Back in the early ’00s, there was a joke that has been part of countless standup comedy acts. In it, the protagonist, a person somewhere in their late 30s, has a computer problem or needs a website - and finally turns to a 15 year old kid for help.
Well, I was that kid. And not only me, but me and my friends, we have all been that kid. We fixed computers, destroyed them and fixed them again. And in our spare time, we built websites upon websites, mainly for ourselves and others.
What it was
Web pages, mostly around our hobbies. I vividly remember the obligatory Counter Strike Clan Page (of course we had a Counter Strike clan, though we weren’t any good), as well as my own Star Trek Web Site (It contained an easter egg where you could shoot me - it took hours to build because I wanted it to work only if you clicked on the part of my image which showed my head - but not much else).
What I learned
We fumbled around with the limited knowledge that we had - learning came naturally, because every new thing we learned was something we could show off with. Someone found a way to create their own GIFs. I found a program which created awesome Java applets our Flash plugins (Little did I know or care about cross-browser compatibility, this was the day and age of disclaimers stating that “this page is optimized for Browser XYZ”!)
I also made some interesting or, depending on your sense of humor, hilarious mistakes along the way. For example, I remember converting a small video I found in the assets of the Half Life game into a GIF and embedding it into the website. It took a full night to upload - but I did not make the mental connection that it would take equally long to download for any user visiting the page.
The most important learning, however, is that practice doesn’t necessarily make you perfect. It might not even make you good. I was completely self-taught back then, I was eager to learn, and I certainly was one of the best in my peer group (which tells you more than I am comfortable with about how I spent my free time as a teen) - but I had hit a plateau and was not getting any better. And it was obvious from looking at other web sites and similar projects that I was nowhere even close to a professional level.
With the knowledge I have today, I know that I had become what is called an “Expert Beginner”, someone who is not competent at what they do and can’t improve inside their own bubble. This has motivated me greatly to pursue a formal education in Computer Science - to get past that darn plateau.
This post is part of my Pet Project Sematary, click here to get to the first post in this series.