From Photographer to Web Developer

Willem portrait

Willem was working as a photographer when Covid 19 struck. As work dried up he decided to learn coding. He become a web developer by learning with Ironhack, a coding bootcamp which is the sponsor of this article.

Can you introduce yourself?

Hello! My name is Willem, I am originally from Amsterdam in the Netherlands but have been living in South London for the past two and a half years. I was a freelance commercial photographer before changing careers and completing a bootcamp in web development at Ironhack during the start of the pandemic. For about a year now I have been working remotely as a frontend web developer for creative and digital agencies in Stockholm and Amsterdam.


Why did you decide to learn to code and change career from photography?

I was always interested in building websites and coding in general, but was under the impression that learning it was extremely technical and math-heavy. I had skipped through most of high school thinking I wasn’t going to need most of what I was being taught and that I was going to study something creative anyway, so I had always written off anything remotely to do with science or math as something I couldn’t possibly do.

But, after the pandemic hit and I couldn’t work as a photographer anymore for quite a while, I decided I was going to make the most of my time and learn a new skill set. 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 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 is about writing incredibly complex algorithms was a big eye-opener for me.

How did you start learning to code?

I didn’t do a lot of coding before joining Ironhack. One Java course and a couple of Youtube videos on HTML and Javascript were enough for me to decide I was interested.

What made you decide to learn more about web development with Ironhack?

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

Ironhack had good reviews and I was keen on learning React, as I had read about it being used in a lot of companies’ frontend stacks. I liked the fact that they have campuses around the world and have a big international community as well.

What did you learn exactly at Ironhack?

The full-stack web development course focussed on preparing us with a range of modern languages and frameworks, most importantly Javascript, Express and React. We started off with the basics in HTML, CSS and Javascript, before learning to build everything from servers and Rest API’s to building React components and understanding their lifecycle hooks.

In addition we also got to use MongoDB to manage non-relational databases and were briefly introduced to web-hosting and AWS. I think overall it was a pretty balanced and effective way of learning the basics and having a broad understanding of what web development entails, whilst also going deep enough to be able to apply to tech jobs with confidence and the knowledge required to get hired.

What were the teachers like at Ironhack?

I thought our teaching staff were great. A young team of enthusiastic developers, some of whom did the bootcamp themselves not long before us, which was very reassuring. We started every day off with a standup, to see how everybody’s doing.

The atmosphere was always pretty relaxed and it felt like a safe space to learn and ask questions. Even though we were all spread around the world it never felt like it. I ended up meeting and working with people I would otherwise never have met. It also set me up for working remotely as a developer, as I was already used to collaborating with others online and over videocalls.

How did you get your first entry level developer job?

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. Their experience of the industry was vital in explaining why we, as bootcamp graduates, are just as appealing to companies as university graduates.

There are some obvious differences: of course a university graduate will have a deeper understanding of the theoretical principles of computer science, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better developers. A crucial part of Ironhack’s way of teaching is that they teach you how to teach yourself.

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 does a typical day as a software developer look like for you?

I work for a fairly small digital agency in Amsterdam. The pandemic for me has been a blessing in disguise, as I am the only employee not based in The Netherlands, but no one really notices. All our communication happens online and I really enjoy working from home. We work in small teams of about 2 developers, 1 UX/UI designer and 1 project manager per project.

This means I always know who to turn to if I have a specific question, and I get enough responsibility to feel proud of what I make. We tend to work in two-week sprints, with new features being released frequently, in close collaboration with the client. All in all it’s a great environment to learn and see the whole process from client brief to final product.

Do you have tips for people who want to learn to code?

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 would say start there: watch a bunch of Youtube tutorials, do a free online course to get the basics down.

Once you know that you like it, the sky’s the limit. There are so many other directions you can go apart from building apps and websites, those skills will never not be valuable. The second thing I would say is not to 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.

What are your career goals for the future?

My current goal is to keep growing and learning as a developer.  Modern web development moves very fast and it can be hard to keep up with everything that comes out. I want to make sure I become better at the technologies and frameworks I already know, whilst also staying up to date with the latest developments and have the opportunity to put those learnings into practice.

About Ironhack

Ironhack is an international tech school disrupting the way we learn about technology. Founded in 2013, we host 9 campuses across Europe, the US and the Americas, and are proud to now bring our Remote Bootcamps to the UK.

Our Remote Bootcamps will teach you the skills of the future from the comfort of your home, or location of your choice. You will not only learn in real time, but thanks to our Career Support Services and our Global Community of Ironhackers, you will also enjoy continued support to help you thrive in a new job or career.

Bootcamps include: Web Development, UX/UI Design, Data Analytics and Cybersecurity.

About the author
Pete Codes

Pete Codes

Hey, I'm Pete and the creator of this site. I am a self-taught web developer and I'm based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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