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Cover image for How the hell did I even get here?

How the hell did I even get here?

ardennl profile image Arden de Raaij ・5 min read

Hi, I'm Arden and I've been a geek for technology as long as I can remember. I became a front-end developer somewhere in the last decade and now I'm wondering what the next decade will bring me.

If there's one thing I find difficult about being a semi-creative in (web) development, it's managing time and prioritising what to focus on. It seems like I think of a new side-project every other day and there's a new tool to learn every other hour. There's so much I want to do, try and create, that for the first time in my life I suffer from indecisiveness.

To put things in perspective, I'm not suffering from hunger (just yet), but regardless I do not enjoy that other gnawing feeling; the feeling that I could spend my time better and more productive.

And maybe it's more than indecisiveness and lack of focus. I guess, to know where I'm going, first I'll have to write down how I even got here in the first place.

Because I'm hoping you'll read this I'll try and write down my thoughts in a coherent way, which in the best scenario will lead to discussion and me learning something about myself, and in the worst case scenario is nothing more than another wasted hour and a string of bytes added to 'the cloud'. You see, there's nothing to lose by sharing my story with you!

My coming of digital age - (2007 - 2012)

Things used to be simple. My first 'grown-up' steps in web-development were made while I was still studying. A good friend and I thought of a project that was best presented on the web (CFYE - still online but slowly dying because of lack of attention, more on that later). With a clear goal in mind I went researching different techniques to showcase our project. I tried out different CMS systems like Gallery2 (cringe), Joomla and WordPress. I learned to hack around in PHP, I learned to work with third-party API's and became pretty well versed in CSS, HTML and at the time, jQuery. Around the same time people started asking me for web-development work, which was a great way to make some money that allowed me to eat and work some more on our fabulous side-project. Needless to say I've never finished that study...

Working on a single, personal project and some freelance development work on the side was a great cycle. I learned loads because all the development for my personal project was goal driven and in turn I could apply that to the client sites I created, which in turn let me eat and work some more on my personal project. There was little indecisiveness and anxiety involved at that time as I barely saw myself as a web-developer. I guess that's also a great way to avoid things like 'imposter-syndrome', just deny that you even want to be a developer in the first place!

The second coming (2012 - 2014)

You can't live in denial forever though, and in 2012 (after some life-events that make you question just about everything) I realised that I already was a developer and I enjoyed the process, almost regardless of the project. I realised that I enjoy the endless learning, problem-solving, contributing, collaborating and creating shit that make people say 'omgwtfbbq wow👌🏼'!
I decided to completely focus myself on front-end, as the instant gratification of this field greatly complies with my lack of <span class='attention'>.
So that was the point I started taking myself seriously as a developer and started focussing on truly understanding CSS and HTML, automising and getting over my fear of vanilla JS. During this period I didn't need a specific endgame, I was satisfied just getting better at my craft.

The wonder years (2013/14 - 2016)

This focus paid of re-heally quick. Within a year the new iteration of cfye.com, which I totally full-stacked (design, front-end and back-end - you can still hear my pride) won a SOTD Awwward, and agencies started noticing me. I started freelancing for the talented people at SuperInteractive Amsterdam❤️ and before I knew it I got offered a contract and ended up working with them for over two years.

Working for an agency had never been part of my plan, in so far I had a plan at all, but I greatly enjoyed my time at SuperInteractive. Instead of working with freelancers I was part of a team all of a sudden, and instead of having to f*ck around with WordPress there were back-enders!

During my time at SuperInteractive I made fast progress and not just on the technical front. Learning the ins and outs of agencies, developing workflows, communicating effectively, working in-house at other agencies and managing rookies were all things I added to my skillset.

Endgame?

Yet it kinda felt that part of me was dying there; the part that liked coding in the late hours to create personal projects that make people say 'omgwtfbbq wow👌🏼'. Lord knows I've tried working on all kinds of stuff, but I couldn't muster the energy and focus to actually finish personal projects behind my computer. The agency work was sort of never-ending, I still had clients from my freelance life to attend to after work hours(🤑) and even though I started calling myself a front-end developer, what was my endgame? A senior / partner position at an agency which I had and could have had at SuperInteractive? My own agency? Lone-wolf? I just didn't know, and so I quit 🕶️.

2016 - 2017

That sounds cooler than it actually was, or maybe less cool. I don't know, you decide: I didn't just quit because I didn't know what to do with my professional life, I also quit because I did know what I wanted to do with my life in general; Explore the world and live in new places! My girlfriend also quit her job and we spent the next 7.5 months in Central-America without a care in the world and after returning to Europe we relocated to sunny Lisbon, Portugal.

