Part 2 - What are my credentials?

Written by Eric Muss-Barnes, 4 December 2018

Many people write articles and make videos about programming, but few ever reveal their education or experience. I don't believe that's ethical. If a student shows an initiative to learn, the teacher owes the student some validation. Everyone deserves to know whether or not their instructor is competent. Right? Before teaching you to build websites, I will show you the respect of listing my credentials.

I'm going to give you a "short version" and a "long version" of my qualifications.

The short version is just four things:

1.) I have been using computers since 1984. 36 years ago. That means if you're really young, I was programming computers before you were born. If you're getting old, I started using computers back when you were still really good looking.

2.) As of 2020, I have been earning a living, building websites professionally, for over 22 years.

3.) I spent nearly 7 years building websites at Walt Disney Studios.

4.) I have taught classes in web development to my fellow Walt Disney Cast Members.

Personally, I have been given the authority to hire developers and new employees in the past, and if I were looking to hire an Internet programmer, I wouldn't need any additional evidence. Those traits alone would tell me this person was competent, knowledgeable and would make a great asset to any company. I mean, heck, if Walt Disney Studios trusts someone to teach web development, clearly that person knows what they are doing. I would not care about their most recent projects or what computer languages they knew. Those things wouldn't matter. What would matter to me is that they had clearly paid their dues, and proven they are a qualified and valuable employee.

Many of you are undoubtedly intelligent people, well-versed in the human condition, who agree with my assessment, and you are now adequately convinced of my sterling credentials.

For those folks who are simply curious to know more, I can share the long version of my career. Here goes...

I've been programming since childhood, when my friends and I would spend hours after elementary school composing Choose Your Own Adventure text games on Apple IIe computers in BASIC.

By the time we reached high school computer classes, my friend Mike and I invented our own curriculum, because the courses were so boring and simplistic, and we needed to do something a bit more challenging. Our high school computer teacher was literally starting with, "This is the power button. You switch it on to turn on the computer."

Uuuuuuuuuuugh. We were way past that point!

I built my first website on a whim, in the summer of 1997, as a way to promote my first novel, The Gothic Rainbow. I woke up one morning and thought, "Websites are becoming a popular thing. Maybe I should make one to showcase my book..."

So, I did.

I had no idea what I was doing. I researched the process, and within a few days, I had taught myself to design and program my first website.

Back then, there were no classes in high school, or even in college, to teach any of this. Web development was cutting-edge technology, and the only way to learn it, was to educate yourself.

A few months later, I applied for my first developer position, at a web design company called ACME Express, in my hometown of Cleveland.

I didn't get the job at ACME Express, but I recommended by childhood friend, Mike Rozack, for the role, and they hired him.

About 6 months later, when the graphic designer at ACME Express quit, Mike suggested they hire me, and they did. So, it worked out great. I helped Mike to land a job, then he helped me to land a job, at the same place!

Working at ACME Express was my first opportunity to really learn a lot about web design, development and programming. These days, people who build websites are compartmentalized into many different specialized roles. Back then, 22 years ago, we had to be good at everything. We were UX/UI designers, SEO specialists, front-end developers, HTML experts, JavaScript programmers, database specialists, and back-end developers, all rolled into one. Back then, we were just "designers" or "programmers". We didn't specialize. We learned to do it all.

After leaving ACME Express, I went to a company called PR Webcast, where we did some of the very first live business-to-business webcasting events in the history of the Internet. We would set up video cameras, and a portable computer, and broadcast presentations of corporate meetings, live on the Internet. Very innovative stuff. Commonplace today. But in 1999, we were pioneering genuinely state-of-the-art work. I was the second employee hired at that company, and I did everything from program the website, to design our magazine advertising, to building out and purchasing equipment for our video production studio.

Sadly, I got laid off from PR Webcast. I had never lost a job in my life, and I was living on my own, with rent to pay. Needless to say, it was a terrifying experience. How was I going to keep a roof over my head? Food on the table? What was I going to do? How would I survive? I spent the next two years searching for a job, and I was never able to find anymore work in Cleveland. Despite all of my knowledge and experience, not one company in my hometown had the wherewithal to hire me. As the song says, "I never dreamed 'home' would end up where I don't belong."

Time to move on...

