Today I want to write down how I experienced my first job, what it was like, what I've learned, and the general learning curve.
The year is 2011. I was still in school and needed to find a company to start an internship.
First, you'll need to know that I just finished college and got a degree in Communication and Multimedia Design. However, I wanted to convert this into a master's degree in Multimedia Design.
With my degree, I could get into the fast course to cut down one year of my master's.
That sounded like fun because, to be honest, I was done learning and wanted to start earning money.
Hence, we get into the story of my first job, how it went down, what I've learned, and what I would have done differently.
Finding an internship
I was not one to have big ambitions to have an internship at Google or another big tech company. I wanted to work, a friend had just finished his internship as a designer, and we referred me to
I contacted them, which was a perfect fit since they were based in the city next to where I lived.
They were a small two-person team (husband and wife) who created High-end WordPress themes.
To understand the dynamics, the wife was a previous graphic designer, and the husband was a jacuzzi sales guy.
It was a weird dynamic because of what it turned out to be: Design was outsourced, Development all of it was me, just me, a guy still in school learning this stuff.
But you know how it goes. As an eager young developer, you take on anything.
During the internship, I focused on one big theme, which was a good seller. I had to do a ton of documentation on this, so I didn't get around to making much more during the short intern period.
During this period, I got offered a job since they were pleased with my work. I was over the moon. I was still working as a shelve stocker at the local grocery store. So this new job would be a super opportunity.
Converted the internship to work
So, we converted my internship into a job. I was, however, still in school. But whenever I could, I went to work there.
These turned out to be some long days and most of my weekends.
However, I was learning so much here, even though it was WordPress development. It taught me a lot about building scalable elements.
The one thing that was a bit of a pain, I was their only developer, and the designs were getting crazier and crazier. At one stage, I was so stressed about not being able to convert these crazy designs into themes.
Not just because of the challenge but because of the time pressure. The guy was a salesperson, so he knew how to put pressure on me.
I saw my school work and grades going down. My motivation for anything was nowhere. My friends hadn't seen me in a while.
And the worst was they were making thousands on the themes I developed for them.
Time to refactor
It was my first job. I thought I had to do whatever they asked me. At one stage, I talked to my parents, and they told me that having a job is also about standing up for yourself.
Do what's right, so I asked for an open conversation with the owners. This ended in a good chat, and they agreed they might have pushed me a bit too much.
Things slowed down, and I was able to create quality work again.
Talk to people about the struggles you have!
I was also getting way better at WordPress development. We had so many themes at this stage that it was fantastic.
For those around, we were competing against Kriesi, the #1 seller, for a long time.
I also got some excellent benefits and bonuses at this stage. I guess they figured their company wouldn't survive without me.
Good developers are hard to come by
I also learned that good developer were hard to come by at this stage.
With that, I mean people who could work on their own. That didn't need full guidance.
The whole time I worked there, we always had at least one intern. And my expectation was always they could do the same or better than what I was doing.
This, however, was never the case. I was typing the code for them.
I was also far from being able to manage people, as I was still learning myself.
But in general, I learned I had value, and this would only be proven in the companies I turned out to work for later.
How it went south
As you read in the middle of this article, this job didn't last. There were some struggles. They got sorted, but it was never really gone.
The owners started talking the whole holidays because I was running the business anyway.
They didn't respect the work I did. When I would proudly present a new theme, they would be like yeah, just put it online, let the sales speak, and now start working on a new one.
It was frustrating not to get some recognition. And besides that, I thought, well, if these guys can run a business paying for three people and an office space, where only one is doing the work?
What would happen if I just started my WordPress theme factory?
And that's exactly what I did. I quit the job. They weren't happy about that.
And started my own business: Mysterious Themes.
Starting a business
These were exciting times. I remember going to the business registry, walking out there as a new business owner, and feeling like I would make millions.
I knew how the themes sold and how much time it would cost me to build them.
1+1 = millions!
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
If you know theme-forest, the site where we sold most of the themes, they have a pretty rough review system, much like the iOS App Store these days.
The company I worked for had a set name already. And apparently, that helped in the reviewers being a bit slack.
Most of my stuff now got rejected for mostly design reasons. And to be honest, I wasn't a designer.
The themes were perfect from a technical point of view and really state-of-the-art.
I built drag-and-drop themes even before that was a thing.
This was a bit of a slumber. My dream went down quickly. Another thing I didn't think about was taxes, all of a sudden, I had to do taxes, and I had no idea what was happening.
This was all way harder than I thought.
I ended up choosing the second-best WordPress sales website called mojo-themes. (This is 2012).
They accepted my theme, and it got a few sales in the first week, but nothing like I was used to.
I was getting a bit bummed out.
Then I realized at the previous company, we got many requests to install the themes for people, but we never really got into this.
I thought it would be a quick win since installing them was easier than building them from scratch.
Converting the business
This was when I converted my business into a Website for a €500 deal.
It worked well, considering one theme would only sell for about 30€, and theme forest of whoever would get half of that in commission.
I started talking to friends, family, and people online. Advertising a website entirely done for 500€, for most companies, even small businesses, was not a lot of money.
And it turned out to be quite a lucrative business for a while.
Although, at one stage, I didn't ask for support past delivery because it turned out to be a silly approach.
Some people would come back a million-and-one times to get things changed and complain their computer crashed. (I know, right, how is that my problem?)
That was no fun for me. I loved making websites, but dealing with clients at this stage was not my strong suit.
I ended up putting this to a halt to find a new challenge, where I would build actual high-end PHP websites.
Things I've learned
The most important thing I've learned during this period was that you need to get going.
Don't wait for the golden opportunity; make your own. Try out things, and speak up for yourself.
Also, it doesn't matter what your stack is. WordPress is no longer a service I would offer, but if you're getting started, it's a sound system for someone.
Building themes and plugins is quite a cool challenge, yet there are enough guides and tutorials to help you.
It's all about being proud of what you make.
Another important thing I would have done differently is to focus on learning. I decided to start working while still in school, which was cool on paper, but I struggled quite a bit getting all the schoolwork done in the real world.
I think this goes for a lot of things, not just school. If you are learning, dedicate that time to understand what you are learning thoroughly, it doesn't mean you can't work on things, but don't stop the learning process just because you think you're there already.
One of the biggest learnings I did is that communication is critical. This is a wide saying, but it goes a long way.
When you communicate with people, your boss or your client, they must understand you. They know what's going on, where you stand, and, more importantly, where they stand.
This is something I started to improve in the jobs to come, and the one thing I find is a crucial element to success.
One more thing, I've seen this many times, people see their internships as just that. I challenge you to see it as a job. It might convert into one. But even if it doesn't, you should experience how it feels to work.
Don't settle for getting coffee for some grumpy dude. Demand work and pick up the work. Also, don't be afraid to ask questions. That's what you are there for.
So, what happened at your school?
Luckily, I'm quick to turn things around and pick up my schoolwork without much effort.
I finished my degree in 3 years.
I even decided to do a full university degree in Communication, Multimedia design. However, that was just too much. I applied to the Uni but didn't get picked.
It's a raffle study, so I had to wait another year. I decided not to go that route and kept focusing on self-learning and working.
It was an exciting time when I grew as a person and developer.
People have asked me if I ever use my degrees; honestly, they are on my resume, but I've never been asked to show them.
Not saying you should put false information on your resume, but I wonder how important it is.
As a person who hired people, I don't even care about that. I tend to go on a personal base. There must be a match between you and the company, and then, of course, your skills should reflect that.