As part of my career path to becoming a web developer, I followed the “ICT basisopleiding” of VDAB. Here below you can find my experience in following this web development basics program per module and a short summary of my experience with VDAB so far.
Why did I choose to make a career switch via VDAB? Read my previous post
Why did you follow the VDAB ICT basisopleiding?
Anyone who gets accepted to one of the VDAB web developer programs (PHP, .NET, or Java) is obliged to complete this program first. It covers programming fundamentals and basic web development. For VDAB it’s a good indicator to see if you’ve got what it takes to become a programmer.
My thoughts after completing the program
Before I started, I was warned that these courses are pretty intense and I have to admit they really are. You’re put on a tight schedule with assignments and deadlines for each module. So you definitely need to be able to study full time.
In my opinion, this is not a course you can follow if you don’t have at least some prior knowledge or an aptitude for coding. I was already familiar with HTML/CSS and knew a bit of JS, which definitely helped in maintaining a steady study speed. I’d say most of my fellow students also had some prior knowledge.
Sidenote for future readers: I have followed this course in 2021. Before the pandemic this program consisted of both on campus classes and self-study chapters. That has switched to 100% self-study at home with guidance from a teacher or coach via mail or chat.
VDAB ICT basisopleiding: modules and coaching
Daily meets with your coach
The course is 100% self-study but you do get a daily call via Google Meet with your classmates and coach. This is basically so the coach can get a view of your progress and answer any questions you might have. You can always contact the coach yourself via mail or chat but I like that they added this check-up moment for those who are maybe too hesitant to do so themselves.
During this daily check-up, the coach also has either a short coding puzzle or additional explanation on something that’s not handled in the course material (e.g. rubber duck debugging, nullish coalescing operator,…).
Module: programming logic
This module handles the basics of coding. Things like if statements, arrays, etc. are explained and you get to practice them in Blockly. Which, is a choice… I get that VDAB probably chose Blockly to separate coding logic from learning a specific programming language’s syntax. But I personally found that it made everything harder for me. I absolutely hated the drag-and-drop system and would much rather learn directly in a programming language. And I definitely wasn’t the only one who isn’t a fan of Blockly.
For me, this was probably the hardest module. I found the final assignments quite hard (plus you lose so much time with Blockly’s UI) but I’m guessing it has more to do with getting into that study rhythm again and waiting for things to click in your head.
Perseverance does pay because once you get through Blockly, you get to learn something more tangible. This module is an intro to SQL. You’ll have to install mySQL for this module. A small note on operating systems: the whole course is windows-centric but you can perfectly use a Mac (like myself) or linux (like my coach). Just be aware that some installation instructions may differ.
After programming logic, it was nice to learn something more straightforward (bear in mind this is only an introductory module).
Module: data analysis
I don’t know why they called it data analysis. Database normalisation would be a more correct name for this module. This is considered the hardest module of the whole course. In part because it’s a different logic than the algorithmic thinking used for programming.
It did take me a moment to get the hang of it but luckily there’s a useful cheat sheet in the additional course material that you’re recommended to use. Also, don’t feel disheartened if you can’t figure out the exercises on your own. I constantly had to refer to the exercise solutions and I only managed to solve exercises on my own about halfway through.
After this module you get a short evaluation by your coach. Based on your results in programming logic and data analysis, the coaches can assess if you’re capable of becoming a programmer. The coach also goes over the assignment solutions and gives you some insights on how to improve your own solutions.
A bit of a disappointment as the entire module was heavily outdated. Since I’m already proficient in HTML/CSS, I was hoping to learn something new or updated techniques.
Luckily the coaches are well aware that the course is outdated (they are also eagerly waiting for VDAB to update this module). To compensate for the outdated coursebook, they’ve added some additional resources on clear-fix, flexbox, and grid.
Module: Blockly to JS
A short intro to Git and you get to make your github account! You’re taught how to use Git in the Terminal/Command prompt, as well as in Visual Studio Code and IntelliJ.
Here again, a side note on the windows-centric coursebook. My coach proactively sent me a link on Git commands on macOS, since the syntax is a little different from windows.
The big one! This is where you really start to feel that you’re actually programming 🙂
Same as with data analysis, don’t feel disheartened when you can’t figure out the exercises on your own just yet. It’s a matter of getting the hang of it and sometimes you do need to do your own research for more details.
The chapters on JSON and localStorage were rather brief. I wish they did explain this a bit more. But then again, reading the MDN documentation and looking up some more examples is good google practice too.
Module: Object Oriented Programming
Next step: PHP web developer program
As soon as you complete ICT basisopleiding, you get an invite for your specialization program. In my case, that’s PHP. From what I hear, you’d usually not get an invite this fast, as in the past it could take months. Classes usually only start once there are enough students. My guess is that, since everything is done online now, they don’t really have to wait and can start with a much smaller number of students.