Meet the Experts: Iwan

Meet the Experts: Iwan

Over the past few years, coding has become a critical career skill that many of us should consider adding to our skillset. Whether you're a business owner, freelancer or full-time employee, knowing how to code will add value to your CV. We've asked one of our favourite experts in programming and coding to share his professional path in this field and some of his insights about the industry. Iwan Kalyniak is a trainer in web development and motion graphics. Learn more about his career change, recommended software and sense of humour:

Why did you decide to pursue a career in programming?

Back in the day I was a session musician and got involved with computers from involvement with hard disk recording. The idea was to produce an indie for some friends, but the computers took over!

If you could go back, what career would you pursue today?

Chances are I would still be a musician. I remember that the band I was in was just about to sign a long term contract with a hotel chain in South East Asia when some war broke out and all bets were off. Otherwise, I might still be there! I'm happy with the way things worked out in the long run.

Tell me how you got into freelancing and how this changed your career.

Freelancing has always come naturally to me. Originally, I was a session musician so becoming a freelance coder/designer wasn't really that different (except the phone started to ring more!). In fact, one of the reasons I re-trained into computing was that the work I was getting as a musician wasn't satisfying me anymore, both artistically and financially.  

In terms of changing my career, it was a brilliant college called Nottingdale Technology Centre that did it for me. I realised that there was this brave new world emerging called WEB and I was empowered to dive into it. I also started getting offers of work, so by the time I left I was already freelancing. 

What advice would you give to freelancers today?

Try to get a balance between diversifying and not spreading yourself too thin. If possible try to follow what you are best at and enjoy the most. On a totally practical level, I advise getting an accountant as their services are tax-deductible. Also, if you are the one client-facing, make sure you get things clear in writing in regards to what you will do, what you won't do, costs, additional charges etc BEFORE you start the job. There are standard contract templates that you can download for free. This will protect you and make the client respect you more, which is no bad thing when you are alone in this big bad world.

You're known to be an experienced programmer. What's your favourite programming language to work with and why?

No one has ever asked me that one before. Does ANYONE actually have a favourite programming language? I certainly don't. On the other hand, I have favourite software, so why not languages? Why am I answering a question with questions? Ha Ha! If it is Object-Oriented and I can get my head around it ‐ bring it on. For me, the fun bit has always been about planning and thinking through the logic and then translating that into code.  It is more about what I am using the language for, than the actual language itself. I certainly enjoy the front-end development rather than the back end. 

For example, I might have to produce some kind of interactive data visualisation. First I have to figure out how to extract the data I need ‐ this is the back end. Once I have the data ONLY THEN the fun and games begin with how that gets visualised ‐ bar chart, line graph, toggle between the two ‐ etc. I enjoy that bit the most. I would prefer to be building scripted banner ads and games rather than looping through a database.

What do you enjoy the most about programming and coding?

The bit I enjoy the most is the planning, which can also be the biggest challenge. Once I have the specs down and some general logic then I try to translate that into whichever language. It is kind of a love-hate relationship because it can drive you crazy, but I get such a buzz when it comes together.

What's the hardest thing about working as a professional coder?

Getting paid. Only kidding. For me in terms of client-facing, the trickiest part is trying to guess how long it will take. Then in terms of the actual coding the bit I find hardest is debugging the non-technical errors. That last one bears some explanation: a technical error could be something like a typo ‐ if I miss out a curly bracket then the app won't work and some sort of output console will give me a geeky message like “Unexpected termination at line 127 so I go to that line and try to spot what I got wrong. A non-technical error means the app doesn't do what it is supposed to and I have to figure out why ‐ which usually means it is an error in my own logic. Tricky.

For someone who wants to pursue a career in coding, do you have any recommendations, what would they be?

Develop the habit of NOT thinking in code. Think things through with logic first THEN translate it. It is all too easy to get sucked into the environment and then forget what you are trying to build! When you work away from the machine you will naturally find the kind of thought processes that appeal most to you and this will start to point you in the direction that best suits you. Think of a game you enjoy or some data graphic that impresses and then ask yourself how YOU would go about building it. If you hear experienced programmers discussing problems they never talk about code ‐ they talk about ideas. It is all about ideas.

