How One Book Changed My Career

My First Web Development Book

I don’t know why, but I found myself thinking about this the other day and it kind of blew my mind.

Above is a picture of PHP and MySQL for Dynamic Websites by Larry Ullman, my very first web development book that I purchased in the Summer of 2004. I bought it for $24.99 at a Borders in Colonie, NY that has since closed.

At that point I was heading into my final semester in college, on my way to getting an engineering degree from a top-20 school for my discipline. I had done two internships, an 8 month co-op, and was on pace to graduate magna cum laude. Every skill that I had attained up until that point was preparing me for a long career as an engineer. If you asked anyone – including me – what I’d be doing with my life now, they would say I’d be doing some sort of engineering somewhere. All the evidence suggested as much.

That book changed everything.

After taking an information systems class the previous year, I decided to try my hand at learning PHP and MySQL so that I could try to build this crazy idea I had for a sports collectibles website. By the end of the summer when SportsLizard was launched, I was convinced that web development and web entrepreneurship was my future. I just sort of lost interest in all of the product development and process development stuff. Maybe because of my engineering background I had an appreciation and understanding for just how valuable a database driven website could be. There were nearly endless possibilities of problems that could be solved with that skill set, most of the time at little or no cost.

Even though I took a very good job upon graduation, I was always scheming in my mind how I could quit. I’ve read a lot of other books and read a whole lot of tutorials online, but the basic knowledge from that one book has been the driving force behind SportsLizard, any web development jobs I did for clients, and every site in the Pure Adapt, Inc portfolio, including Detailed Image. That book led me to want to have a greater understanding of web business – to learn SEO, web marketing, and anything else that you need to know to run a successful web business these days. As outdated as parts of it are, there are some great reference sections that I still use today.

In short, I was able to parlay the knowledge from that book into a career. And not just any career, my dream career. One that has freedom and flexibility and creativity. One that is providing for me well financially, but has the long term potential to be very lucrative.

A much better career than my engineering degree allowed for, despite all of the years of classes (dating back to the engineering sequence and CAD classes I started as a sophomore in high school), despite all of the internships, despite actually having a well paying job at a company that was willing to invest in me long term (like pay for my masters degree), despite going to a very very good school, and despite graduating towards the top of my class.

The skills learned in one Summer from one book that cost $24.99 were able to out-do all of that.

That’s insane.

3 comments on How One Book Changed My Career

  1. Tim says:

    It is funny when you look back and realize what were the triggering events/influences that create enormous life changing situations. What I find most interesting about these pivotal influences is that they are usually insignificant by themselves but they create the tipping point(I hate to sound cliche) based on a number of larger events surrounding your life at the specific time you discover the influence.

    A book that I read and a dream I had started the wheels in motion for an ENORMOUS life changing decision I made. I can understand the book, but the dream still blows my mind to this day…

    • Adam McFarland says:

      You really never know when something life-changing is going to happen. To me, that motivates me to always be open to new opportunities and not try to shut myself out from the world.

  2. Tim says:

    I’m totally with you, seeking new experiences and adventures is living! The fact that entrepreneurs never fully shut-off makes every aspect of your life potentially productive. You have to be careful not to be too impressed with your own actions though, that can be just as crippling as doing nothing, this is where balance and humility enter the equation. Not every idea an entrepreneur comes up with is good, I think you’d be surprised how many feel they are unstoppable and constantly brilliant, I digress….

    Open the floodgates to new experiences and concepts is a must to stay competitive in todays markets, the tactics and concepts used 5 years ago are slowly becoming unreliable, let alone 10+ years ago. The great part about this rapidly changing world is it creates ample opportunities for eager and hardworking entrepreneurs, created by the lazy and stubborn “businessman” of yesteryear.

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