Everyone has a “how I got started designing websites” story. In many ways, it is not a surprise that I landed here. Like many high school girls, I enjoyed Art class best. In college, I peppered my Comp Sci course load with Graphic Printing and Photography classes. But after graduation, I scored my first job as a corporate Cobol programmer, and that’s what I did for over 20 years. My last position, at a Wall Street firm, focused on coding monthly Brokerage Statements; my biggest “challenge” was to make sure the columns were wide enough to accommodate our CEO’s 11-digit net worth.

Wall Street

Nine years later, Fate took me down a new path. I married into an “instant” family with two small children, and left the corporate world behind. Even so, a few years later, our children had both settled in a full day school routine, and I was ready to explore new career options. We had just gone through a kitchen and master suite renovation, and I found the process fascinating. I was actively involved in planning both projects, and it seemed like something I would enjoy.

Opportunity to Reinvent

I enrolled in Interior Design courses at the local community college. Excited with the opportunity to “reinvent” myself at 40, I immersed myself in the program. My latent artistic talent translated well for drafting and designing kitchens. One instructor encouraged us to design business cards and create a website. Equipped with a Yahoo! Hosting account, their “SiteBuilder” tool and my “eye for design”, I set up a few pages with some text and photos, and just like that, I was in business, designing– kitchens and baths. (You thought I was going to say websites, didn’t you?)

Postcards were mailed out, announcing the launch of my website. Not long afterwards, I received a phone call from my plumbing supplier. He was impressed with my site and asked me who designed it. When I revealed that I was the designer, well, could he hire me to make one for his company? It was a defining moment. I agreed to do it, and made him a site using the now-familiar Yahoo! SiteBuilder.

Back to School

Back to School, Round 2

Part of me was very drawn to the creative aspect of web design, while the other part was equally drawn to the programming aspect of it. I found myself back at the community college, this time taking crash courses in HTML and CSS, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, and jQuery. My Saturdays were now filled with 6-hour sessions comprised of lectures and hands-on website coding, while my nights were spent devouring the pages of “Websites for Dummies” and “HTML, XHTML & CSS”. I couldn’t get enough.

I left Yahoo! behind, discovering new web hosts, new tools like FileZilla, and new languages like PHP. However, as much as I enjoyed designing sites, I was often frustrated that I couldn’t always execute my ideas and achieve the desired results with HTML and CSS. Enter: Joomla! (Seems I am subliminally drawn to companies that end in exclamation points.) Joomla! is a CMS (content management system) like WordPress and Drupal. I was mesmerized by the polished styling of the Joomla! templates. I knew this was a game-changer. “Websites for Dummies” was replaced with “Joomla! For Dummies”, “Joomla! Bible” and “Joomla! Explained”. Overnight, the quality of my websites went from “My friend made this for me” to “Look at our professional website”.  When I designed my own site for Viva Design Studio using Joomla!, my business started to get more conversions.

Dabbling in WordPress

Another defining moment came when one of my early clients told me his “SEO guy” admired the work I did on his site. The “SEO guy” wanted to know if I did any WordPress work, because his freelance developer had “moved on”. At the time, WordPress was starting to evolve into more than “just a blog tool”, becoming more popular as a true website development tool. I was hesitant at first, because of all the time I had invested in learning Joomla!, but he encouraged me to try Elegant Themes. Again I was drawn to the elaborate templates (or in WP–themes), but I still thought the themes to be almost as tedious to work with as Joomla! templates. I built two WP sites for him, but quickly reverted to my comfy Joomla! slippers.

Joomla vs WordPress

I continued to build websites in Joomla! for this “SEO guy”, but he had a stable full of WordPress clients and no one to maintain them. Knowing this would be an easy way to expand my client base, I agreed to take them on, forcing me to really dig in and embrace WordPress. “WordPress for Dummies” took its place on my shelf with the rest. But the real defining moment came with the release of Elegant Theme’s “Divi” theme.

The “A-ha” Moment

Flat Design was the new hot trend. Suddenly, sites were starting to pop up with this new Flat look, some single-page sites with smooth scrolling, and incorporated responsive formatting. Joomla! wasn’t quite as quick to jump on the trend, and Divi was released, that had all these features, right out of the box. The tutorials also showed another new amazing feature: the Drag and Drop page builder. I had always imagined building sites this way, with the ability to design a page with “Drop and Drag” modules. It is the single most amazing tool I have ever worked with for laying out web pages. I even use it for wire framing, because it is that fast and easy. Coming from an OLD School Cobol batch programming background, this concept of creating pages with predefined modules that you can drag around the page, and preview in an instant, is just incredible to me. I found it easy to customize the styling with some simple changes to the CSS. And now there’s also the option to buy a designer child theme for Divi, for a really unique, customized look.

Turnaround time for a new website used to take me a full month with Joomla! And I felt really constrained by the Joomla! templates, especially because they were very sensitive to too many customizations. But with WordPress and Divi, once I collect all my content, I could easily complete an entire site, with the exact layout I envisioned, with all sorts of customizations, in a matter of days! Divi has singlehandedly increased my productivity, allowing me to take on more clients, serving each of them better than ever! Now that is a defining moment.

What was YOUR defining moment? Share your story here.

Kathleen Kroll Romana
Kathy Kroll Romana is the founder of Viva Design Studio. She creates customized websites for a variety of business genres by getting to know the ins and outs of each business.
Passionate about all things design, Kathy is also known around her neighborhood as the go-to person for kitchen and bathroom remodeling advice.