I’m opening it up now, I’m peeling off the bark

Hi, I’m Jared Caraway. On the advice of a new acquaintance who makes a living off of web development, a long-term goal I’m aiming to replicate in my own work life, I am starting a blog to document my progress and the things I’m learning. I’m terrible at picking clever names for things (which is why I named my band Jared and The Jewelers), and I’m a music lover, so I decided to go with something musical. Pinegrove is one of my favorite bands, so I went with one of their songs (though it’s admittedly not one I consider a favorite or am even particularly familiar with). I thought the title was apt. A failure to see the forest for the trees is usually a negative trait signifying one’s failure to zoom out from the granular level to get the bigger picture; however, in my case, I’m attempting to get as granular as possible in my journey. I want to see the trees in the forest that is the World Wide Web; more than that, I want to peel off the bark to see exactly what makes up the trees.

Since this is my first post, perhaps it’s appropriate to describe my background a bit. At the time I’m writing this, I’m 30 years old. I’ve been using computers almost my whole life, going back to a Commodore 64 hooked up to a shitty television at my grandma’s house, and I’ve been an avid user of the Internet since somewhere in the mid-90s when it became affordable to adopt the technology needed to connect (I started exploring with a 14.4 kbps modem, dinosaur-like equipment by today’s standards). It didn’t take me long to become curious about the technology driving the (very primitive) websites I was using. I experimented with creating my own web pages using free hosts such as Geocities and Angelfire, quickly moving past the extremely limiting built-in builder tools to the HTML code underneath. I remember leaning heavily on sites such as HTMLGoodies.com for advice, and it wasn’t long before I started cursorily digesting the then-new concepts behind Cascading Style Sheets, and then the most basic level of JavaScript functionality and syntax.

The ability to control a computing machine has always fascinated and appealed to me. I didn’t delve deep in my early explorations because I get distracted pretty easily (and I was pretty young, so my schoolwork took precedence). But my desire to learn how to code never faded; I went to a science and engineering high school with the intention of becoming a software developer so I could create my own video games. From there I learned low-level BASIC programming which I used to make rudimentary TI calculator games, and in school I learned the basics of C++ and Java (the latter of which I didn’t quite get the hang of, and which pushed me away from development). I gave up on my dreams of making video games by the time I graduated high school, changed majors back to Computer Science briefly in college before quickly getting discouraged at the amount of time I was sinking into what felt like futile attempts at grasping many abstract concepts, and ended up getting my degree in English Literature just so I could get the hell out of school and get a “real job.”

Somewhere in the early 2010s, I stumbled across WordPress, which reignited my interest in web development and design. I began freelancing on a number of sites as a subcontractor for a few companies, one local and one based on the east coast, but my interest ultimately fizzled as I found full-time employment in the legal field, where I’ve been for just over half a decade. I’m a fast learner and adaptable, so I quickly gained a foothold in the industry, working my way up to paralegal.

Then I met a woman, fell in love, and moved from my lifelong home in the DFW metroplex to her childhood hometown just outside of Houston to raise our first kid together. This move involved me leaving my job and taking a leap of faith (with some savings and a lot of help from her parents, who are right around the corner from us), quitting my job without one to land at once we arrived. I delivered pizza several years back as a side hustle, so I was counting on getting hired at the franchise location a few minutes away from our apartment until I found something stable and long-term. But that fell through, and I found myself hungrily searching for a job as my savings dwindled.

While scanning through a list of recent postings in my area, I saw one for an Angular.js developer. I’d heard of Angular, but never examined it at all. I was interested to see what skills would be required of a developer of this shade and, honestly, what the pay range was. I was stunned at the list of required skills, but the pay was also tempting. Starting out, I could easily make double what I was pulling in doing work that didn’t particular interest or inspire me. I felt like the realm of web development deserved a second (or third, or fourth, or whatever) glance.

I was never truly a professional web developer, but I was at least in the loop for a year or two. Technology moves fast; in my absence, a lot changed (for the better), but it got a lot more complicated, too. There’s a lot for me to learn if I want to hit my goal of being a full-stack developer, and it’s going to be a long and (I have no doubt) frustrating road. But I also hope to find some joy and fulfillment in the technical and creative aspects of the trade. Of course, it’s just as likely that I’ll get discouraged at some point in the process of working a full-time job (which I as yet am not prepared to get hired for in a web-related capacity) and balancing my duties as a good boyfriend (and husband, when it makes financial sense) and, perhaps more importantly, a father.

I’ve been trying to learn a little bit each day, and I’m admittedly taking something of a scattershot approach. There’s so much to learn, and I’m not sure where best to start. I’ve done some lessons in Codecademy, gleaned a few tutorials, and, most recently, paid a visit to my local library to check out a small stack of books I hope to gain some insight from. The real challenge is that I know it won’t pay to learn a little bit about each language, but to pick one to really master. After all, it is my understanding that the underlying concepts in web/software development, the algorithms and design patterns, are most important, independent of the particular language being used.

And that’s kind of where I’m at on my journey. I’m leaning toward mastering JavaScript, though I am also interested in learning Python and Ruby. I may still tinker with the latter two to see if they catch my interest, but it still remains for me to pick something to focus on and just dive in. Regardless of the language I land on, I’m still going to need to be proficient with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript at the end of the day, so I picked up books on each topic. I also checked out a book about SQL and one about AJAX, since I figure both technologies will be beneficial to have an understanding of going forward.

The way forward is not clear to me. There are many paths I can take. It is overwhelming to sift through the mountains of information available to me, but it’s a task I’m going to do my best to accomplish if I have any real hope of one day calling myself a web developer with full confidence.

Let’s see what happens.

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