Since I had no future in Cleveland, I relocated to the place I dreamed of living all my life, sunny California.

Since coming to the West Coast in 2003, I have done web development at a Hollywood gaming company called ODVD Games... where I was laid off in less than a year.

I have done web development in Compton for the largest Jeep customizing company in the world, 4 Wheel Parts.

I have done web development in Woodland Hills for Weider Publications, home of the Mr. Olympia contests... where I was laid off in a month.

I have done web development in Culver City for American Idol... where I was laid off in less than a year.

I have done web development in Chatsworth for a printing company... where I was laid off in less than a year.

Needless to say, this was a rather disheartening pattern.

And I'm being totally sincere. I was never fired from any of these jobs. These were all layoffs. How many people do you know who have been laid off 5 times in their career? Not too many. I have the weirdest job karma ever. I was laid off 5 times in 4 years! Nuts!

But, finally!...

Finally! There was hope!

In the spring of 2006, after years of struggling to find steady work in California, Fate stepped in and finally gave me a chance at the greatest opportunity of my professional career. I landed a job as a web developer at Walt Disney Studios. I have never been happier at any other job in my life. It was phenomenal. And the most amazing part was that Disney came looking for me! I didn't even apply for the job. They asked to see me!

How did that happen?

I was signed up with a placement agency called Aquent. Disney happened to recruit people through Aquent. Disney saw my profile among a list of Aquent candidates and said they wanted to meet with me. I went on two face-to-face interviews at Disney and within a day or two, I was hired!

Within a year, I was converted to a full-time Cast Member and I spent the next 6 years working with the greatest team of people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. All of my fellow Disney Cast Members were smart, and friendly, and competent, and for the first time in my entire life, I felt I was employed at a place where I was truly appreciated, and my work had genuine purpose. I have never been more proud of my job and my career. I had finally made my mark. I had finally validated my worth. I would never need to go on an interview or have to impress anyone. I had paid my dues. I climbed onto such a lofty plateau of prestige and respect in my career, I would never need to prove myself to people again. Being at Disney is like being at NASA. Once you are accepted into an organization so momentous, you will never need to convince peers of your value. My long years of struggling were finally over.

I felt I had truly accomplished something... until I was laid off. Again.

The fateful day happened in the fall of 2012, taking out about 100 of my fellow Cast Members, wiping out my entire department, and all of our managers. And I am not ashamed to admit, losing my job at Disney was the most painful and disappointing experience of my professional career.

That was my dream job. If I can't be a fighter pilot or an astronaut, building websites for Walt Disney seemed like a darn good alternative. I wanted to retire from Disney. I wanted to stay there for 30 years. Alas, that was not my fate.

In 2014, I landed a job at a real estate investment company. It wasn't Disney, but it paid the bills. Coworkers would ask me all the time, "How did you end up here? You're so talented!" I'd tell them, hey, I'm nothing special. I'm just like you. I do what it takes to survive. No sense in holding out for "the perfect job" when life has taught me, any job can be taken away from you. I'm fighting to keep a roof over my head, same as anyone else.

I managed to stay there 4 years... then they went bankrupt, underwent SEC fraud investigation... and I was laid off.

That was 5 months ago. I'm still looking.

Have you been keeping count?

I have been laid off 7 times.

Seven.

Never fired once.

Laid off 7 times in 17 years.

But, that's okay. I have repeatedly proven my value, more than enough times, and my work truly speaks for itself. And if I fail to hit the lottery, earn a living from my novels, or marry Charlotte McKinney, I will just keep searching for a stable job at a company that will recognize my worth.

Thankfully, I have been appreciated by my peers and had many coworkers say a lot of nice things about me...

Katie Turnbull
Manager, Product Marketing at Kelley Blue Book (worked with Eric at Disney Interactive)
"Eric's love and enthusiasm for the Disney brand is inspirational and contagious! I was fortunate enough to work with him at Disney Interactive Media, as my role changed, one thing was consistent: Eric was always there ready and willing to answer my long list of questions as I tried to understand the tech side of the projects I was producing. As a developer, he went out of his way to make sure that everyone understood the technical processes (and there were quite a few in the Mouse House). Eric was also the go-to for files and background on projects that most people had long ago forgotten. There were numerous occasions where we were searching for archived projects and when we lost hope, Eric came to the rescue. I am confident that Eric will exceed anywhere he may end up, and I'm sure Walt would have been honored to have someone like him with such enthusiasm on the team!"

