Man with red jacket, black facial hair and glasses, Aggelos Afratis
2018-11-01 :: 9 min read
Aggelos Afratis
Share on

Turning from a Food Safety Consultant to a Front end Developer and UX Engineer

With the words of a famous Dr. Geller, the secret is Pivot, Pivot, Pivot!

Since my childhood in the 80s (I am 43 years old now) I was completely fascinated by the world of computers. It started when I saw at a movie theater the movie Tron and found it one of the most mesmerizing things I had ever seen. I immediately knew that the movie nodded me to explore the mysterious computer world (unknowingly must have left a thing for motorcycles too, but I discovered that many many years later).

After lots of saving and lots of parents harassing (seems that the “Dad I want a computer” repeatedly every day for a semester works) I got my hands on an 8-bit Amstrad CPC 6128 with the cutting edge technology of floppy disk included.

A bulky, sluggish but utterly wonderful piece of engineering. I won’t state that this was my true calling. Like any other child, I just wanted it to play games (which all of them I can still recall vividly). But every time you turned on the computer you had the following text looking at you enigmatically at the home screen: Basic 1.1. Ready

For a child with natural curiosity, I immediately wondered “When Basic 1.2 will come out and what improvements will it bring?” (If I fire up my old Amstrad now, I am positive it will still be flashing Basic 1.1). But the most important question was what can I write below the “Ready” (except the run command for loading games). After a lot of reading of monthly magazines (slow process alert) and even more trial and error, I managed to build four screens of a wannabe adventure game based on the movie “Frantic” with Harrison Ford. Increasing difficulty and lack of motivation took a toll on the project which was axed in order to focus on school and games.

At this point and trying to keep the interest of all three of you that keep reading this self-promoting text, I jump ahead from 1988 to 2000. Over a decade with none to minimum computer interaction. I am studying Food Science and syllabus has a Computer Science class. After all these years I am in front of a computer (nowadays, a PC) and it had a graphic interface with buttons and menus on the screen!! No more typing, just clicking!! So, obsessively I had to try out what every button and action did. Fortunately, Windows 3.1 upgraded compared to the stagnant Basic 1.1, and more buttons and options were thrown in my way to explore.

And then a Brave New World came: 28kbps, Netscape, HTLM 4.0, IRC, Winamp, Limewire, format to get rid of the virus that was induced by Limewire, etc etc. Again due to lack of time and motivation, I was just using all these wonderful technologies just for browsing and illegal downloading. But when you browse sooner or later you find yourself in a situation where you start reading last night’s sports results and 8 clicks down the road you are reading an HTML tutorial.

Fast forward again (thanks again Joe that you keep reading) to 2017. I am working as a Food Safety Consultant already since 2003. My daily routine consists of lots of paperwork about Food Safety Management Systems (that is translated into forms — A LOT of forms). I try to use different fonts, custom made Word styles, subtle borders but alas, my clients are just interested in keeping the dreaded Salmonella away. I had the best looking forms in the industry but none to appreciate them. The mundane aspect of the paperwork kingdom is killing a bit of me on the inside every day, making my therapist planting the seed of a career change (forever grateful for the gardening, Debbie).

Good thing that I kept the same habit of browsing A LOT since the early 00s, as I bumped on a sponsored post on Facebook of an online university about a challenge to gain a full scholarship on Front End Development. As you may have guessed computers where always a part of my life but always just a hobby (either building simple websites or repairing hardware problems). Just a thing that friends and family were always saying “Oh! You are really good at this”. And I had always the same answer:

I am good at this but I don’t know how it really works. I can’t really understand what is under the hood. I just have the patience to Google what you asked me and try some of the proposed answers

So when I saw the “challenge post”, I just saw it as a way to perhaps finally understand what webpages are made of, and with the words of a famous Barney Stinson I said: “Challenge Accepted”! So, I applied to Udacity and their Front-End Developer Nanodegree program. The application process was simple and demanded a short answer on “Why do you want to do a Front End Developer course?”. I struggled for a short answer (unfortunately you are now actually reading the rather long answer version). After some time I received an email saying more or less “we are sorry but your application was declined”, so I though Hello Listeriosis my old friend, life goes on and other cliches. But the next day I got an email saying… sorry, you received the wrong email and actually you are welcome to join the challenge!!

And that was the start of a wonderful journey. A wonderful ten months journey when everything else was crumbling to pieces (on a personal and professional level). The program itself was full of A-ha! moments (I mean it is a -revelation of how things work- way and not to be confused with an 80’s pop band from Norway). I was really learning the subtle art of Front End Development and I did it in a practical and methodical way that kept my interest throughout the challenge. Long story short I successfully completed the challenge and for reasons unknown to me, I got the full scholarship from Udacity!

From February 2018 to August 2018 I had to learn A LOT of things! Interesting and difficult at the same time. There was more than once that I almost gave up. There was a project to be submitted that you had to build a classic tiles memory game. Syntax errors, logical errors, design errors unionized with the sole purpose to return me to the predefined path of the Campylobacter pathogen (Fun fact of the day: never wash poultry with water over the sink, you’ll just spread millions of Campylobacter cells all over your kitchen top).

But at that point, I knew that: there is a concise logic behind Front End and that if you understand it, you can build whatever comes in your mind (and not be confined by the ready-made WordPress template that you bought). Self-motivation is great and really helped me, but if it wasn’t for my wife who had believed more than I did that I could finish the Nanodegree program and the assorted motivational butt-kicking, probably I would have quitted. Thankfully I was able to get my Certificate in August and celebrations ensued!

Before even finishing Udacity’s Nanodegree I had told my story to various friends over dinners and beers (you are not alone my reader, many have suffered through this long story). Then, Alex, a friend who is at the tech industry told me “You’ve got to meet Socrates. He is a front end designer and I think you’ll get along nicely”. After some meetings (secret: he was right and we did get along well) I landed my first serious task in the tech world: redesign a mobile and web application for an accounting services firm. I was bombarded with new words by the minute: mockups, Figma, The ionic team, native, Sketch, responsive design, constraints, etc. Again, for reasons unknown to me, they liked the final result and soon was offered a job in their company: Quintessential SFT.

With haste and moves worthy to Flash Gordon, I closed the chapter of a Food Safety Consultant. It’s been three months since, that I try to practice what I preach: excellent design, deep UX research, and optimum development. I am fortunate enough to be in a company that lives and breathes these notions. In this time span, I got involved in interesting creative projects that made me eager for more. We are already using cutting edge concepts like building from scratch our own design system, incorporating Atomic Design in our process, fine-tuning the handoff to developers process, etc. Our unique approach to software solutions doesn’t end to the products themselves. We are actively trying to organize a broader approach for the whole design community in our hometown, Athens. How cool is that in less than three months? Is it early to say it was the right move? Yes. But, am I absolutely positive it was the right move? Again, yes.

So we get to the million-dollar question: can I be a UX engineer all of a sudden? The answer is definitely no. Before changing your career, you have to read tremendous quantities of articles, tutorials, books, and talk A LOT with someone already doing the job. You have to have empathy in your everyday life so to be able to understand users and their needs. You have to try to make beautiful things with your computer no matter how small and trivial a task is (ie your email signature, your Instagram photos, your cover photo, a 4 page Word text, etc). You have to take a course that will guide you through concepts and ideas on your field of work and finally: Buy the ticket, take the ride!!

Thanks for reading against all odds a TL;DR text! You can follow me on Behance and see what we can do on our website.