It's Just Like Starting a Fire

Posted on July 14 2014

I don’t normally post updates on my personal life. I am generally a very private person, but I also simply don’t have the time. I spent the past year playing with my son (who is now two and a half), doing house chores, making sure my wife always has lunch during her lunch breaks (she’s been working from home) and devoting the little free time I had left to learning how to “code”1, as they say nowadays.

And just to make it clear before I really get into the “bragging” parts, my real goal with this post – other than write something I can reuse in my memoirs – is to inspire and motivate people who find themselves in a similar situation. I’ve seen plenty of people complaining about not having the motivation to learn something, who need to force themselves into working on projects (pro tip: if you have to actually force yourself to devote time to your hobbies, you need better hobbies).

It’s actually been a little annoying to see people in their early 20s (or younger) complain and/or provide helpful suggestions on how to manage their time and become a (better) programmer. What about us who truly have too much going on in their lives? Those of us who don’t lack the motivation?

Side note: I’m 26, but I’m married and a stay at home parent, so I really have no free time, unlike people who spend their days binge watching Game of Thrones, or whatever is big right now.

Also: as a straight white guy I am perfectly aware of my privilege.

Still, my life situation hasn’t been all that easy in the past two or three years. I am not really going to get into details publicly (although I suppose I can mention that my mom died of cancer a few months before my son was born), but the bottom line is that me and my wife we don’t have any family or friends who can really help us right now, so we’re pretty much taking care of everything ourselves.

Another note: my wife is from the US and we are living in Europe right now, but we are working on getting a Green Card for me.

Moving on.

Yes, so without going too much into the details of my life, here’s most of what I did during the past year (other than playing with Legos, going to parks and learning one really great chicken breasts recipe):

  • Soon after quitting, I applied for a job at a small web development company. Not having a lot of relevant experience, other than creating a few simple “web apps” at work, naturally I failed.
    • just for the record, my last position at my job was a Web Production Lead (filling out Excel sheets and chatting with clients), but I worked on a few internal projects, mainly with JavaScript
  • I spent 2-4 hours a day on average (including weekends, on many days no time at all) learning more advanced JavaScript, HTML and CSS. In time I also added AngularJS.
  • I created three simple websites: one would let you export your images saved in Dropbox into an HTML gallery, the second one was pretty much the same thing, but it also worked with Google+ Photos and (as it was called back then) SkyDrive. The third one, which is the only one that I left online, lets you compare the length of your relationship with failed marriages of famous couples. Also, originally this wasn’t a Facebook app (well, technically it still isn’t).
  • I picked up a few projects on Elance. Don’t worry, dear reader, I didn’t undersell and thus contribute to the decay of my profession. Nowhere near.
  • Feel free to skip this list as you probably already get the point
  • Some of the paid work I did included an AngularJS form builder2, a medical CMS, a simple Flickr Commons browser (no frameworks(!) and with custom-made caching on the back end), I helped redesign a small online store for a really nice guy and also worked part time for a hot SF startup. I am now starting a new project for which I got recommended by a former client.
  • I continued expanding the portfolio of my personal projects with a very barebones clone of About.me (the Markdown support came in later), the first version of my Simple Sharing Buttons generator (I will come back to this later) and a simple color palette organizer (the static template on which this is based made it to Built with AngularJS).
  • In between the projects, I also wrote a few tutorials. A few people at Mozilla really liked them and asked me to turn them into what they call a teaching kit. It did well.
  • I kept adding more projects to my website, including two APIs, a prototype of an object-recognition-powered game, a much needed extension of Tumblr’s functionality (and yes, I’ve seen people use it to find porn), a back-end driven quote-on-a-space-background generator with image preloading and no JavaScript and let’s not forget the completely rewritten Simple Sharing Buttons generator, which got around 10,000 views during its first month (now at around 11,500). Also, I made a \$1 off it.
  • Eventually I moved my website off BlueHost and started using DigitalOcean. I learned quite a bit about managing a server (and I switched from PHP to Python and I’m never going back).
    • (although I am working on a “secret” project using node.js right now)

Did I mention that most of the time my primary dev machine was HP Mini 110? I’ve upgraded about a week or so ago.

I don’t think the achievements I listed above are anything special, that really wasn’t my point (although I am very proud of being featured on Webmaker – and I got to work with some really nice people during the process). The point is that sometimes it can be truly hard to do what you enjoy. It won’t be a question whether you’re motivated enough. You will have no free time, you will struggle financially, you will have no help. Your kid will be waking up at 2am, 4am and you will lose hours of sleep. And none of this is even unusual, many people struggle – some more than you or I can even imagine. The difference between successful people and everyone else is persistence. You just have to stick to whatever you enjoy doing and keep trying until you make it work. It’s just like starting a fire.

There will be days when you just won’t be able to do this, but then you have to continue the next day.

Family comes first, of course; I tried very hard to prioritize my wife and our son. It wasn’t always easy; there were days when my son wouldn’t nap and I’d watch him all day and then fall asleep tired around 8 or 9pm. But after a year of doing little by little, I feel pretty accomplished.

So there you have it: even if you are a stay at home parent with limited time and resources, you can still learn to “code” – or learn to do anything for that matter. Maybe you’re helping your sick parents, maybe you’re too poor to afford a decent computer (HP Minis are pretty cheap!) or whatever gear you need for that one thing you really enjoy. Maybe you really just don’t have enough time.

None of this should stop you though. If you have 10 minutes of freedom every day, then use your 10 minutes on your goals. If you don’t have enough money, save up until you do. Just don’t give up. All it takes is persistence.

Just like starting a fire.


1 To my advantage, I did learn to program when I was a teenager and did this as a hobby for a while. I don’t really have a formal education in this area though and consider myself self-taught.

2 Sadly, while my first client was a very nice guy, gave me tons of positive feedback and promised future projects to work on – and his team allegedly loved my work too – when I was almost finished with the projects, he abruptly stopped speaking with me and I wouldn’t see him log into Skype or Elance. He also didn’t post on his Twitter. The situation was so confusing that it took about 3-4 days for me to admit I got scammed. Thankfully, I got my almost \$900 after contacting Elance.