Peter Poulsen is a Danish software engineer with more than 10 years of experience. He is running his company from Prague and has been looking to expand his team. Peter joined the bootcamp as mentor during the Spring Batch 2021, expecting he might come to an agreement with one of our skilled students. His wish came true and they started a cooperation with Marek Stránský, who graduated from the Spring Batch in July 2021. Before the bootcamp, Marek worked as a commissioning manager for a company in the power industry. After 5 years of travelling the world from one project to another, he decided to change his career to web development, where he could pursue his passion - building projects from scratch and polishing them to (near)perfection.
We reached out to Peter and Marek after a few months of them starting to work together to learn more about how their cooperation is going.
Can you tell us briefly about your company and about the job?
Peter: The company, or at least the companies I represent, because it's more than one, are primarily working with payment and payment systems for anything from festivals and events to normal businesses. And as part of this, we have a lot of add-on products for festivals. For instance, we now have a system for helpers where the festivals can manage their crew, put up schedules, make the planning of the whole thing, of their volunteers, some cheaper tickets and other stuff like this. We also have a ticket system in the pipeline that we are going to start, but the path we are working on right now is apps for the helper system.
Marek: And that's what I'm doing. When I started at Peter's company, we decided that I would start with apps for iPhones and iPads. So I continued my learning after the bootcamp, and now I'm trying to make a proper app for the festival system. And it's already been three days since the app is in the AppStore. So it goes quite well.
Why did you decide to look at the bootcamp for someone to work in your company?
Peter: I have had my own IT company since 2001. Mostly as a hobby back then. But the last 10 years went from hobby to very serious. And in those 10 years, I've been trying to hire some senior developers to expand because in essence, we are getting too many products for one person alone. But my problem has always been that senior developers have, firstly, a lot of bad habits. Secondly, they are not really very reliable. They are somewhere in their career where they are thinking of part time with a huge salary. And this sort of work has a lot of downsides. So I tried a lot and never had any success so far. I actually gave up and then again, because now we got more work and more orders after COVID, I got the idea of why not try with a junior developer and see if I can't shape and teach him my bad habits instead of everybody else's! :-) So that was the reason why I started searching. And then by luck, I found Coding Bootcamp Praha and went for a meeting with the founder. She showed a lot of interest in who I was, who she was letting in through the door, and if I was someone she wanted to allow to recruit students. I actually liked it, because that meant that this is serious. Then, I visited as a mentor one of the classes where I met Marek for the first time, and now we are here.
Can you explain a bit what was the recruitment process?
Marek: After we've met, I sent an email that I would be interested to work with Peter, because everything he just said sounded nice. So we had a discussion over email. And when the bootcamp finished, I received three tasks, a kind of case study. The first task was “how would you proceed with learning something new, especially SWIFT language?” Then there was a task for PHP, about encryption and decryption. It was quite challenging because we never did something like that during the bootcamp.
I had to change my mindset about doing things. During the bootcamp, we had a lot of available ready materials. But this time I really had to go very deep into Google and Stack Overflow.
And the third one, I don't remember anymore :-) But the process was to first look for the words I did not know, like encoding or hashing. Then, try to understand what it meant, and finally, how to do it.
Peter: You remember wrong. The second one was just cleaning up some PHP code that I made many years ago. That was rubbish.
Marek: But it was fun, ha ha.
Peter: But it was quite interesting because a professional company spent a week with several guys who weren't able to figure it out. And Marek actually managed to have the right answers for how it could be done, it was almost ready to use. I got another applicant, who answered the first question “how would you learn a new language?”. For the other questions, he said he didn't understand PHP very much. That's fair enough, I might have added a tricky question. But saying straight out that you don't know and don't even want to try, it is not possible for me. Because it's about trying, it's about curiosity. The third question was a success if I got any code at all. I wasn't expecting anything to work. I know it wasn't easy. Not at all.
Peter, how do you think that the bootcamp prepared Marek for the position?
Peter: When I heard about the bootcamp for the first time I have to admit I was a little skeptical, because it's not a lot of time and programming is extremely difficult. But of course, if you have the right mindset, it's good. But when I came there I got an idea of how the model works. It's actually a very good concept. First of all, you get people who really want to. For example, there is a huge dropout from schools in Denmark, where I'm from because people don't invest a lot of themselves in it. But there, on the bootcamp, you have to invest yourself. And it is very, very intense. You are not getting a highly educated person from it, but you are getting someone who has shown that they can, that they are willing to learn, and can manage the pressure that three months put you under.
Marek, how do you think the bootcamp helped you for your job?
Marek: It helped with dealing with stress, the stress from the unknown. I mean, over the bootcamp, we did so many things which were completely new. So every time we got to the point where it was completely new, it was like oh my god, I don't get it! But in the end, I realised I have to because that was the way how it was. I learned how to deal with unknown things, and how to learn these things. And that's the most valuable thing because it is 12 weeks of learning new things. Unfortunately, because it is only 12 weeks, you don't have much time to practice those newly gained skills, but the more important thing is you are learning new things. You learn how to learn.
How is the cooperation going and how do you work together?
Peter: I'm really happy, it is a good match. And with Marek, the thing I first noticed when I was sitting close to him in the classroom, was that he was constantly annoyed that he couldn't figure out how to do something or how it worked. For me, it is actually a good quality, because it means that you are invested in it and it means something to you, it's not just about getting a good paid job.
