How I got started with the Web

Back in 2004-2005, around when I was first exposed to the Internet, there was a popular site called Neopets that allowed users to raise and train virtual fantasy pets. Being the preteen that I was at the time, I of course created an account and got hooked immediately.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered a feature that allowed me to create group pages other members could be a part of. I thought this was revolutionary, and immediately clicked the button to create a group page, but was met with a disclaimer that I need to know HTML and CSS to fully customize my page.

I searched for "HTML tutorial" in Google, clicked the first search result, and it wasn't long before I thought coding was way cooler than Neopets. Little did I know that as I was raising virtual creatures in the corner of my dad's home office, I was kick-starting my career.

Having an excuse to design and code

I've always loved drawing, crafting, and anything artistic since I was a kid, so it was a pleasant surprise to know I could apply my artistic side to the Web as well.

It all started with a silly site called Union Designs. This was a site I created with no real intention other than giving myself an excuse to keep tinkering with web technologies. I purchased a domain name, found myself a web host, and started cranking away. This was the very first tableless (buzzword back in the early 2000s) design I created:

After feeling the overwhelming satisfaction of designing, coding, and seeing a live site, I got caught up in a flurry of repeating this process over, and over, and over.

From one week to the next, I would redesign my playground site. I would try a new color scheme, menu style, graphics technique, anything and everything. Eventually, Union Designs became Netapon, at which point I've coded enough websites full of lorem ipsum text to draw the attention of people looking for website work in online communities.

I was about 14 years old when I started taking on freelance work. I convinced my parents to let me sign up for a PayPal account, came home from school every day, and took job request to job request from strangers on the Internet.

I won't lie, I got taken advantage of pretty hard financially, a lot. Full website for $20? I'd do it. How much I made didn't matter to me at the time. All I was thinking about was how awesome it was to bring my ideas to life as digital products.

University, a short hiatus, and CS

By the time I started applying for various universities around the U.S., I never considered my work to be something I could do as a career. I searched for institutions with strong international relations programs, thinking I would perhaps go into the diplomatic field, and thought I'd quit doing Web entirely in favor of a more "secure" job field (looking back at my thought process now makes me laugh).

I attended the University of Richmond with the intention of majoring in international politics and stashed away my Web work. After a semester, I quickly realized that this wasn't the right path for me.

I was in a limbo for a short time, unsure about what to major in like so many other college students. It wasn't until sophomore year that computer science (CS) blipped onto my radar, and it made a lot of sense to give it a shot, so I did. Sure enough, the major fit the bill quite well. For the first time, I was in an academic setting to learn the fundamentals of software development and underlying theories behind computers.

Reignited with motivation to get back into Web work, I started a few side projects during college. I developed an hours tracking application for school facilities that showed what was open at any given time to students that was eventually absorbed by the university's IT department. I ran a web design club on campus and held a small hackathon for students eager to build software together. I even built an application with a friend that allowed us to visualize public social media posts from Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare on campus via GPS coordinates.

While I don't regret studying CS in college, I sometimes wonder if I would have enjoyed a design program just as much if not even more.

Getting hired into a team

I made two very important connections during my sophomore year of college. I happened to live in the same dorm as Remo Kommnick, a young entrepreneur from Germany who was running a small-scale digital agency called imprvd. After being introduced by a mutual friend, he and I became interested in each other's work, and we begun collaborating almost immediately.

Up until this point, I've never done anything other than freelance, so this was my first experience in working with other people in the digital space.

Shortly afterwards, I got involved in a program called TechHatch, an 8-week summer program for high school students with little to no technology background to learn how to take their ideas and turn them into digital products. TechHatch was founded by Remo and Joel Erb, the CEO of another local agency called INM United.

I was initially brought onto TechHatch during the first pilot program to design the organization's visual identity and website, and to help teach software development basics to high school students. That summer, I probably learned more than the kids did. TechHatch brought in experts from many fields to give workshops for the kids: senior designers, angel investors, startup founders, and chief marketing / leadership officers. I became deeply acquainted with the lean methodology, a way for startups to quickly validate problem-solution fits when launching a new company, because I was responsible for also teaching this to the TechHatchers.

The summer pilot program was a success. We shed blood, sweat, and tears with 9 bright high schoolers over 8 weeks who ended up pitching three separate product ideas to an audience full of business executives, community leaders, and beaming parents.

Joel soon hired me to be a part of the INM team after TechHatch.

Since I was still a student at the time, I worked as a part-time contractor for INM United (I seriously considered dropping out of school to work full-time). I scheduled my classes in such a way that I could be at the office 2-3 times a week to work with a team of designers, developers, and creatives to build the largest-scale applications I've touched up till that point. This was incredibly exciting and was also a huge honor to be considered talented enough to work with people a good deal older than me.

I've been with INM since my sophomore year in college (2012) and have transitioned to a full-time position.