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Adrianne P.
Adrianne P.

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From Video Games to Software Development

Atari 2600: Simple Beginnings

When I was around eight-years-old in the Philippines, not everyone had the luxury of buying any recreational electronic devices, such as video games. This was back in the early to mid-1980s, and the newest, coolest form of "recreational technology" then was the Atari video game console. Namely, the Atari 2600. But when my uncle visited the Philippines from his overseas job in Saudi Arabia, he gifted my brother and me the Atari 2600 and four game cartridges along with it: Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Missile Command. Sure, the graphics were all solid colors and completely pixellated, nothing close to having 8-bit graphics, but as kids then, we were amazed with this wonderful thing called video games. It wasn't just the graphics we were amazed with, but the interactivity on how the game responds to every move of the joystick to the press of that big red button. Right then, I was very curious on how this was possible. To me, it was like magic, and that wizards who made this console and the games must be wizards. We didn't play video games constantly because we did have strict parents, but when we did play, the parents were there too, and they would also play when our fingers get tired.

At that time also, my cousins, sons of the uncle who gifted us that very special Atari 2600 to us, were gifted their first PC: A Commodore personal computer. We were still too young to tap on the keyboard, so whenever we visited, our teenaged cousins would be playing the games there including chess and solitaire, and we would just watch in awe. Once again, I was completely awed with their "bigger video game console" in comparison to our Atari 2600. I remembered begging to my father of buying our own Commodore PC, but in those days, only the rich kids can afford them, and we weren't part of the rich kids group.

Two years later, things have changed a bit. We immigrated to the U.S., and along with the belongings we brought, the Atari 2600 came along with us too.

New Country, New Console, New Technology

During our first two years in the U.S., our granduncle gifted us a brand-new game cartridge to add to our collection: E.T.. Unfortunately, playing E.T. on the Atari didn't last that long. Some four months later, the Atari 2600 died and it was no longer functional. Dad even tried bringing it to an electronics repair shop, but sadly, it was confirmed that the Atari 2600's life has ended then. Since then, we didn't play any video games to play and had to go through some envy when we had our classmates talk about the latest video games in a much more upgraded console, the classic NES (Nintendo Entertainment System).

A year later, when our parents were able to get higher-paying jobs, they gifted us our very own NES console, along with two video game cartridges: Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. Because of its more color-rich 8-bit pixellated graphics, that was when I became attracted to just computer graphics and computer art altogether that I even started imagining myself as an adult creating computer graphics for new video games. I thought video games was going to be my destiny then, but six months later, Dad bought our very first PC.

Our new PC obviously was much faster and advanced than our cousins' Commodore PC. Originally, Dad bought the PC so he can do his accounting work at home, but because he was generous, he was able to borrow some collections of floppy discs and installed some games in there, such as the classic Solitaire and games from school such as Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, but the best games I've ever played on a PC were the ones created by the old Sierra Entertainment. Those games, like King's Quest, Police Quest, and Space Quest introduced me to the RPG (role-playing game) genre of video games. Eventually sometime later, the Final Fantasy series were added to our NES game cartridge collection, which gave me a bigger interest in RPG games altogether, as well as "whoa, those graphics are so sweet, colorful, and detailed!" (computer graphics) and "whoa, how the heck did my character do that?" (the programming part).

With those childhood fascinations, the mysteries of the computer had grown. During my adolescence, I became a lot more interested with computers in general. I even started typing my homework essays on the old WordPerfect word processing software around that time too.

High School: Introduction to the Apple Mac, but I suck at Math

In high school, we had our English and history teachers introducing us to new multimedia tools, such as the first Apple IIGS and the first Apple Mac. Along with it are more advanced graphics as the visuals for our lessons. They even used a projector to view what was on the screen and we thought that was really cool then. Also from those same teachers, I learned that there is such thing as "graphics software," where we can draw and create some cool art and graphics just by using the computer instead of the paper and pencil. I was also a budding artist, primarily with lettering and simple doodling, and imagining being able to do digital art and graphics would also lead me to the mysteries behind this wonderful field that I only knew as "cool computer stuff."

