CareerFoundry’s Web Developmentmentor Simon Bacquie has been coding since he was 10 years old. He’s recently made the leap from working in companies to working remotely as a successful freelancer. In this mentor spotlight he’ll talk about the benefits of being his own boss, and how anyone aspiring to crack into a web dev career can go about forging a career path that matches their goals.
“__My career as a web developer started as an experiment, an idea that I played with, that ended up working out really well,” says Simon.
In its earliest stages, his curiosity about web development was driven by his love of an intergalactic sci-fi series known the world over. At the age of 10, Simon began dabbling in code by building HTML web pages, “mainly Star Wars fan pages,” he quips, which he published on a number of free hosting sites popular at the time.
Though this early experience would prove pivotal later in life, Simon’s future wasn’t necessarily on a single track. As his twenties approached, and with them the “the real world,” there were a number of career paths he was seriously considering.
“During my late teenage years I played with other career ideas, like art, and then psychology.”
While he certainly enjoyed coding and working with computers, it wasn’t passion alone that steered him toward becoming a programmer. Going into web development, he says, just “seemed like the most practical thing to do.”
_“By around age 21 I started forming some ideas about what my career was going to be.” A creative by nature, Simon wanted to satisfy his artistic side and increase his marketability by becoming a hybrid designer and developer, better known in the industry as “a unicorn.” _
His timing couldn’t have been worse. Like millions of young Americans, he was coming out of university during the worst recession the United States has seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Unswayed, Simon put together a basic portfolio site and began sending out résumés for development positions. In such a grizzly economy getting a job seemed unlikely, so he was really just hoping for a few job interviews and a chance to polish his interviewing skills.
“I was expecting it’d take a while to find work,” said Simon. As luck would have it, however, his job search lasted just four days. He got hired almost immediately as a full time developer, and it wasn’t long before the benefits of development work solidified his resolve to continue down the development career path.
“About three months into my first job, I realized how much freedom and flexibility I had at my job compared to other people my age. I knew then I had made the right choice.”
Although finding a job didn’t prove too difficult for Simon, there were other obstacles he needed to overcome early in his career. Many would assume that the greatest challenge to becoming a web developer would be the process of learning to code, but Simon says this wasn’t the case. For him, the biggest struggle was much more psychological in nature: a beast known as “Imposter Syndrome.”
Imposter Syndrome is something that even experienced developers struggle with, and is characterized by a feeling that you don’t actually know what you’re doing; that you are pretending to be something you are not in order to save face and, often times, your job.
So while it’s obviously important for young developers to get their coding chops up to snuff, Simon warns that a solid understanding of programming isn’t the only thing they’ll need as they enter the workplace.
“Confidence isn’t all about filling your head with as much programming knowledge as possible. Eventually, you have to be okay with yourself as you are right now, and believe that your knowledge and ability are good enough.”
Armed with an arsenal of programming languages and the confidence to go out there and take chances, the world is a young developer’s oyster.
“After my first job,” says Simon, “work prospects just kept getting better and better. They still are, actually!”
As with many of our Web Development mentors, Simon’s career has gone through a number of work environments from startups and corporations, to agencies and freelancing, each with its own set of pros and cons.
“All of the companies I’ve worked at have been relatively small, ranging from three people to 250 people,” says Simon.“Smaller startups tend to have a more relaxed environment, where management is largely based on trust, and you get a lot more ‘real,’ satisfying work done.”
Agency work also has its benefits, but they come at a price. The constantly changing projects make for a wonderful and diverse learning experience, but, says Simon, “the deadlines were tight and we’d spend less time developing and more time talking directly to clients.”
Corporations can provide stability and bountiful resources to work with, which can allow companies to invest in some very interesting projects. Still, says Simon, “at times it felt like more time was spent on process than on actually building cool stuff.”
Although different work environments will alter how developers work, Simon says there’s a general structure that devs working in teams will follow, whether they work in a startup or a big corporation.
A developer’s day will often start off with a “Stand-Up” or “Scrum” meeting in which members of the team meet for around 15 minutes to quickly discuss the things they’ll be working on for the day, and sorting out any impediments or dependencies within the team’s goals.
“You might have other meetings throughout the day, such as planning meetings where future work is discussed, or ‘retrospectives,’ where everyone gets together and talks about things that went well, or didn’t go so well over the past couple weeks, and what can be done in the future to improve.”
Apart from that, says Simon, it’s mostly writing code, testing it, and pushing it live. Members within a team will collaborate using a variety of tools, from Slack for chatting/messaging, to Trello and Asana for project management.
In spite of all the technology out there to help teams work together, sometimes old methods are still the best ones. _ “For more complex discussions on software design,”_ elaborates Simon, “you’ll probably get together in front of a physical whiteboard, and actually draw your ideas out with markers.”
After spending years working in teams and with companies, Simon recently left his job in 2015 to become a freelancer, and he doesn’t seem to be looking back.
The benefits of being a freelancer, says Simon, far outweigh the cons. “You could say that freelancing is ‘more work’ [than working for companies] because of all the miscellaneous tasks involved with running a business like accounting and invoicing…but It doesn’t feel like ‘work,’ because you’re doing it all for yourself.”
Simon is a huge fan of working remotely, and this is part of what attracted him to becoming a mentor with CareerFoundry. “Being a strong believer that remote collaboration can work,” he says, “I was intrigued by CareerFoundry’s model in particular, where students and mentors are getting together remotely over the internet, from all over the world.” Simon is currently working with 13 students of CareerFoundry’s Full-Stack Web Development Course. He also boasts three alumni, one of whom is already working as a full time developer.
Teaching others is a great way to keep one’s skills sharp, but Simon says he has other, more personal reasons for mentoring students at CareerFoundry. _ “When I was trying to break into the field, I didn’t have anyone to look up to, or tell me what I should or shouldn’t expect out there,”_ he says. _ “I see mentoring as a way to be that person for someone else.”_
From interesting and fulfilling work, to flexibility and stability, there are many reasons to get into web development, and many paths aspiring developers can take. Simon recommends trying to figure out what direction you’d like to take, then diving into studying.
“Try to think ahead about what you actually want to do as a web developer. If you want to be a freelancer, think about who your target market will be, and what the projects you deliver to your clients will look like. If you want to get hired as an employee, look around at job postings and get a feel for what’s out there. With an idea of what to focus on, you’ll find the inspiration to apply the things you’re learning to other personal/professional projects you’d like to work on.”