Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Barn Lost its Charm

Barn Lost its CharmIn 1996, I was injured in a horseback riding accident. I knew then that my blissful days of being a 72-hour a week horse wrangler and trail-ride guide would have to end. As I recovered from a full suite of injuries, I had time to consider my next move. I had been exposed to computers in grade school and again in High School, but I did not have one nor did I know how to use one. I figured that knowing how to use a computer would be a big key to my future, regardless of the direction I went.

Community college is a resource that my tiny budget could handle. I signed up to start the next semester with a full courseload of classes in basic computer literacy. The days were long but I enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life, old and young. I met many interesting international students that impressed me with their awareness of the great opportunity they had been given and their exceptional work ethic. Many of them were working all night, to afford being in school all day! When I enrolled full-time, I started the meter running on my meager savings, so I too was well aware that I had no time to waste in my studies.

The computer literacy coursework was pretty dry. I was accustomed to daily adventures working with 65 horses, so settling down indoors and focusing on abstract technical jargon took a lot of concentration. I knew that a computer is just a tool to be used in many different ways, but I was not yet sure how I would be using it in my brave new future.

My big break came when I noticed how the boisterous class using the room ahead of my computer literacy class would never leave on time, forcing the next class – my class – to wait in the hall while they reluctantly gave up and cleared out. The students were always excited, mobbing the teacher with questions and chatter. I thought, “Whatever those people in there are learning about, I want to learn about it too…” I asked a student as they left, “What are you guys learning in there?” “WEB DESIGN” was the answer. Hmmm, I thought, Ok, what is a web?

I signed up immediately for the next 8-week mini-course in beginning web design, and immediately loved it. I was still finishing my computer literacy classwork simultaneously, and suddenly that dry information became much more relevant and useful. Web design was a great combination for me of planning, problem-solving, creative expression, editing and disciplined thought.

Barn Lost its CharmAt that time in the late ‘90s the Internet was new and exciting. Everyone was talking about it, and everyone needed a website. I saw that it was a grand publishing platform for everything and anything that people care about. To be publishing online so instantly was a huge rush. As word spread among friends and family of my new studies, I received several freelance job offers, all of which I accepted. Having new paying jobs to work on while simultaneously learning the course material was exhilarating. I learned that beyond just learning code, design aesthetics and graphics are a key part of web design and I was pleased to discover my strengths there as well.

Since I was an active full-time student, I was able to receive deep student discounts from some of the major software companies. I was able to outfit my humble computer at home (a family holiday gift) with the software programs I needed to have in order to get my design work done outside of school. My friendly nature and upbeat attitude got attention at school and I was offered an internship in their computer lab, for a small stipend, helping fellow students. I eagerly accepted, having become a fixture in the lab myself. This position as lab assistant gave me a tremendous vantage point from where I saw many error messages and quirks of the computers and programs that were being used by various classes. I saw the computer pitfalls that threatened the students and I learned how to avoid them. The small amount of money that I earned working in the lab did help quite a bit but the value of watching, learning and teaching other students (and teachers!) was priceless.

I became aware of a local insurance company that had just spent $250,000 for a new web site and client administration system. They needed someone reliable to run the new system and teach others how to input data. I was intimidated at first by the idea of driving a quarter-million dollar car, but the company seemed to have a great culture and I knew that the work would be interesting. And it was.

I left the computer lab assistant position at that point, and I continued my studies in night school while I worked part-time at the insurance office. I finished up the rest of the design and web classes I needed at school.

Then in 2000, I got a big break. Through a referral from an existing freelance client, I contracted with an additional new client. She had enough website work for me that I was able to stop the insurance job, and focus on freelancing from home full-time. Happily, that is still my situation today.

I am glad that I followed my gut instinct that my career needed a drastic change, and that I took advantage of the breaks that came my way. Fortunately my temperament is well suited to freelancing. You have to have good communication skills and be a good listener. You have to be your own mean boss at times. You have to constantly be hustling for the next job, even when you are insanely busy with work. I know it’s not for everyone! It takes a lot of discipline, long hours and research. Those are the reasons more people are not doing it.

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One Response to “Barn Lost its Charm”

  1. Pat says:

    What a great little memoir of that crucial formative period of your life! It applies not only to your line of work but also helps to shows how anyone can discover his or her passion and go for it. I’m so glad I found this–
    Love, D.


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