Here's the brief version of my story


Hi, I'm Dylan Layne Tanner—a full-stack developer from Detroit, Michigan.

My first introduction to programming was a floppy disk copy of Microsoft QuickBASIC that my uncle gave me when I was nine or ten. For those who are too young to remember, QuickBASIC was a tricked-out version of Microsoft's QBasic (which shipped with DOS and early versions of Windows) that included a compiler as well as an IDE. To a kid like me—who loved things like Legos and Lincoln Logs—this was the ultimate building toy. I used it to make text adventure games, my own text editor, and utility apps to help with homework. Since then, I've always seen programming as an exercise in creativity, a way to transform one's imagination into reality.

I built my first website for my grandparents' art galleries around 2003. It was a typical table-based layout of the era without an ecommerce system, but it taught me all the basics. Around that time, I also started an eBay store of my own, taking artwork that wouldn't sell and finding creative ways to market it. That store ended up being wildly successful. After reinvesting some of my profits, I found new sources of inventory and ended up running that store for fifteen years (!).

I rediscovered web design in college (2009-2011). Some of the stuff I did back then makes me cringe. My skills as a programmer hadn't gone beyond what they were as a kid, but I knew how to install WordPress, build a custom theme, and cram a bunch of instances onto a server. I did learn one important lesson from that period, though: People care about what you can do for them, not how you do it. Web design was a nice side gig, but I didn't see a future in it then. I graduated with a degree in history, decided NOT to go into academia (thank God), did an expensive stint in grad school (2012-2013), and thought I'd found a "real" job as a social worker.

I was wrong.

Long story short—I ended up in a terrible job, left it, got depression, beat depression, and reinvented myself. The one constant through all of this was my old "side gig," which was now my only source of income. By now, I was routinely getting word-of-mouth customers and random clients who had stumbled on my website. But these new projects were hitting the limits of what I knew how to do.

So I devoured all the courses, books, and tutorial posts I could find and became much more comfortable with PHP and Javascript. I forced myself to learn things like server provisioning, CI/CD, and verion control. I started creating custom WordPress plugins instead of just configuring ones made by other people. I also started building web applications with Laravel. This enabled me to take on bigger and more challenging projects for clients than I'd done before. I finally could call myself a developer.

Now I had a steady stream of work and a livable income, but I was burning the candle at both ends. I'd hit the limit of what I could do as a one-man studio, but I wasn't making so much that I could afford to bring extra people on board. In 2018, I began looking at force multipliers that could help me increase my income without drastically scaling up my workload.

In 2019, I launched a new studio called 45° North Ventures with my brother, who is also a programmer. Inspired by my background in small business and a shared passion for localism, our focus is on building decentralized marketplaces and networks that help small companies and individuals reach a wider audience while still owning their digital presence. We're also the team behind Jackpine, a framework for building WordPress themes with modern tooling.

(I've also done some other interesting things, like being a bus driver, co-founding an educational nonprofit, and helping people in the criminal justice system put their lives back together.)

That's it! Be sure to check out the blog, and feel free to contact me.

Dylan