This posts is part of the first of a series of Developer Stories from the Workshape.io blog
Where do you live, work, what’s your job title?
I’m from Moscow, Russia, and I came to the UK to study at first, I went to Manchester University, studied Computer Science, I moved between London and Manchester as I’ve always been interested in startups. I like smaller companies as they enable you to work on problems you can can have a direct effect on, as opposed to attacking minor features as you would do - for example - working in banks or larger organisations.
I now work for BridgeU, which is an edTech startup.
We work closely with schools and advisors in secondary schools in ~40 countries, helping teachers, senior leaders and students manage the complex challenge of preparing and carrying out global university applications.
My background is mostly in back-end development, but in my current position I’ve been taking on more front-end work, so I’m moving towards being more of a full-stack developer.
Moscow, London, born, raised and working in the city?
Yah, I love the city, that’s why London works out for me - I initially thought of going to Imperial college but didn’t manage (they have a really tough selection) but Manchester was great, I didn’t want to go to the country side in a small campus (E.g. somewhere in Bath, etc..) so, yeah, I’m into big cities!
How long have you been around here?
In the UK, over 6 years now, (4 years in university and 2 working in London), where I’ve started with an industrial placement (basically work experience) and the final years working in a number of startups.
What sparked your interest for development? When?
As a professional developer I’d say I started (properly started) two years before university, in High School. I’m a big gamer and playing through middle and high school, at a some point I thought wow, I really wanna just spend my time creating these amazing worlds and for quite a while I was sure I’d end up working in game development.
But it’s in high school that I started doing programming for the first time (it was part of the school curriculum) ..
Wait - that’s pretty forward - I had no idea back then Russia already had added programming on high school curriculum!
Mhh, yeah, at the end of high school - I mean, now they started doing the same in UK - I guess most schools would only use those hours to teach Word and Excel, but I had a good teacher who taught us Visual Basic - that allowed us to create some very small things to get started, but it wasn’t until university that I felt I was doing some proper programming.
Right, but what hit you and made you decide it would be your thing?
Well, I kept thinking I would become a game developer, but as I learned more languages and encountered different environments of work and complexity, I started thinking: right, there’s plenty of options out there for me.
Then I started doing web development when I joined a startup for an internship in Manchester (at Preceptiv). They were doing mostly big data stuff, analysing large pools of songs and basically trying to profile your personality depending on the music you’d listen to and produce customised recommendations.
I was building the website for them, which is where I’ve learned Ruby (and Ruby on Rails), and I just fell in love with the language.
So yeah, after I’ve learned a bit of Ruby I couldn’t go back to Java, I suppose, so I started learning some more front-end development (E.g. HTML and CSS), and working real projects.
Seeing my work at the end of the internship made me realise how amazing web development is and I’ve decided to stick with it going forward.
What sort of stack do you usually work in?
For most of my career I’ve been back-end focus and mostly worked on Ruby on Rails codebases, although I’ve always done a bit of front-end and moved across to HTML and CSS whenever needed.
How do you think the environment and family you grew up with contribute to your career?
Well maybe my family didn’t play a major role in terms of career since no one worked in my field (my father is a business man, my mother has a background as psychologist, ..) so in these terms it was a completely spontaneous passion that came from my love for games - I was probably part of the first generation that started seeing so much amazing stuff in the field.
Although I can definitely say that - as my parents travelled a lot and often brought me with them when going to places such as the US during my middle school / high school times, I’ve managed to lean English quite early and I was brought up with an international mindset, so for me that was quite a big deal.
I was quite excited about the idea of moving out of Russia and living abroad, so yeah, that definitely influenced me - and I know that gave me a big advantage since a lot of schools in Russia (and I know this can be said about many countries) can keep you in an environment of sometimes more close-minded people afraid of exploring outside of their language, culture. and Russia especially has quite a conservative culture, strict ideas.
I hear that, but Russia also seems to be exporting lots of talent in the industry, why do you think?
Yeah, it’s quite interesting, and it’s a bit of a shame, because I think if the government was a little bit more active in promoting Computer Science and helping smaller companies we probably would have have the chance of forming a developer hub and the whole system would be a lot stronger.
Although there’s a lot holding the country back Russia has a lot of great engineering schools. You can learn well but your options on the market are quite limited, which makes quite a lot of people leave and go work abroad, mostly in Europe.
For a lot of immigrants in London the plan is to go back at some point - what about you?
Heh, no, I’d say I always wanted to get away from Russia, and for the whole time I’ve been here, every time I had to go back (to see my family and such) I realised more and more I want to be here [in London], as this place keeps getting more and more multicultural and interesting, while Russia seems to continue drawing back from multiculturalism. Here it’s a completely different story..
What do you mean?
Well I guess English culture is just - more polite - quality of life is higher here (living here is really comfortable) and it seems to always be progressing, the government promotes a lot of good initiatives, while in Russia there’s not much help, for example, in terms of helping businesses.
You know what I’m gonna bring up.. What’s your thoughts on Brexit, do you not think it’s a big step back?
For me, it’s quite debatable - it’s more about people coming from the EU, I already had to be on a working visa here as I’m ‘international’ - just like many people coming from Asia, the US, I doubt much will change in terms of legal practices, although I’m not sure about how it’s gonna impact the tech scene and startups generally.
