Careers transform as people gain and learn new skill sets. I considered myself a designer when I graduated from Columbia College Chicago. Ten years later, I’ve moved 2,000 miles west to be a part of technology and I call myself a frontend web developer. I’ve learned a unique set of skills that help me produce easy to use and highly functional websites. This is a quick telling of my experiences and how I ended up in my non-traditional employment role.
I attended high school in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Il. We had a graphic design program with three levels, the third and final being independent study. The independent study class printed the school’s play programs, gym uniforms, graduation tickets and ran the website. We used Adobe Dreamweaver, Illustrator 10, Photoshop 7, Quark Express, ran an offset and screen press, plus a few other tools. Looking back it was an impressive program for a high school.
- Adobe Photoshop 7
- Adobe Illustrator 9
- Adobe GoLive
- Quark Express
Right around the time I started college, Adobe packaged their programs and created the Adobe Creative Suite (CS). In college I learned the Adobe Design CS and design concepts like proper font usage, spacing, best imagery, logo design and more. Here is the latest course curriculum of Columbia College Chicago, which hasn’t changed much since my days as a student. Frontend developer was not a defined role and a computer science major would have been your only development option at the time. The curriculum was just beginning to adjust to technology and I took this course, Authoring Interactive Media, which taught me the basics of HTML/CSS and introduced me to Flash Animation. I remember creating a CSS ZenGarden. I graduated from Columbia with a BFA in Graphic Design.
- Adobe Creative Suite
Post College (My First Website)
Around 2007, the internet started modernizing to what it is known as today. Instead of interviewing with a large portfolio book, people started presenting their work on an iPad. I had no job and no money to hire a web developer, I had to build my first website. I used static hypertext markup language (HTML) and cascading style sheets (CSS) to create my first portfolio as I had done in school. After getting my first job with Chicago’s largest window manufacturer, I was told it was because my website worked.
Gaining Work Experience
A few years later I had moved to Denver, Co. and was now working at Pearson eCollege as a course developer. I fell into this role through a recruiter. It sounds like a serious developer role, but I duplicated the same courses for different schools and input the correct logos and links again and again. I did not write any code here, but I learned the importance of repetition and the power of scaleable development to run a massive operation. I continued to work on my design portfolio on the side, along with building small sites for others. This was where I first started interacting with content management systems.
Next was a move to the Colorado mountains to be an Interactive Marketing Coordinator at a ski resort. This job was an eye-opening experience to technology at a non-tech. industry. With the help of the IT department, we rebuilt the digital signage system that looped on a closed-circuit tv channel around the resort. I continued maintenance on the system after installation and used flash to create animated slides and weather reports. In marketing, I created many of the customer emails which included A&B testing and detailed conditional statements for content viewing criteria. I also maintained the site content at CopperColorado.com and WoodwardCopper.com where I extended my knowledge on cross-browser compatibility and jQuery. I built my first Joomla portfolio on a purchased theme and was able to make the edits I wanted without breaking the site. I gained a lot of basic understanding in file structure and how the front end of a website is built. With my new confidence, I started looking for a developer role.
My first junior developer role was with a small growing agency in the mountains of Colorado. This role was one of my bigger challenges. At first, it was hard to contribute when I was tossed into the deep end of WordPress development with no WordPress or version control experience. I managed to survive by coding emails, managing site content and making small theme updates. My first major update to a theme was a disaster when presented to the client. This was a frustrating time while I gained experience and studied.
Creating a Strong Circle
After a long period of constant studying and practice, I quit purchasing themes and was creating my own. I also picked up some experience in Shopify, Drupal, Opencart and other content management systems. While still working for the agency in Colorado, I picked up some other clients and my confidence was returning. Every developer I’ve talked with has gone through a period of doubting themselves. It’s almost inevitable when learning difficult things, even with a good mentor. As a developer, you must stay on top of your skills and constantly be evolving with technology. Stressing over a bug is not a productive use of your time. You will find a solution eventually. Even the most experienced developers are constantly learning.
With my design background, I’m comfortable working with designers and explaining concepts for mobile vs desktop. I work with content managers discussing features they’d like to have in their site admins. Instead of finding a plugin to create functionality, I’ll research how to build a feature and then adapt it to the CMS. Writing custom functionality for a site keeps loading times fast and bugs to a minimum. When building a site from the ground up, I will direct the site plan, then work with a designer and finally develop the website. This creates a structured project with milestone targets for the best results. I have connected with talented and driven people in every part of my career. Each project I work on has people that I could not do my job without. In an effort to further my knowledge and become part of a larger community, I left the mountains and headed to West LA. I am currently located in Marina Del Rey, next to Silicon Beach a.k.a. Venice Beach.
- Adobe Creative Cloud
- Acrobat Pro
- Cloud Storage
- Harvest Time Tracker
I created this blog because I’d like to expand my network, keep learning and share my knowledge with others. I hope to put up tutorials for development and design here, as well as harborknot.com when I get it up and running, while occasionally sharing an opinion or photo of me sailing. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that you cannot do it all alone, so I’m trying harder to be a part of the open community. I’ve collected all of my knowledge from others and I feel it’s important to share and give back when possible. As a consultant, I continue to strengthen my network of developers, designers, content managers, and clients so I can produce the best websites and technology I am capable of. If you are ever in Los Angeles I am currently organizing a WordPress Meetup on the Westside. Watch for it on Meetup.com.
I am a Frontend Web Developer with a BFA in Graphic Design. I create custom WordPress themes and edit prebuilt themes on WordPress and Shopify. Boats are also kind of my thing.