2021: A Dev Odyssey
With the launch of this 2021 version of my portfolio and blog, I've taken a step back from furiously submitting GitHub commits to pause and exhale. The end of a project is a natural time to reflect, and I've been thinking a bit about the motivation behind why I code and the journey that led me here.
I sounds crazy to say, but I've been working on designing and coding websites for the better part of 20 years now. Two whole decades have elapsed while I've mashed away on my keyboard writing code. Sometimes with excitement and unfettered motivation, sometimes with soul-crushing frustration and fatigue, but always with the foundational understanding: this is what I love to do.
Love and passion will take you far, if it's honest. Technologies evolve, best-practices change, frameworks and methodologies come and go, but a few things remain constant: I make experiences and interfaces that bridge humans and machines, and the flame of passion for web development continues to burn strong. As far as how the fire started? Let's turn back the hands of time...
My first foray into HTML and CSS was in 2000, my freshman year of high school. Picture this: The Matrix had just released. Y2K parties were a thing. I had always been interested in computers, technology and digital design, but I wasn't familiar with web code up to this point. One day at school, a friend of mine showed me her website that she made using Yahoo! Geocities, it blew my mind. She had her own webpage. Complete with profile photo, sparkly, animated gifs, and all kinds stylized borders and dividers. I knew I had to make one too, and so I did. That's right – my first "stack" was Geocities.
For the next two years, I obsessed over HTML and CSS and web design. For perspective, this was pre MySpace. I actually had a leg up when that platform (which also featured glitter gifs, (now-deprecated) blink tags, and marquees – so many marquees – came to be.
As soon as I had a decent enough grasp on web hosting and creating complete site experiences with Flash, I did what most aspiring webmasters did, I began making small marketing sites for my friends and family members. Eventually I was making websites for my friends' family members, and then their family members colleagues, etc. – I was a bonafide freelancer. Or so I thought.
Web 2.0 was in full swing. Logos got round, shiny and skeuomorphic. I stayed busy crafting websites and logos as my primary source of income. I had a decent amount of clients but my business sense was immature and I didn't have the foresight to carve out any recurring income through the services I was providing.
I ended up applying for a UI Design job that I found on Craigslist and wound up working at a small, startup software company in the industrial area of Portland's Westside waterfront. We made real estate software that pulled data from the RMLS database and developed an early version of Zillow (before Zillow was a thing). I contributed flash websites, graphic design and User Interface design for a couple years.
I find it amusing looking back, that the first conferences I attended were Real Estate conferences. What a great way for a somewhat shy kid to come out of his shell and acquire some business acumen. Have you ever talked to a Real Estate Agent?!
With my first professional gig – a startup no less – under my belt, I decided to ramp up the freelancing I had been maintaining for the prior three years and attempt to grow my client-base to a level of self-sustainability and beyond. Long story short, this was harder than I anticipated. I wouldn't classify this period as a failure, but it was my first time coming face to face with real challenges. Big and painful challenges with real people and real money to further complicate things. Nonetheless I plugged away, mostly designing and coding WordPress themes.
After several years of staying afloat freelancing and learning valuable skills and lessons along the way, I was recommended by a friend to apply for a Front-end development job at a startup in Beaverton, OR called DealerSpike. This was my first true full-time development job. I did a bit of design in Photoshop and consultations with clients using design brief skills I had picked up over the previous years. DealerSpike was a very fast-paced environment with a plethora of young talent and a product good enough to propel it one of Oregon's fastest growing businesses for several years running. It was here that I got comfortable working as a member of a large team and communicating effectively with hundreds of clients in the Powersports, RV and Marine industry across the US.
In 2014 I landed a full-time job as a Web Developer I at Columbia Sportswear Company. Compared to everything I had done prior, this felt like the big leagues. I was surrounded by incredibly capable Senior level Engineers and Solutions Architects and corporate executives. I was introduced to Agile Scrum and worked directly with Product Owners, dedicated PMs, UX Architects, and Interface Designers.
We had a massive project involving launching a localized version of their Salesforce Commerce Cloud Ecommerce platform. I was directly responsible for a huge number of Font-end features on Columbia, SOREL and Mountain Hardwear's websites.
With a major project successfully launched at a large, publicly traded corporation, and plenty of newfound Front-end knowledge, I set my sights on the next chapter.
A local (Portland, OR), family-owned and privately-held footwear company was assembling it's first ever in-house web development team. I had previously worked with their new Director of Ecommerce, and I was familiar with the application they were considering for their digital brand relaunch. KEEN Footwear was seeking to assemble a capable team of experienced developers to build a custom Ecommerce experience for both KEEN and Chrome Industries. I joined the team as a UI Engineering Lead and gained valuable experience in a split development and leadership role. I managed day-to-day updates and replications and orchestrated interviewing and hiring a small team. If I could go back in time and give my past self one piece of advice, it would be to double down on my technical skills and offset the leadership role as a slower, more methodical track.
Hiccups aside, our team collectively pushed forward in the face of uncharted waters as the first development team within the walls of KEEN. I look back fondly on this time, the company and work was fun but it was the people that made it exceptional. We were heads down for the better part of a year and eventually accomplished our goal of launching two new digital brand experiences for KEEN and Chrome. I also acquired like 7 free Chrome bags during this time so that was a plus, I still use them to this day!
By this point I had loads of experience freelancing, I’d contributed front end code and content management to two enterprise Salesforce Commerce Cloud implementations, and I’d worked at a handful of startups in between. Something I hadn’t done was agency work.
The pandemic hit shortly after leaving my agency job and I took some personal time to recharge, reset (and play a bit of Animal Crossing). I then dedicated myself to returning to basics and sharpening my development, design, testing, documentation and workflow efficiency skills.
With so much prior time spent working on Ecommerce and SFCC specifically, I felt a tremendous motivation to branch out and sink my teeth into the modern web development ecosystem outside of online shopping. The "new hotness" modern web technologies. What did I discover? React is really, really fun. Since then I’ve been all-in on learning, and focusing on freelance and personal projects.
I am committing myself fully to continuing the journey of technical learning and mastery of fullstack development. Lately I feel like I did when I first discovered Geocities or when I first tried Flash. My experience as a web developer is a journey. It will always have ups and downs, but the constants will remain: I make experiences and interfaces for people, and I love what I do.
- Located in Portland, OR
- Currently available for hire
- Download my resume