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Posted Date

August 12, 2021

Author

Alice

A completely unfiltered, untouched story from Senior Software Engineer, Jacob where he shares his advice, and experiences.

Hi Jacob! 👋 Thanks for joining us to chat. How are you? Can you introduce yourself and give us a little bit of information about your background?

Thank you for having me! I am a self-taught software engineer with a strong focus on front-end technologies, primarily React, TypeScript and the Jamstack. I currently work at Holland & Barrett as a Senior Software Engineer and have been working across different industries over the years. I started my professional career in design, but have been coding for as long as I can remember.

 

How did you first get into coding and software development? You say you’ve been a web developer for as long as you can remember, but what sparked your interest?

That is right, I was 12 years old when I first learned HTML and CSS, followed by PHP at age 15. Back then PHP was an easily accessible language to build dynamic websites and it was fascinating for me to build sites that people on the other side of the world could view and interact with. I then moved into JavaScript during the heyday of jQuery and fell in love with the language and built a career out of it.

 

Tell us a little more about how you came to become a mentor, what sparked your interest, and what topics do you mentor on?

I always wished that I had someone who could guide me through the tough parts of software engineering, especially as a young developer without formal education in that field. Once I was in a position that I was able to share my enthusiasm for coding with others, it was the natural next step for me to help more junior developers progress in their careers. Coding Coach is an excellent platform for developers to be matched with mentors, so I decided to join a few years ago and have since built relationships with 4 mentees. I am also a mentor in my day job, where I help one of our trainees become ready for their first full-time position.

What about personally, outside of work, when you’re not busy coding – what brings you joy? How do you switch off?

After work, I enjoy cooking and wind down with a good movie. When the weather allows, I go for a long bicycle ride in the evening, which helps me relax and clear my thoughts. 

When there isn’t a pandemic going on, I try to travel as much as possible together with my family to explore different cultures and see the world. But I have to admit, I love what I do as a job, so more often than not you’ll find me in front of my laptop in the evening, working on some side project.

 

What one key piece of advice would you give to junior developers looking to take that next step to become mid-senior level?

When I was less experienced I found it quite hard to navigate the hiring processes. Getting a foot in the door can be hard when you’re just starting, or don’t have much to show just yet. Therefore, after I was hired for my most recent job at Holland & Barrett I decided to write down my experience and what my recipe of success looks like.

The key piece of advice I would give a junior developer looking to move into a more senior role is to focus on one thing and become an expert in that. For example, if you focus on the front-end, CSS is a very underestimated skill that most developers nowadays forget about. Everybody knows the basics of CSS, but the focus for most developers is JavaScript (let’s be honest – JS is much harder than CSS), but if you become the go-to person for advanced CSS questions, this is a very valuable skill that will get you recognised.

Read Jacob’s blog on how to get hired as a software engineer in 2020 here.

Have you learned any important technical or soft skills as a co-founder and CTO of Immovato GmbH, building it from the ground up?

Immovato is a prop-tech company I co-founded in Germany some years ago. What I took away from the experience are soft skills around the hiring and line management of software engineers, but I have also learned a lot about fundraising and building a product from an initial draft to MVP and beyond. When we first started working on Immovato, many of the technologies we use now were in their infancy, so we started with a Laravel (PHP) backend and an Angular 1 frontend and ended up rebuilding our MVP in React with a Node.js (Express) backend later. Something I learned the hard way is that nothing will be perfect the first time around, but you can always iterate to get there in the end.

 

As you work completely remotely, how did you balance your work life and family life with a young child? Particularly through the pandemic?

The first few weeks or months were difficult. We lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in London and I was working out of my bedroom. My then 2-year-old daughter would constantly demand daddy-time as she did not understand that daddy was around, but didn’t have time to play with her all day.

Fast forward to early 2021, we decided to move out of the city to the West Midlands, where I have built my perfect home office. I invested the money I saved on my daily commute in my ideal monitor, desk and office chair. Whenever I go to the actual office now it feels like I am missing something, because my home office is so perfectly tailored to me! I also learned to make time for family in between work and my daughter now understands that I am working, so she makes an effort to be quiet, which is remarkable. Overall working fully remote has hugely benefited my work-life balance by allowing daily lunches with my family and skipping the commute, which gives me an extra hour a day to spend with loved ones.

 

Having grown up in Germany, what made you decide to relocate back to the UK? Did growing up in Germany impact your career path in any way?

I always knew that I wanted to leave Germany. I think I must have been 13 or 14 years old when I decided I wanted to live in America, but when I was 19 years old, I got an opportunity to move to the UK instead and I could not be happier.

In terms of my career, I do believe I would not be where I am today if I had stayed in Germany. The German culture is much more focused on academic achievements, rather than skill, so most people I know there ended up studying until their late 20s before they were able to go into junior positions. At that point, I had already co-founded several companies and worked in various jobs up to director level across two countries.

 

If you could give your 15-year-old self any advice, what would it be? Whether it’s career-related or not.

That’s an interesting question. I believe I was on the right track at that age and always focused on my goal of becoming a developer. For that reason, I’d probably tell myself to keep learning and not give up on that dream. Inquisitiveness is so valuable at a young age to keep the passion alive.

 

Connect with Jacob on LinkedIn or have a read of his blog here.

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