About me

In 2014, the year I turned 50, just like everyone else who turns 50, I decided to make a major career change. I wanted to "get back into computers," whatever that meant. I wanted to become a person who could make things that actually did stuff on the Internet.

Eventually, I learned the term, "full-stack web developer." That was it! That's what I wanted to be.

But where to start? I had some background in computers, from way back before the Internet became the big kahuna. My first job out of college was at Lotus Technical Support. I taught people how to use Lotus 1-2-3, Lotus Magellan, and Lotus Agenda. Then Lotus Notes came along, and blew everything else out of the water. Eventually, I went solo and became a "Certified Lotus Notes Application Developer." During the late 80s and early 90s, I made some great "groupware" applications for companies like State Street Global Advisors, Giga Information Group (now Forrester Research), and First Security (now Securitas).

... That's OK, kids. You don't need to know what those "Lotus" products were. Let's just say they were the vinyl records of the personal computer's Mesozoic era: primitive, by today's standards, yet oh-so-superior in so many ways to what we have today.

Oops, must not succumb to nostalgia bias!

(I just looked up "nostalgia bias" to see if it was a term, and found something even better: "rosy retrospection." Nice!)

Well, I loved my first computer. It was a "luggable," and it looked like this. It cost me $2,000 and weighed as much as a sewing machine. I have a vivid memory of my brother and me running to catch a bus, down Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, our luggables weighing us down in their padded nylon shoulder bags, whacking us hard in the hips with every stride.

From day one, I felt like the computer was an extension of my brain. And the coolness factor... Seriously, you were the hippest person in town when you popped off the sturdy keyboard, tilted the LCD screen just so, inserted a shiny, black 5.25" floppy disk, and heard that whirr, pfft, pfft. What would be the equivalent for a young person today? Showing up at a meeting with the latest IPad or VR goggles? Sure, people might gather around and say "Oooh, that's awesome!" but in my day, our computers were James Bond cool.

Uh-oh! Rosy retrospection again! Stop it!

I regret not paying more attention to the "big picture" of what was happening during the early 90s. I was right there in Cambridge when the big decisions were being made and the big players were getting established. If I'd had any money at the time, I would be rich today because opportunities were around every corner. But I was timid and shy and poor, disdainful of life lived in corporate cubicles, distracted by love and politics, then children, schools, home ownership, cats, dogs, neighbors, and the rest of that real-life stuff.

Fast-forward to 2017. Here I am, no longer 50 but 53 years old, and still determined to get a grip on this monster Internet that grew up during the 25 years when I wasn't paying attention. It hasn't been easy because (a.) "real life" still keeps intervening, keeping me from my studies, and (b.) Jayzus, the web has become so big and complicated, slippery and fast-moving, addictive and confusing. I feel like Thucydides, witnessing the collapse of Greek civilization and wondering what will replace it.

To summarize the past 3 years, I went down the track of trying to become a full-stack Ruby on Rails developer, only to watch the world veer off in a new direction, toward Node.js and the MEAN stack. I pouted about that for a while, then grudgingly left Ruby behind in favor of Javascript, Node, and MongoDB. Here is an illustration of my meandering path of study:

As you can see, I am currently deep into a topic called, "All the Adobe Products." Previously, I was so deep into the "back end." But then, in that triumphant moment when I finally had my own server running and my own database going and my own websites staying "up" for weeks at a time instead of crashing every time I looked away, I was suddently confronted by the most difficult question of all: "What do I want to say? What is my CONTENT going to be? Did I put my brain through all this torture so I could go work for some statistically-likely-to-fail start-up run by 20-year-olds? Or do I want to make my own content? How can I make money doing this? Who am I? What am I doing here?" (Cultural reference for elders only.)

And when you start looking at the question of "content," you realize that you need to understand photography, video editing, document layout, web fonts, audio engineering, maps, graphs, 3-D animation, and all of that fun stuff. OK, maybe not all of it, but enough to become a content-creator. I want to be able to be chatting with someone and come up with a great idea and to be able to make it happen then and there. That's what I would call a "full stack developer." So I'm not there yet, but I'm getting close. And I think that exploring the ecosystem that Adobe has created is going to be the fastest route to mastering the content side, also known as the "front end."

In this blog you'll find my study notes, my rants and raves, some tutorials, and lots of cool tricks. Besides guiding neophytes along the path to becoming programmers (usually by demonstrating what not to do), I also want to help "normal" people, especially of my own age, navigate and reclaim a stake in the webosphere. So I will be dishing out advice, hot tips, challenges, and learned opinions, like an old, chattery aunt... oh, I am an old, chattery aunt, isn't that handy?! Off we go.

Mary Dean
End of March, 2017

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