Finding a Niche in the Intersection of Art and Technology

Without web designers and developers, our websites would be bare-boned, half-functional, boring, confusing, you get the point… The talented people who fill these roles bring the web to life through a combination of careful calculations, artistic interpretations, and creative innovations.

Women In Tech, a growing network of women dedicated to closing the diversity gap in tech, recently spotlighted Kathryn Reina in their Instagram Takeover series. Reina, a Los Angeles-based front-end web designer and developer, found her niche in the intersection of art and technology. She is the Lead Designer/Developer at the boutique branding agency Wicked+ in Los Angeles, CA. 

Paralleling her Women In Tech feature, Reina let us in on the journey that led her to the revelation that there is art to be found in code—and why she refused to fit nicely in one carefully defined career box.

How she ended up in tech… 

“Never in a thousand years did I think I would end up in tech,” says Reina. “I wanted to be an oil painter, but after college, I found myself not knowing if I even wanted to use my BA.” She earned a degree in Arts, Entertainment and Media Management from College of Charleston, but she didn’t know how or if she wanted to put it to use. 

“Never in a thousand years did I think I would end up in tech.”

“I knew I loved art, digital media and discovering systems and patterns,” she says. “And then a lightbulb went off—web design and development covers all those bases! Now with a clearer vision, I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps and start over. I had to take ownership once again over my education.” And take ownership, she did.

On being a self-taught coder… 

“I took intensive online coding classes and still do to this day,” says Reina. “I started with HTML and CSS, followed by Javascript, PHP, liquid, json, and now I’m beginning to dabble with some WebGL and image shaders.” Coding is like learning a foreign language—or multiple languages, if you consider how different each is. 

While you could go to school and earn a degree in web development or computer science, Reina stresses the availability of alternative options. “If you are interested in learning how to code and you don’t have the time and resources to attend a traditional university, you are not alone,” says Reina. “There are affordable online options that let you learn at your own pace. I like to use Lynda.com, Treehouse, and codepen.io for my continuing education.” 

But you don’t have to don’t do it all on your own… 

Web development is its own community of smart, curious people—many of whom are more than willing to help out a fellow dev if they can. “If you really admire another developer or designer’s work,” says Reina, “let them know! Reach out to them on social media. Ask them for advice on how you can improve. Level up!”

Reina acknowledges that it can be scary to put yourself out there and ask for help. “You’d be surprised how many people will be receptive and want to help you,” she says. “I connected with my mentor through Instagram.” 

Another way to connect is through open-source development. It’s a software development practice of making code publicly available for other developers to learn from it, study it, improve upon it, and tweak it to their needs.

“I love open source,” says Reina. “Let me repeat: I love open source! When freelancing, there have been times where I’ve had an issue figuring out the code. Turns out, my situation is 9.9 times out of 10 not unique. The hive mind on Stack Overflow, CodePen, JSFiddle, and even Reddit have helped me figure out solutions.”

Advice for designers/developers… 

“Not all feedback is going to be positive,” Reina says, acknowledging the struggle of creating work for another person or company. “Don’t live in your feelings! Remember your situation is not unique. Not every project you work on is going to be a portfolio piece and that’s okay.”

“Back that shit up with data.”

As for what to do with negative feedback, Reina first takes into consideration the critic’s point of view. If necessary, she’ll defend her design choices with reason and data. Here’s an example, she says, of a recent client conversation: “I told them, ‘I chose to reorder navigation items based on page visits. The ‘How It Works’ page has the most hits, so I chose to list that first in your mobile menu.'” 

People tend to respond better when things are presented as logical decisions rather than opinions. “Back that shit up with data,” says Reina, “and this will make your life easier when explaining design choices to clients and often improve your relationship with your clients!” 

And it’s important to consider the other side of the critique process. “If you find yourself in a position where you have to give critiques,” she says, “I find people are a lot more receptive to feedback when you start it off with a compliment.” 

Why you don’t need to limit yourself… 

“We can do and be more than one thing.”

“Early in my career I was told that I needed to choose between design and development,” says Reina. “I didn’t want to choose, and I knew deep down if I could do both, my earning capacity would be higher—so I should strive to do both! We can do and be more than one thing, so why not? Remember: you’re a boss and you can do and be anything you set your mind to!” 

Kaitlin Willow

Kaitlin is Founder and Editor in Chief of The Vim. She works for Dermstore during the day and writes novels and short stories in the evenings. She lives in Long Beach, California with the coolest dog in the world, Benny. (Find him on Instagram: @bennythejetsetter)

 
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