Why did I learn to code?

jeff/ August 20, 2020

I never expected to ever teach programming or to even make a living as a software developer. It was the furthest thing from my mind as an English major in college.

Even as I was learning about web technologies, I still thought coding was beyond my reach. Coding, in my mind then, belonged to the world of computer science and those super smart kids who knew so much about computers; their knowledge seemed so natural and foreign to me. Later, I learned that computer science, at least in those days, didn’t really teach you programming. You were expected to pick that up on your own.

Once I had about a year’s worth of effort in understanding how the Internet worked, I started seeing possibilities that I wanted to realize, things that I wanted to create. It was the desire to create a functional tool that led me to pay serious attention to coding. And I realized that I could do it. I could teach myself how to code. I’ve always like a mental challenge. That’s why I took Russian in college even though I had never studied a foreign language ever before. It was the most difficult language taught, plus I was really interested in what was then the Soviet Union.

With coding, I also knew of the career potential. I felt burned as an English major, as a liberal arts grad. I needed a job; I wanted a good job. I put a lot of energy into learning technology. I felt I had no choice. And it has paid off.

My first applications were really very boring. I had started working as a librarian. In 1993 I coded a form for submitting interlibrary loan requests. Yawn. But, you know? In most programming jobs you are working on really boring applications. You are working on business processes. It’s not that earth shattering. Then I started to develop a database of journal subscriptions. That required me to learn a lot about database programming, which is a very business-oriented routine.

On and on it went over the next years as I developed more academic and library-oriented applications. My career went really well. By age 29, I was Head of Systems Development for the Old Dominion University Libraries. That was a great job, a dream job!

Over the years, I tackled a lot of projects in the emerging digital library landscape. Eventually, always seeking new challenges, I ventured into various forms of digital storytelling, which has driven my interests for the last 20 years.

Why did I learn to code? I wanted a good job, an income, control over my life. At first, I would have coded anything if it paid. Later, it’s creativity that has kept me inspired to learn more and more. There are stories I want to create on the web. The tools don’t quite yet exist to tell those stories in the form that I want. I have to piece the tools together. I expect to be doing this for the rest of my life. Learning to code is one of the best gifts I’ve ever gave to myself. I love coding.