A year and a half ago I enrolled at England's College of West Anglia to retrain as a graphic designer. I studied hard, and learned the usual suite of programs. I had never worked for a design company before, had done practically nothing relating to web design, and had never been to Europe. I therefore jumped at the opportunity to experience these things via an exchange program with Bonn's Heinrich-Hertz-Europakolleg (HHEK).
At first I was nervous and had little idea what to expect. All this evaporated instantly! I will never forget the warmth with which I was greeted by the CEO Sebastian Kugler. He had a kindly smile and twinkle in his eyes, which never faded the entire month I was there. He sat me down and introduced me to the rest of the team. Naturally, I expected him then to describe my role. But no. Instead, the team turned to me and asked “What can we help you learn?”
I thought the team would exploit my existing skillets to help the company, but, quite the opposite, they took time away from their work to teach a lowly exchange student! And teach me they did! In the space of a month I learned HTML, CSS, the ideals of good design (they bought me a book!), and by the end I launched my own commercial website!
And that is not is not all! To give me a delicious taste of life in Bonn, they took me out to local pubs, restaurants, and events such as the carnival. When I asked them, casually, what was 'Pumpernickel', the next morning it was on my desk!
On the subject of food, they have the most wonderful tradition of cooking for each other at lunch time. This was not only a great way of sampling the local cuisine, or a way for me to please them with some English dishes. Cooking for other people is a nurturing activity, and it generated a wonderful family-like atmosphere.
The webfactory is run like a family business, hackspace, or worker's cooperative. There is little hierarchy, the pay is good, the hours are flexible. Employees have a lot of autonomy and space to be creative. And they treat their clients as warmly and as faithfully as they treated me.
I do not know whence the webfactory derives its magic: whether it is from the German apprenticeship system; its friendly business model; or its kindly CEOs and workers. But it is a very special place. It has inspired me in so many ways, not only in its 'responsive' web design or its cooperative business model. It has made me rethink how human beings can relate to each other and their environment.
Thank you webfactory for a lifechanging experience!
We received this amazing report from our exchange student Oliver after spending a four week work placement with our team in Spring 2015.