He was just 11 years old in late 1995 when his mother uprooted him and his sister from their home and life in Armenia after the Soviet Union’s collapse to pursue an uncertain future in the United States.
“It was a huge leap and risk for her,” Haik Avanian says, “and luckily we’ve been able to make the risk worth it.”
This Mother’s Day, Treehouse is sharing a handful of tributes to recognize and honor the risks taken, sacrifices made, plans laid, support offered and inspiration provided by the mothers of web design and development professionals everywhere.
Each one has made a tremendous difference in her child’s life.
“I think a large part of why I’m a designer can be attributed to the fact that my mother is a programmer,” Avanian says. “I was fortunate enough to be exposed to computers and programming from a young age — which got me obsessed and fascinated even though I didn’t get hands-on experience until my early teens.”
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In a land foreign to them, that exposure was an intentional nurturing of creativity and a fostering of love for the visual arts. That culminated with Avanian and his sister taking college-level art classes while still in high school.
“One of my fondest memories is drawing and coloring with my mom when we were much younger,” he says. “My mom’s enthusiasm and enjoyment of it was very real, and there’s nothing like feeling that an adult is having fun with you in doing what you enjoy.”
The two children eventually found design careers, but even then their mother’s vision was pressing ahead.
“We were living in Ohio then and had reached a comfortable life that was quite American,” Avanian explains. “… My mother took yet another step that helped propel us forward: She moved to Boston to take on a new job, as the premise of staying in the Midwest didn’t seem promising. Her move to Boston inspired and encouraged me to move to the East Coast to pursue my career as a designer and to be closer to my family.”
Avanian left Ohio for a junior designer job with a friend who started an agency called Big Human in 2010. Today, that agency has grown to more than 20, and Avanian is the creative lead.
Early Internet Adoption Plays a Huge Role
Web design veteran Kim Larson of Rochester, Minn., also owes much to her mother’s vision.
“I was lucky that my mom (and dad) realized the value of computers and the Internet even though they never really knew how to work either of them (and still don’t today),” she says. “We were early adopters of having a PC and Internet at home, and I think that played a huge role in shaping my career choice.”
Larson first learned about the Internet from “The Late Show” with David Letterman when she was in seventh grade. “He kept exclaiming, ‘World WIDE Web’ repeatedly like it was some sort of joke,” she recalls. “I didn’t pay any attention to what it meant.”
She remembers the sounds of dial-up Internet in her family’s home: “Deee deee deee drrrrhhhhhhhhhhhhh. That noise will never escape my brain. We had to get a second phone line so people could actually call our house.”
Along with computer access, Larson’s mother also instilled in her key skills that translate directly to her role as co-owner of Root River Studio.
“When I was a kid, my mom used to play a lot of memory games with me, like putting a random assortment of items on the table. We’d both stare at it for a minute, and then she’d cover it with a towel and we’d both try to remember as many items as we could,” she tells. “It was a game that I loved to play. And she would always play puzzle games with me, making sure that they were ones that would be challenging. It’s probably why I still love things that give me a good challenge or problem to solve. And I can certainly say that is one of the many reasons I love web development — because there is always a challenge or problem for me to master.”
Larson says creating websites fulfills her artistic and science needs. “I love to help small businesses carve out their niche in the World Wide Web. At times you’ll hear me belt out ‘World WIDE Web’ David Letterman-style — but I don’t always treat it as lightly as he did. I absolutely love what I do.”
Mom’s Lesson: Embrace Technology
Like Avanian and Larson, it was another mother’s foresight that set her son on the path to programming.
“My mother has been a teacher for more than 30 years, so she knows very well the value of a good education and the cost of the lack of knowledge,” Oscar Barrascouth of Phoenix says. “She has always been the type of person to tell me to go out and look for new things to learn, to expand my knowledge and never stop doing so. I joined Treehouse because I love technology, and I love using it to do good things for people, and it gave me the opportunity to keep on learning.
“However, I would have never known what a computer was if it hadn’t been for my mother.”
That’s because she paid extra money for him to take a computer class in kindergarten, where he learned how to print, type numbers and do other “groundbreaking computer science work,” as he calls it, like playing Pong.
That was 1986, and the class was the first time he’d laid his hands on a computer.
“Little did I know that it would be my future,” he says. “It’s funny, because every time I look at an old 1980s DOS system that a friend of mine still has running at his home, I remember my mother and what she taught me: Embrace technology, keep learning and be the best man for the job — always.”
Lessons like those stick in the mind of web designer Abbey Fitzgerald, too. Her mother, also a teacher, underscored how learning is a lifelong process. “Once you graduate, the learning does not stop,” she says. “I think this is very true in web design. The field is always changing, and it is a constant process keeping up with it.”
And that process sometimes demands hard work.
Giving Back to Mom
“Her work ethic was very inspirational,” Fitzgerald, 33, of Minneapolis, says. “I remember her grading papers and creating lesson plans well after the workday was done. I think web designers are also very career-driven people. We go to work but also have side projects and take the time to keep learning. There are so many web designers that go to local meetups and go above and beyond the typical workday. Our career does not end at 5 o’clock.”
One of Avanian’s recent spontaneous side projects infused some excitement into his mom’s life. Surrounded by his sister, grandmother and mother for a holiday gathering, he combined his web design skills with her hobby of knitting to launch Rekn.it, which offers to unravel customers’ old sweaters and reknit them into something new.
“I think the comfort of having everyone in my family around at once made it very easy for me to work on this project and finish it in such a short amount of time,” he says. “We published the site, and I sent it out to a few contacts; within the next few days, we got loads of traffic and attention from NPR. This led us to have to cap the number of orders per month to 30,” a number he later learned was a little ambitious.
“Soon my mom’s apartment was full of packages from all over the world with old sweaters waiting to be transformed into something new,” Avanian says. “My mom later got help from my grandmother, and they kept busy for a good six months before we decided they needed a break from their hobby.”
And thanks to his mom, web design newcomer Barrascouth is looking forward to a career of giving back:
“I enjoy teaching others about technology, the good it has done for our society, and showing others how it has given a voice to people around the world who didn’t have a voice.”