In 2007 I was making part-time money at a local music store. I was fresh out of high school and felt like I had no direction.
My life changed when I got interested in the web.
Introduction to Programming
I asked the owner of the music store if I could make their website. Kindly, he gave me a shot even though I’d never built one before. I spent day and night learning front-end web development. When the website launched, it was an amazing feeling.
Hey, I created that!
That small web dev project was a turning point for me.
My First Programming Job
Eventually, we implemented a content management system (CMS) with help from of one of my friends, James Cornett. The CMS was one he built from scratch. That was like magic to me; I would never be smart enough to do something like that. Over the next five years, I would grow as a front-end developer. I started to grasp HTML, CSS, and even a little jQuery. This job began to become my first programming job.
One day in 2009 we needed a complex form on our website. James helped me do this. He fired up Dreamweaver and started cranking out ASP Classic code. I had no idea what he was doing, but he explained what he was writing, and why, while he was writing this form.
That was my first real exposure to programming.
I heard about this thing called a database. I saw some “if this then that.” I thought, “Wow! Programming is neat. I’m not smart enough for that.”
Attempted Programming in College
Being a business major in college began to feel like the wrong fit. I swapped over to a Management Information Systems (MIS) track because I like computers; I also had some business credits and thought this could be a good fit. My first concentrated class was an introduction to the Visual Basic programming language. To my surprise, I did incredibly well in this class. I continued to Java 1 & Java 2, still doing well and starting to realize I could be a programmer.
Eventually, I took a leap of faith and transferred to the University of Memphis as a Computer Science major. There was one problem, though. I suck at math. I didn’t have the necessary math credits to start programming classes. My advisor, a professor in the Computer Science department, put me in an intro to programming class. Once I did well in there, he let me begin programming classes while I caught up on math.
I never caught up on math, but I worked my way up to 3000 level Computer Science classes.
Finding a Groove
During this time I started to focus on web development. I already knew front-end development, so maybe now I could start applying what I was learning in school to back-end web development. After some research, I started learning Ruby on Rails. For the first time in my life, I became addicted to learning.
Ruby re-enforced that I was smart enough to be a programmer.
I was working at a church as a media director when I realized that programming was something I wanted to do full-time. I tried to apply for some Ruby on Rails jobs, which was difficult because I had no experience. There were several interviews, mostly ending after the first round.
Making a Career
One day I decided to take a leap of faith and apply to a local marketing and design agency. I wouldn’t be working with Ruby on Rails, but I would have my foot in the door as a web developer. Luckily I had a friend who interned there and put in a good word for me. Within two days I was hired and making my way into web development as a career. This job was my first programming job that was full-time programming. During this time I also decided to take a break from school, I haven’t been back since.
Just nine months later I received my first opportunity as a Ruby on Rails developer at Lensrentals. It was hard because though I wasn’t doing Ruby on Rails professionally, I enjoyed where I was working. However, I wanted that professional Ruby on Rails experience, so I took the job at Lensrentals. I’ve been with Lensrentals for the last two and a half years.
It’s been an incredible journey for someone who thought they weren’t smart enough to be a programmer.
- I’m a part of an incredibly talented team led by two developers who teach me so much
- I get to attend major Ruby conferences: RubyConf & RailsConf
- I’ve started doing some public speaking on programming
- I’m earning a living doing what I love
You might be in a similar position.
- Working a part-time job looking for something else
- Feeling like you’re not that smart
- Interested in programming
- Wanting to get your first programming job
Here are some things about programming that might surprise you:
- Not all programmers are great at math
- Getting a baseline knowledge to get hired as a programmer doesn’t require a 4-year degree
Here are three ways to get started:
- Learn some HTML – See if you can figure how to make a web page, using HTML, for your resume
- Try Ruby – 15 minutes might be all you need to realize that you too can program. If not Ruby, maybe it’s PHP or Python.
- Get to know others in the same spot you are
- Ask your boss if they’re happy with their website. If not, maybe you just caught your first break.