Into the Digital Blue Yonder: First Steps

Setting the Tone

Traditionally, I like to write about more light-hearted topics like process automation or share some 'insider' terms to help those outside the world of development to better understand and appreciate the software that they use every day. Little short 'brain droppings', if I may borrow the phrase from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, of mine to give the everyday person a glimpse into the world of the web. But I feel the time has come for a much more introspective look into something that has had such a profound impact on my life. I want to share with you the journey that I embarked on from an early age, and how it has led me down the path of becoming a developer not just in a profession, but as an identification.It's not just what I do, it's who I am. It has altered and improved the way I perceive the world around me and gave me a deep appreciation for the craft of the minds who seek to make that world a better place. Software is one of the most incredible things that mankind has ever created, and I can only hope that one day, I'll be able to say that I am among those who contributed to the advancement of our global civilization.

An Early Introduction

As could be said for most of you reading this, I grew up using the Windows platform. From an early age, I was fascinated by computers. Between what these machines could do, and what you could do with them, it had a deep impact. I knew early on that this would be fundamental to how I would come to live my life. The personal computer is what inspired me to openly embrace technology, at least more so than those that I grew up and attended school with. I was hooked, and I could never seem to get enough. I looked for every excuse I could find to sit down at my dad's computer desk. Few things brought me the level of anticipation as the "Boot Up" jingle of Windows. It was perfectly analogous to getting a new toy from Wal-Mart, and holding the box in your hands the whole way home, just waiting to run through the front door, open it up, and let your imagination run wild.My father was, and still is, a PC enthusiast. This wasn't just limited to having the latest and greatest in hardware or software, but also in how they worked, how they thought, and how they could help you achieve. It was a passion that would drive him, and myself years later, to become the developers that we are today. Much like a carpenter who may use a number of his tools in abnormal but equally efficient ways in the attempt to get every last bit of value out of even the simplest of tools, my father wanted to dive deeper into the world of computing to both challenge his capabilities and uncover every possible benefit. Insatiable curiosity is what drives innovation and discoveries, and makes my appetite for the unknown is endless.I was born in 1985, so I was 10 years old when Windows 95 released. And while my comfortability with, and understanding of not just computers but Windows itself was nowhere near that of my father, I knew enough to appreciate the innovation that could come of an updated operating system and looked forward to it as the release date slowly approached. What new features would be added, how could they be used, how long would it take for me to find them all, these were just some of the thoughts that went through my mind. This would become a common theme throughout my life. With subsequent versions of Windows 98, 2000, ME, XP, even the overwhelmingly disliked Windows Vista, I found myself in a near-constant hype, wondering what amazing new features would be added. Even to this day, I'll somehow stumble across an older movie or tv show, or any other medium for that matter, that reminds me of the days of my past, and find myself overwhelmed with nostalgia. But eventually, mere exploration wasn't enough. I needed more than just using software that others made. I wanted to make my own.It was during the era of Windows 8.1 that I decided I wanted to become a developer. It was the decision of what kind of developer I would be that would lead me into an entirely new world of computing. When I first started on this path, my end goal was to build desktop software for the Windows platform that had been responsible for many of the positive memories from my childhood. But being in my mid-to-late twenties with no degree or experience to show, I knew that this could end up being a little more difficult than other paths. So instead, I settled for what initially intended to be a temporary stepping stone, web development. I was aware of how little I knew, and wanted to start with what would be not only the most effective way to learn, but also the most likely to get my start. What I was not aware of was how significant the chain of events that lead me into the Digital Blue Yonder would be.

A Gentle Nudge

As I'm sure I don't need to explain, websites exist on servers. And even though a server and a computer may physically be the same thing, they're fundamentally different. As a Windows 8 user, I didn't have a server computer that I could use for testing and learning purposes. Fortunately, there are programs like WAMP or XAMPP that can help simulate a server on your personal computer.  And though this was perfectly fine for the early steps into the path of the web developer, my time spent learning made it increasingly clear that if I truly wanted to be a master of my craft, which I did, I would need to familiarize myself with the native environment on which my creations would exist. This meant learning to use Linux, the practically universal operating system for virtually every server in the world. I had a feeling this was a strong hand, and I was willing to go all in. And so I did.At first, I utilized what's referred to as dual booting. Essentially, I had two computers in one and could choose which one I used each time I booted it up. Was I just looking to relax, maybe watch some videos or browse the web? Boot into Windows. But if it was time to focus on learning my craft, I would choose Linux, specifically a distribution called Ubuntu. At least, this was my intent. But the fact of the matter was that the more that I used Linux for professional purposes, the more I used it for personal purposes. I was using Windows less and less as I became more comfortable with Linux. Even things as simple as the file system felt so much more simple and straightforward. Linux wasn't about bells and whistles, it was about reliability. This is why so many servers run on Linux. And honestly, anything that I personally wanted to do on Windows, I could do on Linux just as easily. What made this even more surprising, at least to myself, was that this was all around the release of Windows 10, arguably one of the best versions of Windows to ever be released. And it was absolutely an incredible Operating System, despite some of the negative response due to things like their questionable distribution practices. I had spent effectively all of my life considering Windows to be the pinnacle of innovation and was rapidly approaching the uncomfortable realization that my world was too small.

Branching Out

So there I was a man who had spent his whole life thinking that my house was the world, standing at the front door and gazing at the world beyond those walls for the first time. This was a feeling that I had experienced once before, years ago when I was first introduced to the internet. I was 13 when that happened, and had spent my whole life localized to information on my own computer. If I wanted another piece of software, or to read something, I had to go out and get it, bring it home, install it, you get the idea. But when we had internet at my house for the first time, I was basically allowed to connect to other computers. All around the world, digital bridges had been built, granting access to the World Wide Web. Mankind had seen a whole new frontier. Just a few hundred years before, a mere blink of an eye on the full scale of the time our species has been on this pale blue dot, we were crossing oceans with ships to discover other civilizations and discover what else lied beyond what we called home. But with the advent of the internet, it was unimaginably easier to reach across the globe and experience the world at large. What would take months of crossing treacherous oceans to discover could now be accomplished in mere moments. And all of that wonder and awe that I experienced all those years ago was here once again.That is why I am so passionate about being a web developer. It's more than a hobby and more than my career. Sure it's a great feeling to get paid to do what I love. But my love for the craft is a part of something so much more. It has given me a catalyst through which I can strive to make the world a better place.