How I Went From No Diploma To 10k Per Month

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How I Went From No Diploma To 10k Per Month

This is the story of my professional career. From when I was 18 year old to this day. This is my story.

Get ready because it might be god damn long.

School

When I was 18 I started to go to the university. Well it was not really a university, but similar. It was a school where I learned professional communication, like Public Relation, Journalism, Advertising, etc.

Originally I had to do 5 years there! Sounds so long now haha. In the end I really didn't like what I had to learn. Instead of studying for my exams, I spent time learning PHP and the very base of web development.

Hopefully there was a "Web" class where we had to build a website for a projet. I totally nailed it and got the best score of my the whole school. Very proud!

At the end of the 3rd year there, my professors told me that if I wanted to quit school and go to work, well I simply should.

Which I did. I found my first job right after I finished my 3rd year there. I still got a pseudo diploma for this 3rd year (a "BAC"), which is kinda important, even though I never had to prove I had a diploma to any employer, ever. It's not a realy diploma anyway, more like a proof that I passed this 3rd year.

First Job at Mostra

Mostra is a "Communication Agency". So they were very familiar with my school and definitely hired me because I was from that school, but also because I was a passionate web developer.

At that time I was a very bad web developer though lol. I didn't even know the difference between == and ===...

But I got the job anyway! As a junior. To join the Web Development section of the company. There we mainly built newsletter, very small html and javascript based web pages. Very basic.

Our only client was the European Commission, which is pretty cool. I was working on some interesting projects and I had the opportunity to go the different events in Brussels.

I worked a lot with Drupal, fix configuration issues, encode content, etc.

Also a big part of the job was to perform Quality Testing of the work the other teams. I built a few scripts in php to perform checks and automate repetitive tasks. That part was really fun!

This first job allowed me to understand a bit better the world of... well, working. Having a salary, having co workers, making friends at the office. Havnig lunch with colleagues. Having Deadlines, clients, etc.

As a junior my salary at this time was 1500€ net + 140€ in meal tickets.

Launching My First Startup : Innervision

At mostra I stayed there 1 year. It's in the middle of that year that the interesting part begins.

Something like 6 months after I started working at Mostra, I met Thomas, a Parisian guy studying finance and money markets. He wanted to buy and sell website ot make money.

At that time I spent the most of my free time to play video games. I was the leader of a multi gaming community called Astra Memoria, which later became "Last Mohicans Team".

In that team there was some dude that played Battlefield 3 with me. One day he told me he had a friend at school that was looking for a developer to help him on a project. I said sure let's see! That's how I met Thomas.

So Thomas bought a magento website, an eCommerce that was selling jewelries. I had setup to the project on a basic server and customize a bit the layout. Then Thomas sold the website to another guy, and that's how we made our first money together. He managed to sell the website for 4000€!

After that we continued to buy and sell other website to make some money, and we quickly started to do more things together, me and Thomas.

Soon we started to work with Damien, our common friend that previously introduced us, and he quickly noticed that money was about to rain around our projects. He asked for 10% of the company we were about to create: InnerVision.

The goal of that startup was to build website for our clients, exactly like any web agency does. But instead of simply billing for the project, we asked equity in the company behind the project.

In paper the idea was really great. As we get more and more client and build more and more website, we still bill some our work time, but also we get a small share of the startup of our client as well. With time, InnerVision could have grown to be a very successful company.

But it didn't, unfortunately.

With the lack of funding, we didn't have much money to pay our staff.

Staff that was much much bigger with time. After one year, we were about 10 people working at InnerVision. 3 of us where in Belgium (2 developers and 1 design) in an office.

Office that I had to look for and rent, buy furnitures and computers and so on. Everything had to be done from nothing as we where literally creating a company of 10 from our bedrooms (in Paris and in Brussels simultaneously).

The funny thing is that I was the CTO of this Startup, but I couldn't even code properly. I had no idea on how to code a projet in Object Oriented, and every projects was essentially based on Wordpress and Drupal.

But it got better with time, as I learned Laravel, I quickly was able to code bigger and custom projects.

