I was trying to think about what to write about here first, and I thought, “Hey, It’s called robotoole.com for a reason”. So I will explain my trials and tribulations of becoming a software engineer in todays re-energized IT world.
It all started in 2002……ya it’s going to be one of those rants. I had just “graduated”, I use that term loosely because I didn’t get a relevant piece of paper that a real company gave a crap about. Who needs english class anyways? I guess human resources does because they could care less what you know unless you have a BS in comp science or equivalent. It was my own fault, I knew some basics of programming already from young AOL hacking and thought (pre 9-11, literally months), the market is so great, I just need some credentials and I’m in. I was so excited because I was chock full of Java knowledge and was ready to make my mark on the world wide web. Too bad it took me almost 4 years to get anyone to respond to my resume. I jumped from Atlanta to Boston to Hartford back to Atlanta and then back up to Boston where I finally found a job in Providence. Waiting tables and doing crappy HTML sites here and there trying to stay somewhat fresh the whole while. My first real opportunity was where I just left on Friday afternoon, Connect Studios.
This company was literally the best thing that could of ever happened to me. I was two weeks away from getting my real estate license and giving up on ever finding a programming job. Connect was a startup web development company and I was employee #3. It was myself(Java/Backend guy), a designer, and a php developer. As soon as I walked in the door I was learning. On my first day, my boss walked up to me and said “I want to make the blog on our site dynamic, I(my boss) threw it together in Flash and its just sitting there nice and static”. I thought to myself, did this guy even read my resume, where did it say I knew Flash…I thought he was kidding at first. Zomg! what I am I going to do?. Sourceforge to the rescue! On my first day I was editing a Flash Blog in Actionscript 2.0, and installing WordPress. It took me about 3 days to get it approved for our company website and mission 1 was accomplished. I built 1 and half html/php based sites (learning php as I went), and that was the last time I used Dreamweaver on a daily basis. About a month in, my boss walked in asked the php guy and myself if we wanted to learn Flex. It was right back to the old bread and butter. Software Development.
I jumped on the opportunity to get paid to learn, and the php guy is still editing drupal sites. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I just think he has the wrong mindset for the IT field. Not wanting to learn anything new means you’ll be outdated very very quickly. You might have a good run if its something mainstream like PHP or Java but eventually you’ll need to learn something new. Very excitedly, I went to Barnes and Noble that evening and the bought the only Flex Book they had. Honestly I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought, sure I’ll learn this Flex thing for this project, no prob. Little did I know I was learning 3 languages over the course of this next month instead of just Flex. Actionscript 3, MXML, and ColdFusion for the backend. I was in over my head for that first month, big time. I stuck with it though, sitting in the corner with instrumental beats flowing through my headphones while I read and read and read. I can’t stress enough how incredible of a learning tool Lynda.com is as well. I honestly learned more there than anywhere else.
After the designer left and a new one stepped in that actually had a Flash programming background, it was on like donkey kong. I had someone there that could show me the intricacies of the Flash Player and Actionscript as a whole. There was a lot of “WTF that works in Actionscript 2.0” but after that initial shock that AS3 was actually a more structured programming language then the ever forgiving AS2, we really started to make some headway.
Luckily, my boss had no problem moving far away from the HTML based projects and towards the software development side of things. The only problem with the company was that my boss who was also the owner, was a partner in another company, the company that actually made him money instead of costing him money. He opened the web shop as a personal side project and it took way too much of his time away from his main source of income. Eventually it was myself and the two other developers running the show, because he couldn’t devote enough of his time to us. The natural progression of the quality of my code is what really impressed me the most, apart from the experience of running a web development company. Handling a client from the initial email inquiry to the final delivered product is something that cannot be taught. You have to experience that for yourself.
A little over a year and a half pass, and a lot of projects later, things started to change. The whole time I worked there, we were always kept in the loop. Then the visits slowly started diminishing as the last couple months let on. I got a funny feeling like something wasn’t right, so I updated my resume and posted it on Dice on a Sunday afternoon. When I posted my resume I had no intentions of leaving, just wanted to see what was out there for me if I did have to go back on the market. Sunday evening I posted it, Monday morning I was awoken by a recruiter, then another an hour later, then another, then another…until I took my phone number down. duh. I had no idea what to do. I tried for so long to get a real world job and got nothing, i mean NOTHING, in response, and now I have people emailing/calling me like I just won the lottery. The whole process was very surreal to say the least.
The one thing I made sure I did when I finally got this opportunity to write code for a living, was to not feel like I wasted a single moment. I really busted my ass for the past year and 7 months. A week hasn’t gone by where I didn’t work 50+ hours. Mostly ranging from 55-60 but who’s bragging. Not my girlfriend thats for sure. I really didn’t want to think I wasted this chance, and I didn’t. Not a second, Sun-Fri every week, whether it was crunch time or we were right on schedule. To see that it all came to fruition is the craziest part. I am a “hot commodity” now and I have the power to chose where and what to do.
Now if I had been writing Java this whole time the phone might not have been ringing as much, but it still would of been ringing. Flex is the future of the Rich Internet Application world. I am so excited to be a part of this ever growing community. I owe so much to this community that has taught almost everything I know, I can’t wait to pay it forward.