What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question kids always get asked, and when I was little there was one job I remember wanting. I’ve been told I wanted to be a barber and a clock maker, but the only job I actually remember wanting to do is Architecture. I wanted to design houses and buildings.
I was listening to a recent Shop Talk Show with Monika Piotrowicz and Lara Hogan on the subject of career paths and I started thinking about mine. I realized after looking back on my resume that January 2016 marked my 10th year practicing web design and development professionally. I was inspired to get out the ol’ blogging pen and jot down how I got where I am today.
My current title at Quicken Loans is Senior Web UI Engineer. This is not a title I would have ever dreamed of having in High School, or even wanted for that matter. I got my first computer and 5000 free AOL hours in 1995 as a freshman. I don’t remember why, but I taught myself HTML that school year in 1996 using notepad and tutorials I found on Geocities. I clearly remember friends and family members telling me that I should consider doing this as a career, but I always maintained that I would hate sitting in front of a computer all day. As far as I was concerned, this was just a hobby.
This attitude continued through high school, where I was part of a small class that managed our school district’s websites, and college, where I was studying Mass Communication with an emphasis in TV/Video Production. I continued making personal websites for bands I was in and made a few sites for different academic departments at my school, but it was just fun for me.
My final semester of college, in 2005, I got an internship with Detroit Public TV where I learned that TV production was not the best career to be entry level in with a newborn baby to take care of. I had started doing some freelance web design for extra cash while working at an oil change shop and interning and when the internship was over I kept looking for freelance work.
Since I now had my degree, I began looking for jobs at TV stations in the area. Even though I knew that career was not the best idea, it seemed like my best option to get a better paying job than changing oil. While looking at the job postings for Detroit Public TV, I saw an opening for a “Web Master” position. I figured it was worth a shot and contacted my former boss. I started a job in January 2006 as “Online Communications Coordinator” for the classical and jazz radio station WRCJ 90.9, which DPTV operates.
Now that I had my first real job practicing web design, it didn’t take long to realize that I wanted to do this work for the rest of my life. This job gave me the opportunity and freedom to learn as much as I could. I finally started to understand CSS and moved away from using tables for layout and on to using web standards. I ended up staying at DPTV for a little over 2 years before getting laid off.
My next job, which I started in October 2008, was for a small agency specializing in websites for the industrial manufacturing industry. This was about as exciting as it sounds, but it gave me the opportunity to design new site regularly and try new things. Since it wasn’t a very busy shop, I had a lot of time to get even deeper into web standards and to try new techniques out on my various projects. This job paid very poorly so I was looking for other work when I was suddenly laid off after 9 months. While sitting out in the parking lot preparing to drive home I got a call from a recruiter at Quicken Loans and set up an interview.
I started at Quicken Loans in July of 2009, which is when my career really took off. For the first time I was on a team with a bunch of really smart people who pushed me to learn even more and faster than I had before. From OOCSS to Responsive Web Design to web performance, being at a company that encourages innovation and execution has given me unlimited opportunity to grow as an engineer and a technical leader. I started at QL with the title “Web Developer”, which is basically an entry level position. If I had realized that at the time I might have been offended, but looking back at how much more I learned in my first year at QL compared to my previous 4 years, I really was a novice. The reason I didn’t realize it was an entry level position is because I was never treated that way. My ideas were heard and valued.
Over the last 6.5 years I have moved from “Web Developer”, to “Software Engineer”, to “Senior Software Engineer”. Recently, I had the opportunity to create a new career path focused on the specific software challenges that front-end developers face. I titled the career path “Web UI Engineering” and I am currently a “Senior Web UI Engineer”.
My next step is to get promoted to “Web UI Architect”. Soon I will be able to fulfill that childhood dream of being an Architect, only I will be designing and building scalable user interfaces and design systems instead of houses.
This article was cross-posted to Medium.com