This is my story of how website development started out as a hobby, and starting next week it’s my full-time job.
I first started dabbling in websites in 1999. It started out as a hobby. There was this thing called FrontPage that came with Microsoft Office. “Oh, a website builder.”
I taught myself what all those funny codes meant and how to use them and graduated from FrontPage to Adobe’s Dreamweaver.
Then I discovered PHP. That changed the whole game. Dynamic templates. Ooohhh. And then, more than that, you can actually program stuff with it.
Then, in 2009, I discovered WordPress. I’d seen WordPress back in 2003, but it didn’t impress me much. It was in its infancy. By 2009, it had come a long way. Not just dynamic templates, content management, user management, database integration, all without having to reinvent the wheel each time you started something. (There was also Joomla. And Drupal. And a couple others I don’t remember any more. And neither does anyone else.)
So I built my first WordPress website in 2009. Then I built several more. Then friends started asking if I could help them build a site. So I did.
It had gone from a hobby to a small moonlighting business. Then in 2011, I “retired” from my first career as a pastor. For a year I was a blogger and moonlighted as an odd-jobs website troubleshooter. In 2012, I started working for my sister-in-law to do website stuff for her design business, Digital Canvas. We did it all: sites patched together in Dreamweaver, Drupal, Magento, PrestaShop, OpenCart, WordPress. But mostly WordPress.
In 2014, I realized I needed to get to the next level. I went to events where WordPress people met (Word Camps — my family called it “geek camp”). I started following the blogs of the people who had big names in WordPress world — seeing how they did things.
All the while, I had this Digital Canvas work and my own freelance clients to practice with.
Last year, I stumbled across Tonya Mork. (It was a post on Tom McFarlain’s blog.) She was starting the WordPress Developers Club as a school for WordPress developers who wanted to learn industry standard quality code from real software engineers. One thing led to another. I became an apprentice in the program, which then became a wider project at knowthecode.io.
It has been some of the most intense and beneficial training ever. Really. If you want to know code in a WordPress context, get with Tonya.
Last week I saw a note on Twitter from Syed Balkhi. I’d met him briefly at a Word Camp in Providence, RI in 2014. He’d seemed like a nice guy. Now he was looking to hire a WordPress developer for his company. I emailed him and said, basically, “Hey, we met in a hallway at the University of Rhode Island a couple years ago, and I think I might be the person you need.” I talked with his business partner. They gave me a code challenge to see if I had some skills, and then last week, offered me the job.
I took it.
So today is my first day as a “regularly employed” person since I “retired” back in 2011.
The new gig is full-time work. Over the summer I’ll be winding down the freelance business, finishing a couple projects that are in mid-stream. I’ll still do some consulting and troubleshooting occasionally for friends. And blogging. And the dad thing.
And that’s the story of how I went from website hobbyist to full-time software development.