How I Became a Web Developer

I didn’t set out to write software for a living. I figured I’d work outdoors, tour with a band, live out of my backpack, or sail to Mexico. All of which I’d done by age 23.

Drifting

What began as my hobby in college eventually became a full-time trade – how that all happened I will attempt to describe here. On the internet.

Let’s go back… way back.

Drifting

In 2002 I was a student in the journalism department at CSU Long Beach. Luckily the university had the foresight to see the inevitable demise of print media.

We were encouraged to study html and css in addition to the regular curricula of design, copy editing, writing and investigative journalism.

By 2004 newspaper sales were crashing and we began relying on the web for our daily information. Twitter wasn’t invented yet.

Surf bum

Travel Days

I started living my post-college 20s traveling.

Living out of a board bag, I was spending half the year lifeguarding in Huntington Beach and the other half traveling to Indonesia, Mexico, Central America, Canada or some other interesting place.

I continued tinkering with html and css in my free time. I honestly did it for fun. I’d make blogs with travel photos & writings, publish content and stories in surf magazines and write trip reports. I generally just played around on Blogger (yes – blogger).

Getting paid to tinker

Things started getting professional in 2005. I figured I’d try and build a portfolio. I started with a non-profit. I built their site using Adobe Dreamweaver. It was my first project that wasn’t a blogger site or a custom myspace profile. It was straight-up code! No CMS.

After creating that site, I was offered some other web jobs by word-of-mouth. I began saying “yes” with the intention of providing the best service for my new clients. After a year or so, I was totally overwhelmed. It wasn’t the code, it was the business of coding.

I quickly learned I had zero business skills.

Burn Out

The First Burn Out

In the beginning, I didn’t exactly set out to be a professional. Teaching myself, I was realizing the hard way that I knew nothing about invoicing, scope of work, running a business, managing expectations and all the business stuff that comes with being self-employed.

After one particularly tough client I was done. I hit eject. After that project I stopped taking clients. I folded the laptop and focused elsewhere. Returning to my seasonal job, I went back to rescuing people from their death via ocean.

This was the view from my office:

Northside

Leaving the beach

The lifeguarding gig wasn’t a long-term option and I knew it. Permanent lifeguard positions were rare, and I was getting burnt out dealing with the hordes of people on the busy SoCal beaches. I wrapped up a final summer season and tried my luck in construction.

Hardwood Flooring

Lessons from woodworking

I worked alongside a master carpenter for 16 months. Together we installed, repaired and restored hardwood floors. We worked in multi-million dollar houses. I grew strong hands and a strong back and worked all day with power tools. It was good.

In construction world I made a decent life for myself and, more importantly, learned skills that I still use all the time. Funny how much CSS and hardwood flooring have in common.

With construction, the economy eventually slowed down. People generally stopped putting money into remodels and without back-to-back jobs I was left out to dry.

The Do-Over

Studio

When woodworking slowed, I decided to try another go with web development. But this time I took a contractor’s approach to the business. Looking back, I now had a mature approach to the business of web design.

That old master craftsman truly taught me the importance of bidding, estimating, drawing a fair scope of work, and delivering something that truly pleased our end user. It was basically what I was missing when I went out on my own the first time.

After burying myself in code and working on my portfolio, the freelance work and job offers began – and I’ve taken the craftsman’s approach to web development ever since.