Life update: becoming a web developer

In 2020 I took the decision to quit my job and become a programmer. I’ve been thinking about switching careers for a couple of years but I never took the leap. And then an opportunity arose where quitting my job and learning to code without having to stress about my finances became possible. 

A now or never situation

Just to give you a short bit of background on me: I have been working for 8 years as a digital content expert for an airline company. My main tasks were copywriting, translation (or outsourcing translations), SEO, liaising with UX and webdev for landing page creation and uploading said landing pages online.  

As you can imagine, the airline industry is not doing well during these unprecedented times. The global pandemic sped up my employer’s decision to undergo a heavy restructuring of the company. One of the restructuring measures was an attractive voluntary leave package (I’m not sure how this works in other countries, but in Belgium there are certain laws protecting employees during a restructuring process and unions have a strong negotiation position too).

Amongst other things, the voluntary leave package included a severance pay and outplacement support. So basically, it answered all of the missing pieces I needed to make a career switch: lifting the financial burden of having no income (severance pay) and dedicated coaching to change jobs (outplacement).

Why quit your job during a pandemic? 

Since air travel was heavily restricted due to the pandemic, my employer was forced to place most of its employees on full or part-time technical unemployment. Myself included.

Not being in the daily grind has given me the time to re-evaluate my life priorities. I found myself asking if this was really what I wanted. Like any job, it has its pros and its cons. But do the pros still outweigh the cons? Is this still where I want to be in 5 years? 10 years?

Without going too much into detail, it became increasingly clear to me that I needed a change. What I value in a job has changed and, conversely, what I want to be able to contribute as an employee also has changed. And I didn’t feel that those things match with my current position anymore.

In my job, I used HTML and CSS daily, but proper coding in Javascript was done by our webmaster and dev team. However, I like knowing how things work outside of my own little part of the job and often asked our webmaster how or why this or that part of the website worked as it did. He taught me a couple of things so that I could do some minor tweaks in Javascript on my own and I experimented with whatever I could learn on google.

Why do you want to become a programmer?

Soon, I was known as the more ‘techy’ content team member and copywriting tasks that required some digging in the code often ended up on my to do list because of that. I realized that I enjoyed this part of my job so much more than the actual copywriting and translating. 

During my unemployment days, I followed a couple of programming courses on Udemy and Freecodecamp. I wanted to see if I was capable of writing code on my own and if this was something I could see myself doing full time.

After a couple of free online lessons, I knew this was a career path I wanted to pursue. 

Web developer program at VDAB vs. bootcamps

Because webdevelopment is a shortage occupation in Belgium (and I imagine in many other countries), VDAB offers a couple of intensive programmes to become a developer. I’d say they are rather like a bootcamp, only the VDAB course is free because they are a public service. 

Additionally, since VDAB’s goal is to meet the demand of the job market, the courses are focused on what skills and programming languages are currently in demand. With bootcamps I’ve noticed you run the risk of learning shiny new languages or frameworks instead of what is really in demand. I’d recommend to look at current job offers and see if it matches with what the bootcamp you’re interested in offers.

VDAB clearly has an advantage over bootcamps in that regard. I decided to apply for their programme first and should it not work out, I could always enroll in a bootcamp.

I applied for their PHP web developer program and after completing a test and motivational meeting, I was accepted to start in February. While I’m writing this, it’s currently April and I’m quite happily learning how to code. I’m hoping to write more about my experience and what I’ve learned on my blog. So check back here soon for more updates.

What’s VDAB? VDAB is one of the four public unemployment services in Belgium (VDAB in Flanders, Actiris in Brussels, Forem in Wallonia, and ADG in the German-speaking Community of Belgium). Their purpose is to match supply and demand on the job market (in essence: help the unemployed find a job). In recent years, VDAB has invested heavily in education. They offer many courses to help you transition into shortage occupations or to update your knowledge and increase your chances on the job market.

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