It was 2006. I had just received my Bachelor’s degree with a focus in Multimedia & Internet Programming. I had recently completed a required internship and research project. I spent a good bit of time in our college library because my experience was already teaching me that there was so much more to know.
I had learned HTML, CSS, Javscript and Photoshop 7 in my senior year of high school at Career & Tech School/Vo Tech. I was able to build projects from curriculum, but I struggled to understand practical applications of the coursework. I still felt this way as I completed my degree. It was all new to me. I knew I loved creating this way, but as I graduated I still felt like everyone knew everything that I didn’t. It was like everyone was keeping a secret from me, only I didn’t want anyone to know that I didn’t get it. I was sure I'd understand if I worked harder.
At this time, the webmaster position I was holding through college turned full time. As I used my couple of years experience of development skills, we did a lot of good work. It was great experience, and I was able to do a lot more than most recent grads probably could have due to getting started so early. Still, I will never forget when I found the book.
During one of my evenings in the college library, I was rooting around the design section. Between the few familiar textbooks I had used to learn Illustrator 10, CSS, Flash and Director, I saw some periodicals related to the field. I hadn't spent much time looking through trade magazines before. It occurred to me that these might have some fresh insights even if they were a year archive or so. One set of spines seemed especially thick and well designed - more like a book than a magazine. I pulled it out and as I paged through this wonderful, nice-smelling book, I felt an immediate connection.
It was Communication Arts Magazine, Design Annual 46 from November 2005.
I saw graphic design as a discipline for the first time. I may have used Photoshop and Macromedia tools for assignments before, but not like this. It was creative, and it made people money. It was solving problems of the world. And, people were doing it with skills I already had - on the web. I experienced a clarity. I understood what I was doing in this field, and had more of a drive than ever to push myself. I felt like I had been missing out all this time and I had to catch up to get where I wanted to go.
I set out to spend all my free time researching and learning. I found design communities online. Digital Web Magazine, A List Apart, HOW and Communication Arts, CSS Zen Garden and Veerle Pieters come to memory. I subscribed to everything I could get my hands on relating to industry experts, design trends and graphic design. The next job I sought out was going to be focused on design so I could better compliment my programming experience.
No doubt thanks to having found A List Apart, I was introduced to the theory of web standards. I bought Zeldman’s second edition of Designing With Web Standards.
When I first read the book, I felt that it made so much sense. I again experienced the fear that had been missing out after a few years of coding. Surely my college education had failed me, and I was the only web developer who wasn’t using these standards. I had to catch up and be legit fast! Who would take me seriously if I didn’t code with standards, semantically for every project?!
I soon learned the reason that this book was written. As I navigated the business world, I experienced the practical limitations. Limitations in which all designers were needing to cut through to code the way they felt was correct. The truth was, most pros weren’t actually using web standards. Many more weren't even aware. This book was about not only teaching why, but inspiring how. I am so glad to have the drive that then equipped me, even though it came from a place on unworthiness.
These two moments in my life have defined my career early on. Many people enter careers with clear pathways, or understanding of their field. I didn’t, and it pushed me so much harder than I otherwise would have.