How to Find Your Tech Path? – Eugene Golovnov is a front-end developer at Zajno Digital Design Studio. Having years of experience in tech, Eugene spent a few years trying to find himself in the world of IT before he found what he was looking for at Zajno.
The one true path: if we knew which one that was, everything would be plain sailing. But in a tech career, as in life more broadly, finding your singular passion is no small task: it means getting to know yourself and what makes you tick at the same time as learning what’s out there to do and understand in this big, fast-changing industry of ours. Your true path is unlikely to be a straight one – but if you’re down to hold on tight through the twists and turns, you’re in for one hell of a journey.
Where I Started? | How to Find Your Tech Path?
Like so many kids wandering out into the world for the first time, I found my path set by the conditions of the moment more than by my own particular passions. It was when cellular networks were first claiming their dominant role in our lives, and intending to be part of that; I took place at the School of Telecommunications and Measurements. After graduation, I got a job as a LOS engineer at a major mobile network operator. It was great to press my new knowledge directly into service, but before I knew it, my contract was up – and I realized that cellular networks were no longer among tech’s fastest moving and most interesting spheres. And so I took a pin and burst the bubble in which I’d so far been floating through the wider technological ocean – the expression, I think, is ‘sink or swim.’
I had a few things at my disposal to help keep me afloat. My engineering degree was certainly a great help – though no guarantee. My industry experience was not yet what I wanted it to be. Still, I already knew my way around various operating systems and had a decent working knowledge of network engineering. Combined with my reasonable repertoire of programming skills and a kind of broad awareness of current hardware, I thought the totality of what I’d picked up so far stood me in decent stead.
But with money rapidly running out, what I didn’t have on my side was time. With that in mind, I decided not to enter the competitive world of junior developer roles and instead to try for a position as a software tester. After five interviews, each more nerve-racking than the last, I found myself was taken on as a quality assurance engineer by Plarium, an online gaming company, then acquiring a fearsome reputation – along with a big enough army of players to keep its tech workers very busy indeed.
Already an emerging leader in MMORTS, Plarium was a dream workplace for a young engineer. Alongside supportive senior colleagues, I got to work on prominent titles such as Total Domination, TD: Reborn, and Stormfall – in doing so, pushing forward my understanding of a range of platforms and engines. But while Plarium was undoubtedly exciting, it soon came to feel like the straight and narrow path. I longed for a twist in the road that would present me with new challenges – and opportunities for growth and self-discovery.
Sometimes, though, the straight and narrow path beckons you back. After a successful interview with another game dev company – Ubisoft – I found myself in the QA engineer role. One thing that swung the decision was that this was a company whose games I’d enjoyed ever since I was a kid – and thought the idea was certainly there to change career paths, not just companies, I decided to let that thought mull over a little longer before acting on it.
And though the short time I spent at Ubisoft was more or less a continuation of the path I’d been following, it barely contained a dull moment. I got to be part of making Watch Dogs 2; I worked with top-level game developers, built up my skills and knowledge, and made some true friends.
But it was also here that I became disillusioned with the career path available at a big company. It didn’t matter how cool the final product might be – with an organization above a specific size; it seemed impossible to feel fully engaged in the process of creation. The time had come to seek a more radical departure from the path I had been following.
A New Beginning:
I stood once again at a crossroads. My skills as a QA engineer gave me a wide choice of industry sectors in which I could work – and in each of those, the option was there to choose a small, nimble startup over one of the big players. But I wanted more than a change in the type of workplace, and my thoughts returned toward leaping to become a developer. Winning an entry-level position would mean mastering new self-discipline levels and time management to acquire all the required skills. But after some serious soul-searching, I decided I was down for the challenge.
Stepping back out into the big, wide world.
Tools Of The Trade:
My first stop was to get my HTML, CSS, and JS game up to scratch. I began with a course at Codeacademy – but soon found that I hadn’t wanted to overestimate my skills; what I was learning was going over old ground. When I looked at the requirements of even junior developer roles, I understood clearly that I did indeed have much learning left to do.
The Internet contains everything you need to know to become a developer – but you might find yourself drowned by information before you reach solid ground. But with a desperate show of effort and a little luck, I managed to pile up enough online and offline learning materials to get my head clear of the water and begin breathing the fresh air of newly-acquired knowledge.
Then, with basics thus established, I sorted myself out with GitHub and Stackoverflow accounts. I found Codeschool’s courses of particular help with the former and Ray Villalobos’s Up and go with Git and Github and Pro Git by Scott Chacon and Ben Straub.
I soon latched onto the importance of getting to grips with networking protocols: TCP/IP, HTTP/HTTPS/HTTP2, SSH, and FTP. Along with knowing how to use the command line, this is part of any developer’s skillset’s bedrock.
