A Subtle Melody
I didn’t always want to work in technology. I was a theater nerd in high school (working primarily back stage), and I loved any kind of art – drawing, singing, writing. I was obsessed with musical theater, and listened to nothing but the soundtracks to Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera and Cats until the tail end of my senior year. I was quiet, but not studious… preferring to read a book of my own choosing to doing homework, and my grades reflected this. I spent hours writing short stories I never finished in spiral bound notebooks, and liked to doodle imagined creatures and fantasy scenes (I had an unhealthy affection for unicorns that lasted much longer than I like to admit). I passed on an early graduation for half a year of nothing but art, theater, music and creative writing. I spent my lunch hours playing Euchre, and didn’t take my first drink of alcohol until I was 21. My first kiss at 18. I had only a couple close friends, but many acquaintances, and I think I spoke to boys maybe twice in my high school career. In short, I was squirrely… I was a geek before being a geek was cool, and I was oblivious to just how uncool I really was. I lived in my head, and I liked it.
I entered my freshman year at Ohio State expecting to be a writer. I had no idea what I’d write, but I believed it was the only option available to me. It wasn’t until sophomore year that I discovered technology. I was dating a guy who came from an affluent family, and had been exposed to computers since they first came on the market. He was majoring in computer information technology, and his father had just bought him a brand new, top of the line PC, complete with Windows 3.1. It was love at first sight. Not with him, but with his PC, and with the things it could do. The colors! The buttons! The games! Oh, I had dabbled in PCs before – I abused friends by inviting myself over to their homes to play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego for hours on end, and my friend and I used her father’s computer to chat with strangers on IRC. This, though… this was different. I devoured things like Myst and the 7th Guest, and taught myself how to manipulate the OS. I spent more time with that PC than I spent with the boy… and in the years since, I’ve never forgotten the sweet, sweet taste of my first love, Windows 3.1. You laugh, but to a girl with her head in the clouds, it was a refreshing dose of reality.
Still, I didn’t enter the technology world professionally until around 1998. The dot com boom was in full swing, and people were making gobs of money off nothing but a few lines of HTML and a dream. I had only recently graduated from college with a BA in English Lit, and was working as a low level technical writer at a very small software development company. Back then, web application development hadn’t taken off, and the concept of storing personal information in the cloud was nothing more than an idea in the minds of great people. The web wasn’t so much about collaboration and education as it was about getting information for the things you needed in the real world. A fancy, brightly colored yellow pages, if you will. The company I worked for didn’t put much thought into their web site. I was obsessed with the web, and with all things Internet. I already owned several domain names, and had built a few basic websites in my spare time. Sad, silly things where I’d rant about video games, technology and movies. I had a great deal of passion, in those days, and had no problem voicing it. I thought the web was where things were going, and where things should be. I volunteered to redesign and, I believed, revolutionize their internal and external web presence, and with that, my career in web development was born.
In my time as a self-taught developer, I’ve learned a great many things. Some useful, some not so. I have come a long way since the girl who couldn’t talk to boys, to a woman who successfully competes in a profession dominated by men. Many people have asked me how a background heavy in the arts, and light in the science and math, applies to such a left-brained, analytical job like development. How can I justify my success?
The answer is simple… the idea that development should only interest those without creativity is a myth. There is a terrible stigma attached to anyone in a technology related field. People from the outside often believe developers are socially inept, creatively stunted geeks who never left their parents’ basement. They have no passion for anything but Star Wars and Star Trek. They are obtuse, and lack imagination. They can’t see the big picture, and are relegated to creating the tools that are used by others to create beauty and true art. Not only are these stereotypes wildly untrue, but in my experience, sadly misleading.
In my world, constructing a beautiful piece of code isn’t that far off from composing a song, or painting a sunset, or writing the next great American novel. There is a supreme beauty in the details… in the subtle melody of a perfectly architected application. Perhaps not everyone can hear it, but we all move to the beat it produces.
As such, in today’s marketplace, I find that there is less and less emphasis placed on the art of development. It’s become almost a commodity – a thing to be bought and traded as so many heads of cattle. I’m not suggesting we ignore progress and corporate bottom lines, more that… we must take care not to forget that technology is just as much about imagining as it is about analyzing, and that a successful technology solution is more than the sum of its lines of code. Not all artists paint with color – some paint in words, or music, or, yes, even code.
It is the culmination of these things that has brought me to XS. From my early years as an aspiring writer of sad, melodramatic fiction, to a spinner of yarns and tails in routines, methods and classes, I really haven’t come as far as some may believe. It’s just a matter of shifting your thinking about code, and of the artists who work with it. XS, unlike many of the other companies I’ve worked for, understands the beauty in quality code design. It’s one of the things that drew me to this place. To this collaboration of minds and artists disguised as a corporation. We all find beauty in unexpected places, if we care to look for it.