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On Creativity

The perception of coding as a non-creative pursuit is problematic.

I have always considered myself to be creative. One of my earliest memories was drawing in my family lounge room at a child-size portable desk - it was bright yellow and had compartments on the side where I kept my pencils, crayons and textas.

My parents encouraged my creativity - I always had supplies and tried lots of things - sewing, cooking, cake decorating, painting, beading, pottery, paper making. I likened myself to my Grandma or Aunty Julie who between them taught me that being creative was fun and fulfilling.

STEM != Creativity

At school we had one lesson on HTML in IT. Other lessons focused on touch typing, Excel, Word and a tiny bit of hardware.

Growing up, ‘computing’ was the opposite of creative. In fact, like all science and technology, computing was boring (this deeply incorrect perception is a story for another day). To me, a career working with computers meant systems administration. This was not surprising as in my hometown, the only people I knew who worked in ‘computers’ were the IT teacher, the school systems administrator and the people who sold my parents our first computer. They were all men. This probably didn’t help.

Seeing the Light

I got into web by accident - I wanted to create an online portfolio of my university work animations (I did a degree in film/photography/digital media) and having asked my then boyfriend for Dreamweaver, was presented with an Ubuntu install and book on HTML. My first portfolio was a disaster and I nearly gave up when I saw it in ie6. I cried when someone on a forum told me I had 350 errors in my HTML. But after a few more sites and a great deal of confusion, I had a great portfolio of online work to snag my first job in the industry.

I absolutely adore the creativity of designing websites. I love that I can craft something from nothing. I love mixing with colours, typography, shapes, and images. I love thinking about how the site is going to solve a problem, or communicate with the user. I love the satisfaction of knowing that people are actually using the thing that I built.

Even so, for a long time I avoided learning back-end development. I still had it in the ‘dry’, ‘boring’ and ‘difficult’ box. And that’s the thing - all the tutorials and books were boring (because they built things I had no interest in making) or poorly written, or difficult. They all lacked creativity.

After a lot of encouragement from my then-boyfriend-now-husband I finally decided to give it a go. I named 2014 my ‘year of python’ and set about building an application to teach myself Django.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I didn’t have many expectations about learning Django. I knew it was a good framework and that Python is a great first language to learn. I hoped that I would like it, but had no idea how much personal and professional satisfaction I would gain by hacking away at my application.

To my surprise I quickly learnt that web development is innately CREATIVE. And - by extension - that web developers are creative people. After all - what is programming if not coming up with creative solutions to problems?

The binary of creative vs technical that was so ingrained in my education (where most students are funneled into either an ‘arts’ or ‘STEM’ stream) fell apart. I realised that I could be a web developer, because I didn’t need to identify as a technical person - I could just be me.

18th November, 2014

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I am available for new design and development work via Kabu Creative. To discuss a particular project, please contact me at n.harris [at] kabucreative.com.

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