happy little biz

Happy little code

At 35, I decided to switch careers, from health care to tech. Wait, who does that?

After thirteen years in health care, including three years in a competitive and challenging massage therapy diploma program, I decided to trade in my oil bottles and sheets for a laptop and a 24-inch monitor.

Massage, Computer The roads I took to get here seem a bit off the beaten path, or possibly even off the map completely. At least, that's the impression I get when I tell people about my career change.

By far the most common reaction to this change is surprise, sometimes even astonishment. It seems that most folks who have desk jobs feel that trading a job where you do not sit at a desk all day for one where you do is, in a word, crazy.

On the surface, massage therapy seems to offer the ideal career solution. You can make your own hours, you don't sit at a desk all day, you meet interesting people, and you help people with their health and wellbeing. But what is not seen is all the other stuff, the behind-the-scenes things you aren't aware of unless you work in the profession. Massage as a career was a great fit when I was in my 20s, but I always knew it would have a short lifespan. I just didn't know what I would transition into. Teaching? Running a clinic? Grad school? Another branch of health care?

Indulge me a moment while I go back to my younger years.

I was always the geeky kid in school. Sure, I played plenty of sports too, but what I really loved was learning. I was that kid who did chemistry projects for extra credit, and who would chat with her teachers after class. I made straight As, and got a scholarship to go to university.

But, studying computer science or something of that sort was never really on my radar. A lot of my guy friends had those plans. Me? I wanted to save the world. I had big dreams about building a career as a biology researcher, travelling the world to study ecosystems and endangered species. My models were Jane Goodall, Charles Darwin, and Rachel Carson.

Coding was a fun hobby. I built my first webpage back in the good 'ol days of Geocities, several years before I graduated high school. I think I had several animated gifs and I named the site after one of my (many!) online monikers. Several other sites soon followed. I'd spend time learning HTML and how to hand-code things in Notepad in between classes, homework, and hanging out with friends. Sometimes I'd stay up most of the night learning these things.

I purchased my first domain name in 2002, a year after graduating university with my hard-earned biology degree. I was working as a physician's assistant and wanted to keep coding in my spare time. A year later, I played with WordPress and created a blog to document my time in Massage Therapy school. I was in charge of editing the website for the clinic I worked at while still a student. I went on to design a website for the first clinic I worked for as a newly-minted RMT, and built websites for every clinic I worked at in my 8-year massage career. This might have been a sign.

I'd always appreciated massage therapy for it's ability to help people heal from aches and pains. But in the process, I created a lot of aches and pains for myself. My personal injury list grew, and I found myself enjoying the creativity that designing and building websites allowed me - creativity that simply wasn't possible (or appropriate) in health care work.

A few years ago, I started noticing the shift. My friends started asking for help with their websites. I'd have conversations with techy friends about design and code and be really pumped up by them. I took on a major website project for the Toronto Zen Centre, where I am a member. I gave online marketing and social media advice to a number of colleagues.

Last year I took the plunge. Actually, it was more like dipping a tentative toe into the water. I started building a freelance design/development business, but only very part time, as a supplement to my massage income. A personal crisis earlier this year forced me to look at this career path and make a decision: was I in, or not?

Soon my legs were in the water. Then my body, and eventually I was fully immersed. I 'retired' from my massage clinic in May, saying goodbye to many wonderful patients and colleagues. This was difficult, but so very necessary.

And why 'happy little code'? I'm sure many of you remember Bob Ross and his wonderful PBS series, The Joy of Painting, from the 80s and early 90s. He used to always look so joyful creating all of those happy little trees. I too feel joyful to be able to create and play in this digital medium. So yes: happy little code!