On July 27, 2014, I made the first commit to the git repo that would become the first version of ryanmadden.net. It’s been nearly a year since then and I’m amazed at everything that has happened. I have an incredible internship at DreamBox Learning and a healthy list of independent projects keeping me busy. I’m learning every day, building websites for fun, building websites for money, and enjoying the summer with my friends. I’ve also spent some time reflecting on where I am and how I got here. It all started at my parents’ dining room table.


The summer after my freshman year of college I decided that I wanted to learn how to build websites. I doggedly worked through the ‘HTML & CSS’ and ‘jQuery’ courses on codecademy and – in perhaps the most prescient moment of my life – an online course on git courtesy of Lynda. Codecademy reports that I made it 57% of the way through their ‘Make a Website’ course before bailing to start my own.

I figured building a portfolio site for myself would be perfect: I could learn more about web design and web development while also creating a place to showcase my future work.

In a week I hammered out a first version. Nothing fancy, nothing beautiful, but definitely something real. I registered a domain name and – I kid you not – used FileZilla to FTP my static site onto a shared host I rented along with my domain. Looking back on that first week feels like watching a toddler try and play Mario Kart.

Starting fresh, again

Now here I am, a year later. I spent a lot of time learning and practicing and saw that investment pay off with paid projects for clients in Hong Kong and Illinois. I’ve built cool things with my friends and landed an internship with a fun, impactful company.

I’ve also rebuilt this site, forgoing my shared host in favor of a Jekyll-based Github Pages solution. I stripped out Bootstrap in favor of Skel, a smaller and less component-based Sass framework.

Things I learned

What’s the difference between pseudo-element selectors and pseudo-class selectors? What’s the cost of a cache miss when your dependencies are hosted on a CDN? These things are good to know and I use them once in a while. I learned other things this year that I use all the time:

  1. The fastest way to get good at something is to surround yourself with people who are better at it than you are
  2. Making things with your friends is fun
  3. Combine #1 and #2 to maximize your progress and your happiness
  4. Use tools that make you productive; use tools you enjoy
  5. Hacker News
  6. Your design sense progresses faster than your design skills. You will make things and later realize they are ugly. That’s okay
  7. Coming up with a good team is harder than coming up with a good idea
  8. If you’re an engineer, try and spend some time with Journalism majors. You could learn a thing or two
  9. Learning can be uncomfortable, especially when you feel like everyone in the room knows more than you. Seek out these situations rather than avoiding them.

What’s next

I’m really happy with what I’ve accomplished in terms of web development in the last year. I went from zero knowledge to paid developer in less than ten months. I have some exciting things planned for the next school year and I can’t wait to get started. Let’s rock.

July 22, 2015