You could say I was born and bred to be an autodidact, or someone who is inclined to self-directed learning of subjects where they have no formal education. My parents, especially my mom, placed a huge amount of importance on the general idea of “coloring outside the lines”. My brother and I were always provided with blank paper to draw on instead of coloring books. And after a brief time in Kindergarten and 1st grade elementary school, my mom took me out of formal schooling till 5th grade. This is where my belief of taking an unconventional approach to life began.
When I was a freshman in high school, I began doing some “computer work”, as I called it, for my mom. My parents own a weekly newspaper called The Banner, and my mom started building a website for it and was using me to do some simple data entry/busy work. After stumbling over myself for the first couple of hours, I went to see why I was still screwing this up. My mom informed me of some very tedious and small details in the syntax I was trying to write. In the computer language HTML (hyper text markup language), there is a tag called an Anchor Tag which is how you make links appear on web pages. It looks like this <a href=”http://YOUR-URL“>Name of Link</a>, and I seemed to disregard the important of placing the URL within the two quotations. After making the simple, one-character change my entire page went from ugly, plain text, to correctly formatted and styled text that my mom had already written. As soon as I got the tag’s syntax correct, the computer knew what to do with it. This was a breakthrough for me and thus, I caught the ‘web development bug’.
Over my high school career, I gradually gained some basic knowledge of HTML and CSS languages for designing web pages. But this didn’t really lead to anything and I hadn’t really planned on pursuing it as a career. Early in high school I was hoping to go to college for neuropsychology to study how the mind works. My parents, owning their own business most of my life, didn’t make enough money to pay for higher education for my brother and I. After I bailed on the idea of trying to get a scholarship to play basketball somewhere, I began thinking of other career paths I could take.
Around this time, I feel like my creativity leveled up. I was taking multiple art classes, I was drawing every night and trying to learn some new skills on Adobe Photoshop. My art classes were very beneficial because I had a really great, inspiring teacher named Mr. Dukeman (Terry Dukeman). He really took the edge off of it. He made art always feel like a free thing where mistakes could always be turned into something else. Dukeman was my favorite teacher in high school. I was also in Yearbook class my senior year, and was dubbed “Yearbook Editor” early on, taking the burden of the school’s yearbook on my shoulders. I had to use proprietary yearbook publishing software through a company that was partnered with the government. The school purchased a new DSLR camera for the Newspaper/Yearbook classes, (thanks to the recommendation of my dad), and I was the one who was mostly using it. Under instruction from my dad, I learned the basics of using a DSLR camera and how it works. By the end of the year, I had accumulated some confidence and some experience in multiple areas of creativity.
After graduating high school, and getting into the service industry to earn money for myself, I started really looking for career paths. At this time, I was telling myself that I didn’t need to go to college because this was the path that everyone takes and that many great people went their own way and ended up exceeding everyone’s expectations. My focus shifted from fine arts and design to the more technical aspect of computers; code. I began brushing off my HTML and CSS skills and dove deeper into each of them and tried to build my first website. The first couple years of tinkering around with code was mostly frustrating and discouraging. It was seemingly black magic. “Maybe, if I try this, that will work?”… “Nope, that didn’t do it. Now how ’bout this?”. Taking this approach is generally not the way to interact with computers. If there’s one thing I should’ve learned way earlier on, it’s that computers don’t mess up often. That is, it understands code languages very well and 99.9% of the time, it’s something you did.
I got my foot in the door, by using the simplest, easiest methods of learning possible. I googled “free HTML and CSS lessons”, and the first search result was a website called W3Schools. This is where I still go to reference anything web-coding-language-related. I paired lessons from W3Schools with YouTube videos about the same topic. So I actively watched someone else basically do the tutorial I was reading, and then I copied their every keystroke. You learn by copying, so find something you think is cool and copy it. That’s how you’ll learn new skills. There are infinite free resources on the internet, literally teaching you everything you need to know to get a full time job.
One night, I got into an argument with my parents about my financial situation and I took to the internet to begin searching for local and non-local jobs based in technology/creativity. To my surprise, I very quickly discovered a website called “Snap Creative” who had a very modern website, and who was looking to hire an entry level web developer. I sent him an email, scheduled a meeting and this is where I met my first career boss, Snapper Cridge. I worked with Snapper early on, mostly learning the next step of front-end web development and preparing myself to be able to work with clients. The work with Snap Creative was challenging but infrequent and caused me to look else where for more hours. I eventually got another part time job in customer service to make up for the lost hours and started searching again.
About six months later, my mom contacted me about a web developer position in a nearby town that she found while she was browsing Craigslist. After a few initial emails, I called the number and began negotiating a job with them. After a quick, casual interview, I felt extremely confident and comfortable and was ready for the next step. Shortly after, Jeff Huffine and Jeff Richards, with the recommendation of my coworker Nick Green, hired me on full time to work with the team at IronGate Creative. There was a very steep learning curve and I was thrown into the deep end as far as learning things I thought were far out of my reach.
Since establishing myself at IronGate and gaining confidence in my abilities to learn and adapt on the fly, I’ve really wanted to open this idea up to other people, especially my friends and family. I know so many people who go to job every day that they absolutely can’t stand, that doesn’t leave them fulfilled and doesn’t provide enough for their needs. They usually say the issue is that they don’t have the funds to learn a new skill to get to a better position in life. This is not the case. There is a choice that everyone has to make to either open your mind up to things that you’re unfamiliar with or shut them out. Many people cop out of this because they know how much work it takes to get good at something. It takes patience, dedication and especially humility in the early years when you’re honing your craft. You can’t expect to be the best at something when you first begin.
The fact is, I feel like I found a “loop hole” in the current system. Society would have you believe that you for the completely justifiable average cost of around $30,000, you could eventually get a job doing something you love doing too. You can usually always get your foot in the door through other unconventional methods, you just have to be willing to try. Believe that you can do it by yourself, and it won’t matter where you start from or how fast you move along the way. It matters that you started, and it matters that you’re moving!