How I Got Here: from Staging Operas to Staging Code

One Australian’s adventure from learning HTML in the 90s, to singing opera in Germany, to writing this blog for you.

I have always loved technology.

One day, when I was a toddler, my mother was driving us around and was horrified when I said “Mummy, I want Daddy’s poota”. Shocked, she thought to herself “Does… does my daughter have some sort of penis envy? Why is she talking about Daddy’s ‘poota’?!”

However, as you may have guessed, I was not in fact going through some sort of pre-childhood gender identity crisis, but was instead envious of the computer my father was using every day in the course of running his small hiking business.

carmensandiego.jpg

At the age of 5, I began to play games on the computer, with a personal favourite being ‘Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?’, which allowed me to investigate crimes and travel around the globe to solve them. It would now be considered retro, but this actual screenshot from the game shows you the level of computing we were dealing with in the early 1990s.

At age 8, when my parents took me a bookstore to browse, I skipped over my usual picks of Animorphs or Goosebumps and instead begged them to buy me a learn-at-home HTML book. I cherished that book and studiously learned about tables and iframes. I made my first ever website, back in the day when Geocities and Angelfire were just starting to make websites available to everyone. A Father Ted links page, where I gathered up all the best Father Ted fan pages I could find and made one big page to reference them all. This was, naturally, before Google was created.

I made some webpages for friends and relatives as I grew up, and even studied Software Design and Development in high school. At the time, not many teachers actually knew how to code, and I ended up leading some of the classes when it came to the other students learning HTML! Rather than pursue computer studies, however, I decided to go in a different direction, completing my Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) at the University of Sydney, one of the prestigious Group of Eight) leading universities in Australia, ranked #4 in the world for graduate employability by the QS World University Rankings .

Upon graduation, I began working as a conference organiser for the International Quality and Productivity Centre, and was quickly promoted to Senior Conference Director, project managing conferences on a rolling monthly schedule. This included creating conference ideas, sourcing speakers, writing programmes, and travelling interstate to run the conferences on the ground. It was an intense position with tight deadlines, and in my time working at IQPC Sydney I was nominated for Employee of the Year, and won Most Profitable Conference Producer of the Year. In addition to managing small teams, briefing sales and sponsorship teams, and doing the bread-and-butter work of a conference producer, I also voluntarily ran training sessions for other employees on how to use digital platforms such as LinkedIn for business purposes.

This passion for technology led me to accept a position at Opera Australia as a Digital Marketing Officer, where I was able to combine my business and language skills with the HTML/CSS I had learned earlier in my life and degree. The position could be described as a cross between social media manager and content producer, as I not only managed day-to-day social media but also maintained the blog and arranged video content which was later edited into feature items for YouTube and promotional packages. In addition to this, it was my job to choose the best graphic representation of every opera by evaluating photographic and video content for the web.

As you might expect, all was pretty much proceeding according to plan. What I didn’t realise is that working at Opera Australia would make me curious about getting singing lessons, that those singing lessons would result in an audition for a Masters of Music degree, and that I would be leaving my position to study that degree. I had always been passionate about classical music and the stage, and pursuing opera was a wonderful part of my life. It led me to sing in three different continents, from opera to concerts to song cycles, and brought me to Germany where I worked in the chorus of Hessen State Theatre for three years.

I loved being an opera singer, and the day-to-day work was unrivaled in terms of fun and creative fulfillment….

HOWEVER…

Although I had taken into account my love for public speaking, performance, and communication; I had not taken into account the fact that I am, in my heart of hearts, a problem-solver and an ambitious worker. Try as it might, after a few years, continued work in the theatre couldn’t offer me career advancement, significant personal growth, or the intellectual challenge that I craved.

As I thought about potential alternative careers, my mind kept being dragged back to those days in front of the poota, learning about iframes and table alignment in order to create my janky links page. I have always been a fast learner: could I catch up quickly enough to make a career out of coding?

I began working on The Odin Project : an online, open-source course of learning designed to create employable web developers, thoroughly covering HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I was heavily involved in the community, including giving and receiving help with coding questions on Discord, ongoing communication with the course creators, contributing to the GitHub repository, and giving daily updates about my progress. Through The Odin Project, I discovered that it was not just my imagination: I really did understand programming concepts particularly fast, and I was able to implement them into working web apps with very little assistance.

Being aware that most German companies would not be understanding of an online course as a main method of learning, I applied and was accepted into the Digital Career Institute ‘Weiterbildung’ (Continuing Course of Education) in web- and software development, and have also been selected as Class Representative. We study 9 to 4, Monday to Thursday, and after a year I will be an accredited full-stack developer, not only covering HTML, CSS, and JavaScript; but also React, MongoDB, Node.js, Express, and more.

It feels great to be in my element, and working with people who seem to have similar nerdy interests to me: card games, board games, and science fiction are the bread and butter of my spare time. I have definitely found my people, my new home, and my calling.

To follow my journey, please follow me on Twitter @AnnaJMcDougall .

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