Jamena McInteer

My Journey Into Code

Author coding outside on a patio with a silver, stickered laptop

I wrote my first line of code (HTML and CSS) using my Dad’s Adobe GoLive around 2006. I was homeschooled, so instead of hanging out with friends I spent time on the computer. I had fun messing around with <marquee> and <blink> and animated GIFs and layouts built with <table>. My “websites” could be accessed by my brothers on my local network or by CD-ROM.

Soon after, I got into online games, and I decided I could build one that was better. I taught myself PHP and MySQL, JavaScript, and more HTML and CSS and started building games. I enjoyed building those games so much that there were nights I would stay up all night programming, and though I didn’t realize it until years later, that was a pretty good sign that programming was my passion.

Using the knowledge I had gained from building games, I began to work with a couple of businesses with their websites. I started using WordPress for static content management and management of the theme, and used custom PHP to build out a lot of custom functionality for these clients. As I gained experience and confidence, I worked with more clients and got a lot of experience working with WordPress programming, including building and customizing themes and plugins.

In the meantime, I was studying pre-med at the University of New Mexico to become a doctor. I excelled as a student, ending my time in college with a 4.18 GPA (out of a 4.0 scale). I loved my Biology major/Chemistry minor and I excelled at it.

After college, I took some time to step back and really think about what I wanted to do with my life. Actually going to medical school was no longer something in the far-off future, it was here and now. I needed to study for the MCATs and start applying. I had been on a track to medicine ever since I was six years old. My family expected me to go to medical school and were cheering me on every step of the way. Everyone I knew though I was going. I had done really well in college, so there was no reason not to keep going.

But knowing that it was time to actually pull the trigger made me start questioning that life choice. Did I really want it or was I doing it because it was expected of me? Was I doing it because deep down I wanted to keep my word when I had said I wanted to be a doctor when I was six years old? Was I doing it because I had never stopped to consider what I really wanted out of life, and had convinced myself that my dream was to become a doctor?

I took time to think about the moments in life I had felt passionate and excited about what I was doing, the moments in life where I couldn’t get to sleep or couldn’t wait to get up in the morning. Moments like building games, where I was learning a lot of code in a short amount of time to build something others would enjoy. Moments like in one of my Bioinformatics class where I was analyzing gene sequences and stayed up all night out of sheer excitement.

I also thought about the other dreams in life I had. Career is hugely important to me, but it wasn’t all I cared about. I wanted my career to support my other life goals. I didn’t want to choose between career and my other dreams. Becoming a doctor would have taken an enormous amount of time, at the expense of all else. I considered going to graduate school for Bioinformatics, where I would be able to look at gene sequences all day and get to code, but unfortunately scientists are generally not paid well enough to support my other dreams in life. It would have been a long path with an uncertain future.

So then I considered what I was already doing: coding for the web. I had been coding for years, first as a hobby and then as a part-time profession. I had never considered that it could be my career. No one had ever asked me, “Have you thought about code as a career?”

About a year after I graduated college, I landed a job at Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, New Mexico and suddenly I saw what my career could be like. I could do exciting, meaningful work with my passion (code), learn a lot, have work-life balance, and get paid well doing it. I could make a real impact in the world without an MD or PhD, and sooner without the politics and difficulties of academia and funding from grants. For me, this job launched coding from just a job to a life-long career.

I don’t see myself ever stepping away from code. It is my lifeblood, a part of my identity. I may not always be a front end web developer. What I code may change as I learn and evolve and discover all the possibilities in the world of code, but I am always going to code in some form or another. Coding for me is so much more than a job, it is a career and a passion and I am excited about my future in this field.

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