This is a long read, only meant to let you in on what drove me to be a Software Developer more than twenty years ago. How it enabled me to develop my creative side from a place of curiosity and reverence, until I finally realise that I truly belong in their intersection.

Rubén Madila

Senior Web Developer / Graphic Designer

The source of everything

I wrote my first website when I was 15 years old. I did it almost by accident, out of sheer curiosity. I found the “View Source” button on the contextual menu that appears when you right-click on any empty part of a website. To my surprise, it made sense immediately. There was a head, a body, and a footer, just like a letter. There were section titles in descending order of importance and hidden information intended for the browser only. It was all there, fully exposed, sometimes even surrounded by useful comments.

That curiosity led me to just open a new Windows ’98 Notepad. My intention was to test if my browser could read a text file, hastily created by me, saved as index.html. It worked.That was the moment I understood that computer software is nothing less than a set of languages. Each of them abstraction layers turning instructions into 0s and 1s, one on top of another in a symbiotic mesh, just so humans could interface with hardware.

Just how my teachers said that in order to work in Finance, you would need to know Chinese, German and English, the internet required quite a few of them to be ready to become a decision maker.

These languages are searching for a golden standard that can bring consistency and predictability to help an ever-connected world. But sadly, it wouldn’t be fully understood as such until almost a decade later. Even then, we failed to see how a deep understanding of technology was now a matter of survival for everyone in a community. That for all the benefits it could bring, without a clear direction, it would fail to trickle down that benefit to the ones that matter most. And in a world where access to information can save lives, it is no longer something that can be safely left to the pejoratively-called “nerds” to do.

That science, technology and arts needs to contain the essence of everyone that creates it and can benefit from it, not just the ones that profit from it.

Specifically, the web needs a diverse community of people who are not only fluent in these languages, discussing the best path forward to evolve them into something that remains accessible for everyone, but also help implement those technologies into problem-solving tools for all types of communities.

I am proud that in the last ten years we have made great strides in raising voices that were absent before, but without the gigantic effort from grassroots communities unbound by big sponsors and corporate interests, open-source software will never achieve the goal of democratising information and its access.

Wasn’t that how the billionaires of today started? Weren’t those their words? Wasn’t that their promise? Because it seems to me that those ideals worked for their initial growth, but that same mentality won’t get you anywhere today.

Corporations eats any small clusters of progress, removes their identity and ensures the gate-keeping of an eco-system of solutions that they know will make us more independent, more freers to achieve on channels they don’t own or control.

The value of nothing

I grew up playing with DIY toys in the corridors of a hospital turned museum of modern art, Madrid’s Reina Sofia. Visiting my mum at work meant spending time walking around exhibits in all shapes and sizes, from abstract paintings to quirky sculptures. I always wondered how they acquired their incredibly high value.

I vividly remember two paintings I saw in my youth. I can’t recall the author’s name, but in my mind, they have now turned into a feeling of extreme confidence, broad strokes, simple passion, and tranquility. However, as much as they tried to convey their meaning to me, at the end, they could only be described by my eyes as two rectangles of almost solid colour, one fully red and the other green, hanging next to each other, without any further context.

I stayed there for minutes, feeling dazed and confused as to how anyone could pay millions for what I perceived as the output of an afternoon’s hobby.

It took me years to understand that sometimes that creates the point. That art as an experience, is entirely subjective; but dependent on the medium and the journey. The audience is left to inquire about its meaning, to themselves and others, where there could be plenty or there could be none. It’s a desperate attempt to communicate all things willingly and unwillingly, in a way that survives its own creator, that conquers time. A permanent expression of a concept, in its own accord, where everyone will feel a different dimension and depth.

For most things in nature, we will never know if there was ever an author, an intention. That’s its magic.

Everything we create as people has thousands if not millions of authors behind. We are an accumulative effort to grow as a whole, and art is what it felt during the journey.

That’s why I always loved it. I would probably be an architect or a journalist by now if someone hadn’t invented computers , the software, the internet and that a button to view the underlying code.

We are the consequence of our surroundings and that is the main reason to care for the environments we inhabit, the lives we share.

Self-Portrait, 2022

Preoccupation or content

But for some reason, it took me 30+ years to start considering myself an artist, even in its most humble form.

