How did I get started in tech? The short answer is: cartoon dolls. I wanted to be a fashion designer when I grew up.
My first memories of writing HTML was for Neopets pet pages, but my first memories of SSHing into servers and designing graphics were for a virtual chat community called The Palace when I was probably around 8 - 9 years old. There was a huge cartoon doll community there, complete with guilds and contests for designing (pixel-by-pixel) outfits every week. I learned how to use Jasc Paint Shop Pro 7 to grab images from the web and save them down as patterns for the pixel gif editor on The Palace. I even made a Geocities website to share my cartoon doll collection (and some really terrible poetry while I was at it).
Toward the end of Middle School, I was designing and building MySpace layouts for my friends. In high school, I took a 3-semester “Multimedia Design” class where I learned ActionScript 2.0 :) and instead of drawing static cartoon dolls, I was building drag-and-drop cartoon doll flash games! I was also introduced to the Wacom tablet and Illustrator CS2 at this time. Being able to take fashion illustration to a new level (with digital painting) blew my mind. I was in love with the power and result of mixing visual design with a little bit of code.
So, I went into university double-majoring in both graphic design and computer science. In my first web design class, we learned Dreamweaver, but my professor didn't really know how to use Dreamweaver (pre-made WYSIWYG components that make it so convenient) so we just used it as a text editor. Which, in retrospect, was the best thing for learning how to really code. I excelled in this class because of both my MySpace days and natural curiosity for the subject. I remember CSS3 was brand new and so was this idea of “responsive websites”. Let's just say I was a huge nerd in this class and far exceeded the project requirements for my grade level.
There were nights where I was building Java apps at 3 AM, struggling, and wondering why the hell I was doing this to myself.
When I took Computer Science classes, they were hard for me. Really hard. But I had an excellent Python professor and went to every office hours session he held. When I say every, I literally mean every one, and I was hosting/attending review sessions all the time. The Computer Science program I was in was very small. We all got really close. There were nights where I was building Java apps at 3 AM, struggling, and wondering why the hell I was doing this to myself.
One night I was working on a program with my friend in the class, getting nowhere, and said out loud “I can't do this. I'm just going to fail computer science,“ when the president of the Computer Science club at the time, who was also there, looked up at us and said — “Don't worry, you're not going to fail. We're not going to let you fail.” That encouragement meant a lot. The community meant a lot. I got an "A" in the class.
Computer science was a roller coaster for me. I loved it. But I also loved art, and didn't want to give that up.
I was honestly surrounded by the most genuine group of individuals who were interested in helping each other learn instead of competing against each other. I think this is unlike most CS programs, and I'm so grateful for that experience. Computer science was a roller coaster for me. I loved it. But I also loved art, and didn't want to give that up.
The first time I heard the words “Front-End Development” was at a Refresh DC meetup where Dave Desandro was speaking. He was talking about how he built a storybook using CSS 3D transforms and I remember having the thought: “OMG. THERE'S A NAME FOR IT!” It was the perfect marriage of art and logical thinking.
At the following Refresh DC, I learned about Sass and Compass and became an Sassvocate in my design classroom, introducing it to everyone that would listen. I continued going to almost every Refresh DC meetup and ended up doing a CS minor instead of major because the classes didn't align with my new-found perspective and interests (front-end development wasn't a thing in academia at the time).
Nights spending excessive amounts of time on my computer building cartoon dolls turned into nights spending excessive amounts of time on my computer building things for the web. And that's where I am now – in this community that I love.