“Okay, I’ll talk to you later.” I was in bed and my mother’s muffled voice punctured my bedroom walls and the blanket over my head. “All right, bye-bye.”
My mother had been expecting a long-distance call from family in Jamaica. By the time she said her goodbyes and hung up the phone, it was midnight. Her bedroom next to mine, I strained to listen–there was a bit of shuffling, rustle of sheets and a squeak of the bed. I waited a few more minutes. I wanted to make sure she was really asleep. I tossed the covers off and quietly made walked to my bedroom door and turned the lock. I held my breath, trying not the make a sound. I slowly tiptoed to my desk and plopped into the seat.
“Success!” I thought to myself, smiling.
I wanted to get better at coding so I could add glitter, animated gifs and scrolling marquees to my Neopets profile page.
The year was 2001 and it was a warm summer night. I was on summer break, but I had work to do! My computer booted up, made a chime, and my desktop appeared. I opened America Online, picked one of my six usernames and clicked “Sign On”. I always got a little nervous because my modem was so loud. I grabbed the blanket from my bed, and tossed it over the computer tower, hoping to muffle the alien noises. A few moments later and I was finally in!
I paused for a bit, expecting to hear the “you’ve got mail” sound byte–but heard nothing. I felt relief that I didn't have email, but also sadness that no one wanted to email me.
I recovered quickly, opened the browser, and typed in “www.neopets.com”. I fed my pets–April Charisma, Artemisia Catherine, Crystal Aurora, and Kamaria Cherise–and got back to business: designing my Neopets user profile. That was my routine for the entire summer.
I wanted to get better at coding so I could add glitter, animated gifs and scrolling marquees to my Neopets profile page. There had been tears, frustration and font tags. But ultimately? Triumph. I soon moved on to designing web pages for each of my Neopets.
Later in the summer, I decided to use code to share my love for other interests. A self-described “otaku” (fellow anime lovers, I’m sorry), I loved anime, especially Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z. In addition to writing fan fiction, I built fan sites for my favorite characters on GeoCities that were submitted to Anipike, an online directory for anime websites.
Eventually, I became the “tech nerd” and designed personal sites for friends and classmates.
Summer quickly passed and I learned a lot. I realized I could use code to carve out my very own space on the Internet. Autumn came and school began, but I raced home every day to watch anime and then build my site. My site had a visitor counter, a guestbook (where friends could visit and sign their names), original fan fiction, blog posts full of teenage unease and pictures of my hand-made PowerPuff Girl comics.
Eventually, I became the “tech nerd” and designed personal sites for friends and classmates. My ability to combine art, design, and code made me a hot commodity. At 16, I started a freelance business creating websites for small businesses.
Ten years later, I'm doing the same thing, except now there are many of different, fancy, confusing, undefined names/expectations for it: front-end developer, UX designer, UI designer, visual designer, front-end designer, product designer, creative–even unicorn. Some of these roles involve code and some of them don’t. Labels are exasperating.
I guess the labels are important now... for something. But it’s nice to think back to a time when there were no labels. There were only late, warm summer nights coding away to bring my imagination to life. It was just me, a few clicks, the font tag, and my Neopets.