The end of the year is always a nice time to reflect. Looking back at the year passed can be a great way to remember what happened this year - the good parts, the maybe not so good parts, and any other learnings that are worth bringing with you in the future. For me, this year consisted of a few, but major changes. On the personal front, I bought and moved into my own apartment. This has been a long time dream of mine, so I'm happy to have achieved it.
I also graduated from university as a Bachelor of Science in Software Development. Deciding whether to quit university and get a job after my bachelor's, or to continue with a Masters degree, was one of the big questions for me in the spring this year. Ultimately, I decided to move on from university and work full-time by transitioning my student job to full-time by the summer.
As mentioned, I spend a lot of time in the spring deciding if I wanted to continue studying. Having a Masters degree does provide a lot of advantages: higher starting pay, better job opportunities, specializing in a certain IT field. However, I was not interested in any of the potential master specializations available.
I knew I wanted to work with front-end development - and this is simply not possible to study at the university. So my choices were to study a Masters degree in a field I was not that interested in, while doing front-end work at my student job and in my free time, or to quit university and get a full-time job doing what I wanted to do. This was a hard choice, but one thought kept coming back to me:
The experience and money I'll earn doing two full years of front-end development (compared to studying) will ultimately make me more attractive for future jobs than studying something rather unrelated (I would obviously still be studying some sort of software development for my Masters, but it would not be directly applicable to front-end development).
One could argue that having a Masters degree would serve me better as a fallback in case I decide, sometime down the road, that I no longer want to work on the front end. But to me, that seems like planning for failure. Nobody has any idea what their life or interests will be in 10, or 5, or maybe even 3 years. Least of all people who work in IT, dare I say the fastest evolving industry on the planet.
So sure, I could push myself through a Masters degree that I don't really want - but who is to say if it will be any useful when (or if) I decide to switch up my field of work? Anything I'd learn at university might (and likely would) change in the interim, leaving the degree as just a piece of paper. That piece of paper might be important to some employers, but I will always prefer to work in a place where I can show off my abilities and experience directly, and where that will be used to decide if I'm the right fit for a job.
Rather than whether or not I powered through a Masters degree 10 years ago in some tangibly related field.
Leaving university with my bachelor's degree allowed me to take a full-time job, which also allowed me to accomplish my dream of buying my own apartment.
Buying my first apartment was a huge step for me. As the spring progressed, it became more and more clear that I was not interested in studying for a Masters degree. This meant two things:
- I would need a new place to live, as my old apartment was a rented student apartment. So by ending my studies, I could not continue to live there.
- I would need a full-time job. This would also provide me with a stable economy, allowing me to take a loan to buy an apartment.
When buying an apartment, there is a lot of things that need to fall into place. Firstly, there was a lot of back and forth with the bank regarding how much I could borrow with my newfound income. Then came the (most important) step of actually finding a place that I could see myself live in. For this, I made a checklist:
- 2 rooms, at least 50m^2
- Close to public transport (within 1km)
- Maximum 20 minutes to the city center by bike
- Less than 1.700.000 DKK payout price
- Less than 10.000 DKK monthly payment
These were the hard requirements for my search. Some softer requirements included a balcony, being close to my job and in a nice neighborhood. With the requirements in hand, I began the search. First online, scouring the internet. Then in person, looking at multiple places over several days. I knew this was a big investment, both financially, but also personally - after all, this is where I would be living for several years.
I ultimately found just the place. It satisfied all of my requirements, hard and soft. It was also empty, allowing me to move in quickly. The actual buying process went smoothly. There was a lot of back and forth with the bank, my lawyer and the real estate agent, but everything worked out in the end. So by September, I officially owned my first property and could move in to my home for many years to come :)
During the spring, it became clear that I was quitting university and going for a full-time job. But starting a new job "randomly" as my first full-time job seemed quite risky to me - what if I didn't like it? Or they didn't like me? Or I just didn't fit in? Or what if I can't even find a job? All of these are valid questions that can arise when starting/looking for a new job. So I decided on a different approach.
I still had a few months left of my studies, so I applied for a student position in a digital agency. My intention was always to use the student period as a trial, to see if this was a place I could work for 40 hours every week. So in March, I started as a student assistant doing front-end development in a digital agency named Ajukreizi, pronounced 'are you crazy' ;). Working there two days per week, I really enjoyed the fast-paced nature of an agency.
I also loved how we used modern technology stacks and frameworks to serve our clients. Most projects were quite small, ranging from 1-3 months of design + development + testing, until the final product was shipped. The more I worked here, the clearer it became that I wanted to start full-time after finishing my bachelor's.
So that's exactly what I did. I finished studying in June, and from August 1st, I started full-time. This naturally led to a bump in both pay and responsibility, but also influence. By now I would be working on some projects completely by myself - giving me full control over the technology stack and architecture of the codebase. This forces me to think hard on my decisions, as I will be solely responsible for them. This is a great way of learning for me, however, I am still very junior in the field. I know that I still have a shit ton to learn, and sometimes I miss having a team of more senior developers around me to learn from. Someone who can teach me the "correct" way to approach certain problems, and stop me when I'm going too far in the wrong direction.
Throughout the year I've worked on several very different projects. From more "standard" brochure websites like danfoss-ixa implented with headless WordPress, to a refugee campaign site with focus on animation and a spinning 3D globe at refugeeworld.org, I've learned a ton this year. I've gotten quite comfortable with React, but also dabbled in some React Native and PHP through WordPress. I'm very grateful that I've had the chance to work with so many different projects and accumulate knowledge in various fields - and this year has made it clear that I am not an app developer, and I don't enjoy stiching together WordPress templates and plugins. I prefer building my sites properly, from the ground up, and will continue to use Gatsby for most of my React projects in the future.
Being the first year of full-time employment has also been eye-opening for me. I've learned about responsibility, not only to myself, but also to my colleagues and clients. I've learned how to function in a team, working with designers and project managers, and seeing how actual software gets made in the real world. This experience has been invaluable, and not something school quite prepared me for.
Conclusion (look forward to 2020)
As 2019 is wrapped, and 2020 has already begun, I am very confident that I chose the correct path. I love doing front-end development, and the autonomy and responsibility at my current job serve as brilliant opportunities to learn and improve quickly. My mistakes get punished, forcing me to think twice before making decisions. It can be stressful at times, and I do wish for a few more senior mentors to learn from - but it is also rewarding, and an incredible way to improve my skillset.
As for what's coming in 2020 - I'm not sure. I like my job, and I will continue to grind and become a better developer. I'm hoping this year will also be where I make some extra money on the side, either through freelancing, or selling some kind of product. I will continue to look for opportunities to enhance my skills and acquire new ones, and will pay a lot of attention specifcally to Svelte this year.
Hope you all had a great start to the new year!
I'm Mads Brodt — a developer, author, teacher, creator and blogger. To keep up with all of my writing, follow me on Twitter or sign up with your email above 👆