For a long time, we believed that having the right and formal education was key to acquiring the best jobs. But if you've been keeping up with the tech industry, you know that's simply not true anymore. Things are changing so fast that the education system can hardly keep up. What you learn today might be irrelevant by the time you're ready to enter the workforce. So now, there are other ways to get ahead. You can learn online, from YouTube videos, or just by doing things yourself. The people at Prepr are a great example of how self-learning and taking an alternate path can create opportunities beyond education and having ‘the right papers’. Let's take a closer look at some of their stories.
Tom Swinkels - Developer
Let's explore the story behind Tom Swinkels, one of Prepr's developers who's been with the team for more than a decade. Believe it or not, Tom was actually Prepr's first-ever hired employee! When it comes to his education, Tom has quite the journey. He has tried various types of education and ended up finishing ICT Level 2 and 3. After he started Level 4 he quickly realized that the knowledge he needed wasn’t present. Tom clashed with his teachers when they tried to force him to do things a certain way, just because it was the “correct” approach, while it didn’t make sense to him. When asked if what he learned during his education was relevant to his work now, Tom responded with a laugh and said, “No, not at all, I was actually the one teaching my teachers about programming, and whenever I asked them something, they didn’t understand what I meant.”
Tom's curiosity about developing started at a young age when he had to use his telephone connection to gain internet access, and most computers didn’t even have internet. Roughly two decades ago, he got familiar with Microsoft FrontPage, and that's really how he got started. Later on, Tom started downloading open-source code to modify it slightly over time, and it's safe to say he's a self-taught pro!
Tom shared with us his perspective on education as a developer; “I don’t think a school education is necessary to do what we do. In my opinion, a degree doesn’t stand for much. I actually think that as a developer, it’s better to not have the highest education because those without are usually more practical with their skill set. For anyone wanting to develop skills as a developer, start with researching and just doing it. Connect with our communities, follow the development, and develop yourself.”
Erwin Veldhuizen – Team lead product team
When it comes to Erwin's educational background, it's safe to say it wasn't the typical route. He had his hands in a wide variety of experiences before ultimately ending up at Prepr. He gained experience and knowledge from everything he did.
Erwin studied HBO Communication, with a minor in Communications & Public Affairs, which was mainly focused on knowledge-attitude-behavior. How to convey, how will the message be perceived and understood, and how to influence/change people to have them perform what is requested and required. As a team lead this is quite relevant, but what he learned in the study and what he could use from it is very limited.
Along with his studies, Erwin also held a leadership position in an association, which gave him valuable skills in connection-building, team-building, persuasion, and fostering respect among peers. He gained expertise in streamlining processes and ensuring smooth collaboration among team members too. He developed great organizational abilities and learned how to keep team collaboration running smoothly.
After a stint in his first job, Erwin decided to become a freelance communication advisor. He managed to get his hands on a diverse range of assignments relating to communication, innovation, and technology. Prepr was a perfect place for him to put all his skills and expertise together. When he first discovered Prepr, he immediately recognized it as an innovative, challenging and dynamic workplace, coupled with advanced technology and a great team. As mentioned by Erwin, he is happy to say that he has been able to help build the company over the past several years.
When Erwin started at Prepr, he began as a support agent, doing some quality control and testing work, learning on the job. Then he moved into leading the product team, a job that he didn't think he was necessarily qualified for, especially when it came to the technical knowledge. However he learned everything he needed to know by being closely involved with the development process. He learned in his own role, as well as with his co-workers, that motivation and character are key. Erwin thinks Prepr offers a great place and opportunities for both school dropouts and the highly educated, making it a unique and pleasant workplace.
Erwin said, "When I look back at my professional life, it all fits together like a puzzle. Everything I did contributed to gaining the right knowledge. The study of communications was very broad, and by doing a variety of different projects and side activities, I was able to narrow down my interests and get to know myself better. I get enthusiasm from the people that surround me and from working in a team. I am structured and responsible. This job fits me perfectly.”
Jouko Huismans – CEO
Jouko Huismans, the current CEO of Prepr, but how did he get there? Jouko studied Chemistry at the University of Amsterdam, but after finishing his bachelor's degree he realized that being in a white lab coat wasn't for him. Unsure of what to do next, he started studying Public Administration, where he worked with the Da Vinci Group - an innovative consultancy agency that developed multi-channel services. From then on, everything about the internet piqued his interest. After completing his studies, he went on to do a master's degree in Change Management at Sioo. Looking back - according to Jouko - most of his education isn't relevant to his current position, only the Masters in Change Management is somewhat relevant.
Jouko told us “When I started working, the internet was emerging, there was no education for it. You could only learn on the job. The beautiful thing about the internet and tech industry is that it’s a learning environment by itself. I believe in the ‘Reflective Practitioner’, a vision of Donald Schön how professionals learn to cope with problems they face. It is not something you learn at graduate school or university.”
Jouko started as an entrepreneur at the age of 28, and did a variety of things from being a freelancer to owning a business consultancy firm. The last company he had was TwoMinds - a consultancy firm focused on the Media & Entertainment industry. He ran TwoMinds together with Ton van Mil, who is now a business advisor for Prepr.
But then Jouko met Tim Hanssen, founder of Prepr, who had just started his SaaS business, and he immediately felt the excitement of a great opportunity. First, he did some projects together with Tim for his clients. These projects convinced Jouko even more that this product had great potential. Working for a SaaS product company was always something he wanted to do.
Jouko and Tim had a great connection right from the start. They talked a lot about the product and what market focus was needed for it. Then Tim and his business partner Mark asked Jouko to join the company. Jouko started in a COO position, getting things well organized and structured. After a while, Mark left Prepr, and from that moment on, it was clear that Tim and Jouko were running the company. Tim became the CTO, and Jouko became the CEO.
We asked Jouko if he felt like he needed a different education or papers for the job that he is doing now. He replied with a firm no - "I strongly believe that you don't need any education or papers to run a successful SaaS company. Everyone can do this. Being a SaaS entrepreneur is not something you can learn upfront. It's something that you learn by doing." Jouko didn’t believe he was qualified to be the CEO of Prepr when he started, but he learned so much - on multiple levels - from how on a technical level modern web development works, to a more strategic level, like how to position your product in a big and rapidly changing SaaS market and much more.
By talking to the Prepr Team we've learned that education isn't everything, especially not in our industry! Follow your passions and learn by doing. To wrap this blog up, here's some advice from Jouko: "First, make sure you organize your own learning. The faster you and your team learn, the better your chances of success. Keep in mind that you're led by assumptions, many of which are incorrect. Try to figure out which ones are correct and which ones aren't. Second, make sure you create a well-rounded team with multiple disciplines. While we're a tech company at heart, you need more than just tech to succeed. Consider marketing, sales, support, and finance/HR. Remember to think outside the box!”