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From awkward gamer to front-end engineer

Mads Brodt • July 3, 2020

7 min read

Figuring it all out

I've been a gamer for as long as I can remember. My first device was a Gameboy that I used to play Pokemon. A few years later, when I got to borrow my brothers computer, I got hooked on Warcraft 3. I would rush home from school to play games online, with strangers or with my friends. I didn't care, as long as I was playing.

Fast-forward some years to the Danish equivalant of highschool. I was still playing games, but soon had to decide what I wanted to continue studying afterward. I had, somewhat arbitrarily, picked a Media & IT focused highschool. There wasn't a lot of IT education involved, but me and my friends really enjoyed the (tiny) amount of code we got to look at - the very basics of HTML. We decided to take it a step further, and explored Codecademy on our own time.

This is where I had my first introduction to JavaScript. It was the de-facto language of Codecademy at the time, and the "Introduction to Programming" course used it to highlight the power of code. I went through the initial curriculum and enjoyed it - but I still wasn't sure if coding was really for me. Being a gamer, I was naturally good at computers. I enjoyed spending time on them, so I figured that a career in IT would be great. I just wasn't sure if I wanted to be a programmer just yet.

Finding my passion for programming

After graduating highschool, I began studying Business Economics and IT at the Copenhagen Business School. The programme was split equally into 3 parts: Economics, Organization, and Programming. It was sold as "working at the interception between the business and IT departments in companies". Sounds great, right? The problem was, that I strongly disliked the economics and organization aspects of the programme. The combiniation of business and IT still intrigued me, but the particular courses were just not for me. What the programme did do, was helping me realize my interest for programming. It was very basic, but enough to get me hooked. I decided to quit CBS and instead apply for a Bachelor's in Software Development at the IT University.

So that's what I did - with a short stint of trying to make it as a professional Dota2 gamer in the meantime. It didn't work out, but that's a story for another time :)

Bachelor's in Software Development

I started the programme in the Summer of 2016. The first semester was a bit of a struggle. I was going through some relationship issues, and hadn't really found a group of people that I could connect and work with. But when that happened, I started to really enjoy the programme. It was very back-end focused, with the main languages being Java and C#. Courses were mostly about databases, algorithms and data structures, and networking, with some going even lower level: I also had courses in compilers, operating systems, Linux, and the C language.

There really wasn't much related to front-end development, except for a brief course on designing user interfaces, and an elective I picked on web development. But about halfway through the programme, I discovered my passion for front-end development. I studied it in my own time, until I decided to apply for a student position.

First student job

This was one of the biggest moments in my career so far. I had never had a real job, and certainly never been paid to code before. I met the company at a career fair at the university (which happened twice a year). They had a flyer for a front-end position, and it immediately reasonated with me. I didn't fill all the requirements, and definitely didn't feel confident in my abilities. But having talked with them, it seemed worth it to submit an application. I went home and wrote it the same day. I didn't know it yet, but this was a huge part of why I got the job - they really liked the speed and passion I showed by applying on the same day.

I started in the IT department of the company, which was a large bank, insurance and pension company. One of the largest financial players in Denmark. Everybody was super kind and welcoming, and my first task was to design and implement a landing page to recruit more student developers. It turns out I was the first in a long-term strategy for the company to recruit more student workers to help with the digital innovation of the company.

After this, I worked on fixing bugs and developing the company's new website. I got introduced to EpiServer CMS (not a fan), and Vue (which I loved). I had done a tiny amount of Vue on my own, but the job was where I truly learned to use it for production-grade solutions.

After some months, we had recruited enough student workers (a mix of UX/Service designers, front- and backend developers, and business students) to launch a small team within the company. Our job consisted of generating or taking a business idea from within the company, and in 1 "sprint" of about a month, we'd create a prototype that could be used to validate the idea. This was super fun and insightful, and I learned a ton about working with designers and other developers. Since we were all students, our time was limited (8 work days each in the entire month). But we were all super passionate and eager to do great work - which we did!

Second student job and transition to full-time

After about a year, I decided it was time to try something else. I'd wanted to work in a creative agency for a long time, to experience creating different solutions for all sorts of clients. I applied for a front-end position as a student, and got the job after 2 interviews. I still had a few months left of studying before I would finish my Bachelor's, so I applied for this job with the intention of using it as a sort of "trial". If I enjoyed the work, there might be a chance to start full-time when graduating. And if I had decided to pursue a master's degree, I could've kept working as a student.

I was super excited to start this job, and quickly got to work on a huge variety of projects. From bugfixing a React Native app, to developing an IoT game that would activate when the user returned an empty bottle, and then used a touch screen where they had to catch as many cans as possible in 30 seconds. Super cool project, and I was excited to get a lot of responsibility, even as a student.

It quickly became clear that I loved the fast-moving agency environment, and how each project was entirely different from the last one. I get to play around with a tons of new technologies and have a lot of autonomy, so it was an easy transition into full-time when I graduated. I'm still at this job, and work with tools like React, Vue, WordPress, Shopify, SCSS and TailwindCSS. Although clients can be frustrating to work with, I'm excited for all the modern technology I get to use every day.

Final thoughts

Phew, that turned out way longer than anticipated. My fingers just wouldn't stop writing!

Overall, I'm happy with the path I chose. It took me a while to figure out that coding was what I wanted to do, and it was hard to balance learning front-end on my own time while also taking my Bachelor's. But now I enjoy what I'm working with, and can see a clear trajectory of my career in the future that I'm excited about.

If I can leave you with one piece of advice, it's this:

Apply for jobs as early as you can

Student jobs are great, because the expectation isn't that high when you're new to coding. But if you can't get a student job, you should still apply for jobs that you don't feel ready for. You'll learn so much faster on the job than by yourself, and you'll build relationships with smart and like-minded people that will help you throughout your entire career.

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 👆

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