How the Otaku Journalist became a web developer


On my second day at the office, I decided to tidy up my cubicle.

Into the trash went the half-used Chapsticks; into the recycling went the cryptic scrap paper scrawls. I found a full crate of beer under the desk and gifted it to a coworker. Into the newly cleared space I put my Kuroneko and Elsie nendoroids and my pink office stationery. A small, bright oasis in the monitor-lit cave we call the Web Tech Team.

For the first time in five years, I am working at an office. I got a part time job as a Web developer for a local think tank. I couldn’t tell you in depth about the think tank’s political views, but just get me started on their cutting-edge development environment. This is a team of WordPress devotees who’ve mastered many open-source softwares I used to cover as a technology reporter, but have always wanted to learn more about.

All week, as I made my short commute to work for four and five-hour snippets, I wondered how I was going to tell Otaku Journalist readers about this. In many subtle ways, I’ve considered cubicle work as the antithesis to my career plan, and now here I am again. I thought it was office life that I despised at 24; maybe it was just the work I was doing that I didn’t enjoy. I’ve made some hard realizations, like maybe I gave up too easily before. Like maybe there are a lot of different ways to be fulfilled in your career, and not all of them are sitting at home in pajamas.

Because actually, I am really enjoying this job. I found out about it offhand from a friend I met on the anime convention circuit, and submitted my application because I love to interview for jobs. (Who doesn’t love to sit and talk about how great they are?) I’ve done this several times, where I go to an interview just to try on a new life, only to decide my freelance life is better. But this one, I couldn’t turn down because it didn’t make me give anything up. I’ve been a little low on work, so a new part time gig will let me continue to work with my existing journalism clients while honing my existing developer skills and picking up some totally new ones, too.

In my first week, I documented detailed walk-throughs of every software I installed and used in the Web Tech Wiki; ravenous for more. My development process is blunted by years of working alone, and even as a journalist whose job it was to discover and report on new technologies, I’ve become set in my own processes. Performing familiar tasks in an unfamiliar way feels a little like going back to college. Everything is a learning experience. The first thing I noticed when I came on board is that there wasn’t really a protocol for how to install software and adapt it to the company’s unique legacy development environment. I couldn’t exactly Google it. So I ask and I try and fail and try and succeed, and I write down absolutely everything.

At first, coworkers asked me why a journalist like me wanted this job. But to me, it’s easy to see the parallel between this type of work and niche reporting. I assess my audience—this company. I write my documentation with their needs and skill levels in mind. I write basic explanations like “Why do we use this software?” for people higher up who may re-evaluate our development process. I write brisk troubleshooting workflows for colleagues. Even when I’m writing a computer program, it’s all about the audience. The function has to solve the exact problem the client has, in a way I can explain to him without bogging him down with complexities. The syntax has to match the programming style guide so other developers can instantly grasp what it’s about, and add their own additions for years to come. Web development, like journalism, is about the people it serves.

Throughout the six years I have blogged at Otaku Journalist, I have had a lot of different roles aside from journalist. Student, intern, college professor, traditional author, self-published author, Web designer, graphic designer, anime con volunteer. It’s odd that this is the first role to really make me question my identity. I’ve always instructed readers to create a career niche for themselves that they won’t grow out of—so what do I do now that I have?

When I was 11, I wrote in my diary that, when I grew up, I wanted to be either a writer or a computer programmer. “Why not both?” my adult self replies. While this is an expansion of the specific niche I’ve previously shared with the world on this blog, my old diary reminds me that it’s who I’ve been all along. Only my narrative has changed.

Photo via Unsplash