When sophomore year came, I discovered these first graphics programs installed in the Apple computers in the school library and started playing around with it. I couldn't remember the names, but they were proprietary software that only the early Apple Macs had then. Next thing I knew, I was simply hooked.

For junior and senior year, I was tempted to take a computer science course as one of my electives, but when I saw the prerequisites and I frowned at my own lack of mathematics knowledge, I scratched the idea of enrolling into that computer science course. I did pretty decent in school, had decent grades, but I wouldn't call myself an honor student. Math was my weakest subject all this time. I don't know if I wasn't really interested in math or that I was unlucky that my teachers couldn't teach the subject well. I leaned more towards me not having so much interest. But because of low math grades, I was not qualified to take that basic computer science course. I guess I could say that I already experienced my very first case of imposter syndrome then, except we didn't know what that was called and I was sure it wasn't imposter syndrome then. However, I did end up taking a computer-related course that introduced me to office productivity tools such as WordPerfect (word processor), dBase (database software), and Lotus 1-2-3 (spreadsheet software). Microsoft Office did not exist back then.

College Days: Discovery of the Internet and this New Thing called "Web Publishing"

College days came and it was at that period that my interest in software development started to bud a little bit. During my general education courses period (first two years), I discovered the internet as a brand-new source of information for my research paper assignments, alongside the university library and its vast collection of microfiche and scholastic journals. Still, I found the internet an awesome wonder, and thought to myself that the computer has done its wizardry once more. However, my barely passing grades in high school math (Trigonometry was my highest math level and I barely passed that too) prevented me from choosing computer science as my major, just so I can learn the mysterious magic of computers. Eventually, I chose my second option, Mass Communications.

I was also into radio programs, the music industry itself, as well as watching my favorite TV shows then. If I couldn't succeed Math, I knew I wouldn't make it into the computer science major, so I went for my second alternative. I also took a minor in multimedia production when I learned that they teach and train computer graphic and computer art with the tools professionals use. That was my first introduction to graphic programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and a 3D graphics program called Maya.

At that time, I thought I was going to abandon my dreams of building things using computers (as in video games or even cool graphic presentations for businesses, etc.) because I did eventually fall in love with radio and TV production and their behind-the-scenes processes. I even started writing my own attempts to fictional short stories because of the courses and projects I did for the major. In addition to that, my love for computer graphics can also integrate with the advertising/marketing portion of my major too.

But just shy of my fifth year in college, the Mass Communications Department have introduced to us a brand-new medium form of communications in addition to print, TV, and radio. They called it Web Publishing. In short, it's the early name for developing websites for communicating published information. It was almost the same thing as print (newspapers and magazines), except it was on the computer screen. Right then, I started to connect the dots between my discovery of the internet during my first two years and this new thing called web publishing.

During Web Publishing class, I learned the basic to intermediate HTML (this was HTML 4.0-something) and rarely touched on another new thing called CSS. This was around 1998, and I was amazed that this CSS thing can make all these HTML-made static websites look cool and colorful, just like those 8-bit pixel graphics that I used to love in my early days of video games.

Near the end of the course, we had a small demo from our professor of a professionally-published website, which was the CNN News official website. I noticed something cool with it, such as the highlighting of the menu items and having embedded (but somewhat pixelated) videos playing right then and there. Many of us asked how these cool effects and embedding media were possible when we didn't learn any of that during the course. That was when I learned about another new thing for me: JavaScript. It was a whole complete programming languages specifically built for the web, but it was not taught in the college I was attending, not even in our computer science department.

At that time, I found myself going back to learning computer magic again. I've lost interest somehow with Mass Communications in general. I wanted to build cool websites like that CNN News website then, but there weren't any courses available because web publishing, or better yet, web development, was still a new thing then.

