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Breaking out of the 'comfort zone' with open source

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I'm joining DigitalOcean as a developer evangelist, where I'll work closely with the PHP community to help create amazing things! I'm really excited about this, especially because I never thought I would have such an amazing opportunity. Just to put things into perspective, I want to share the story of how I got where I am right now.

Why independent work?

I'm from a small city in the northeast of Brazil where it's very, very hard to find a reasonable professional opportunity in Information Technology (IT). The IT industry there is full of what we call "nephews," who are employers' relatives who can supposedly do the same job for half the price.

Web development in the area is dominated by advertising agencies using Wordpress for pretty much everything. Nothing against Wordpress, but a lack of variety can be frustrating to developers.

The lack of good jobs was the main reason I focused on independent work. I started with side projects using Google AdSense, and at some point those projects became more profitable than what I was making in my job. As a result, I quit to spend more time on my independent work. This was back in 2008.

Stuck in the 'comfort zone'

The opportunity to work from home doing my own projects was amazing, and it enabled me to try many different tools and approaches for web projects. The money wasn't bad—considering the low cost of living—and Google paid for my schooling, among many other great things!

But despite all the good, there was something very dangerous in that environment, something I couldn't notice at that time: isolation. I'm not talking about working alone at home—that's never been a problem for me. I'm talking about spending too much time inside a comfort zone, satisfied with the knowledge I already had. Everyone's at risk—whether you're working from home or in an office full of people.

I deviated from my goal of developing cool apps and found myself engaged in the "blog business." I didn't have confidence in my programming skills, and how could I? I was isolated in my own little world where I didn't see other people's code, and nobody saw mine.

Then Amsterdam happened. My husband and I were planning a move to Europe, but I was skeptical—I didn't believe I could get a good job. Then, he got a job in Amsterdam that would support both of us. We probably wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him.

What changed in Amsterdam

The PHP community here is really strong, and we have Rafael Dohms to thank for that. Getting in contact with those amazing folks inspired me to get out of my comfort zone, and that little world where I used to live before started to look too small for me.

I didn't want to be isolated anymore—I wanted to play with the big kids. I went to my first PHP conference ever, the Dutch PHP Conference (DPC), in 2013. There, I met people I never thought I'd see face-to-face in my life—people like Matthew O'Phinney, Igor Wiedler, Anthony Ferrara, and Matthias Noback.

Everything escalated very quickly from that point. My first talk in English was in the unconference track of PfCongres a few months after DPC. I was nervous, but I did it. I kept trying and practicing, and my first official speaking event was at CodeConnexx in November.

2014 brought PHPBenelux, PHPUK, and phpDay, where I met Rasmus Lerdof himself (again, something that I never thought would happen).

Now I'm being presented with a new challenge, as a developer evangelist DigitalOcean, and it means a lot to me. But I'll never forget from where I came from and the long path I walked with the help of my husband, Hugo. I just want to say this: Great things happen to those who persevere and work hard. Keep walking.


Originally posted on ErikaHeidi.com. Reposted with permission and under Creative Commons.

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About the author

Erika Heidi - Hi there! I'm Erika, a web developer / devOp working with PHP and Linux for over a decade. I worked many years as an independent developer, creating my own experimental projects monetized by advertising. Since September 2014 I work for DigitalOcean as Developer Advocate. I started using Linux a long time ago, when you had to use minicom to connect to the Internet, graphics would not show up without startx, and services would not get installed...