Good First Issue - My Own Open Source Project

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This article originally appeared on the Dev.to platform and can be viewed here.

I didn't really mean for it to happen, but I really became enraptured with the idea that one day I could become a web developer full-time. This has been a tough dream to wake up to, but maybe not for reasons you'd think. You see, I spent a lot of time and money in my earlier days building up a career in social work. I'm still paying on a mountain of student loan debt for a Master's degree and yet I really want to "jump ship" so to speak for a completely unrelated career field? I really don't want to become another stereotypical US student statistic who ends up getting an advanced degree but ends up working in a totally different career, but here I am.

How it Started

I got my first taste for web development 5 or 6 years ago. My wife and I were on staff at a church and ran the worship and media teams. I also worked full-time as a social worker and was wrapping up my Masters degree (this was before kids, so I could stay very busy). Without much notice, we found out in a staff meeting that the guy who ran our website just left. "Does anyone know anything about websites?" Of course no one did. Without any better options available, I volunteered to do it. Why not? "I'm good with computers and technology," I thought. I knew I was also a strong self-learner and enjoyed learning new things.

It's Hacked!

I started off very quickly in over my head. Thankfully, the previous web admin had left some sign-in credentials for our WordPress site so I at least was able to learn how to log in and set up my own username and password. phew I was confused quickly though to find a lot of pages had random ads and words that didn't make sense at all. Why would the admin insert all this odd stuff about product offers and promotions on a church website? Not only were they unrelated, they were just weird. After some additional research, I learned the site had been hacked and that this wasn't an altogether uncommon occurrence for WordPress sites. I did some Googling and found out that our website didn't implement a lot of common best practices for WordPress to avoid such hacks. So, I started cleaning it all up. And oddly enough, despite the frustration of it all, I found it really enjoyable.

I Actually Like This

Over time, I found myself spending more free time learning about web development and how we could improve our online presence and implement more features on the website. I was having a lot of fun. I had changed jobs in social work for a more flexible schedule and working with the developmentally disabled population. I really enjoyed my full-time social work job. The flexibility, helping people, and getting to flex some creative and technical muscles at my church gig seemed to be the perfect situation. I even got to do a complete site remodel. I ended up cheating and rather than building my own theme I went with Divi from Elegant Themes. My hope was to train some other folks on content creation for the site so I could focus on maintenance and technical improvements.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

But unfortunately, my ideal situation didn't last forever. Some changes in the church occurred and my wife and I decided to step down from our leadership positions. I offered to run the website until they could find someone else to take over the maintenance. Several months later I was logging into the site to do some updates and found that the entire site had been replaced with a Wix site. A Wix site. I was crushed. Shortly after we left that church altogether but I found that I really missed working on the website. So I searched around and found one of the most frequently recommended web development courses was Colte Steele's Online Bootcamp on Udemy. I signed up and got started learning the building blocks of the web.

Derailed and Juggling Priorities

Not long after we stepped down from our leadership positions at church, I was offered a supervisor position at my social work job. I had always turned down or avoided advancing previously because our work in the church had taken priority, so I thought the timing was perfect.

I had started the Colte Steele course on Udemy but quickly fell off track with the discipline of online learning when I became a supervisor. I found myself working tons of hours and we now had an infant at home. I was getting mentally drained and exhausted at work and also not getting enough sleep with a baby at home. I found less and less time available for my newfound love of web development.

It would take me another year with this schedule to complete the course. But it was awesome. Learning how to build something as advanced as a Yelp-type web app was so cool. It wasn't just building websites I was interested in anymore - now I wanted to build web apps!

Fast Forward to Today

My journey to figure out how I can code and not give up social work entirely has been a confusing one to say the least. I love helping people, so maybe I can do it with code? I've become really interested in accessibility and have found a real desire as well to work with local businesses/professionals in my area. I'm obviously still learning and have a long ways to go before I can call myself a real web developer.

I've found myself really enjoying working with React and Gatsby is one of my favorite tools to work with. I'm trying to learn Next.js and eventually I think I'd like to learn Vue.js but I know I really need to step up my core JavaScript skills first. Sometimes I'm all over the place with what I want to learn and it's a struggle to stay disciplined on one task before moving on to the next tutorial. I randomly spent 4 hours on a full-stack serverless tutorial before I even realized, "Why am I doing this? I'm still getting React down - focus on JavaScript first!" Needless to say, I'm still learning on how to stay focused on my self-learning path. It's amazing that there's so much available from the web development community online, but for a true outsider like me it can be very overwhelming.

Looking Forward

My wife and I have started a business doing websites, social media, and content creation in hopes to work with small businesses in our area. I think one day, I'd like to get a full-time gig as a developer, but I'm content with social work at the moment. I am in the process of switching my full-time job to a different social work agency and giving up a supervisory role so I can have more time with my family and also with pursuing this passion of web development. I'll be working with a developing agency who is just starting to invest in some online technologies and my hope is to learn where I am so I can advance my skills in web development.

I'm excited for what the future holds and to learn more from this amazing community. Who knows? Maybe some day I'll find the perfect marriage in my love for web development and helping those who can't help themselves. For now, social work is my full-time work thing and web development is my free-time passion.

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