The Secret to Life is Programming

(This post created for and first appeared on Samantha Gay’s blog, February 21, 2015.)

source code sneaky vfx

Twenty years ago I was depressed, confused, and out of ideas. Then I discovered programming.

I’m not sure how it started. It helped that the family had a Tandy TRS-80 at one point, and I ran into BASIC and Oregon Trail at school, so a flashing green cursor was never something to fear. But it wasn’t until my second try at college–after flunking out of a fine art program, getting treatment for depression, and realizing my total lack of real-world problem solving skills–that I was desperate enough to pursue the one degree guaranteed to get me employed and out of the house: computer science.

I can’t recommend this strongly enough.

No, I don’t remember the Internet protocol diagram. No, I haven’t written an Access database since 1998. But the thing that stuck was realizing anything you can do on a computer, you can automate.

Need fifty images exported as thumbnails? Automate that.

Want to port a website’s old forum to a new format? Automate that.

Want to find your insurance company’s best-rated primary care provider across four different ratings websites? Automate that.

Some people encounter programming and think, “Oh, no, I’m no good at math.” First, math takes practice, but anyone who practices can be as secure in math as I am in high heels: embarrassing but functional. Second, programming is not math. It’s logic. It’s sudoku. It’s a series of trivia questions you’re allowed to Google.

brain stimulation sneaky vfx

And anyone with interest and Internet can learn. Long-term success comes from research and habits. To do what I do you don’t even need a degree; it’s been handy for me to have one on my resume, but the older I get the less meaningful it is.

Through all my life’s subsequent mistakes, panics, stupidities, and do-overs, programming has been my saving employable grace. When I ended up in Los Angeles in 2008 (a move Sam Gay assisted) with a scheme to be an art director or storyboard artist or anything else that would get me paid, it was my failure to find any of that work that sent me back to the technology listings. Because of programming, I ended up with the best-paying, most flexible, least stressful, least physically demanding, least goes-home-with-you job I’ve ever had.

Working in technology gives me time to create.

I have a healthy freelance career in speculative fiction and illustration. I’m working on the second edition of my Meddling Auntie advice comics for kids, and working on the launch of a web platform for interactive fiction. I hit the gym, see the doctor, and clean the house. I have emergency savings and a retirement fund. I can go to an out-of-town wedding without getting heartburn over the cost.

(I also created Sneaky VFX, a webcomic about converting to the church of code.)

It’s been a really long time since I’ve eaten a potato old enough to take a handprint.

old wrinkled potato

There are other factors, of course, but that’s a subject for another day.

If that sounds like what you want, start searching; I could give you links, but 1) that would look like I was promoting a particular place and 2) Internet searches are 20% of a programming so you might as well practice. If you ever touched HTML, brush up on that. Look into Python. Dip your toe in JavaScript.

There’s never been a better time.

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