I often get emails or comments from people, saying “Oh, I’m so jealous you get to travel, work on your own projects, etc.” Are they really? The reality is it took a lot of work to get there, and there is still a lot of work to be done. This blog post is not professional advice or consulting, but a mere glimpse into the road I took to get to this point.

Changing industry and building a new resume

In 2008 I quit my job as a marketing manager at a local non-profit. This was when President Bush announced we were in a recession. I didn’t get laid off, I quit because I did not want to be in this industry anymore. I wanted to build web applications, learn code and design for interactive. Print was dead to me. Like Master Yoda said, I had to unlearn what I had learned.

My degree was in drawing and painting and I had a few years of experience as an administrative assistant and marketing. How the Hell was I going to convince the tech industry that I’m legit? The solution for me was to create a new persona—a true one. I needed to become someone who could design, code and was knowledgeable in the field. Something art taught me was that you could talk and talk all you want, but in the end, people want to see the portfolio of what you have actually done.

I was unemployed with no savings. I remember saying aloud to myself, “Well, time to figure this shit out.”

I got some books about HTML, CSS, PHP and Javascript and relied heavily on some of my really good friends who were developers to pick their brain about their craft. Oh man, if @sxtxixtxcxh and @raid5 had a nickel for every time I asked a question, they’d be worth more than LinkedIn by now.

Now I needed to find a place where I could sit with my computer and really study. My neighbor Megan suggested, “You should check out Zoka Coffeee in Green Lake. You could walk or take the bus there and just work.”

Unlearned. Now time to learn.

For three months straight (if not longer after I found a job) I went to the gym each morning and walked to Green Lake to go to Zoka. I remember the first day walking in—felt like a black sheep. Everyone seemed to know each other and it was packed! I quietly sat down at one of the comfy chairs in the middle and started reading. I spent 6-10 hours each day reading, writing code based on what I read and sketching. My test site was my personal website, which at the time was static HTML/CSS—finally was converted to PHP, then WordPress, then PHP and many other iterations.

The more I learned, the more people I met there. It became a community of inspiration for me—a place where I could go and focus on the work. I definitely owe a lot of what I’ve learned to that place. If you’d never been, I highly recommend it. No, I wasn’t paid to say that.

Somewhere along the way, I no longer became an administrative assistant or marketer on my resume, but a designer and front-end developer. You need to literally transform yourself, in what you know, what you can do, and who inspires you.

In July I received a phone call from ExactTarget. The Indianapolis-based company wanted to interview me for a remote position based in Seattle. After weeks of interviews, they made me an offer. I jumped in without knowing much, but decided to accept the offer. It sounded like a great opportunity. The question I remember, “how do you feel about traveling to Indianapolis once in a while?”

Uh…what?

Being an independent team member

In August I flew out to Indianapolis for New Employee Orientation. I have a job! I never really traveled much on my own before. In fact, the only time I could recall traveling alone was to South Bend to interview for admission in the fine arts program at the University of Notre Dame. I was the 3rd choice out of two available spots! That, is another story!

My mom bought me a suitcase, picked up Wilson and I was off to Indy for a week. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing. The only thing I knew was that it was with email (which I had experience with) and some consulting work. When I heard some of the brands I was going to work for, I was stoked! Wow, never in my life did I think I would be able to step in and do this work. I would soon learn it was definitely baptism by fire! During orientation I met so many talented people, including one of my best friends Rob. It was a bit intimidation at first. As we went through the class, everyone was talking about all these great companies they worked for. Me? Oh, I did some freelance work and non-profit work.

The pace was so quick. I think I my job description changed three times before I even started working and changed bosses like that. I absolutely loved the pace. Here was a company that entrusted their employees to get the job done. Their mentality: hire determined people with talent and let them do their thing. My old boss was a huge micro-manager, so this environment was different. They basically did some email intros and sent me back to Seattle to start working with my client.

I worked for ExactTarget for about two years and gained confidence in my ability in working with clients of this magnitude and traveling alone, eating alone, and doing things alone. After a while I resigned from ET, which is still one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life. I became passionate in User Experience Design, building web apps and had a desire to travel and work remotely.

I decided to go self-employed.

Going self-employed: diving in head first

Let me say this first-off: there is NEVER a good time to become self-employed. It’s like waiting for the tides to be perfect. Sometimes you have to just take the chance and ride that wave that you choose. That’s what happened with me. This resignation was not like the first. I planned and really thought out what sort of work I wanted to do, had some prospects lined up and it was just a matter of execution.

It took two months of work before it was time to form a company, Xhatch Interactive. Who did I form it with? My friend @raid5! It is so nice to come full circle in some ways. The person who taught me so much about the industry is now a collaborator.

I am writing this post as I am taking a break from doing client work in Barcelona, Spain. I’m not quite where I want to be, but feel like I have a career and direction I’m working towards.

Moral of the story

Finding a job is NOT EASY!!! I think there is a perception, with the rise of new media, that you can connect with contacts you know, network and find work. Sure, it helps, but once you boil the Klout and brand down, you have the foundation of your skills and experiences. Always rely on that. I probably applied to 250 jobs, including ones out of my industry as I got desperate before I was called upon to work for ExactTarget.

My encouragement to you, if you’re looking for a job or something different: pull out all the stops. If you don’t know the skills, learn them. If you need help, find a mentor. If I can help you somehow, contact me.

Keep learning. Keep being inspired. Keep being curious.