Finally, here, there’s a book I hold up as being of particular importance to anyone who wants to get deep into the inner workings of computers – and that’s Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, by the brilliant Charles Petzold.
Staying With The Challenge:
Tech is not a world in which challenges are only clustered at the beginning of your career. If you want to make it here, you have to accept that every problem resolved leads to a new one.
Years ago, I asked a friend of mine to learn to program back then, a rookie developer. He said it was great, very satisfying, not as hard as he might have thought – it just meant that he now had zero social life. Having a full-time job, this guy would leave work, get home, and plug into the world of code. But his dedication paid off, and he got a junior developer role within six months – a testament to his commitment.
Of course, other people’s paths always look smoother than your own. At times I felt like I wouldn’t take the course. Even when everything went to plan, I was working at a full cognitive tilt to get all the information I needed into my head – when unforeseen challenges dropped into my path, I felt like I barely had it in me to steer around them. I felt like the odds were stacked against me, and every day, as well as battling with the work, I fought off thoughts of giving up.
You can get it – if you really want.
Finessing The Formula:
I knew I had to develop a schedule flexible enough to accommodate my various competing commitments but strict enough to keep me on track. Some of the sacrifices were obvious: the hour’s lunch in the middle of my nine-to-six workday was repurposed as a study hour. After work, I’d allow myself a short pause for breath before immersing myself back in the study right up until bedtime. I knew there had to be some balance, so I ring-fenced Friday evenings for unwinding with beer and friends.
But this was nonetheless a challenging regime: with 20-30 hours per week of intense brain work on top of my day job, I was burning all the mental resources at my disposal. I turned to mind maps to help me keep track of the areas I was covering. Soon, though, they became a tangle.
At this point my technology stack looked something like:
- React JS
This, of course, was covering the basics – but when you plan to build high, you’d better lay some firm foundations. It was clear to me from the start that if I focused on the basics, I’d latch on to more obscure and esoteric topics soon enough.
Before I dived too deep into programming, I also knew that I wanted to get a good grasp of the core principles of HTML and CSS – from box model and HTML forms to grid layout, CSS selectors, and Flexbox. On top of that, I knew I’d need to learn at least one preprocessor, learn my way around MVC pattern, induct myself into the inner workings of browsers, and spend some serious time with web development tools.
As my new knowledge fell into place, my desire to put it into practice intensified: I really wanted a new job. But I knew it was too soon – I was still too green, and I had much more learning to do. Even so, I began assembling my CV and casually letting people know what I’d been up to, just in case I happened to bump into someone looking for the skillset I was building up.
On the flip side, with each week that passed, I felt less excited by my existing job – though I worked hard to make sure I was still giving my all. But truth be told, I was feeling detached from what I now saw as the world I was getting ready to depart from. And so I had to commit myself: when my contract expired, I wouldn’t ask for a new one but instead, embark on a full-on job hunt. My agreement’s expiry fell at the close of the year, so the symbolism was perfect: new year, new job, new life.
Getting Out There:
The feeling of being out on the metaphorical open road of looking for a new job usually comes with some anxiety – but because I knew what I was looking for, I felt exhilarated. But I tried to stay practical: after all, I had learned, how much was I actually worth on the job market? It was hard to know exactly, but I got to work updating my LinkedIn skills profile and changing all my social media statuses to ‘looking for a job.’ I then sent my CV out far and wide to every company I thought I could enjoy working at and which might need me.
Though I’d buckled in for a long ride, I’d barely attended my first interview before an offer was thrown at me: Zajno, funnily enough, run by old friends of mine, had a new project starting that would use just the technology stack I’d been building up. I wondered, out loud, if they could find a place for a trainee in their team. They thought they could.
Real professionals and trainees, top specialists and newbies, we all learn from each other and help each other here at Zajno.
I’ve now been at Zajno for over a year, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve taken part in large and small projects, from non0-commercial internal experiments to major projects for big clients. The great thing is that the atmosphere we work in doesn’t change too much from one to the other: this team of innovative people is always calm at the same time as being bold, patient as much as they are ambitious. And above all, they’re committed to what they’re doing. Of course, there’s huge diversity with a great breadth of skillsets covering both the creative and the technical, and highly experienced professionals rubbing shoulders with promising newbies. Nonetheless, everyone shares whatever knowledge and experience they have freely, as peers.
The Final Analysis
Smashing through the doors of your comfort zone is never going to be, well, comfortable – but it’s the only way to expand the terrain over which you can move freely. It’s been some years now since I made a significant change in my career. Though I’ve been content since with the more gradual evolution that’s followed, I can’t discount the possibility that I might want to make another, equally radical change in the future. Only time can tell – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Also read How I Became A Successful Web Developer