Jason Toney
Editorial and Content Strategy at AXS.com (managed Eric at Disney Interactive)
"Eric is weird. I mean that only in the best ways. He is enthusiastic and engaged in all of his projects. He looks to over-deliver, often providing supplemental materials and details in a profession that often fights requests for documentation. He volunteers for more to do even, and perhaps most often, in areas that aren't what he's being paid to do. He is passionate about creating and supporting a positive environment for his colleagues. I imagine, however, he would use the term friends. Eric is a professional who seeks out ways to make it easier for others to do their jobs. Y'know... weird."

Kathy Bailey
Global Release Manager (managed Eric at Disney Interactive)
"I consider myself extremely fortunate to have a developer like Eric on my team. He shows great enthusiasm to get the job done and done right. He's a very quick learner and takes initiative on his tasks but also on other work that needs to be done without having to ask. He's able to articulate a problem, idea or any information for that matter to both his peers and to clients to help them make informed decisions and get the project to completion. Eric is also an incredibly positive person who always has a smile on his face. He always has a positive word for anyone that needs it. I would gladly have Eric on my team again."

Jody Belliveau
Certified SCRUM Product Owner (worked with Eric at Disney Interactive)
"Eric was a joy to have in the office. He always has a smile on his face, is enthusiastic and full of team spirit. Since he is so passionate about the Disney brand, I always enjoyed bouncing my crazy ideas off of him to see if they would stick. When his eyes lit up, I knew I had a winner. Eric is a multifaceted and talented individual: photographer, videographer, editor, author, developer (and those are just the skills I know about, he could have 10 more). It would be a joy to work with him again. I hope our paths cross in the near future."

Sean Higby
Flash Developer (worked with Eric at Disney Interactive)
"Eric embodies the ideals of the Disney Company. Hard working and full of a desire to represent the company's brand with the respect it deserves, Eric was known to always be standing up for 'What would Walt do?'. In addition, his technical skills put him on a long list of projects on a recurring and growing basis. In any company, this is a thought process of taking a step back to look at the larger vision of the corporation, and execute on that, is a trait that any company should be seeking in their staff."

Malinda Lloyd
Experienced Interactive Media Producer (worked with Eric at Disney Interactive)
"I didn't realize until our last day at Disney.com that Eric and I had never worked directly together on a project. I know Eric because he is outgoing and friendly. He became one of the people that I regularly hung out with because he was always positive and knew the technologies we were working with well so if I got stumped he could point me or his cohorts in engineering in a new direction. He was a staple of my days at Disney.com - organizing bike rides for his coworkers, showing up every Friday in his Mickey ears, and generally being one of those people who connected others together. If you want someone who works hard and gets things done, I would highly recommend Eric."

Adam Brown
Producer, Digital Media and Product Manager (worked with Eric at Disney Interactive)
"Eric was the very first person that I got to know at Disney Interactive. He is easily approachable, laid back and yet the consummate professional that never takes his eye off the details. He is a problem solver, a tactician and one who never settles for second best. I have run into several situations where issues arise and he is up for the challenge; on time and on budget. Eric is the must-have person for any team. It has been an honor to serve with him."

Kevin Reem
Producer / Director (worked with Eric at Disney Interactive)
"Eric Muss-Barnes is a quadruple threat - Computer expert/content developer, film maker, skateboarder and writer! I first met Eric at Disney.com and he is great fun to work with, always takes time to listen and gets excited about every project. He is innovative and experienced and no job is beneath him. His enthusiasm about life makes him a joy to be around."

Adam Schricker
Web Developer (worked directly with Eric at Disney Interactive)
"Eric was a great guy to work with. A very good web developer who works through challenges or difficulties. Great guy to work with and great team player. He will figure out the right solution to reach the project/product goals. I highly recommend Eric Muss-Barnes."