I ended up leaving college altogether to seek my own path to finding a course or tutorial on how I can build cool interactive sites that are beyond just HTML and CSS. After I left, I applied for a full-time job as a data entry clerk, using my computer information productivity skills as my tools to get the job. But in that meantime, I also became interested in my own hobbies again, such as video games, writing short stories, and my (re-)introduction to anime and manga.

Post-College Days: Hobbyist Web Designer and More Discoveries

The more I started to get addicted to the internet, the more I started to realize that the magic of computers isn't just about building video games, beautiful digital graphics, or even building productivity software like Microsoft Office. The internet became a brand-new medium where you can find all sorts of information you probably couldn't find in the library, or in other places like the radio or TV. If you're unable to visit a particular store you wanted to visit, that store may have a website published somewhere in the internet, so you can check them out from there instead.

But most of all, I started getting back into my own hobbies again from childhood to college. It was then that I discovered that there are average ordinary people like myself have published their own personal websites. There are websites about their favorite anime/manga, favorite video games, even a message board community of like-minded hobbyists too. I even remembered an old popular free web hosting service before: Geocities. I even discovered blogging through the new service called Blogger (before Google acquired it). I remembered its first versions of Blogger - there was no such thing as "choose a pre-made theme" or "customize this and that with the provided dropdown choices like colors, fonts, etc." then. We all had to build our own layouts, hand-coded HTML/CSS straight up. Luckily for me, their templating system was easy to understand, and I was able to build my very first blog theme.

As a few years gone by, I mostly taught myself by using what I've learned from that web publishing course, by viewing source codes of interesting websites I've seen to connect with web designers (we used to call them webmasters) of those cool anime/manga/video game fan sites and ask them how and where they acquired their knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It turned out that they didn't. HTML and CSS were easy to learn on their own, but JavaScript, they would visit those free JavaScript copy/paste sites and just copy/paste snippets and modify them to fit their sites.

Late 2000s- Present: Searching for Opportunities and Resources for Software Development

Around mid to late 2000s, I discovered that there are colleges/universities who start to offer their courses online. I found one that offers a Visual Communications degree that had a strong emphasis on digital graphics and web publishing. From there, I enrolled in their program, carried over my past college credits to apply to their general education, and earned my BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) degree in two years.

My second (online) college had a job placement program, but we were at the period of job scarcity and there were very little to no job openings for web designers. I lacked experience in programming and coding, knowing that copying and pasting JavaScript snippets for my personal sites is not considered experience in programming and coding. I had a portfolio to share my past course projects and some of my personal sites, however, my career mentor then stated that they were "amateur"-ish and that I had to redo them. Right then, I started to feel stuck and lost and close to losing hope in actually finding the right platforms for someone like me to learn coding without thinking about how bad I am with Math.

Right around early 2010s, new bootcamps and online learning programs start to emerge. However, around that same period, I was also laid off from work. Stuck with being unemployed and eventually having to take care of my mom while she was going through her breast cancer treatment almost got me into depression, but with whatever I had, I kept my hopes up. Eventually, I found a flexible, affordable online learning platform that teaches how to code and other non-coding courses like digital graphics that I had a chance to pay for the tuition in small installments. I gained a lot of valuable experience and knowledge from them, however, they did not have a job placement program, and once more, I got stuck.

I continued on with my self-taught learning how to code with platforms like Udemy, Treehouse, and Code School (now known as Pluralsight), but because they have unlimited access and we learn at our own pace, it's easy for us to neglect it when we get distracted by other interests. I'm usually a disciplined student, but with this huge of flexibility, it was difficult for me to keep up. Still, I continued on building hobbyist personal sites and update my personal blog to keep up with my skills while trying to learn new ones. I even opened my own code/tech learning progress blog back then too. It still exists today, but it ended up being more like personal ramblings about not just coding itself, but also the tech industry altogether.

