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An interview with RED Academy Alumni, Hunter Winterhalt

You had what many would call a solid career as a Project Manager and Journeyperson Plumber before going to RED Academy. What made you decide to leave that behind and pursue web development?

Well, I decided to leave behind my plumbing career because I wanted to pursue bigger and better things. I had no Idea what that was going to be (and had never really heard of web development) at that point, it was almost more of a decision to leave my hometown, rather than my career. I had “big city dreams” in a sense. I wanted to find something I really enjoyed, that gave me freedom, and that would provide me with an epic life. 


What was your happiness level before going to RED?

I’m a generally happy person, so I was pretty happy! But really around the time before I went to red I was really quite happy because I was at a point in my life where I had just moved to the big city and was actively looking for something new and exciting to do for a living, and RED just happened to fall into my lap at the right time.


What were you lacking from your current situation? What did you want to change in your life?

I’ve always wanted to do something creative, and I’ve also always been interested in the business side of things.  I was lacking both of those things at the job I was at, and those things are two things I knew really wanted to pursue. 

I was also lacking an enjoyable city to live in.  The place I come from, there really isn’t much to do at all. Vancouver was the obvious choice for me. I love it. The ocean, amazing food, live music, great nightlife, lots of opportunity, the mountains.  What else could you want besides cheaper rent and gas?


Was there a specific catalyst that made you seek out a change?

There was actually a couple. I had been wanting to make a change for a long time, and I knew that if I didn’t start making moves, it wasn’t going to happen. So one day I just woke up and decided that today was the day I was going to “burn the boats” per say. I put in my notice, and was off to Vancouver a short while later.

After I had been living in Vancouver for a while, I heard a friend of mine was travelling Europe for a year, while working for clients back in Canada.  That completely blew my mind. I needed to find out what he was doing for work, and it turned out he was a web developer. Well that weekend I was looking for something to do, and ended up on one of Daily Hive’s things to do in Vancouver this weekend articles or whatever, and on the list was “Learn to Code for Free” at Red Academy. And the rest is history.

What was/is your ultimate career/life goal?

To be happy (in simple terms).

My ultimate career goal is essentially to be my own boss and own a successful design firm, and my ultimate life goal is to create a life that I don’t need to vacation away from.


Before applying to RED, what other opportunities did you explore?

When looking for a career change I had a lot of things I considered doing, but never took too seriously.  I toyed with ideas like men’s clothing, promoting, clubs, life coaching, Opening a bar, etc.


You went to Saskatchewan Polytechnic for your engineer’s degree—how was that experience?

The plumbing degree is set up as an apprenticeship program at a technical institute so the learning did have a decent amount of practical learning, so that was much more enjoyable.

And at only two months per year, it really is quite manageable.


What made you choose the journeyperson path originally?

I chose this original path for convenience sake. Which is always a sad thing to have to admit.


How did you end up choosing RED to get the schooling you wanted?

I was reading an article about things to in Vancouver on Vancity Buzz.  One of the options was to “Learn How To Code” (Great marketing choice by the way. That building was packed).  It was a free 2 hour introductory course at Red. I came across it shortly after I had spoken to my friend about him being a developer and being able to work from anywhere with wifi. When I attended the course I got to learn about how RED works, and it definitely sounded like a great course of action to take.


What was your RED experience like?

My experience(s) at RED was amazing. It is a really short time frame and intense, but once it’s over you realize how much you actually got from it. Everyone goes through the struggle together, so the friendships you make there are invaluable. You make a ton of connections in the industry, the staff are amazing. My first experience of RED was good enough for me to come back again!


How did RED support your journey as a student?

Well RED’s staff is amazing in terms of support.  Their door is always open for advice. And the way the structure is set up, the instructors feel like peers & mentors more than teachers or professors.


How did RED support your journey as a graduate?

They have a couple different alumni channels, which I’ve turned to a couple times for help. I’ve also stayed in contact with some of the staff members.  Everyone is there for one another which is kind of refreshing honestly. Most industries are really cut throat, but RED really gives you the best aspect of the tech industry on a silver platter, which is the community aspect of the industry. 


You’ve since founded your own company, Preem Digital—congratulations! That’s a big accomplishment. What kind of work do you do on a daily basis?

Thank you! My day typically starts off with business-focused work for the first couple hours. Answering emails, client relations, and working on sales. And the rest of the time designing and building. Preem designs & builds websites for small businesses, so the average day is just making websites.  However, Preem is in the process of being transformed. It will be a brand new company offering new services. Although my business will still be doing websites, the web projects are going to be a lot more custom and design centred, focusing on strategy and user experience. I’m also going to be pushing my business into the app market, and offering branding services.


What made you decide to return for Full Stack Design?

Well, When I started Preem Digital, I just finished my diploma in web development, and my business concept was simple: build simple websites for small businesses. Well, it turns out developers designing things without knowing anything about design, isn’t exactly a recipe for success. I wanted to push my business to more advanced & custom projects, as well as break into the app market. And I’ve always considered myself a creative type, so design was a much better fit. 


How has your life changed for the better since you chose to attend RED?

Well, I now live in Thailand for most of the year, and I work from anywhere I want. Home, an office, a coffee shop. Wherever really! I mean, if it weren’t for RED, I wouldn’t have started my own company and moved to paradise. Attending RED was one of the most important life decisions I’ve ever made. 


You spend half of the year in Thailand and half of the year in Vancouver. Why is that? Tell us more about this situation. What’s your favourite part about it?

I actually now see Thailand as my home. I love almost everything about this place. Best food in the world, everything is really cheap, the weather is amazing, the people are amazing. At first I wanted to be the digital nomad type that travelled everywhere and worked.  But I think I’ve found my paradise here, and am looking to make it a more permanent situation. I always come back to Canada to visit my family and help out my dad with some business stuff. My family and relatives are very family oriented, and although it would be easy for me to stay over here forever, I never want to just fall off the face of the earth and not be there for the people who provided me with an amazing upbringing. I started my business with flexibility and mobility in mind, so the biggest benefit of that is being able to go back home and spend quality time with my family.


Any advice for others who would like to make the change that you did?

Just try. I know it’s scary, and the risk of failure will always be there. But the worst case scenario is to go back to the same type of job you had before. That’s worth a shot, and you owe it to yourself to not take the easy way out.


What other hobbies/interests do you have?

Photography & film
Watching Gordon Ramsey videos on youtube. Not videos where he is actually cooking though.


What is important to you? What are you passionate about?

My biggest fear is wasting my potential.  It scares the shit out of me to be honest. I know that sounds cliche but it’s true. Because of that, my passion and what is most important for me, is trying to create and live a life that is true and authentic to myself. I spent too many years of my life not going after what I want. That’s not part of my plan anymore.

Anything else you would like to add?

I just want to add how much I would recommend RED. The fact that you can immerse yourself for three months and come out with a portfolio of real work for clients, a diploma, and a solid working knowledge of your field, almost sounds too good to be true. But it is true. So if you are on the fence about it, just jump off the fence.  Because three months for a solid career change is a small sacrifice in comparison to a four year college degree. 


What age are you? What age did you attend RED?

I’m 28, I attended RED at 25 and 27

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