The challenge and privilege of being a developer

I’ve often been a reluctant developer in recent years. There was no hesitation for me to get started building websites back in 2002 when I discovered coding for the first time. I was eager to learn coding, website development was a new frontier. And it was the first real career for me, because up until then I’d been going back and forth between various low-end sales jobs. That was the main type of job available to somebody with no high school diploma, no skills, no experience. I struggled for several years to make a minimal income, often working in commission sales jobs where my take home pay was about $4/hour. And you might be thinking that’s not bad for 1950. But this was the 90’s and in Canada at the time where the minimum wage at the time was about $7.

I recall Christmas day when I was 17 years old. I was living in Edmonton at the time and I had $4 cash and not a penny in the bank. I used that money to buy a Subway sandwich, came up short on the bill and had to ask the shop keeper to if he’d accept a check. He waved me away and I left feeling about 6-inches tall instead of 6-feet. Fast forward a few years and I’m learning how to write code after a friend told me about his work building sites for the local city. For me learning to code was an opportunity to get out of poverty. It was a way to have a skill in a field that promised a lot for those willing to learn fast and work long. I’d say “work hard”, but I think that for people not in the industry they might not really understand what working hard means in technology. For many of usĀ  it’s more about “working long”, the investment of hours, long hours, patiently honing skills, practice and constant learning, that’s what leads to being competence and eventually mastery.

Many times the difficulties I’ve faced in building up this business have made me think of quitting. Long before I started GoldHat Group I had another firm called CustomNet Dev, which built completely custom sites before there was much use of CMS’s. I eventually closed that business down, and spent over a year out of the tech industry, working in a warehouse. A simple job, a regular wage, a lot less stress. It was a good break. What brought me back? A renewed passion for technology itself. Discovery of MVC frameworks, Drupal and CMS’s. An interest in SEO. And just marvelling at how the internet was growing. Wanting to be a part of this thing that is reshaping the world in so many ways. Part of what can sometimes make our work seem small and insignificant in this field is the vastness of the landscape. If you could build a dozen websites in 1-day, you would still be producing an incredibly tiny fraction of the sites launched that day. And many of the other sites would be bigger, bolder. I remember working for 3-months on a video site around the same time YouTube launched. I think I got paid a little more than YouTube’s original developer for the project at first. But while that site went on to become a household name, mine lasted about a year then died and now doesn’t exist at all. It’s thing like that can make you wonder what is the point of the work? It’s sometimes not as clear with digital work what the point is, there isn’t a house or a bridge or something physical and solid we can point to that showcases what we’ve created.

Every career has it’s various strong and weak points. Sometimes I want to be involved in something more physical, like sports or construction. Yet when I really look at the opportunities in those fields, I find their often not as attractive as technology. And even from a business perspective, many of the best opportunities are either directly in technology or have technology at their core. One of the principles I believe in and am trying to remind myself, is to be thankful for what you have while you strive for something you want. I don’t see myself being in development forever, but it’s a privilege to lead projects and work with dedicated people in a challenging field. It’s certainly made me stronger, because I think before I started in technology I would have been relatively quick to quit if I faced a problem. But years of having to face technical problems have caused me to feel there is always a way through or around anything. You can’t always fix it, today I’m writing this on a laptop running Linux Ubuntu and for some reason the wireless adapter doesn’t work. And yes I’ve tried each of the 57 things most commonly reported as the source of that problem. That’s the thing though with technology there is always another way. I wired this machine up to the router and I just accept this one isn’t for travel. Maybe someday I’ll fix it, but I have others so it’s not a big issue. Learning to accept that some things aren’t work fixing it part of the journey for me.

What is I think is one of the most exciting aspects of being a developer today is being able to share the opportunity with other people. Those who like me, started out with little resources, nothing but their own desire for a better life. Technology can be that answer that the hungry kid is looking for no matter what country he or she is in. People can join the technology field with very minimal barriers. If you’re passionate about learning, you can self-educate or take very affordable short courses to create your initial skills. And people in the technology field really don’t care at all what your formal education background is, because if you have a masters degree in something, even if it’s in computer science… well frankly that’s a lot of years you could have been doing real projects you dummy! Our money is usually on the smart route, people who want to be owners of their own destiny. Those who want to start off working for others, but eventually captain their own ship. Those with entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness to work hard to get there no matter what problems they face.

Do you know somebody who needs a career change, is it you? Consider technology, or a business with a technical edge.