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From Dirt to Digital



Backstory

I’m a web developer … with a background in construction. I never planned on getting into web development. My degree is in construction management, and for 12 years I loved being in that industry. Until I didn’t.

It was great not working in a regular office, walking the job site every day, wandering around unfinished buildings, and working on a cross-functional team to build something bigger and more complex than any of us could have built alone. I held many titles during my years in construction, both in the office and in the field.

From project manager (a.k.a. The Boss) to ironworker to crane operator and everything in between. Each was interesting and enjoyable in its own way, but my least favorite part of construction was the one thing they all had in common: the hours. Construction jobs generally start before the sun rises and, if you are in the office, don’t end until well after the sun sets.

Towards the middle of most construction projects, working weekends becomes mandatory, and this lasts until the end of the project. When I was younger, and my family was smaller, this didn’t bother me as much. But eventually I realized I needed a change. That wasn’t the schedule I wanted in my life anymore. 

The Plunge

As I searched for new career paths, web development came up as a popular recommendation. At first, I was intimidated by the thought that I was never a “tech person,” and the picture in my head of a web developer was someone with years of experience in programming and a degree in computer science. That wasn’t me, so I kept looking for something else.

But the more I looked, the more the idea of web development popped up in the back of my mind. So, as I started reading more about it, I finally took the plunge and bought some courses online. It was scary, but at that point, I was working very long days and weekends babysitting the project I was on — but with no actual work to do. This gave me something to do to help pass the time.

As I moved through my online courses, I realized I was enjoying web development far more than I originally had expected. The more I read, the more surprised I was to find out it’s not uncommon for web developers to be both self-taught and to come from industries outside of the tech world. I realized I was not alone in this journey, and it gave me the motivation I needed to work harder.

I did my course work on nights and weekends and started picking up freelance web development work on the side. At one point, I had enough portfolio work to start applying for junior web developer positions. I was fortunate to find my way here, so I left the construction industry for good. Now I can’t imagine going back. 

Surprising Similarities

As I’ve been reflecting on this journey, I’ve noticed something surprising: These two industries — which on the surface seem as opposite as night and day — actually have several similarities between them.

Both web development and construction projects start with a client need, move to a design phase, and then to design approval, after which site construction begins. Once construction is completed, there is a review process, changes are submitted, updates are made, the team goes through a punch list to add the finishing touches, and the project is launched.

In both industries, it takes a team to build a project that is bigger and more complex than could be done alone. The goal of the project is always to help customers’ dreams come to life. And similar to web development, workers in construction come from a surprising variety of backgrounds. I’ve worked with ironworkers who were previously nurses and computer programmers, field engineers who were teachers, and project managers with degrees in literature.

It’s been a winding and unexpected journey getting to where I am today, but I couldn’t be happier with how it’s turned out so far! There are days I still feel intimidated by this job, but I get through it knowing that I’m not the only one with a nontraditional background.

It’s strangely comforting noticing the similarities between construction and web development. It turns out web development is more familiar than I thought.

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