, awkward, glorious music. In my after-school social isolation I was completely connected to the world (and also completely hooked). This may not sound like such a big deal now, but it was pretty spectacular back then.
I lost many nights of sleep chatting with people from all over the world, forming friendships with folks I’d never seen in person. I wound up in a chatroom for hackers when my middle school boyfriend invited me, and was in awe of the intelligence and power these kids about my age wielded, being able to access other people’s computers (often times unbeknownst to said people) across the country and bend the software to their will. It was magic. So I made friends with them, because what could possibly go wrong with befriending teenage hackers, right? There was so much drama, so many laughs, so much creativity… it was an intense vortex of hormones and technical debauchery. I lived for it.
One of the hackers I befriended was also a Photoshop wizard who taught me how to create graphics via AIM chats. He was AMAZING and I wish I could see the work he does today. I can’t imagine how good he’d be if he continued honing his skills. Although I had no real desire to be a hacker myself, I did want to have “skills” in order to be respected by my ~cool~ Internet hacker friends, so I continued to learn Photoshop and also teach myself how to code websites. This was good and respect was earned, my confidence grew. I began creating websites from scratch and also build blogs with Movable Press, eventually graduating to customizing my Myspace page (back when that was a thing) so that it looked completely different from the default profile design… with my own custom vector illustrations and all.
My hobby grew into my career. I truly saw no other path for myself. The flexibility and financial opportunities available to a website developer were more than enough reasons to pursue it as a career. I continued to design websites throughout middle school, high school, and found a college three hours away in Pittsburgh, PA that had a Bachelor of Science program in Web Design and Interactive Media. I attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and received my Bachelor’s degree with multiple honors from June 2016–December 2018.
Before and after graduation, I worked for large agencies and Fortune 500 companies while also maintaining clients on the side. I learned how to develop WordPress websites and began working with WordPress exclusively as a CMS. Eventually in 2010 I began working independently full-time as I had enough clients to do so. I worked long and hard day and night during the first part of my 20’s to the point where I became very burnt-out. I needed a break from the computer. From 2013-2014 I took a professional semi-hiatus, and spent a lot of time traveling with my partner while continuing to work minimally for a few core clients. We flew, road-tripped, and camped all around Nevada, California, Arizona, and Washington. Even took a couple trips to the midwest. It was nice to connect with nature and take a break from full-time involvement with technology.
Beginning towards the end of 2015, I began to fall back in love with web development. It was after all my first real love, and also my most valuable mental asset.
It’s very exciting how there is always something new to learn in this field. It’s always changing and it’s critical to keep up. I began focusing on WordPress security and mobile optimization which are topics that became paramount during that time as WordPress site hacking became more and more of an issue and website mobile optimization became an industry standard.
I also began to focus more on branding and marketing rather than website development. I found that my clients need branding and marketing equally as much as they need an optimized website. It’s been really rewarding evolving my professional focus to include these fields in addition to coding and graphics.
Today the breadth and depth of my professional capabilities has grown 100x since graduating from college in 2008. The field changes quickly and I’ve found it takes about an hour a day of learning in order to keep up. Any other worthwhile web developer would say the same.
My career is like a marriage that I fall in love with over and over again in different and new ways. And like a marriage I truly believe it takes dedication, persistence, and commitment to make it all worthwhile (or so I can imagine!).
Thanks for reading my story ; )