And Now...

And now... Well, now I'm back behind my screen and as inspired and motivated to learn and create as ever before. I'm truly enjoying all that is going on in the world of Javascript, learning new stuff (React, Node, ES6) and perfecting my basic knowledge of the language. I'm also back at doing freelance projects, but somehow they're not as satisfying as they used to be.

As I realise after writing this piece, I'm also quite in Limbo of how to approach my professional life. I guess it's not just a lack of time and focus, but also a lack of a clear goal that brought me to the point of writing this blogpost.

So what am I trying to do about lacking a goal, or focus, or decisiveness? That's for a follow-up blogpost which I'll probably call 'Where the hell am I even going?'.
But in the meantime I'd love to hear what your story is and if you've ever arrived in limbo (show me the exit plz).

Much ❤️!

Posted on by:

ardennl profile

Arden de Raaij

@ardennl

Front-end developer based in Lisbon, co-founder of cfye.com and enjoyer of beaches and waves.

Discussion

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You've inspired me haha. I am currently a college student and I want also to be a Front-End Developer but I hate and hardly understand javascript, so I must have my decisions so that life of mine will be different of yours.

 

Haha, I definitely think there's a place for front-end developers with great knowledge of CSS, HTML and accessibility. They're easy to start with, but hard to truly master. That being said, if your disliking of Javascript comes from a lack understanding, it might well be worth to get to the bottom of it and see if you still hate it afterwards! (Also, give it time, I definitely did not understood everything in one day. As a matter of fact, there's still tons of stuff I don't understand).

 

Please make your life story a movie!! Lol

All jokes aside, very interesting perspective and it's awesome you've done so much! I honestly love hearing stories about people like you who just take risks and enjoy life for the ride.

I recently started working at an agency ~1 month ago and I absolutely LOVE learning the new workflows, tools and just being exposed to wide variety of clients is amazing. My life is definitely a lot more busy now but I don't think I would want it any other way. To each his own I guess!

I look forward to reading your next piece!

 

Haha I think there's only a very specific audience interested in me behind my computer screen for prolonged periods of time.

And thanks for your reply and kind words! It's great to hear you love working at the agency you're at! And please don't get me wrong, I loved doing agency work, but I'm just not sure what I want to do in the long run. I guess, when I think about it, I haven't ever done the same thing for over two years. I'm just the restless kind of type.

Thanks again, will let you know when the next piece is up!

 

Hi Arti!

The first thing that immediately resonates from your comment is the great amount of possibilities we have.

Yesterday someone replied on Twitter saying "We really are lucky to work in a field with this abundance of jobs & money. But it’s still nice to value taking the right decisions.". I guess that sums it up quite nicely.

I think I'm not yet sure what my question actually is, but I do know penning this down and pondering over the replies point me in the right direction, which I'll write about in the next post.

I'll have a look at the books you've shared. In general I find it hard not to obsess over books about productivity. When I was reading Getting Things Done my whole life turned into one big to-do list, haha.

Thank you for sharing your experiences!

 

I just live my professional life kinda like my personal life. Where ever the wind brings me. I can't remember to have a plan more then just "well, that's looks nice let's heads that way." So I ended up spending a significant amount of time with my son, best time of my life with a lot of memorable moments and, consequently, a returning lack of money. A good life has it's price ;)

Overall my life brought me a lot of fun and knowledge, much more then only coding knowledge. With the downside that I will never be a cutting edge coder. But then again with the, for me very important, upside of just doing what's comes to mind.

My advice: If you want something that looks like a career don't follow my path.

And tnx for let me think (a little) about my coding life.

 

Remco, buddy! Thanks for your reply and apologies for answering you so late.

I think that's a healthy attitude. Like I said before, I get anxious just thinking about all these productivity books! In the end, the fun you have with the people you love is the most important.

But in the meantime it's nice to dive into some rabbit-holes at times, who knows how you get out! (If you even get out)

Seeing I don't have children and my biggest responsibility is to put pants on, on some days. (oh yeah also, pay rent) it's nice to focus on something else I'm really interested in. I'm not sure I'll ever be a cutting edge coder, but as all of us here, we can build something out of 'nothing' and that's something valuable in its own. I'm hoping to add to that a bit. How? I don't know yet.

Anyway, I'm enjoying this privileged position, and I hope I can write my follow up soon