Unfortunately, even with better skills, we made huge, costly mistakes. My associate Thomas wanted to build a very very huge project for a client, thanks to which we made enough money, but we were unable to deliver it. So he took the decision to buy pre-built project on code canyon.

As you understand it quickly became a big big mess.

Hopefully, one day, we had a game changing opportunity.

VisioQuote

One day Thomas had a great idea, while talking to investors in the moving industry. He had the idea of creating a desktop / mobile interface allowing moving agencies to make their inventory via visiocall.

Investors loved it and decided to put money into the project. Thus we created a new company called VisioGroup, and we worked on this project called VisioQuote.

With this money, we went to Russia to find a web agency capable of working on this project.

After a few months working with Arcadia, a Russian Programming company based in St Petersburg, we had a working prototype.

It was working yes, but it was very buggy. If you already worked with videos and streaming, you know how complicated it can be (especially at that time). One of my coworker at mostra told me one day : "never launch a startup based on video or streaming, it won't work". LOL. From the beginning I was like "I have a bad feeling about this".

And I was right. The project crashed randomly. When our business developers tried to sell and demo the application to moving companies, sometimes the video stream simply crashed or didn't work. It was super hard to fix, especially because the whole thing was built in JAVA by this Russian company.

Personnaly, I was against all this. I warned Thomas that it was super risky, it was not going to work, we won't ever be able to fix anything ourself.

I told him that our web agency was dying because the projects are impossible to build, we didn't make any money, everything was badly managed and the staff began to worry.

After a year working on VisioQuote, investors stopped putting money on the table (after the third time). This is where everything crashed.

No money + angry staff = staff leaving, less and less money = impossible to keep the company alive.

We bankrupt, just like that.

I remember at that time I almost decided to move to Paris to continue working on the project. But with the bankruptcy, I decided to stay in Brussels. THANK GOD.

The closing of this chapter was long and fastidious. I had to cancel the rent of the office, cancel every subscriptions we had, close the servers, unplug everything, backup everything.

The worst thing was to actually tell the staff (who where closed friends) that we couldn't pay them anymore, and that the party was over. No more job for you. Terrible experience.

Interns as well! I had originally 2 interns that were supposed to start working at InnerVision, but I had to tell them, sorry but there's no more internship for you, you have to find something else. That was very uncool and they were really in a bad place because of this. I was really sad.

But this is life, you keep going, there's nothing else to do.

Back to my room, in my appartment, jobless.

Freelancing?

There were some clients that I used to work with during all this time for InnerVision, and that wanted to keep working with me.

Thus I obvioulsy thought of continuing to work alone as a freelance with them. In Belgium there is an association called SmartBE allowing you to be a freelance without having to be an actual freelance. You simply bill your clients in the name of SmartBE and the money goes to your account. Pretty cool!

I worked with some of those clients but it was veryyyy far from being enough to even pay the rent.

We Are The Models

Remember the intern that was supposed to work in our startup ? Well he managed to find another internship in another startup! Lucky him :)

This startup he started to work for was called "We Are The Models", a project founded by Maude and Bertrand, a parisian couple that moved in Brussels in order to start working on this idea. The project targetted the fashion blogging girls that tested outfits and post "looks" on their blog. They build a platform in Symfony for those girls to post their look online and interract with each other. Big community driven project.

Their CTO left them unfortunately and thus were lacking a lead developer.

So Timothy, the intern, suggested my profile and told them to contact me as I was an ex-CTO. And so they did. We met at their place after they put their baby to bed. We told each other our stories and agreed to work together on this project. At that moment I wasn't really thinking about getting a job, I was still ready to work on a startup and create my own job.

My first goal was to refactor their website in Laravel and AngularJS. The project was pretty fun to work on and the team was amazing. I made very good friend during this time.

After a few months, I noticed that I really needed to get a job because I didn't have any revenue. So I started to look for a job in february 2015, and I had the chance to find very quickly.

To finish the We Are The Models story, the development of the website was finished and the only work to do left was to really launch the project and monetize it. Unfortunately it never happened because it was complicated to monetize. The founders couple needed more money for their baby and thus simply stopped working on this project after a while.

