I learned how to code on accident when I was in the fourth grade. Not from one of those computer games set up to teach kids how to do basic programming while drawing things. Not from flash cards and books. Nope, I didn’t start coding through a conventional way. I learned how to code on accident from Neopets.

After school, I would get home, hop out of my mom’s car–she was my teacher from 4th-6th grades, and no, I wasn’t homeschooled–, and rush to my dad’s old Windows 98 laptop. I’d wait through the five minute process of connecting to the Internet (yay dial-up!) and hope no one was trying to use the phone in our house. First website I would log onto: Neopets.

iMac on Desk with Neopets in Browser

And that’s where my interest in coding began. Yes, Neopets. That site where you could play games, pick out your own pets, name them, and if and only if you were really fancy, paint them with special paintbrushes. But that wasn’t what my fascination with the site revolved around. At some point while surfing through good ol’ Neopia, I noticed how fancy some user’s profiles looked. Talk about making my impressionable 9-year-old-self feel inferior.

As a kid who spent most of my time drawing, painting, doing anything artsy, I wanted to know how to control visuals on both paper and the web, and my Neopets user profile is where I started. How? Well, with a lot of view page source and reading code. Did I know what I was doing? Not a chance. But you better believe I figured out how to make my username hot pink and have a dotted bottom border of dodger blue.

It didn’t stop there though. If you’re familiar with Neopets, and I mean really familiar, you’ll know about guilds. For those of you who need a refresher, guilds were online clubs you could join in the Neopets community that ranged from topics like Harry Potter to one of those fancy paintbrushes I was talking about earlier. In fact, there was one Harry Potter guild in particular that really pushed me to be more creative. On these guild home pages, users could create graphic layouts with different boxes filled with text.

My tiny, little brain was completely obsessed with the layout on this really popular Harry Potter guild’s home page. I’m talking an image of Hogwarts at the top with realistic flashing lightning in the background, a section that updated points for each house inside the guild, and all kinds of magical visuals all done through code and design. I’d be lying if I said I managed to get that good as a 4th grader, but I did learn a lot about div boxes, relative and absolute positioning, and overall styling through CSS.

High five to my elementary-school-self for finding a worthwhile skill before I even knew what acne was and high five to my parents for not limiting my Internet time too much when I was a kid. Oh, and high five to you too, Neopets.