Four Years In

Saturday, November 11th, marks my fourth year as a professional web developer. It’s been a crazy journey. One that has already taken me further than I could have imagined. I wanted to take a moment and write down some of my thoughts about these four years.

Gratitude

The first thing that comes to mind as I reflect on my career and the progress I have made is the vast amount of gratitude I have to be a part of this industry. I am so lucky to be here at this time. Seriously.

Some of you might know that this is a second career for me. I was a pastor before learning to code. I enjoyed many parts of that season in my life. Notably, I loved the critical thinking that came with studying theology. However, I often found that people were not as eager to have their beliefs challenged as I was. I know with a high degree of certainty that if I had remained in that career, I would have likely crashed and burned in a fire of frustration.

At the time, it was incredibly painful to let that pursuit die. I had invested so much time and money into the endeavor. When it ended, I felt rejected by the very institution that had pushed me to pursue an expensive degree to begin with. I still feel that hurt from time to time. But had I known that programming would provide me the life it has, I would have rejoiced.

My heart is so full of gratitude for the opportunities this career provides, for the financial stability it offers, for the wonderful people it has brought into my life. Especially the people. Honestly, the friends I have made in the last few years, some of you are the most talented, inspiring people I have ever met. Others of you are incredibly encouraging, funny as hell, and overall a source of great joy in my life. Thank you for being a part of that.

Empathy

One thing I started doing this past year was devoting more time to engaging and helping people who are trying to get their web development careers started. As someone who was fortunate enough to make the transition from one career to another, I feel like it’s partly my responsibility to pass on whatever help and advice I can to those who are trying to do the same.

Earlier this year, I suggested and then championed the #jobs-advice channel on Reactiflux. It has become one of the most active channels in the joint. We’ve helped dozens of people succeed in finding better jobs and have created an incredibly supportive community there. The people of that channel make me so proud.

Being this close to those who are trying to break in has made me reflect on what it took for me to get started in web development and what’s changed in that short time.

I spent about a year to a year and a half learning coding before I found my first job. I got my first job at the wonderful agency FINE as a front end dev. When I did, I barely knew anything. I quickly learned that I knew so little. Queue up the “you know nothing Jon Snow” memes. I knew HTML, quite a bit of CSS, and just a bit of jQuery (not even vanilla JavaScript). But it was enough to get started. I was able to be effective pretty quickly and grow and grow and grow.

I meet people today who are doing stuff that would have been out of the question for me to do the first year I was learning. The proliferation of coding bootcamps in the last four years has saturated the market with devs at the start of their careers. It’s raised the bar much higher. I have the deepest sympathy for those facing this challenge. The bar keeps rising, sometimes faster than these new code school grads can chase it. I feel your struggle, and I’m here to offer encouragement.

I have many more thoughts on the situation, including some of my best advice for those of you just getting started, but unfortunately this isn’t the right post to dive into that topic. I promise to get to it at some point. Don’t let me forget to do that. Keep me honest and humble, y’all.

Hunger & Hustle

I think one of the things that comes with starting a second career later in life, especially when your first one feels like such a failure, is how hungry you are to succeed.

Many days, it feels like I threw away my 20s on school and pursuing the wrong things. Ironically, at the time I assumed pursuing drinking, partying, and other hedonist activities were the wrong things. Let me tell you, the wrong things don’t all appear to be equally destructive on the surface. I wish I could have realized at a younger age just how fruitless that part of my life was going to be. Oh well.

As I’ve already expressed my gratitude, I don’t plan to repeat that here. However, being grateful doesn’t imply complacency. I’m trying to hustle each and every day.

Not a day goes by that I’m not trying to learn something, practice something, make new connections, improve an existing relationship, increase my value, generate speaking opportunities, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I try with earnest to do all of this as authentically as possible. I’m an idealist, I don’t think I could ever treat people as a means to an end even if I wanted. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m hoping that all this hustle pays off many times over in my life.

In general, I am not a person who is often fully satisfied. I call it an “incessant dissatisfaction”. But I am hopeful that all this work will lead to one day having a job I absolutely love, working with some of the best people I could possibly work with, doing some meaningful work, adding something positive to the world.

I think this hunger got me where I am today in such a short period of time. It got me a yuge raise and title change this year. It got me a substantially larger Twitter following (I plan to blog about that soon, too). It gave me the courage and confidence to try live streaming on Twitch.

This hunger also inspired me to reach out to some of my role models and heroes. This effort has led to growing friendships with some of the best people a front end JavaScript dev (and person, in general) could ask for. I won’t drop names, that’s not the point. The point is that hustling day in and day out often pays off, and in this case, it’s provided me the opportunity to befriend people I never dreamed I would. I consider myself very fortunate and I hope they know my appreciation for them.

I hope I never lose this hunger. I think my general disposition and curiosity won’t allow that to happen, but it might be nice to feel “caught up” for once. Ask me in 30-40 years.

Future

Four years is not a long time at all, and I hope to be involved with this career for roughly 10 times that length. I want to share some of my hopes for my career as I move forward.

One of my hopes is to start speaking at conferences. I love teaching and enjoy public speaking. I think I’m pretty good at it actually. Speaking at conferences would be a way to do both of these things to a larger audience.

Also, conferences are so much fun. I love getting to hang out with people I only know through Twitter. An easier way to afford this is to be paid to attend these conferences.

One of my other hopes in the near future is to improve my skills outside of strictly UI development. I’d like to get better at building tools, libraries and open source projects. Another way to think of this is that I want to improve at software engineering and not just web development. I’ve already written about some of the ways that I plan to do this, but I will be on the lookout for opportunities to learn from people who are great at writing software and to work on projects that fall more in this category. I think I could be really great at it, but I won’t know until I start doing it more than I am now.

Outside of that, I don’t really know yet. I always talk about one day starting my own thing, but I’ve yet to find that one thing I’m ready to do for certain.

In the short term, I’m working on streaming more, writing more, learning more, etc. You know? Hustling. Stay hungry, folks.

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