I don’t know how that’s gonna change things in terms of taxes, the way you hire European talent and the way you access foreign people are also likely to leave the country to move back to Europe - it’s going to probably make it harder to find a tech job in London, to fund a startup, and right now there’s a lot of worrying about how it’s gonna work.
Meanwhile, I try to stay optimistic - I still don’t want to leave this country and I think the tech ecosystem would make it in OK conditions generally, as there is still a good number of British workers, although it will probably be way harder to raise a Series A, or a Seed Round, as a lot less investors are likely to pull out of this market - although at this point it’s still quite uncertain.
What’s your involvement with the local tech community?
Before leaving Manchester I was trying to build my own startup, so I guess that’s the time when I’ve been most involved in the local tech communities, I went to drinkabouts, participated to events in various accelerators, etc. It didn’t quite work out for me, especially since I have strong limitations due to my visa, and I’m unable to start my own business here, so I had to just find a development job.
I would still love to go back to being more involved in the community around here. I’ve been going to one to one coffee meetings using Jamie app, have you heard of it?
Yah, Jamie is pretty amazing - I’ve been using it for ages now (over a year now..?)
Yah! It’s been getting more popular since ProductHunt featured them - that’s how I found out about it.
I’ve been using it for a few months - I think it’s an amazing concept!
How have you been finding work so far?
It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride, but that’s part of working in the startups environment.
I realised early on that I want to work at startups, rather than big companies. After comparing my experiences with my friends who worked at Goldman Sacks, Microsoft, .. it was a no-brainer.
I wasn’t invited back since I’ve had clashes of opinions with the CEO during my time there, and it was a very frustrating point of my career since I had built the whole thing. In that type of situation it’s really hard to let go, although I realise I was a very inexperienced developer and there was a lot I hacked together in that first job, but the impact on the company was massive.
The startup I worked for in London on the other hand (RebelMinds) was fun and got me working on a whole lot of different projects and clients such as Kaspersky and Barclays, although unfortunately the company went bust which often happens in startups.
There were quite a few points in which I’ve worried a lot about the security of my job and position, although that’s also part of the fun and it’s good experience.
I’m still happier to work in startups, where you worry most of the time and so much can happen in a year rather than the slow paced work I’d be doing in a secure job in which you’re exposed to just a tiny part of the company, while in small companies you get a saying in most things at all times.
Failures in startups are not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you manage to learn from them.
In the unrealistic scenario in which Internet stopped existing and you had to change life, what do you think you’d be doing?
Well… it’s a tough question, because even if the internet did not shut down but I had no visa-related restrictions I would already be happily doing something quite different - although a development job is the best way to keep my visa.
And what is it you’d rather do?
I want to build my own product, and my own company - I love to think of product, more than I love being a coder, and being in full control of the vision.
So I started to do my own thing, of course, on the side, for example I have attempted to build my own clothing line, selling Japanese merchandise for a tech startup I’ve co-founded in Manchester.
That wasn’t very successful although it was a lot of fun, and I always kept trying to build things on the side hoping that one of my projects becomes successful and - by the time I’ll manage to get UK citizenship I’ll be able to go and build own business.
You’ve been in the UK for 6 years - you should be able to get naturalised, right?
Not really. Again, the legality of things is quite strange - my years here with a student visa just don’t count, only the years spent working matter in those terms, and I still have to wait a good few years before I can get it.
But again, what can you do? For now I’m just trying to work, learn as much as I can, and keep developing my business ideas on the side.
In an ideal world, how would you want to find work?
Never though much about it, although I guess the future solutions would involve AI mixed with big data and technology, as opposed to something centred around simple skill matching and recruiters doing manual work.
We have so much data now, and loads of companies are attempting to use it, although no one in my opinion got it quite right so far, people are still focusing on CVs and there’s probably so many better ways to profile talent - the data on people made available through blogs and social media for example is just so much more valuable than what’s contained in a piece of paper and can really be used for a more personalised approach to recruitment.
What would be an unrealistically good working setup for you?
Well, I’m very passionate about VR, and I think at some point in the future (maybe 5–10 years down the line?) we’ll be able to work remotely while being ‘in the same room’ in a virtual environment.
That would allow us to travel but maintain the sense of working on-site, it would be pretty amazing!
Ok, maybe in 5 to 10 years it’s not quite going to be Matrix-like, but I’ve been trying some of the VR stuff currently in the market, and I thing it’s already quite amazing!
What is happening right now in VR that we should be aware of?
These days in particularly, nothing amazing - seems like the big players in the space have been busy with lawsuits (see $500m lawsuit of Facebook to Zenimax), although I do believe there’s a lot to look forward to in this space.
Thanks for your time - now, please leave us with rant about something
I can definitely rant about the UK legal system, as the visa situation has been being very frustrating - guess it’s not just the UK, but almost every country - as globalisation is happening as such large scale we still have some ridiculous problems moving around, and it’s insane that we’re not allowed to even just pursue the career you want to do in another country.
The fact that I want to stay in the UK as opposed to having to go back to Russia for example means I have to continue a career I don’t want - I mean, of course I like what I do - but I really am not where I’d like to be, and these constant restrictions are just