During that period there are so many resources and online schools and bootcamps for anyone to learn to code, but my issue then is how to dedicate myself to those courses. I also joined local meetup groups and communities that I feel I'm fit with, such as tech organizations for women. But even with all that, I still have no guidance, no job placement program, no community to reach out to (with the exception of Discord and Slack Chats, but I was a bit intimidated then because networking is also one of my weaknesses too), I was one again lost in my software development journey.

Even then, I did pick up a few basics from all of those self-learning: I learned basic Javascript (before ES 2015), basic Ruby (not Ruby on Rails, just Ruby), PHP (because of WordPress theme building), and Python (I got curious with data science at one point too). Even with the basic things I learned, my problem now is how to utilize them and build projects. I had no clue where or how to start.

2022: Flatiron School

Back in 2015, I got a part-time job at an Amazon Sort Center and had been there for almost four years. In 2019, my father passed away and had to quit my job to deal with family matters. In late 2020, I got a flex-hour part-time job as a shopper at Whole Foods and at times, at the PrimeNow Warehouse and have been there for a little over a year. And then in December 2021, I transferred to Amazon Customer Returns Fulfillment Center as a full-time associate.

Around 2016 or 2017, Amazon introduced the Career Choice program for their employees interested in outside education and training by partner schools and institutions and Amazon pays partially for the tuition and costs. But that was back in 2016-2017, and that there were also no online schools or coding bootcamps available in their partner schools list. But this year, their partner schools and programs had increased and Flatiron School just happened to be one who offer a software development program. Plus, Amazon now pays tuition in full instead of partial like before as well.

During my self-learning, I read blog posts and articles from students of online bootcamps about their stories and experiences and somehow some of them intimidated me. I was a bit hesitant with coding bootcamps then because I didn't like the stress and pressure of getting things completed at a due date. And also once again, my logic skills weren't exactly at a high level, and basically, my self-confidence was broken. It was then that I first started experiencing imposter syndrome. I still have that imposter syndrome today.

But what I like about Flatiron School so far is that, although the pre-work phase is intense, their program is quite fair. We got a grace period of finishing off the assignments we weren't able to finish, and that their reading materials and lectures were quite thorough. Of all the self-learning period I went through with (basic) JavaScript, I finally understood how (most of the) JavaScript concepts are and how they are being used. I am still finishing up my labs and coding challenge as of now, but I wanted to write this first blog entry to share my journey to the instructors and fellow classmates.

I look forward to continuing with the program and I hope I survive and reach the finish line this October. The last day also happens to be my birthday too.

Right now, my personal concern is how marketable I would be after this program, mainly because of age. Not only that I am female and part of the minority, but my age is also a concern too. I am in my mid-40s now, and I feel a little insecure of getting discriminated and not get hired for an entry level position, namely because of age. I hope I learn how to overcome that as I continue with the program.

Last Words: Why Software Development?

Somehow, I wanted to contribute something to the world with the things I love. I don't mean building informational sites about my hobbies and favorite forms of entertainment, but somehow to make a difference in the world too. Websites, even mobile apps, have become a part of our everyday lives at this age and I know there are others, like small businesses, organizations, and individuals who haven't have their own site to promote their businesses or their causes. There are many professional software developers out there for anyone to hire, but I still want to be a part of that phenomenon.

My first aim is to be a full-stack developer. If I fail in some aspects, I would also like to be a front-end developer too. Or even a QA Engineer or support technician of some sort. Maybe at the same time, I can be a coding mentor too for aspiring new coders too.

With a busy life that I have today with the bootcamp, work, and family, I also wish that I get to work remotely or a hybrid. I do enjoy going out and work at a location, but I also enjoy going around places for pleasure too, but most of all, I work best in the comfort of my home and close to my family. But that's just one perk.

I guess to sum it up, I have grown to love software development, even if it's now limited to just HTML, CSS, and JavaScript with a dash of Ruby, PHP, and Python. I want to live a life doing something I love. And in addition to just being able to live an enjoyable life that balances both work and play, I'm also inspired to share what I've learned to aspiring software developers too.

Once I do reach those goals, I have another story to share at another time.

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