Blake Connally is a freelance graphic designer, photographer and web developer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Blake specializes in both front end and back end web development and is fluent in several web and software languages.
What’s a day in your life like?
I’m a software developer during the day. I wake up about 8am in the morning and go to work at a local company here in Oklahoma. Basically what I work on there is enterprise level programs, software and websites. It’s not really anything too creative; it’s more logic-based applications. I do that until about 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening. I come home, and that’s when the fun begins. And by fun, I mean more development.
When I get home I do freelance work and design stuff. That’s what I enjoy – going to work, doing the daily grind, and then coming home, chilling out and doing freelance and design stuff. I do that until 8 or 9pm and then I go eat. Something new that’s been going on in my world is that I’ve hired two new people, one person from Pakistan and another person from India, who work for me overnight. So, when it hits 10pm, they wake up. We do all of our project meetings really late. I make sure that they’re on track with their projects and that they have what they need for the next day. From there, it’s about 1 o’clock in the morning before I ever close the computer. By the time I wake up, they’ll be ready to call me with updates on what they got done that day.
It’s non-stop, but I love it. It’s literally development 24/7.
What path did you take to get started?
It’s a really interesting path. I’ve done graphic design for at least 5 years now, so I’ve really been involved in design and photography. I’ve also been into business – finding good business techniques and startup ideas.
It all started a year and a half ago when I had the idea to start a cryptocurrency exchange. It’s basically like bitcoin, which is an online currency. I hired someone to make my website for me. I paid the guy $200 to get it up really quickly. Later on down the road, I got to the point where I needed to improve the website. I’m the kind of person who’s pretty cheap. If I’m going to do something, I want to learn how to do it myself; I’m not going to pay someone else to do it. I’ve done that with cars, websites…everything I’ve done, I’ve tried to do it myself if I can.
I got into coding and I thought wow, I could actually make really good money off this if I did it for other people. I put in two weeks of trying to learn to program, but then I completely trashed the idea. I thought this sucks, I don’t want to do this. But four or five months later, I gave it another shot.
I started on a website called Codeacademy. On the website, they have tutorials and guides to help you learn. I did two or three weeks of it and got bored with it after I learned all the basic stuff. Then I decided that I was going to get freelance jobs because I thought I was ready.
I was not ready.
I got my first freelance job, and the guy paid me $120 for a website that I would charge thousands for now. It was rough at first because I was trying to do it all, I knew nothing, and I had a deadline of two weeks. Literally for 10 to 12 hours every day non-stop I would be trying to learn.
That’s one thing I always recommend to people who are trying to learn. Go for the hard way. Codeacademy helped me a lot, but when I was pushed to figure it out in a short amount of time, it made me learn really quickly.
What is your background?
I got my first computer when I was 8 years old. It was a MacBook Pro. I was dying to get my hands on a computer from the very start.
Throughout school, I felt separated from a lot of people. I didn’t want to be there. I felt like the people around me didn’t understand what I was thinking or what I was doing. It was tough. I was never really a fan of school; it was just something I had to do. I got through high school and I graduated four days ago. I finished six months early, so I’ve been out of school, but I officially did it four days ago.
The tough part last year, my junior year of high school, was I completely lost the vision of purpose in school. I didn’t see it for me, especially when it was time to start applying for colleges. Luckily, I have a really supportive family, but at first they said, you’re not going to college, are you crazy? It was tough because so many people think you need to go to college. And for many people, it is the right way to do it. Development is just one of those areas where you can make it happen without college.
During these past six months I told myself since I graduated from high school, I’m going to get something going, or I’m going to go to college. Three months into it I got a full-time job as a developer.
What resources would you recommend for others looking to do something similar?
I always recommend this guy who is a programmer, but he doesn’t actually do programming tutorials. He does motivational guides on how to live your life effectively while programming and developing. His name is John Sonmez and he runs a YouTube channel called Simple Programmer.
As far as websites, I always tell people three. Google, Stack Overflow and YouTube. All you need is that. You don’t need anything else.
I don’t read many books, but I probably should, because smart people read books right?
For classes, always Codeacademy or Free Code Camp. Another thing that’s really popular and that I’m really supportive of is coding bootcamps. It’s a three-month course from 8am-5pm. It’s like college, for programming only. I’ve seen it really shape people, and they come out with great skills. The bootcamps range anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000.
“You can’t just talk the talk; you’ve got to walk the walk.”
Do you have any tips or insight to share with someone looking to get started?
Something I always tell people when they’re first starting is that the first three months are going to suck. You’re going to think you hate programming and that it’s not right for you. The first three months are all about just doing it. That’s what I struggled with, so that’s why it took me longer. It’s the struggle of not knowing something that intimidates people. Once you get past that three-month mark and you learn one language, everything becomes clear and every language makes sense in some way or another.
The advice I would give myself would be to charge people more. I remember when I would charge $30 or $50 for a full portfolio. That’s a joke to me now. That would only get me through half an hour of development.
It’s all about knowing what you’re worth. That’s what I and a lot of other people struggle with. It applies to a lot of different career sets and applications. Whatever price you think you’re worth, triple it. Even then it’s not even close to what you’re worth.
I’ve had people tell me, you realize you’re getting paid to learn how to build a career. It’s a win-win. You’ve got to balance the two ideas. I’m getting paid to learn, but I’m also worth this much.
Is there anything else you’d like to add, share or elaborate on?
You can’t just talk the talk; you’ve got to walk the walk when it comes to development. That’s a major issue that I’ve found with developers, especially through social media. I’ve hired developers through social media who have presented themselves as really good developers. Once they start doing work, they have no clue what they’re doing.
Being a developer is not about being popular; it’s not about having a following. It’s about whether you actually love it. You’ll easily be separated from people who actually care about the skill set and have a passion for it. If you don’t actually love it, don’t do it. It’s not worth it. It shows to other people. If you’re not real, other people see it. Don’t say you can build a world when you can only build a Lego house.
Check out job postings on freelance websites. Start with small projects and build a portfolio.
Know your worth…charge the right amount for your work.