Tell me about the companies you've worked with and your process for securing those projects. 

Some have been word of mouth and some have been through agents. I have mainly been a team player rather than a team leader and when you have done one, your name is on the list and you get a call. Just like being a session muso, really.

How would you explain APIs to non-technical clients?

They are code libraries to make development easier. Different ones have different specialities. Some are better for animation, others for games and so on. It is very common to use multiple APIs in a single project. For example, Javascript is a core language that has spawned many APIs, such as jQuery, Angular and React.

Can you tell me more about your favourite programming project you've worked on?

This is where the nostalgia kicks in. Having studied at NDTC, I then became Internet Coordinator and worked on some projects with European partners. One of my jobs was to produce interactive CDs which was really how I began to get involved in multimedia programming and realised I loved coding animations, games and interactions. They were quite large projects developed over years, but these days I prefer smaller jobs with a quick turnaround, especially banner ads using an API like Greensock.  

What advice would you give to freelance programmers today on how to find their clients?

I would say get an agent, otherwise, you will spend all your time calling and emailing and trying to get people to look at you and your work. An agent gets paid for doing that, and a good one will chase up the invoices for you as well. 

When reviewing a code, what do you think are the most important aspects to pay attention to?

Neat and tidy code with clear comments, so that other members of the team can see at a glance what is going on. Having said that every programmer has their own style and one of the hardest things to do is understand how others write. When I review my own code I always do at least one refactored version where I aim to reduce unnecessary lines. Less is definitely more.

Why did you become a trainer at Media Training?

I had been teaching for Kensington & Chelsea College both in the IT and 2D Design Departments but I was self-employed. I found myself very busy during term time but increasingly out of work during holidays. Plus the amount of paperwork was getting on my nerves. I had made the decision to focus more on the training side, and an agency mentioned the idea of corporate training. I bought some computer mags and looked at adverts for training companies and cold-called Media Training at exactly the time they were looking for a full-time trainer (told you I was lucky). I went for a couple of interviews and trained full time for the first four years and went freelance for Media Training ever since.

What is it like to be a trainer at Media Training?

For the past thirty years, I have trained in many types of environments ‐ from public schools to adult education to corporate training and without a doubt I enjoy Media Training the most. The standard is high as the delegates are pretty much all industry professionals, which is a challenge I enjoy. The facilities, machines and software are excellent as is the support, both technical and office-based. However, the thing that for me sets Media Training apart has always been the people. There is a real sense of belonging to a team. More like a family, really. Everyone is trying their best to deliver their best work and support one another in a genuine fashion. I find this special and long may it continue.

What courses do you teach?

My subjects can be broadly divided between from-end web coding and 2D animation. People sometimes find this surprising, but I started out in graphics and DTP before I got involved in the web. On the code front, I teach HTML & CSS, Javascript and various APIs such as jQuery and Bootstrap. On the software side I teach Animate, After Effects and Google Web Designer ‐ even some Photoshop once in a while.

If a delegate attends one of your courses, how will this benefit their career?

No learning is lost. Everything I teach can be directly applied to real-world scenarios. I always think of what I do as saving people time. Theoretically one can learn anything alone, especially with the information out there, but who has that much time? Come on to one of my courses and you will be amazed how much you can pick up in only a day or two. 

Do you think the coding industry is going in the right direction?

Industries serve needs and coding is no different in that respect.

What trends in programming do you predict for the future?

Hmmm. Not my strong point predicting future trends. There was a time when I would have put money on ActionScript3 being in for the long haul ‐ and looked at what happened there! Having said that, Javascript is SO widely used at the moment and there are so many of its related APIs, I would expect that to continue to grow. In a broad sense, things seem to be becoming more modular with greater specialisation. I can also envisage more and more open-source environments and software-driven development tools.

If you're interested in learning more about the courses that Iwan teaches and have him as a preferred trainer, take a look at our coding courses to find what fits your needs the most.

by Iwan Kalyniak | 27 Sep 23

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