The year was 2002; I was working as technical support for an internet provider. It wasn’t always busy, and although playing MUD and hanging out on IRC were some of the ways I and my colleagues used to pass time, eventually, I started blogging, and that is when things started to change. Looking at what other blogs had, I started to learn HTML and CSS to have a nice-looking blog. Sometime later I started building free templates for other bloggers, and that led me to win a layout competition organized by the blog platform we were using. The prize was a book. I chose a PHP book, and that’s how I first learned to code in PHP.

Fast-forward to 2022, twenty years later, writing is now my main occupation, but PHP has always taken a very important spot in my life and my career. It is the language that formed me as a developer, it is the language in which I built code that paid my bills for a long time, and it is the language in which I built many fun projects and learned about other technologies. It is still my language of choice for demos and side projects. More importantly, PHP is the community that embraced me and supported me throughout my career. 

And it wasn’t easy, you know? I thought of giving up many times. At first, because learning how to code is hard – we often forget that. It was even harder back then, with little to no resources in Portuguese. The books were always outdated, and the overall developer community wasn’t so inclusive. But the hardest part was actually making money. I’ve been through times when I was so broke I didn’t have money to take the bus to attend classes at the university. Meanwhile, some of the kids (the rich ones) who attended uni with me already had cars, didn’t have to work, and some were even enrolled in two graduations at the same time. It felt incredibly unfair at that time, but the show must go on – so I kept going.

From time to time, it is important to think about what we have accomplished, because memories fade easily and we often forget how hard it was at the beginning. It is also very important to let people who are just starting know that it wasn’t a breeze, but they will get through it. If I were to meet the Erika from 20 years ago, here’s some advice I would give her:

  • It is hard to get good at anything. But there will be a tipping point when you are ready to pay the price – which is not much about money (although some things will require it), but paid with time and dedication. Money can’t buy this.
  • For a time that will feel very long at first, you will feel like you don’t have any progress, and you will feel frustrated. You may even think of giving up. But you absolutely must trust the process. Once you are past the “wave breaking point”, you will be able to move faster and actually enjoy the process. 
  • Meaningful change requires long-term commitment. Long-term commitment is not a sprint, it is a marathon; keep your pace, and focus on consistency. 

Some of you may know that I like to lift weights. Although this is not something completely new in my life, and I have been going to the gym inconsistently for many years, it was only in 2022 that I decided to take it more seriously, with the ultimate goal of getting really strong. This has been an incredibly humbling experience because the progress is so slow! For many months, there was nothing to be seen. No visible change. And it felt a lot like learning to code, the frustration, the feeling that others had it easier than me, that I wasn’t good enough. Like walking miles and getting nowhere.

But I kept going, focusing on consistency, with patience, and dedication. Now I can clearly see the difference, I am in fact lifting heavier weights than months ago, and the practice is consolidated in my routine, something I look forward to when I wake up. I think that’s the most important bit, actually – that consistency pays dividends, and you gotta play the long game.

At this time of the year, it is natural that we think about what we’ve accomplished and whether or not we reached our goals for the year. I want to ask you to please extend to yourself the same graciousness and generosity you give to others; sometimes we can’t see it, but there is always progress. At the very least, you learned a few different ways that won’t work for you. Rest, recharge, and think about what you want to accomplish in 2023. And remember to make it a marathon, not a sprint.