The narrowing path

All the way back when I was 14, circa 1998, I signed up to my school newspaper, writing video-game, cinema and music reviews, all of them still passions of mine. What started as a side activity would eventually turn from another social bubble into my safe haven. Strangely enough, this modest newspaper, probably due to the perseverance of its editors, would manage to be invited to movie premières with their officially-issued press passes. I cannot overstate the privilege that was. I grew up in a working-class area in the outskirts of a capital, a dormitory city named Leganés, where these opportunities where few and far between in a public school.

We (they) were sent trailers by distributors to report on, gush over, and nervously write about, coming up with clever questions, way in advance in case we were lucking enough to be picked during the Q&As. Getting my very own quote from Maribel Verdú seemed like, or still was, touching the stars.

At fifteen, mingling with legendary actors, some at times tripling my age (Paco Rabal, 1926-2001), always felt like staying in a hotel that you know you will never be able to afford. To watch them show me their honest work while I ran out of film on my camera, without knowing how and why it all came to be, became the accidental education in journalism, art, their industries and purpose. I gain a new appreciation for whoever decided that a small out of the way school was still worth it of attending such places, and I honoured the opportunity as such.

But art and entertainment always seemed at odds.

To see all those artists pouring their souls into a piece in the hope you understood what they meant, was intimate, personal and meaningful. I wasn’t entirely naive as I fully knew it was their job, but for me it felt confessional, like seeing the world with borrowed eyes, with as much nuance in the container as in what it contained. This applied to all mediums, if you knew where to look (spoilers, it was the library). So I kept on reading, watching, listening and playing as much as I could, in sheer awe of how much the world had to share. I became amaze to the overlap in concepts, patterns and stories, the same feelings being expressed over an over again, with different voices, different textures, changing with the time but in essence, the same themes. Feelings and facts, waiting to be acknowledged, fought over or laughed at, until they were finally reconciled with the world.

The deep dive

Even though I have always felt the need to create art, for most of my life I was told to treat it as a hobby. It was said that unless you could use your creativity to make money, pursuing art would lead to a life of instability and self-doubt. I saw that honest art was usually a bad investment and that ironically, money was one of the most important things I needed to be successful. As a result, I saw coding as the cheapest way to harness my creativity and achieve a stable income, not knowing any other way to express my emotions. Not before having a go at film-marking, with very mixed results.

As much as I loved art, I didn’t think I had a deep enough understanding of it or that I had a sustainable mean to be a part of it. Every time I thought about the relationship between art and money, it seemed like it was only used to raise profiles or as a high-brow investment scheme. So, I felt stuck with the advice I had been given. I found that my only way to express myself in a way that was financially viable was through talking to machines.

Day after day, since I was 18, I worked on a medium that was shaping the future of all art forms. I watched closely as they adapted, merged, and became one with technology.

In the end, I found that I loved the feeling of communicating with machines, understanding their logic, and watching them evolve as I learned to navigate their possibilities. I discovered a whole new world that spelled the beginning of a global revolution, where society’s voice would be trapped in a 6 inches mirror.

The eternal staircase

As the years went by and I established myself as a developer, I continued to create art in various forms, such as taking pictures, editing video, composing songs, drawing, and writing almost every day. My computers and cameras improved as I did. However, because my income was still generated by coding, I thought it unnecessary to over-engineer a platform to showcase my work. I believed that social media provided the resources and power to share, explore, and communicate with the world.

However, over time, I became disillusioned with the way big tech companies quietly ask for our contributions, forcing everyone to create and process media through their algorithm-driven platforms. But that’s an opinion I will leave for another discussion.

I never thought it necessary to share my journey or make it easy for others to see what I’ve done. As a result, I failed to create a place to display it. I realised that social media was the reason why I initially felt I didn’t need a website or portfolio. But in 2024, I believe that finding your own voice through a medium that keeps you as independent as possible is the only way to thrive.

I want my portfolio to be a monument to my efforts as an artist and as a professional, not a source of content to be digested in 1-minute clips.

Most people don’t have the power to change that, but it’s a chest-pounding feeling to finally notice that I do.

Creating tools that allow others to tell bigger, better stories is what drove me to code in the first place.

And the years of creativity, absorbing and expressing, have narrowed my focus to the importance of both matter and form.

The way in which we consume information matters.

As much as the information itself.