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For those of us fairly new to tech, the idea of diving in can feel overwhelming. Sure coding sounds great, but would you even like it? And how are you supposed to tell what would get you excited about a career in tech, when it’s so immersed in every industry? Before you sign off on taking up tech skills totally, let’s reframe.
Instead of thinking about tech skills in terms of how painlessly you can pick up things like HTML, CSS, or Ruby on Rails, consider your interests. Plenty of members of our own staff got into coding through a variety of fan sites (among them: now defunct fan site for Gilmore Girls, Savage Garden fan site, and Bruce Springsteen).
So, are you a sports fan? A wannabe master chef? A dog show aficionado? Whatever your taste, tech can be a way in. Perhaps learning back end development will lead to a position working on apps for your favorite hockey team. Maybe coding will open the door to teaching for your favorite feminist tech company. My point is that these skills are tools you can pick up and the use to explore your interests in ways that can be financially and emotionally fulfilling.
To prove it, I tracked down four pros who discovered their love for tech through totally unrelated passion projects.
Must Love Neopets
Skylar Mowery is a graphic designer and front-end developer whose tech career has a whimsical beginning. Mowery received her first introduction to coding through the online game Neopets—which she still actively plays! She says the game actually set the foundation for her career because of how accessible it makes coding to users.
“Neopets fueled my college degree and professional career—I truly wouldn’t have gained any interest in coding without it. Throughout my 12 years in public education, none of my schools offered a single elective on any aspect of programming. If I hadn’t been exposed to the coding playground Neopets fostered, I wouldn’t have discovered my love for code—and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to turn it into my career,” says Mowery.
For Mowery, the community the game fostered amongst users provided her with a group of peers eager to swap code, talk shop, and generally provide support for her burgeoning interest.
“My friends and I always enjoyed customizing our user lookups and bouncing ideas off of each other. ‘Show me the code for that!’ was a regular phrase we’d excitedly shout at each other while modifying our virtual pet pages together. Neopets really served as an educational tool for our impressionable and eager minds, and looking back, I am so thankful that Neopets was able to play a large part in turning that blossoming curiosity I had as a child into a rewarding, lifelong career,” Mowery says.
Symon Perriman, the president and founder of FanWide, a database that allows fans, venues, teams, and athletes to connect through their love of sports, discovered coding as an outlet for his sense of humor.
“When I was in middle school two decades ago, home Internet access was new and provided through services like AOL. While I was bored one summer I taught myself how to code in HTML by making parody webpages from existing Internet properties on a website that I called “Odd News.” I would simply go to a webpage that looked interesting, copy the source code, make humorous changes to the text and images, then repost it. This is an easy way to learn coding with practical examples, as you can see any webpage’s source code from the browser by pressing Ctrl+U,” Perriman says.
He’s right—playing around with code from other sites is a great way to familiarize yourself with the sequences and type of manipulation this skill requires. And hey, in the era of fake news, why not at least make yourself laugh?
Quidditch Through The Ages
For Asher Abramson, a partner at growth marketing company Bell Curve, running his collegiate Quidditch team was what flew him—unexpectedly—into tech.
“I always had to announce practices with a mass text, but I only wanted people to respond to me (otherwise people get spammed). GroupMe couldn’t do this (responses go to everyone). So I built a small app that let me send out one-to-many texts. It was a great way to solidify my knowledge of Rails and the Twilio API,” Abramson says.
Picking up tech skills through other passions projects seemed to work well for Abramson. He also learned CSS and HTML by building an app that parodied the lingo of football players, by writing as if they were in an AIM chat room together.
With no formal degree in computer sciences, Abramson is now working in tech full-time, and has been both a Software Engineer Manager and a CTO, proving that your nerdiest obsession might very well be the path to your most lucrative career. And you don’t even have to catch the golden snitch to win that game.
A Cacophony of Coding
John Randall’s a programmer who now serves as president of Zyvex Labs, started his love of programming with musical intentions.
“I decided that I wanted to get the computer (and IBM 360 Mainframe) to write a musical melody. I used the Fibonacci number series as an input in radians, and the Sine function to produce an output. I got about 90 notes out before the Fibonacci series produced a number that exceeded the double precision real number capabilities of the IBM 360. This was the first thing that I ever did for fun in programming anything. I liked the melody enough to add (many years later) accompaniment, and realized it with musical software,” says Randall.
As Randall found, seeing career meet personal interests was a powerful tool, and his love of music mixed with a few tech skills led to a full on career.