Sometimes I feel like I should be much further along in my career. I am 40 years old but I'm at an entry level. I think that would tell you that I got started in this rather late.
That's true but that's not the full story. My coding journey has not been a linear path. It's been a path of starts and stops and detours. The fact is, I created my first website in the mid-1990s. I had a little personal website on GeoCities that I would play around with when I was a freshman in college. This was around 1996-1997. The web was very crude and simple compared to today. There was some simple styling but no CSS. As far as design goes, there wasn't much. Most websites were text and limited to very simple layouts (done with tables) and colors. Images didn't look very good and you used them sparingly because connections were very slow. It seemed like a fun thing to do but I didn't see much potential for a career. Instead, I was going to go into Graphic Design.
In the end, I didn't even go into Graphic Design. I did take a few classes. I went into a major that would make great financial sense and give me a great stable career. Art. I hope you can sense my sarcasm. I went so far to get a Masters in Fine Art so I could be rich and famous. Actually, it was more so I could get a cushy ivory tower teaching career. At some point in my sophomore year, to be more serious in my art studies, I abandoned my website and threw myself into printmaking, painting, drawing, and some Graphic Design. From about 1998 - 2005, I did no coding what-so-ever. The GeoCities site say for years collecting digital dust.
In 2005, I had bought an Apple iBook and I was soon graduating. Someone suggested that after my thesis show (I had at least a month of nothing to do), I should create a website for myself.
Hold up! Lets go back a little bit. Lets travel back to those GeoCities days. How did I learn simple HTML? I bought one of those HTML books for dummies. I didn't have an internet connection at home but I did have a computer, a text editior, and some floppy disks. I would code in my text editior and save it to my floppy disk. I'd take it to school and in the computer lab I would open the text file and copy/paste it into the GeoCities editor then make any changes I needed.
When it came to images and graphics, I had to be more savvy. First of all, I had to find a lab with a scanner and a lab that had Photoshop installed on one or more computers. I mostly worked in the lab in the basement of Lovejoy Library on the SIUE campus. That one was full of Windows PCs. I needed to find a Mac lab. There was one on the other end of campus that had a scanner and the computers had Photoshop. I would go to that lab to scan pictures from magazines (which I'm sure was not legal for me to publish them on the web) and my own photos. I think I made a simple graphic for the header of my website. I'd save my work on to those wonderful floppy discs to later upload and code into my pages. I had to work and be resourceful.
I do look back to those days fondly. I remember connecting with people on Usenet newsgroups, listserves, BBSs. I'm old enough to remember using Gopher and stuff like Archie in the library. I used Telnet for email too. The commercial internet was still new and I found it so fascinating. I would talk to people from all over, trade mix-tapes and bootlegs of music, and I even made some real-life friends from other local universities such as Washington University in St. Louis. I remember meeting up with others to see concerts. There was no social media but Usenet, listserves, and GeoCities was probably as close as you were going to get to that. The people that used that in those days were not your mom and dad. They were "nerds" and college students (who were probably also "nerds). Most regular people those days had no clue.
Between 2005 - 2011 I was just working on my own website to put art up on. I figured that would give me a place for my portfolio and help me get shows. It did. I was a good tool. I would just learn as I went. I made a lot of mistakes too. I cringe thinking about it.
In 2011, I made a decision that would change my life. I was an artist but I also taught classes at a community college from 2006-2008. In addition, I worked as a server for more income. In 2010 my mom passed away. I was fed up. I had a masters degree but I felt my life was going nowhere. Teaching didn't seem like it would lead me anywhere. I wasn't making a living off my art. Being a waitress was not what I loved (I hated it. I don't have that outgoing, people person personality.). By the time 2008 rolled around I lost my teaching job. From then to 2011 I was a waitress. When my mom was battling cancer I spent most of 2009/10 taking care of her. About 6 months after she died, I quit my job.
I was going to be a freelance web designer. Looking back, I feel like I had to be nuts. I never had a client other than family, I knew nothing about selling, and my web development skills were lacking. I didn't know ANYTHING. I was in way over my head. However, I did find some clients and made some income. It wasn't sustainable but I learned a lot about code and I learned that I didn't like freelancing. I just didn't feel like I knew enough from many angles (business, sales, coding, and design). After about 7 months I started searching for jobs.
My first job was at a car dealership group doing graphics and a little bit of work with editing content on their website. Some coding was involved. However, I was mostly doing graphic design - banners for the website, updaing content, some print design. It was fine in that it gave me experience and a steady paycheck. It was only part-time though.
My new job involved me designing and coding websites, landing pages, editing and creating content for client websites, production, graphic design, and general support. The company was very small team so we were required to wear many hats. I started there in 2013 and worked there until 2017. I learned a ton there. I grew to really love CSS. I grew to love the coding part the most. I think I became very valuable there because I was willing to listen, learn, and take on anything. I learned to be independent and resourceful - though I think I always had those skills. I worked remotely from home so I did work unsupervised and had to keep myself on task and motivated.
By the end of 2017 I was able to land my first real "web developer" job. I don't do design. I just code and help clients fix and add content. I use modern tooling like Gulp and Git. The command line is my friend. I'm now doing something I deeply enjoy and find challenging.
The funny thing is that I knew nearly 20 years ago what I should do but I had other experiences I had to try. I don't regret any of it becuase I think it makes me more well-rounded and a person with life experience outside of being a developer. I think it gives me a different perspective than most of my peers. Not having a formal education in computer science or development has made me scrappy, resourceful, and probably makes me want to prove myself more. I think even the art background wasn't a waste because I am open to many perspectives and will find creative solutions. To be an artist you have to make do with little, be scrappy, take risks, be resourceful, be independent. I think those things have helped me. However, I do suffer from imposter syndrome a lot but I'm a fighter and can will myself to do anything. I work my ass off to get what I want. I bitch and moan a lot too. The lack of formal education, being a woman in a male dominated profession doesn't deter me. I don't think anything could stop me.
Now I'm a developer and the path I took to get there was long but I feel like I've only just begun.