Adneom, the consultancy company

Things started to flatten out for a while. When I started my employee job at Adenom, I was aiming a more peaceful and quite life, not doing any extra work on the side, not launching any projects or whatever. Finally I would have some time to enjoy myself.

Adneom is a consultancy agency, meaning they employ a lot of people like me and send them in a mission to their client. Each work at a client is basically like a normal job, the only difference is that you always remain in one same company, and you can switch job without all the hussle and the stress of switching.

Radionomy

My first client was Radionomy, a quite old startup that already made enough money to support a pretty big team of .NET developers, big offices and several business managers.

The goal of the job was to analyze an old web application built in ZEND. I needed to understand how this application worked and explain it to the .NET team of developers.

One complete year of doing just that was not enough to fill my time so I was assigned another project called "Hotmix Radio".

The goal was to build a webradio website for a company that has a dozen or so webradios that anyone can listen to. People should also be able to go from page to page without interrupting the audio player.

If now it seems quite easy to do with modern JavaScript frameworks, at that time it was more complicated to do. Hopefully AngularJS was at version 1.4 and thus I built the entire website in Laravel & AngularJS.

Unfortunately the project was really badly managed and I had to leave this client before we could even launch the website. So it was all for nothing, lol!

Delhaize

You know, after having launched my own startup and being several times a CTO, it was quite depressing to become a "simple developer". I wanted to do more than that because I knew I could. I wanted to be more on the business side, brainstorming with the business while protecting the IT team. This is what I always enjoyed doing.

Adneom, my employer, started to understand this and they managed to find me a very different mission as a Business Analyst at Delhaize.

If you don't know Delhaize, it's THE biggest retailer in Belgium. It's basically where most of us here go to buy their food etc.

So it is indeed a huge company and my role there was thus really small, but I learned a lot of things.

The project I was working on was essentially the whole rebuilding of the website as white label. Meaning we could deploy the same codebase in another country where Delhaize acquired another retailer and use the same website (customized). The website was built in JAVA with Hybris (SAP eCommerce).

In term of technology, I was completely lost (except for the front end stuff of course) because it was all JAVA and the team of developers was already a very big and structured team including engineers, architects and tons of developers in Ukraine.

Anyway I wasn't even allowed to touch the codebase. My whole goal was to transcript the business requirements into technical details for the developers. I was the bridge between the business and the IT teams.

Jira, Confluence, Agile methodologies and Scrum was my daily routine. If it rings a bell for you, you can say I was part of the Product Owner's team.

After a year working there and travelling a lot in Romania and Grece, I wanted to get back to Technical leading, or basically any kind of role that's close to what a startup CTO does.

Projects in the middle

Approximately 6 months after I started working at Delhaize, I had the chance to work on 2 side projects, in order to make some extra money.

The first one was toussaint.be, the website of a professional tooling retailer with a huge amount of products and data. Built in Laravel, VueJS and Bulma, I worked on this website during almost 2 years with a budget of 600€ per month for approximately 2 days of work per month (cheap).

The other project cassius.fr, app.cassius.fr, was way more complicated because the goal was to create an ERP kind of application where the lawyers could manage their clients and business cases, store documents and communicate with clients. Also the application is able to manage online payments with Stripe. I worked also for almost 2 years on this with a budget of 800€ per month, also for 2 days of work per month.

Adneom

Remember Adneom, the consulting company? Well they also started their own web agency internally. They had a whole floor filled with junior javascript developers, busy working on client's project.

You know of typical web agency work, you find a client that wants a website, you put a price and you start working on it to deliver in time.

The most difficult thing in this kind of work is to optimize and manage the time you spent on a fixed budget project.

The current team of developers was, as I said, mainly focused on javascript web&mobile development.

The lack of a PHP team of developers encouraged Adneom to hire me as a Technical Leader in this structured with the goal of creating a PHP Center of Expertise, with which we can take any PHP related project and deliver in good times.

I started to recruit new php developers to create a team, setup the base technological architecture and the methodologies.

As from the beginning of my employment at Adneom, my salary never changed. I was always at 1700€ net per month + a company car.

I was really angry to be paid so little and I started thinking about switching to freelance. Most of all I wanted to leave this company that wasn't paying me enough.

