Long Road to Web Development
Aspiring architect, ended up as a web developer, it's a long story.
My family was fascinated with my natural talent in drawing, I was 5 years old when they saw my drawing of Johnny Bravo on a paper I pasted on the wall. Later on, I was able to develop the skill by drawing more, which led to my belief that I could be a good fit to become an architect since I also love math, oh I was so naive.
My destination was set, but I never did anything to prepare for it.
Games in general
As a kid, we wander, we explore, we don't pay attention to class and just want to have fun. We were able to play outside all afternoon, that was all I look forward to after class.
If I don't go out, I play video games all day on a Nintendo Family Computer, it was all my family could afford at 1999, but I enjoyed all the games I played like Contra, Super Mario, and Battle City, those games were the OG back then.
Playing on a Playstation for the first time was a different kind of high especially when you came from a Family Computer. My favorites were Vigilante, Twisted Metal, Tekken 3, and Siphon Filter. We either play on a video game shop — where we pay 20 to 30 pesos an hour ($0.5) — or on my uncle's Playstation system where my cousins and I take turns playing.
Fast forward to a year later, I was introduced to Counter Strike. PCs were expensive back then, none of my extended family can't afford a fast PC that can run games, so we have to rely on video game shops again. Which is the only suitable place to play Counter Strike since these shops have a network of 10 or more computers.
Later on, PC games were the norm, from Counter Strike, we jumped to Warcraft 3, and from that, custom Warcraft 3 games where we play DotA the most, this was 2006. Little did I know, my interests were slowly starting to get influenced by the marvels of video games.
Aside from video games, we play a lot of table-top games, from Dungeons & Dragons to Yu-Gi-Oh with my siblings and cousins, it was a neverending fun of outdoor, indoor, and video games. In D&D, I love creating the characters, the map, the story, and designing the campaign. I find it satisfying when people enjoy the things I created, it was first in drawing then D&D that I let my imagination ran free. Everything went great until we got older, more and more went on with their lives and were no longer interested with the games.
Game Master Game Developer
I find the custom games people made with Warcraft amazing, especially DotA where we played the most. I was curios on how they were able to do that, so I find myself tinkering the game files and finally found World Editor — it is an application built within Warcraft to create custom maps and campaigns.
It was difficult at first, but the things you could make out of it was endless. Tutorials were limited, so learning was from trial and error at most. To be able to create the advanced stuffs in a short amount of time, you need to learn the language created specifically for the editor (JASS: Just Another Sripting Syntax). It was my first taste at programming.
Two years later doing the same thing, I got the hang out of creating custom games. I learned most of my skills like graphic designing and programming thanks to Warcraft, and I was so sure I wanted to be a game developer, goodbye architecture!
One Step Closer to Failure
In the Philippines, we graduate high school early at 16 years old at the time, college was just another 4 years of study. Our college tuition was not that expensive compared to bigger schools and compared to western education, but the subjects were limited, the closest thing I can get into a game development foundation was enrolling to a Computer Science course.
I excelled through programming class for already having the knowledge and experience. It got me overconfident and got me slacking off through some classes, especially that I wasn't very interested with all the theoretical subjects. I wanted to build games, but I can't seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel from where I'm going. Math was an obstacle, calculus was a nightmare, it's funny how some of us love math as a child, then end up hating it when we first get a taste of algebra.
I got my Computer Science degree, I was an average graduate four years later with the same set of skills back when I entered college, I learned some in class but never digested any of it. I learned heavy-drinking though, and improved my social skills, it's sad and funny at the same time, but I never regretted having all the friends I made and all the drunk moments we had while attending our classes.
After graduating college, I didn't know what to do, I no longer have the drive to get there, I have more self-doubts than ever before, so I suck it up by drinking heavier with my friends. Our definition of partying was to drink more and more bottles of whatever alcohol we can get, there was pride in it when you're the last man standing in our circle. Looking back at it now, there's nothing to be proud at.
There were plans of working in a big city an island away from our hometown, most of my colleagues worked there as demands for IT professionals were high and salary was higher than the basic pay, but I was never confident of my skills. I didn't even have the confidence to apply for a job because of my social anxiety, I was afraid of something as petty as speaking english on the interview thinking maybe it's required.
Most of the time, it's my social anxiety that stopped me from doing what I need to do, the fear is unexplainable, it just haunts me at night and render me sleepless, but there were times were you need to make a choice. I chose to pursue my girlfriend at the time, and I'm glad I did, as we're happily married now.
A year bumming my butt off, my best friend invited me to a web design company he worked for. It was an online job, it's a rare opportunity to work directly with a company online, so I took the opportunity. I was hired as a graphic designer responsible for making article thumbnails, webinar graphics, PDF giveaways and the likes but quickly moved to become the company's web developer due to my programming background.
A couple of months later, we moved to another city as the company was opening a physical office there. This time I left my girl at home for the job. The website was in WordPress, my task was to maintain the site and tweak it a little. I didn't have any prior experience with WordPress, but I'm also broke, so I have no choice but to work my way to learning it, fast. It's amazing how fast you can learn something while under pressure, it's a lot of stress, but it doesn't seem to affect me, maybe because I was always a happy person, or that I fight it with alcohol. It's unhealthy, I know, but it worked for me.
While on the job, my best friend and I were doing side hustles on our own. We accepted freelance web development jobs, as if I wasn't pressured enough on my main job for the lack of experience. The silver lining is, I learned faster than having only one site to build or maintain.
You win some, you lose some
It went on like that until I resigned and turned freelance. It was another difficult decision I have to make, either I lose the job and face uncertainty or continue the stable income but stopped growing. I chose the former even if it's scary, but I can go home to be with my girl and my family.
Facing another set back, I did the best I could to start taking jobs ASAP. I invested what's left of my money on a cheap web hosting and a capable laptop. I studied web design and studied other people's work to adapt and keep up with the trends: it was flat web design at the time, I was lucky.
If the house gets busy — since we're a family of 7 plus 5 dogs in the house in a busy street — I go out and find a peaceful coffee shop with a stable internet to focus on working.
I gathered all the references I could get to build authority on my portfolio. Building a portfolio is easy, getting the references and credit for your work is hard, especially that the small jobs you took are from web development agencies that assumes NDA for all the work you made for them and takes all the credit even without a signed contract. I got credited for one out of ten of the work I did.
The hardest task for a freelancer is to get credited for the job. You have to skip the middleman and go directly to the client, so you need to build yourself and get all the skills to get the client. It's almost impossible going head-to-head with big agencies as they have more authority and a whole team to get and serve their clients. What we can do though, is just keep improving the quality of our work and service until an opportunity opens, work like we're getting ready for something, and when that moment arrives you already have all the skills and confidently say "YES" to job without any doubt of failure.
I talked about credit like it's as important as the actual skill of doing the job. It is what makes your work attractive. Because no matter how you market your skills, most of them won't really care until they know who and what you have worked with in the past.
The present day
This isn't a success story. I am still working with a long term client that hired me a month after I built my portfolio. I am no longer that active on the freelance scene, I just kept my company website up for legitimacy, and I still have a lot to learn.
Looking back at the days where I had to make the hardest decisions, I could never foresee the better opportunities I got after I had to let go of the old ones. This proves at least for me, that there will always be better opportunities elsewhere if you just keep on looking and never settle for less, after all, we are our own prisoners.