It's about understanding what you do. I am very happy and we will be looking in the bootcamp for the next hire as well for sure.
Marek: At work, we sit next to each other. I am working on the app, and a lot of time, I need something from the backend or from the servers. So we cooperate on a daily basis on those things. And when I am stuck, I ask for help. It is the best way to solve an issue because, for example, when I encounter something I never encountered, Peter knows, because he's in the business for quite a long time.
Peter: A lot of coding is about understanding the flows, how things fit together, what the mechanism of, in this case, apps life cycle is, and, even though I am not a SWIFT programmer myself, the basics are the same. But Marek is very independent. I was expecting to invest my time more in mentoring and monitoring, but it is actually a little less than I thought.
What does your typical day or week look like?
Marek: I think Peter wakes up at like 4 am. Then after five hours of him working, I come to work, try to finish what I couldn't finish the day before, and just build up. Because I roughly know what the app should look like, I know the steps that I need to take to make it better. But as I said a lot of times, when I don't know, sometimes I ask, sometimes I don't. In that case, I spend two hours on Google. Eventually, until now, everything worked when I tried. It's always about moving forward.
How do you keep learning at work?
Marek: Udemy courses are the best, also YouTube tutorials. I think we live in the perfect time. If I wanted to start five years ago, it would have been fairly different, because Google and Stack Overflow were not filled with so many questions and so many answers, therefore it would be much more difficult. Nowadays, it's much more simple, because you have the resources for almost everything. So you can read it, learn it, and Google is your best friend.
Peter: It's actually a funny question. The programming world is such a special thing compared to the rest of the world, because we are more or less the only community where everyone wants to share, everyone wants to help each other. No race, no bias of any kind. If you ask a question, other professionals will help you find the answer. Stack Overflow is one of the classic places for that. When I started coding many years ago, there was nothing called Google. At some point, I remember that we got Yahoo, one of the first search engines. If you couldn't figure something out yourself, you either had a friend you could ask or find a book you could read, then you just had to keep trying until it worked, or give up. Now it is a wonderful time because it is so easy to learn.
Marek: Everything is much faster. Even people who are not so dedicated can make it because it can take a few days, but not months, because you had to find the right book, and you had to read it, find the information by yourself because unfortunately in books Ctrl + F is not working.
Peter: It's a funny thing because I keep all my old books, I don't throw anything out. So if you go and look, I have books about programming that are really big. And you know, it's written in a typeface that I would probably need glasses for nowadays, but they are just explaining one concept of a language. When you think that I sat and read all of that, because there were no other options! There was no code helping function. When you type, you get suggestions, what you should put there, or if you put something wrong, something will pop up and say “oh, that doesn't work”. And back then, you had nothing. So if there was a comma, or semicolon that you didn't write, good luck finding it. So it is a wonderful age. And this is also again, why the bootcamp is actually a very good idea.
Peter, is there something you learned by working with Marek?
Peter: Besides teaching me that there are many sounds that weren't there normally? When you have been working alone for many years, you get used to silence and of course, you forget that you also are making noises of some kind, like “what?”, “oh!”, “aaaah!”, “mmh”, those things. And actually, as stupid and almost as corny as it sounds, it's actually fun in some way, because it brings life to a room. Also, in development, you can always learn, it is never finished, because the world keeps expanding. My first fancy watch, I remember, had a calculator built-in, and now it is more or less a phone on its own. So everything is expanding, there are always things to learn. And by watching Marek work with SWIFT, I started learning a bit about the structure, and I also learned ways things can be done differently. Because you know, as a senior developer for many years, I'm set in my ways, I know how to do it. It is true, and it is false.
It is bringing this new type of learning, new type of thinking into the mix. I enjoy that very much.
What piece of advice would you give to our students and to fresh graduates?
Marek: For the fresh graduates, it's really to stick to the path, because in the end, it will work. Students need to want it, because even if someone needs more time, someone less, in the end, we are heading towards the same goal. Just learn. And with programming, as Peter said, it will always be something that you can learn. For me, I started with SWIFT, and in the back of my head, I am like “I would also like to know the androids development. So let's start with Java. Oh, but I don't want to forget PHP, so let's work with PHP! And I want to develop my own web pages with server-side language, Python”. But, I know that eventually, I will get there.
Peter: Coding is about as much failing as it is succeeding. Because every time you fail, it is something you learn. It teaches you something about the code, about stuff that you wouldn't learn otherwise. If everything is a success, then you're not trying hard enough, you're not learning enough, you're just repeating what you already know. So failure is a good thing. There's a reason why backtesting is such a big thing in development, because even though you feel like you've done a good job, there are still bugs. I met senior developers for big companies that will never admit that they made mistakes in their code, even though you can point it out and say that there is a mistake. And in my sense, you need to fail, that is the way to learn. Sometimes when I code something, I have no idea why it works. But I know it works and I'm happy with that. And then maybe two days later I'm doing something else, and then I realize “Oh wait, that is why! That is how it sticks together.” For instance, many years ago with interfaces, I really couldn't understand what the point of it was. And that was because at that point in my life, I needed to learn that coding is anything but linear. But my brain was thinking linearly because I'm a logical person. You need interfaces so you can jump back out of the queue, back into the queue at the point you left it.
So learn, fail, learn some more and have fun!
Watch Marek and Peter's video interview here!