The Big Leap

Remember Timothy ? My intern that also put me in contact with the founders of We Are The Models ? Well in the meanwhile he started a typical web developer job at a company called Stepstone. One day I stumbled upon him in the street and he explained me that maybe Stepstone would be ok to hire me as a freelance.

I contacted them and a few weeks later and ... voila ! It was done ! They agreed to hire me as a full time freelance and it was thus the perfect moment for me to switch.

To get started as a freelance I obviously had to contact an accountant. My cousin is working in a accounting company and thus I worked with them and they helped me creating my own company.

As soon as the company was created I started my work at Stepstone.

Stepstone

At that moment I was billing a rate of 400€ per day which equals ~8000€ per month.

Really basic developer job.

It's funny because as soon as I started doing freelance missions, the jobs were instantly less rewarding. I mean yes I made much more money than before, but the actual job was really boring.

At Stepstone I was a "simple php developer". We built small applications in a micro service architecture. I learned a thing or two but that's it. Nothing super exciting.

I only worked 4 months there.

Demizi

Remember my old partner Thomas with whom we launched Innervision ? We were still in contact and one of his client was looking to build a website for their new service.

Bailly Dem, a moving company in Paris, was looking to release Demizi, a website on which you can book a moving and pay online. Pretty complicated website to build, but I estimated 1.5 month of full time work on this.

They agreed to build it with me and it was for me a nice opportunity to leave StepStone and work on this project from home. During this time I was already looking for a next "big client" for a long term mission.

After launching Demizi online, Thomas and Bailly Dem offered me 5% of the shares of the Demizi company in order to support the maintenance of the website. A nice offer even though 5% is almost nothing.... It was a good move for me to be more implicated and have the future opportunity to work on bigger projects with them. "Entering the club" was the most important.

Smals - Reaching 10K

In january 2018, a consulting company called SatellIT offered me a one year mission in a company called Smals. This company is a very big corporation that handles almost all the IT operation in the public sector in Belgium. It was a bit depressing to leave my home work routine to get back to the office, take the subway etc... but I had to.

I was able to negociate (quite easily) a rate of 500€ per day with SatellIT. And thus I began my new job at Smals.

They needed a team of developers to perform a server migration and transform an old infrastructure into a more modern one with Linux and PHP.

It was a very boring job in term of actual interests. I didn't work with any interesting technologies. My job was mainly to help the team and to teach them how php & git work, and all very simple stuff. But it was really great to make a lot of money!

Another very cool thing about this mission is that I had plenty of time to work on side projects. During the one year I've worked there, I built laralance, gitweet, webradio.io, findamaker, and other small projects.

I also had plenty of time to work on my clients project. Working on those projects at the office allowed me to have much more time at home.

But all what's good eventually comes to an end at one point.

End of 2018 my mission at smals was over, and I was already working on another project from home for a client.

La Boite à Sports

Another client from Thomas contacted me. Two guys building a startup, a website on which you can book and pay for sport/workout session in gym clubs. The website has a search functionnality with a big map, a bit like AirBNB.

I estimated this project approximately 1.5 month of work (I eventually spent much more time on it, my bad). It was a good transition period where I worked from home.

I very like this idea of working on big client project from home between my freelance missions (in the client's office).

In February 2019 the project was almost finished and I started looking for another freelance mission because I had no other client projects.

At the time of this writing I already started another mission, at Proximus, a big belgian company. Unfortunately the project is really not interesting and it's not like my previous job where I could work on side projects. I'm not going to stay long here.

Conclusion

As you can see I did a lot of different things during my career. I didn't mention every projects I worked on nor every clients I've worked with.

I don't have any engineer graduate, diploma, certification. Everything I know about web development I learned by myself. Other skills like communication, presentation, business meetings, business oriented vision, finance, budget etc etc I learned with my experiences when I launched several companies and worked for big clients.

Now, even with no technical certification from school, I work for several big companies with a good daily rate, as a freelance. This allows me to make around 10K EURO per month (raw), which is a really good NET income (much more that most of my friends who went through very long studies).

Anyone can do it. But of course this field of work pays very well. It's not for everyone though.

NOW, I'll get back to work on my next project ;)

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