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I Was a Graphic Designer, but Now I’m a Coder (and a Graphic Designer)

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I’m updating my identity. I was a graphic designer, and then I became a graphic designer who codes, but now I’m making it official: I’m a graphic designer/web developer. I have the skills — and desire — to join the club.

I got into design when I started publishing a music magazine in 2004. I needed to lay it out, so I learned Quark (whoops… I heard it was the industry standard and didn’t know that InDesign was way, way better. I hopped on that a year later.) This was pre Skillshare-era, so I had to work a little harder at this, but I taught myself a lot about design principles and how to use the software mostly through good old fashioned books.

My graphic designer friend who was working on the magazine with me pointed out that I have an eye for design, but I always felt a bit of imposter syndrome. Like I was designing, yes, but I wasn’t really a graphic designer because I hadn’t been formally trained. Graphic design interns from the local colleges would work with us, with me as their guide, and yet I would feel so envious that they were in school for what I love, regretting going to school for something else, and feeling like I wasted four years and a private-school-tuition amount of money (ouch) on something that I didn’t want to do.

And then in 2009 I realized, wait… I too could go to school for design. I didn’t have to do four years all over again. I had the bachelor’s; I just needed the design part. So I got a certificate in design. And you know what? I learned a lot, but I also realized that I had no business feeling like an imposter. I already was a designer.

Which brings me to my coming out party for being a coder. I had taken a web design course years ago and was thrilled to get a peek behind the curtain. The Wizard of Oz is really a bunch of text called element tags and selectors and properties! Oh my. I could take a text file and turn it into a website. It was cool, but I didn’t pursue it. This was 2009. The web was awesome, obviously, but it wasn’t beautiful. Not like now. You had the choice of, what, five fonts? You could use any font you wanted! As long as it was Times New Roman, Georgia, Arial, Trebuchet, Tahoma, Verdana or, you know… Comic Sans. I designed a site and used images for a renegade font, but my developer friend informed me that that was not a best practice. So I went with Tahoma. Yawn.

I used some of my HTML and CSS knowledge to my advantage over the years, but never felt the call of web design/development. (I’m blaming you, Tahoma.) But then last year I decided I needed a personal website, and soon realized I didn’t want to use someone else’s WordPress theme, so I maybe kind of stupidly decided I’d just learn how to code one myself. Well, I don’t know if you know this, but… that’s not easy. In fact it’s actually really hard. I was all over the place.

I remember finding Underscores and the tutorial was basically, here’s some code, paste it in. I tried to decipher what the hell was going on, but it was way over my head. I tried Lynda, my usual place to learn, and same thing. Treehouse made a good dent, but I was still doggie paddling, trying to keep my novice little coder head above the water, each day realizing how much more I didn’t know. I definitely had moments where I felt like I had no business trying to figure it out. I was a designer, not a WordPress developer. But I did it. I cobbled together the skills and put that shit together! I was proud.

I had a WordPress site that I’d built from scratch, thank you very much, but what I didn’t have was the feeling that I knew how to go about doing that for someone else. A client. A client who pays me. My grasp felt tenuous. So while I felt like a graphic designer who codes, I didn’t feel like a graphic designer/web developer.

Then I saw someone online mention Skillcrush. I had signed up for their free coding bootcamp before, and it came to my inbox 10 days in a row, but I didn’t really pay attention I guess. Those emails had languished in the land of forgotten and probably unopened emails. But when I went back I realized they do three-month “blueprints” in different areas of coding. So I took WordPress Development. And guess what? Same thing as when I got my design certificate. I learned a lot, but also realized I had so much in me already. The ability to seek out answers on how to do things on your own is so incredibly necessary. But this pushed my knowledge and, perhaps even more importantly, my confidence, to the next level.

So here I am. Putting my taxi light on and announcing to the world that I’m open for business. I can comfortably code a WordPress site for you from scratch. I’m a graphic designer/web developer.

Oh, and just a note: You know how I said “whoops” about learning Quark instead of InDesign? Well, one of my freelance gigs later on was designing a cookbook for EatingWell magazine, and they used Quark. I’d already been on InDesign for a while by that point, but I still knew Quark by heart. And if I hadn’t, if I had accepted the job and had to learn Quark as I did it, I would’ve been in a world of hurt. It ended up being a plus, and I went on to design another book for them. So sometimes things just have to play out as they do, and we shouldn’t waste time regretting. Like getting a bachelor’s degree in something I didn’t want to do and feeling like I’d made a huge mistake. In the end? It all worked out.

2 comments

reader comments

  1. Maggie

    I love this post! It’s so interesting to hear the details of your journey, especially when both are close to my own heart. My first website was with Wix, and my second was with the Genesis Framework for WordPress. That was a leap! Impostor syndrome is the worst, especially with coding. I mean, people studied this for YEARS, and am I/ are we doing in their midst? I’m so happy and proud that someone who was in the same boat is doing so well now.

    This sentence especially resonated with me – “I was still doggie paddling, trying to keep my novice little coder head above the water, each day realizing how much more I didn’t know”. YES. Yesyesyes. The more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know!

    All the best and looking forward to what’s next for you!

    Maggie

  2. Harry @ ingic

    you are great you have to do both industries work, like design and development is too much worth in today world. i will give you really appreciated your skills.

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All of the graphics and photos here are by Beth Alessi of Fates Allow unless otherwise noted. Go ahead and pin and post, but please link back to the original page and give proper credit. Thank you!