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How I Became a Web Designer

As a child I always had great creative outlets, my Mom could doodle, sketch, and paint with ease. My Grandma used to follow along on those awesome Bob Ross videos, but her paintings were truly beautiful. My Dad wasn’t super artistic, but that never stopped him from sketching on a napkin or scrap paper he had lying around. Everywhere I looked there was the ability to create something, whether it was painting, drawing, making something out of paper, playing music or just about anything else, I had the ability and freedom try it out. I always enjoyed drawing and playing music, those two things just really allowed me to focus and express really well.

Late in grade school my Dad made a decision that I am still grateful for, he sold his 1966 Nova II and bought our family a computer. Let’s remember, this was the 90’s, computers weren’t just a few hundred bucks. This thing was custom-built with Windows 98, a ‘beautiful’ 15″ CRT monitor and all the bell’s and whistles, like the internet! This is when I discovered how much I loved technology, computers and everything to do with them. Some people much smarter than me created a machine that could serve up data instantly (56K was blazing back in the day). I could do research for a school paper on the internet and not have to rent 40 books from the library! How cool is that? I eventually began tinkering inside the computer, the hardware fascinated me. How did all of these pieces of electronic parts know how to interact with each other? I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to find out.

My path almost came to a screeching halt in High School when I told my parents I wanted to go to vocational (or trade) school for small engine repair. As much as I loved drawing and playing music, I also had an equal gear head inside of me. I grew up with hot rods and classic cars at our house and through our entire neighborhood. Note: I have absolutely nothing wrong with those that did pursue this path, ya’ll are the best. I remember the day like it was yesterday, I took a tour of the school and thought it would be fun to tinker with engines all day, so I brought home the pamphlet on the program. My Dad looked at me and said:

“You need to do something with computers, that’s the future of this world.”

I didn’t know it then, but that seed that was planted in my head would continue to grow, and grow, and grow through my high school days. I started to tinker with HTML and what CSS was available at the time. I even made a website for my Aunt’s bar that she owned because I wanted to make something that people would see instead of sites that would only be seen on my own computer. MySpace was the popular social network at the time, and you could upload HTML and customize your profile…vertical scrolling banners!? How awesome!

As High School came to an end I wanted to go to school for Computer Information Systems, basically a degree on how hardware and software communicated together and how I could become the Jedi Master to these machines. But something was missing. Between all of these 0’s and 1’s and failed OS installs I wasn’t feeling as motivated as I was before. Maybe it was just me being a college student, but I needed a change. That’s when I stumbled upon website design and how I could design a piece of ‘art’ on my computer, and then write HTML/CSS to make it available for people to use. This was it, this was the balance I was looking for, and luckily I knew a friend that worked as a website developer for a small studio in downtown Cleveland.

Zorebo Interactive was the studio, it was a small, but really cool-looking place to work. I emailed the President nonstop until I convinced him (with some help from my friend) to bring me on as an intern. This is my shot! I get to drive my 18 year old self to the “big” city and work for a web design company. I made editable PDFs, I cut up Photoshop files and created standards-compliant HTML/CSS to give to the back-end developers so they could do all of their complex database and programming language work. I loved every second of it. Eventually they brought me on as a full-time employee and I dropped out of college because what I was learning there was years behind what was actually happening in the real world. A year or so after I got hired they wound up laying me off.

They told me there was no position for what I wanted to do. I either had to be a designer, or a developer, I couldn’t be a hybrid.

This was gasoline on my creative fire. I hopped online and consumed as much information as I could. I googled the nights away, learning new techniques, better practices, better workflows, everything I could research I did.

I’ve bounced around since Zorebo Interactive. I worked at OverDrive, Inc. for just shy of 5 years, I worked at Great Lakes Integrated and Kiwi Creative. I am thankful for all of my experiences at those places, and now I run my own design and development company with my best friend. We’ve worked with many great clients, like John Carroll University, HSB Architects, and more. I couldn’t ask for more, the Lord surely has blessed me. My path here wasn’t pretty, or “typical” but I’m here and I’m making the best of it.

My advice to you if you’re looking to become a web designer, you need to have a passion for not only designing, but also the front-end technologies. HTML, CSS, JS, etc. These are all important, and I see them as keys to my success so far. When we didn’t have design work piled up, I could hop over and help out with front-end code, or coding up some email blasts, etc. I made myself a valuable resource by learning more than just website design.

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