Hey there, I’m Nathan. I have just finished my masters degree in Computer Science and I work as a full-time software engineer in Amsterdam. My eyesight is around 20%. Let me further introduce myself.
I grew up in the Netherlands and started studying Computer Science at the Vrije Universiteit in 2009. It was a very obvious choice for me. I taught myself programming at the age of 15 and was reasonably experienced when I graduated high school. During those years, I spent time building my own video games and engines and developing tools that helped others to build games. I quickly found that I loved the engineering part a lot, which is about finding the right angle to approach a problem. Although many solutions to programming problems exist, there are often few that are both fast and easy to understand. Video games contain many interesting engineering challenges that were exciting to me.
I can remember that going to university was a really huge step for me. Because of my eyesight, I wasn’t very confident about traveling back and forth from Alkmaar, which is where I lived, to Amsterdam. However, I participated in the introduction week, which helped me to overcome these insecurities and allowed me to meet many new people.
At first, I studied really hard and got good grades for all the courses. In my second year I discovered that studying has a social aspect to it as well. I joined the study union for Mathematics, Computer science and related fields and suddenly I had created a new social circle for myself. In my third year, I both got a part-time job and moved out of my parent’s home. Although these were big moves, I managed to pass my exams. I did notice that I had to do quite some juggling to keep everything going forward, especially the part-time job. The most important thing I learned was to make realistic estimates of what you can do and communicate these clearly.
I finished my bachelors cum laude in 3 years and started my Masters. I quit my part-time job to fully devote my time to my studies, which turned out to be a good move, since the job was rather stressful and I didn’t learn a lot from it anymore. After some time, I switched to a different masters program, which had mostly international students in it. I really enjoyed the more international atmosphere and it opened me up even more. I got inspired because many students seemed to be doing summer internships abroad. I decided to give that a shot as well.
My first attempt was a position at Amazon in Seattle, but they already had enough candidates. I was a bit disappointed, but it made me more determined to really go for it. I polished my resume and applied for a Google internship in December 2013 and after a lengthy recruiting process, they offered me a project in London in April. I spent 14 weeks at Google in the summer months and I learned loads about how to build high quality software. This was my first experience living abroad by myself and it really expanded my world. After this internship, I not only became a better software engineer, but a more “worldly” person. The experience removed many psychological barriers that prevented me from traveling by myself. Also, In 2014, I was one of the 10 people who received a Google Scholarship for students with disabilities. I am still very grateful and hope to inspire students with disabilities to make bald moves and aim for the sky.
In the mean-time, I had already started another part-time job (January 2014) at Focus Orange, which is an HR consulting firm. They hired me to start developing an HR-analytics platform from scratch with two other students. I hesitated a lot before signing the contract, because I know this was going to impact my studies. However, it was a fantastic opportunity with interesting challenges and nice colleagues. I eventually signed and never regretted that decision. I immediately told them about my application for the internship and they agreed that I should pursue it.
After finishing my internship, I continued working part-time and doing courses at a slower pace. The work was exciting so I decided to do less courses such that I could keep my job. I tried to get a second Google internship in New York City, but unfortunately no projects were available for me. After finishing my courses, I wrote my masters thesis, which was about detecting whether a server is vulnerable to a cyber-attack remotely, without breaking in yourself. This turned out to be a very tough challenge, so it took me over two years to write the thesis, alongside my job. After a lot of frustration and stumbling, I eventually managed to finish it with good results.
I hope my story helps and inspires you to aim high. My journey was really about discovering that despite what many believe, very few ‘actual’ barriers exist. It just a bit of courage to take a leap every now and then. However, don’t push yourself too much to reach end-goals. It is much more about doing what you love and saying yes to opportunities that give you new perspectives and experiences.
All the best to you,