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Coding could be the missing piece to your balanced life !

Alumni of batch #96 (2017) of Le Wagon Brussels , Karel is now the happy product manager of the brussels-based successful startup CitizenLab. At 31, way-too-proud father, he is enjoying working in Brussels while living just outside of it, in the rural Flanders. On a continuous discovery track of what he was really passionate about and what he was good at, he found a perfect balance after Le Wagon.

Featuring graduate Karel Verhaeghe Product Manager in Citizen Lab More about Karel
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At CitizenLab, Karel is working on ways to allow citizens to put their needs & dreams on the local policy agenda.
We asked him how and why did he decided to jump in this new career path of programming:

What were you doing before learning how to code ?

I studied bio-engineering and European politics. I discussed the European fruit&vegetables policy with all EU member states, accompanied startups in the cooperative and social economy by writing business plans, and sold short videos to a wide range of B2B businesses. But I was always on search of a balance between my passions and my abilities

That is when you decided to join Le Wagon Brussels ?

In all this search, I felt like a 21st century illiterate not understanding one bit of how the code-based world around us worked. And I had a perfect time gap in between two jobs. I started some online HTML and CSS courses on Codeacademy, but soon discovered this wasn’t going to do the trick. I deep-dived into online reviews of coding bootcamps, and Le Wagon came out best for me. A short introductory call with the Brussels' driver confirmed this and convinced me to enroll. 

How did you manage to stay motivated throughout the training?

That wasn’t very hard. The only frustrating part about Le Wagon is that it makes you wonder why all those years in school weren't organized in the same way. The program structure, content and speed is simply perfect. You’re not bombarded with theory and stuff to learn by heart, but you’re shown how to find your way and how to get to solutions by yourself.

Can you tell us more about the product you developed during your last two weeks at the Wagon? 

Our team of 4 worked on an application to support aspiring authors on the go. They could publish their books in progress chapter by chapter, get crowdfunded for it and even some honest feedback of their loyal readers on how to continue the story. If the scriptwriters of the last season of GOT would have used our solution, the world would be a different place right now ;-).

Can you explain to us what your position at Citizen Lab is about? 

I currently don’t work as a developer, but as product manager, operating between the business team and our product-development team. My main role is to understand our customer needs as well as possible and define the next steps to take with our digital participation platforms based on a mix of those needs with our company's vision. Together with our designer, we work out solutions, perform experiments with our developers, or move to production-ready software and product market those when done. The Le Wagon training helps me to have empathy with the great work our developers are doing and the effort it can take. I never did anything as challenging and fun as this. While being on a team that aspires to improve democracy: I love it!

Right now I’m working on ways to allow citizens to put their needs & dreams on the local policy agenda, and on ways to open up relevant policy decisions made in your city in an accessible and attractive way.
And on a personal note, I’m working on a new website for my girlfriend’s psychology practice.

GovTech is the next big thing.
Citizen Lab in Brussels !

What are your tips for those who want to become a dev after the training? 

Don’t underestimate what you’re capable of doing after leaving Le Wagon. Although the demo weeks may have created the feeling you’re only at the very start of your coding experience, dare to apply for that dev dream job. From what I’ve seen and learned, lots of companies appreciate the training you got at Le Wagon and are willing to continue your learning track while at the job. And if they don’t, maybe they’re not really worth considering.

The Wagon is a community above all. Has this network been useful to you?

Because of the way things went for me, I didn’t really need to make an appeal on the community. But I did see a lot of people of our batch continuing to work together one way or the other. And I do have the luck to work at BeCentral in Brussels, right next to Le Wagon, so I do get to see people of our batch from time to time.

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