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Class of 2011 – Richard Verheyen

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Class of 2011 Alumnus, Richard Verheyen, is living in Vancouver, Canada working for a software startup company as a Web Developer.

During his time at St Paul’s one of Richard’s most memorable moments was being involved in the 2010 production of West Side Story and performing the ‘Gee Officer Krupke’ song. He also found that the Presentation Ball was an amazing experience for him.

We asked Richard a few questions about his time after St Paul’s…

What has your pathway been since graduating?  

“I studied at the University of Melbourne (BSc) from 2012 to 2016, taking 2014 off to travel and rethink my pathway. Being a student didn’t come naturally to me, in hindsight I don’t think I had a clear enough idea of why I was at university in the first place and in the end I haven’t followed my study pathway of Civil Engineering. That being said I strongly believe that university is the right environment to surround yourself with driven and interesting people, so long as you remember that there’s a world out there to explore during and after your studies.

While I was on my gap year in 2014 I worked at a summer camp in Maine, USA and met my first significant life mentor Gary while hiking on my days off. Afterwards I was invited to stay with Gary and his family in New York City for a few weeks and in my time there I went to my first meetup event and learnt some of my most valued life lessons.

Since then it’s been ‘Meetups’ like the one I went to in New York and seeking mentorship from amazing people in the software community that gave me the confidence to move away from my university pathway and out into the world.

Right now I’m living in Vancouver, Canada and I work for a software startup called Kickback which is based in San Francisco. I’m a Web Developer, which means that I take designs from a graphic/web designer and write the code which makes it sit in the web browser, as well as the logic which controls what happens when you interact with the content.”

What do you enjoy most about your current occupation? 

“Project based work suits me, I love being able to start something new, complete the easy stuff really quickly, learn something new when there’s something hard and then celebrate with the team when it’s pushed live to the public. I’m incredibly lucky to build software for a startup which is profitable and which provides services for tens of thousands of users all over the world every day.”

Why did you choose this field?

“Web Development involves project lengths of a few months, has low overhead costs and needs only a few levels of management to build something of value. At a Melbourne JavaScript Meetup in 2016 I saw Glen Maddern present the first version of Styled Components (a JavaScript library), and then interviewed at companies in Vancouver Canada in 2017 who had adopted Styled Components into their workflow and loved them. The industry moves FAST, which means software veterans need to constantly learn new practices and new entrants like me can quickly become useful by learning the hottest new thing.”

What do you find most challenging about what you do now?

“Trying to wrap my head around new concepts in web development does my head in. In web development if you know how to do something, it’s done in a few hours, but 90 per cent of the time you’ll be tearing your hair out trying to understand some new concept.”

What training/course was required to get to that field?

“You don’t need any degree or certificate to learn how to code. All the resources and documentation are freely available online. If you can build a small portfolio of work, prepare for a technical interview (JavaScript) and demonstrate your passion and understanding of the fundamentals, then companies all over the world want you and don’t care about your degrees or qualifications.

I met my good friend and mentor Jan Werkhoven through mutual friends in early 2015, a year later we met in passing and he said he’d be happy to teach me how to code if I wanted to put in the effort. My girlfriend at the time was running a graphic design business and building simple WordPress websites, so I started by rebuilding her website and then slowly moved onto more complicated and paid projects. For 18 months I was in a situation where I was being paid to learn and having my two best friends there to give me work, and help me solve the problems I was having as I learned. Often I would cook fancy dinners for the three of us as they worked as a small form of repayment. Jan taught me how to use the terminal, collaborate on a GitHub repository and the current best industry practices for making code readable and debuggable.”

What or who influenced you to take this path?

“I was strongly influenced by my parents to go to university and do science, but after that wasn’t going so well I was forced to take a lot more control over where I was going. The people who inspire me the most are: Elon Musk, Ernest Shackleton and John F Kennedy. I owe so much to mentors I’ve met along the way; truly I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Outside of work Richard likes to snowboard, play guitar, play volleyball, row and he likes to cook. Richard also likes to travel and dream up business ideas and keenly follows technology news (SpaceX).

When asked about how St Paul’s may have contributed to his current career or interests, Richard said that co-curricular activities pushed him outside of his comfort zone.  “I got my first part-time job to pay for the Japan Tour in 2009, and the experience of earning your own money to travel to a foreign country and culture is something you can’t get in a classroom.”

Richard also remembers his teachers at St Paul’s and the influence they had on his schooling.  “Mr Cameron had me for English in Year 12, I remember how he took me aside earlier in the year, acknowledging that I was more of a science focused student and helped me to approach essay writing in a more logical way. With his help I got a fantastic score in my final English exams and I remember his charismatic teaching style every time I’m now having an intense debate and defending or expressing an opinion.”

He also remembers times when teachers were there for him beyond studies. “Mr Ryan was such a calm and quirky Maths teacher. Immediately after the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 I remember we had maths on that Monday morning and spent the first half hour or so of the class sharing our experiences from the weekend just passed.”

Richard has appreciated the mentors throughout his life and is keen to pass on advice from his life experiences to others. “My experience of ‘Meetups’ has been a group of around 50 young professionals, who after a full day of work want to come together, chat about their work and give presentations about the cutting edge of what’s happening in the industry. They’re hosted in open, facebook-eqsue offices, they’re free, there are free drinks and a large budget for food because the sponsoring companies value their employees coming together to network and learn more about their industry. This gave me a perspective on learning that I’d never had before and would be a great introduction into the software industry for any interested students out there.”

> Back to ‘Where are they now?’

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