Martin Hernandez
Network Administrator (managed Eric at Woodbridge Group of Companies)
"Eric is a true professional and a master of his craft. During the two and a half years that I worked with him, I never saw a task/assignment too large for Eric. His attention to detail is second to none, which is one of the most valuable skills one can have in the web design/programming field. Eric is also an amazing team player, as he always volunteered to help out others in our IT department with assignments that weren't even in his job description. Eric designed and maintained multiple domains and websites for our company, a job that would typically require an entire web development team to do, by himself and did so with the highest quality. Any company would be lucky to have Eric as a member of their team, and would immediately see an upgrade in their web development, graphics, and design."


Knowing my professional experience is only partially relevant.

I don't know about you, but I prefer having teachers who are well-rounded individuals. Teachers should not be robots, merely regurgitating the knowledge of their career skills. We are human beings, with countless facets to our personalties, and all of our life experiences inform our competence. A valuable teacher has multiple interests and accomplishments. They possess wisdom and intellect about subjects outside the realm of their instruction. Right?

Let me give you a prime example.

I have written and published 11 books, including 6 novels.

I once had a recruiter tell me I shouldn't include such information on my web development resume, because it wasn't relevant.

First of all, I was stunned she was so rude.

But more importantly, I was astonished by her monumental ignorance.

I told this girl, my experience as a novelist is extremely relevant to my expertise as a programmer. Writing novels proves I am creative and I strive to come up with original solutions to problems. It reveals I have the capacity to organize huge amounts of information into a cohesive product. It illustrates the fact I am diligent and I see big projects through to completion.

From a technical standpoint, being a novelist may not have anything to do with building a website, but being an author allows any perceptive person to recognize my devotion to finishing challenging and large scale endeavors.

The fact I needed to explain this to a recruiter told me she didn't know her job very well. Additionally, it also told me, she didn't view her clients as human beings. She saw them as machines and automatons, only interested in their technical expertise, and oblivious to their virtues as people.

You are far more than a student.

I am far more than a teacher. And those facets of my personality inform everything I do, including building websites.

I'm a native English speaking, fifth-generation American citizen, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. That is relevant too. The fact I want to share such information demonstrates a sense of American pride and Midwestern values. A down-home, blue-collar, work ethic.

I am licensed to solo-pilot a hang glider (USHGA Hang 2 Rating Aerotow), drive a truck (Class A CDL), ride a motorcycle (M1 Endorsement), and canter a horse. All of those things show you, I ain't a sissy.

I can shoot firearms, cruise on snowboards, and sword-fight. I've been trained to shoot by county sheriffs and trained to sword-fight in the Society for Creative Anachronism. That shows I'm not a sissy either.

My photography has been showcased and sold in art galleries from Ohio to Los Angeles and I've worked with Playboy models like Gwendolyn Sweet, Pamela Mars and Katie Lohmann. Since people have bought my work, it affirms I'm a pretty decent photographer, and getting good at photography takes some commitment. Also proves I'm not one of those socially-inept, weirdo, awkward computer nerds. Playboy models don't voluntarily hang out with creepy computer nerds.

I wrote, directed, and starred in a series of instructional skateboarding videos, called Learn To Ride A Skateboard, which have been viewed by over 5 million people. That confirms my other instructional projects are popular and well-received. The average high school teacher, with 7 periods and a class of 30 students, across 2 semesters, teaches about 420 students per year. With over 5 million views on my skateboarding videos, I have taught a quantity of students the equivalent of teaching high school for 11,900 years. When a project goes viral to the point that 5 million people pay attention to your instructions, you have to be pretty good at teaching.

As another side project, I purchased several acres of the Mojave Desert, where I documented the design and building of an off-grid tiny house project. Being a strange old hermit out in the desert doesn't tell you anything, other than the fact that I might be a Jedi Knight pursued by Darth Vader.

Are those good enough credentials?

(In my best Obi Wan imitation): "You don't need to see my credentials."

One last thing. If you want to read the most detailed resume ever written, just read the book I like to call my "vocational autobiography", entitled How You Can Get a Job at Walt Disney Studios Without a College Degree. That is 300 pages of my life-story, telling you everything about my career, from my first paper route when I was 12 years old, to working at the most prestigious entertainment company in the world.

As I said at the beginning, if you are going to invest your time into learning from me, then I owe you the courtesy of sharing my qualifications. If you decide my experience makes me worthy of teaching you, I hope you enjoy the rest of the series.

Thanks for reading.

And remember, kids, the world owes you nothing... until you create things of value.




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