I’m stuck on a non-moving train somewhere between Grantham and Retford on Christmas Eve. Roughly half-way between London and my end destination, Hull. Although I started my journey in Bracknell.
The train has developed a fault. We’ve been here nearly an hour and the driver has admitted that he hasn’t got a clue how to fix it, he is trying everything he can to fix it and is communicating with support to try to work it out. I am going to be here some time.
Which seems an excellent metaphor for my journey to becoming a web developer.
I intend this blog to detail my journey from relative beginner to being a full-time professional web developer. I do wish I had started this a couple of years ago when I was totally clueless, but hey ho ho ho we are where we are. Somewhere between Grantham and Retford. Still.
My hope is that it will give others inspiration on their journey to being a web developer – or maybe even other career paths.
And yeah I know, the houses on the background clash with the text overlaid upon it – I will fix it, I am just deciding how to do so. Ignore this bit if I have fixed it.
Where do I start? Well back in the 1990’s when the careers people asked me what I wanted to be, the only thing I could think of was a meteorologist. I had and still have a fascination with the weather, so I applied to do the relevant A-levels. There was no course in computing that would have worked around it – for that I would have had to go to a different college. So Physics, Maths and Geography it was (waste of time that last one). I had not heard of the internet when I took my GCSE’s in 1996.
Actually you could trace my interest is coding all the way back to when I was 8 or 9 – like you can my other passions – music and weather. I had a ZX Spectrum in the late 80’s, and I borrowed a couple of books from the library on coding. I found it fascinating but there was nowhere to take it. The library in my home city of Hull only had those two books.
I never got the B that I required in Physics A-level to be able to study Meteorology at Reading University. They did instead offer for me to do a Maths degree and I wanted to get the hell out of Hull so I jumped at the opportunity. I spent a lot of time getting drunk, smoking weed and doing nothing. I dropped out – in the second year. Maths (sorry Americans but it has an ‘s’ on the end) was relatively easy but so, so dull. I lost count of the times I fell asleep.
At university I discovered the internet. It excited and fascinated me no end. I spent hours sat in the computer room just doing random stuff. I even had one of those awful Geocities websites. I thought about learning to code, and I did start going through a course on W3Schools (I think) but as I mentioned, I was more interested in drinking and smoking weed.
It was two years into working for a bank doing a boring administration job that I realised I wasn’t going anywhere. A bit like this train. So being immersed in the corporate world, I decided that I would get my degree and took up an Open University degree in Business Studies & Economics. I also stopped smoking weed forever, once I realised it was non-compatible.
6 years later of studying 5-15 hours a week whilst working full-time and out partying every weekend, I had my degree. A 2:2. I could have done better had I not been out every weekend but I was delighted – and very relieved to have finished studying. But I always knew that I would be studying again.
So around 5 years ago, I’d made good progress in the corporate world, but found myself promoted into a job I hated with a witch for a manager. There was no work. I was literally sat there all day, maybe with 30 minutes of actual work to do, pretending to work. For a year.
There was a lot of thinking time. After I while, I was pretty disillusioned with corporate life as a whole and the total lack of satisfaction it provided – I felt I had been cushioned into pointlessness. I believed in my capabilities yet was being totally wasted in a galaxy of nothingness.
What to do?
It was also deep in recession time, so I knew I had to do something in demand. I checked government website for skills shortages and web development was listed as a skills shortage.
I didn’t jump straight into it. I spent several months looking into the various career paths listed, such as networking and a few others. I knew this time, being in my 30’s, had to be the right and final choice. And then I was made redundant and had a ton of money to do whatever I liked with – I cannot say that I spent it all wisely.
Unemployment was great at first. So much fun, I was always out, drinking, I had various holidays, trips away, clubbing sessions in London. But one useful thing I had done was print a book on web development by Sitepoint, whilst in my old job. So on occasion when I wasn’t out partying, I would sit down at my computer (I had a table to sit on for some reason) and learn some fairly basic HTML and CSS.
I was kind of expecting to be able to learn it in 6 months and set up my own design company, and have work flooding to me. This does seem to be a common misconception that it is easy. I’m not entirely sure who is at fault – perhaps all of those books that offer to teach you web development in a weekend. It is less easy than fixing a train.
The money was running out so I had to find a job, which in recessionary times was a full-time job in itself. The studying stopped. I found a job but it entailed 2.5 hours of commuting a day. I hated it and it made me too tired to study afterwards. As soon as Friday evening arrived I would be down the pub, rescuing my sanity like the rescue train that is on it’s way. By the way, I’m still in the same job 4 years later – totally unfulfilled but I’ve accepted it as a way to pay the bills whilst studying.
A couple of years later, I had my first, very basic website thanks to the Sitepoint book. It was only pretty much a copy of the website laid out in the book with my own writing, but I’d typed it all and it was very exciting. I could make a website. I then set out to make a website for my DJing too. Again, it wasn’t impressive but I found it exciting.
It was at this point that I stopped going out so much. I was receiving more satisfaction from studying and coding, than I was from drinking and dancing. Plus in my 30’s, the hangovers really are starting to stink.
A year ago, frustrated with my lack of progress, I made a plan. A simple one that harked back to my Open University degree days. Back then, they told students that they needed to do between 12 and 15 hours a week. I got by with between 6 and 10 hours a week – more when I had a deadline. So I set myself a weekly target of 10 hours studying. If I only did 8, then the next week I would have to do 12 hours. It is a cumulative target.
Granted it is now stuck at 74 hours of backlog.
I’m also learning Drupal. Why, I hear you ask. Because there was an amazing job at the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting that required Drupal. So I’m making a Drupal site and keeping an eye out for when the job next becomes available.
I’m also learning SQL. I’m not quite sure why, other than it could potentially be useful. I cannot say that I am especially passionate about it, it doesn’t tick anywhere near as many boxes as the beauty of CSS, for example, but it is still pretty cool.
I’ve waffled on a bit and I think I’m stretching into territory that my next blog post will cover.
I am definitely on the way to being a professional web developer. It is happening. I will be a web developer.
And I will get home for Christmas. I don’t know when but the rescue train is still on the way. There are lots of men in orange jackets trackside.
I’ve been sat here nearly 3 hours not moving. On the bright side, they have given me some complimentary discoloured haribo. And I’ve been forced to buy a beer because they have run out of soft drinks.
I’ll probably have a web development job by time I get home.