“The most difficult thing was becoming confident in my newly acquired skills.”

Image of Willem Prins
From Photographer To Web Developer

Willem Prins had initially written off an area of interest as something he could never do as a career. But after a short course, he discovered it was a viable option after all. Here's how he found an alternative route in, and the lessons he learned along the way.  

What work were you doing previously?

I was a freelance commercial photographer.

What are you doing now?

For about a year now I've been working remotely as a frontend web developer for creative and digital agencies in Stockholm and Amsterdam. 

All our communication happens online and I really enjoy working from home.

Why did you change?

After the pandemic hit I couldn’t work as a photographer anymore for quite a while. 

So I decided I was going to make the most of my time and learn a new skill set. 

How did you choose your new career?

I was always interested in building websites and coding in general, but was under the impression that learning it was extremely technical and maths-heavy. 

I'd skipped through most of high school thinking that I was going to study something creative anyway, so I'd always written off anything remotely to do with science or maths as something I couldn’t possibly do.

A friend of mine was doing some coding as part of his degree, and he suggested I try it to see if it might be something for me.

So, I did a quick Java course on Codecademy and was amazed by the short time it took me to grasp the basics and to understand how code works.

The realisation that it’s more about thinking logically and efficiently than it's about writing incredibly complex algorithms was a big eye-opener for me.

This Java course along with a couple of YouTube videos on HTML and Javascript were enough for me to decide I was very interested in moving into coding.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes! Absolutely. 
 
I have a steady job doing work that’s challenging and rewarding. I work with fun and like minded people on interesting projects. 
 
It’s a big shift in daily routine from my previous career but I'm enjoying it much more.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I miss the freedom my freelance photography career gave me, being able to plan holidays when I wanted and pick up work or slow down when it suited me. 
 
But now I have a steady income, and I don’t have to worry about client relations or acquisitions. That takes a lot of stress away and allows me to fully focus on the actual work.

How did you go about making the shift?

Initially I started looking for coding bootcamps in my city. 

I thought going into a physical campus would help me to learn better. But given that the pandemic lockdown had just started I was unsure whether I'd be able to do it in person, or if it would go online anyway, so I broadened my search.

Ironhack had good reviews and I was keen on learning React (which they teach), as I'd read about it being used in a lot of companies’ frontend stacks. I liked the fact that they have a big international community as well. I joined their full-stack web development course.

I didn't necessarily find my first job through Ironhack, but they helped a lot in the job search process. From setting up my LinkedIn and fine-tuning my CV, teaching us what skills from previous experience are transferable (more than you’d think!) and how to talk to recruiters and potential employers. 

In my current role I work with Craft and Vue, both of which I’d never touched before being hired. But doing the bootcamp enabled me to adapt quickly to new technologies and environments, and instilled a curiosity and drive to always want to learn more.

That has been key for me in going into interviews with confidence.

What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?

Nothing comes to mind. 
 
I could maybe have done more self-study about general computer science concepts besides what was taught in the bootcamp. 
 
I’m still learning a lot on the job and coming across new concepts regularly, so anything I could have picked up earlier would have been helpful. 
 
But I wouldn’t say it’s a big problem.

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

I had some money saved, and also luckily had some support to help me through the course.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

The most difficult thing was becoming confident in my newly acquired skills and selling myself in job interviews after graduating the bootcamp. 
 
It can be scary to apply to a full time role in a field you knew very little about half a year ago. 
 
Luckily Ironhack have a great job search mentoring program to embolden you to just go for it and feel like you can do it.

What help did you get?

My partner was incredibly supportive, spurring me on every step of the way. 
 
So was my family, they were all happy for me that I was making a change, which was a huge boost to me for sure. 
 
And as mentioned before, Ironhack did a good job of coaching me throughout and after the bootcamp. Our teaching staff were great. 

What have you learnt in the process?

I’ve learned that it's definitely a lot more doable than it might seem at first. 
 
At first I thought that I'd need to do a whole university course to learn a new trade, and that can be a blocker. 

Especially in tech, there is so much opportunity and the whole industry is constantly evolving. There are many ways to get a foot in the door and start growing a new career.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation? 

In terms of moving into coding, for me the most important thing to discover was that I actually enjoyed coding. 

I was always interested in designing and building websites but never thought coding was something I could do. So I'd say start there: watch a bunch of YouTube tutorials, do a free online course to get the basics down.

The second thing is to not compare yourself too much with others and to be kind to yourself when you don’t know something. It can be very discouraging if you get stuck on something that should seem obvious, or if you can’t figure out how to solve a bug in your code that you’ve been staring at for hours. 

This happens a lot and is normal, just go get a coffee and come back in a bit. Chances are you see something you didn’t see before. Also, get good at googling. Stack Overflow is your friend.

More broadly I'd advise someone that wants to change careers to not just look for the traditional routes for learning a trade or skill. There are shortcuts and ways to learn fast. 

If someone isn't sure what they want to do next, I'd suggest they go out there, meet people in their area of interest and ask them questions. That way they’ll get to learn what's needed to shift into different career paths and give them more assurance about taking the right path. 

Lastly, I’d just say “do it!”. 
 

Thanks to our friends at Ironhack for this story. To find out more about their work, visit www.ironhack.com, or learn more about them in our Retraining Directory.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.