Valin Kennedy has always had a curiosity for how things work. From a young age, he was fascinated with computers and spent his spare time dissembling and rebuilding them, and eventually began learning how to program cars. Naturally, this hobby evolved into a deep interest in coding which he pursued through elective subjects in high school, online teaching platforms like Grok and by participating in the NCSS Challenge.

Originally from regional NSW, Valin relocated to Sydney in 2024 to join our Earn & Learn program and study computer science at UTS, a move he says wouldn’t have been possible without the financial support provided by the program.

We spoke to Valin about discovering his passion for coding, how he accelerated his skills, and his experience working as an associate software developer straight out of high school.

When and how did your passion for coding begin?

Since my early years in primary school, I've had a strong passion for computers. I used to visit the resource recovery center at my local dump to find discarded computers, which I loved taking apart and combining parts from multiple machines to create better ones.

This interest grew over time, and eventually, I saved up enough money to build a brand new computer from scratch. In high school, I chose Information Systems Technology (IST) as an elective in Year 9 and 10. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about coding and its mechanics, and over the four years in IST and Software Design and Development (SDD) I learned to program microcontrollers like Arduinos and micro bits, create websites, and get a good understanding of the basics of coding.

My passion for coding really took off during the creation of my major project for SDD. What started as a required assignment, quickly became a personal hobby. Following my project, I taught myself how to program cars and began doing so for others on a regular basis. I found programming cars so enjoyable that I realized I wanted to pursue a career in programming.

How did you learn how to code?

I initially learned how to code through the NCSS challenge courses. In Year 9, I started with the beginner course, followed by the intermediate course in Year 10, and advanced in Year 11.

As I progressed to Year 12, coding lessons at school became less frequent, shifting more towards theoretical aspects. To continue advancing my skills, especially for my major project and in my free time, I took on self-teaching. This included delving deeper into programming cars and expanding my knowledge of python.

What online courses or platforms did you find most helpful for learning new programming languages and concepts?

The NCSS courses were incredibly beneficial to me, particularly because my school fully supported them. We dedicated entire lessons to these courses, which spanned from Year 9 through Year 11.

What I found most valuable was their approach to teaching coding through engaging challenges. This not only kept me consistently interested but also motivated me to tackle progressively more difficult tasks. Completing the beginners, intermediate, and advanced NCSS challenges on Grok over those three years significantly fuelled my interest and deepened my understanding of programming.

Have you attended any coding bootcamps or competitions? If so, which ones and did they contribute to your skill development?

I haven't attended any coding bootcamps or competitions, but I did gain valuable experience through a few weeks of work experience with Cyber Security NSW and ASD (Australian Signals Directorate).

During this time, my coding skills, especially in cybersecurity, were significantly enhanced. I learned about identifying vulnerabilities in websites and applications, and how to code defensively to mitigate these vulnerabilities. This experience greatly improved my critical thinking skills, as I now consider more than just whether a program functions correctly when I code.

What attracted you to the Earn & Learn program?

What attracted me to the Earn & Learn program was the opportunity it presented. Initially, I aimed to attend UTS for a Bachelor of Computer Science, drawn by the chance to live in Sydney and participate in their elite athlete sports program. However, the costs associated with moving from a rural area to the city made this seem like a distant goal. Learning about the Earn & Learn program changed everything.

It not only provided financial assistance for relocating but also offered the exact course I wanted at UTS, coupled with valuable work experience in my desired career field. Applying for the Earn & Learn program was an easy decision for me.

Can you talk a bit about your experience relocating to Sydney for the program? What have been the biggest changes you’ve experienced?

Relocating to Sydney for the program has been a significant transition for me. Having been a boarder at my previous school for three years, I had already developed some independence skills. However, moving from a rural area four hours away to a bustling city was a larger adjustment than I anticipated.

One of the immediate changes was adapting to transportation in Sydney. Coming from driving my manual Ute anywhere I needed in the countryside, navigating through Sydney's traffic and finding parking posed new challenges. Transitioning to using public transport took some getting used to initially, but I quickly adapted within the first week.

Beyond transportation, the biggest adjustments have been the everyday tasks that come with living independently. Cooking daily meals, managing laundry, including washing, drying, and ironing clothes, doing dishes, and regular grocery shopping have all been part of this new routine.

The large group of people in the Earn & Learn program at WiseTech really helped me adjust to moving to Sydney. Before I moved, I didn't know many people there, but now I have plenty of new friends to hang out with and attend university classes. It's made me feel much more welcome in Sydney.

What practical advice would you give to high school students who are keen to advance their coding skills?

For high school students looking to improve their coding skills, I'd recommend getting involved in a hobby that involves coding. Whether it's programming cars like I did, game development, exploring robotics, or any other interest, as long as it involves coding. Practicing through these hobbies not only builds coding skills but also deepens understanding of programming languages.

When coding is something you enjoy as a hobby, the motivation to learn and self-teach naturally follows. This approach not only makes learning fun but also helps develop practical skills that are valuable for the future.

So, my advice is to pick a coding-related hobby that excites you. Dive in, work on personal projects, and enjoy the learning process, it's a great way to grow your skills and set yourself up for success in coding.