The first path doesn’t always have to be the right one; you can also reach your goal by detouring. Dennis Schaffer is Software Developer in the marketing development team at Anexia and started his apprenticeship at the age of 24. In this #joinourrevolution interview, he tells us how he ended up with his apprenticeship at Anexia, provides insights into vocational school life, and reveals why trying out things and daring to risk something can be the best way to go.
Hello! Introduce yourself, who are you, and what do you do at Anexia?
I’m Dennis Schaffer, and I work in the marketing department as a Software Developer. That’s also where I started my apprenticeship at the beginning of 2017. I have been out of apprenticeship for 4 months now, after successfully passing the exam.
Congratulations! You are the first apprentice in the marketing department to complete your apprenticeship. What has changed for you over the years since you started your training?
The company has grown, and an enormous number of people have joined. There are so many more of us in the marketing department alone! (laughs) In the beginning, for example, we were just two developers, Daniel Wuggenig and me. Daniel also trained and taught me everything. Now there are four of us, and we are constantly growing.
We already moved into a larger office, and the next move is imminent. It’s hard to imagine how the company has changed in that time, just in terms of its number. In the marketing department, itself weren’t that many other changes.
No matter what I’m working on, there’s always something new that’s fun and fascinating to me.
What do you like about your work as a software developer?
I like working as a Software Developer in our marketing department because of the wide spectrum of tasks. For example, we are the company website’s creators and other tools that we use internally, such as the anx.io link shortener. In addition to the entire Anexia website, we also did the website for netcup. You’ve been to a job fair with us before, right? Did you see the arcade machine? The game on it is also from us. We really do lots of different stuff here, and I like that. No matter what I’m working on, there’s always something new that’s fun and fascinating to me.
How did you find out about Anexia?
I randomly came across it on the Internet, and I found out that Anexia was looking for an apprentice. Back then, I had done and tried many other things and never really liked anything. Except for programming and computer science, because these topics have always interested me somehow. So I thought: Why not give it a try? Then I was faced with the choice: either I go to the evening HTL and work part-time or look for an apprenticeship as a technician/programmer. That’s when I stumbled upon Anexia. Then everything happened very quickly, I applied, was accepted, and now I’m here.
And I must admit, it was the right decision. I don’t know if I would have finished it if I had gone to the evening HTL. (laughs) Because in the long run, just theory at school is way too boring for me. I like the practical side of things like “learning by doing” a lot better.
You said you tried many things before you started your apprenticeship at Anexia. Tell us about it!
Initially, I went to a commercial academy (HAK for short), which I then dropped out of because it just wasn’t for me. Then I did an apprenticeship as a locksmith, but I didn’t go to the final exam. Maybe it was because vocational school was too boring for me at the time; I had to read up on a lot of things that didn’t really catch my interest. I didn’t know what to do next, so I worked at Caritas for two years in a residential home for disabled people. I enjoyed that, but it didn’t feel like a permanent solution.
Of course, that all took up a lot of my time, so I sat down and finally thought: “You’re already so old, now do something clever for once.” (laughs) That was the point at which I finally dared to pursue my interests, and I’m very happy about that.
Do you need prior knowledge to become a Software Developer, or can you start from zero?
When I was 7, I started assembling my first PC. That was the point at which I first encountered the world of IT. From then on, I tried to acquire knowledge on my own, which is not comparable to what I learned during my apprenticeship.
With an apprenticeship, you start completely from scratch, and I must admit that I learned a hell of a lot in the 3.5 years of my apprenticeship. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to have some prior knowledge; it helped me get through vocational school more easily. But of course, it also depends on the apprenticeship company. I got a much more comprehensive insight and acquired much more knowledge than I heard from other apprentices and their companies.
Were you able to learn anything from other areas where you already worked?
You shouldn’t let yourself get stressed out. That’s something normal. For example, before a fair, it’s always stressful because you have to finish different workpieces, like landing pages. Or another stressful situation from my first year of teaching, where I accidentally deleted the database of the website… Luckily, that wasn’t a problem because we had a backup, and everything was restored immediately. But in that situation, I did get a fright. Even if it’s stressful sometimes, as an apprentice, you always have the “apprentice bonus,” which allows you to make mistakes and learn from them. (laughs)
As soon as you do something you love to do, you know you’ve found the right thing.
What is your advice to those who don’t know yet which apprenticeship is right for them?
Looking back, I would immediately decide to go into the IT industry. But you don’t know that in advance. If you’re playing with a certain idea, then I would say: Do what makes you happy and stop doing everything you hate to do, but that’s considered as something you shouldn’t say. (laughs)
Just listen to yourself. What do you want to do? Don’t listen to others who might want to push you into something. At that time, I could have gone straight to the HTL. But I was talked out of it, I did something else, and it didn’t work out. As soon as you don’t think to yourself on Sunday: “Oh, today is Sunday, tomorrow is Monday again, and I have to work…”. And you do something you love to do. Then you know you’ve found the right thing.
Wasn’t everyone in vocational school younger than you?
I wasn’t the oldest in vocational school because there are many people among the programmers who are a little older and are already in their second or third level of education. When I started my apprenticeship at 24, I thought it might be strange to go to vocational school at that age, but that quickly went away. And because I was already a bit older and more mature, I took school and training a bit more seriously than when I was a locksmith apprentice.
What did you find most difficult about your apprenticeship?
Definitely the beginning, when I was used to sitting at the computer all day and playing games. Suddenly I had to do other things, like studying and programming. The first few days were pretty hard, and I had a lot of headaches. Otherwise, I enjoyed every day at work. Especially when there was something new to learn, I’m easily inspired and motivated by that.
Appreciation is very important and here at Anexia you are appreciated more than anywhere else.
What makes a good training company for you?
In my opinion, you should get a great overview and the opportunity to learn and be able to handle everything. Unfortunately, I’ve heard from many vocational school colleagues that they didn’t really learn that much in their apprenticeship companies. Some of my classmates, for example, only got an insight into a few areas and always learned the same things, so they never got to know many topics. Fortunately, everything worked out for me.
Of course, it’s also important to be treated with respect and not to be labeled as the classic apprentice. Unfortunately, that’s the case at some companies, at least from what I’ve heard. Appreciation is very important, and here at Anexia, you are appreciated more than anywhere else.
You finished your apprenticeship, what’s next?
A lot, actually, a lot. There are only a few days left, but I’m going to be a father, for example. That was just the right thing to happen when I finished my apprenticeship. Perfect timing.
Congratulations! But is there still time for hobbies?
Not so much now, as a father, I have other things to do. Since I’ve been doing the apprenticeship, I’ve also started doing web development on the side, because I like computer science so much. It’s fun. Because even when the apprenticeship is over, you never stop learning. Computer science is such a big field, and I’m always educating myself by reading stuff on the internet or in books. So I always have something to do, and I don’t get to play video games anymore, for example. However, I bought a Nintendo Switch and play there sometimes, which is also comfortable in bed in the evening.
The classic final question: What can you learn from Software Developers?
Very good question. When you have a problem, you should first analyze the whole problem and then tackle the solution.
At Anexia, we are always looking for problem solvers and lateral thinkers. If you want to tinker with solutions like Dennis, take a look at our vacancies and #joinourrevolution!