'You Need to Be Able to Quickly Maneuver between and Take on Different Projects'
Makar Stetsenko, an alumnus of the ‘Applied Mathematics and Information Science’ programme (2017), now works at Silicon Valley Insight developing digital products. In a special interview for HSE, he discussed T-shaped people, what it is like to work remotely in the tech sector and the benefits of participating in conferences and workshops.
On the Company
I work at Silicon Valley Insight, and we develop custom-made digital products. People who come to us are customers with their own idea and financial backing or corporate clients who have a problem. We then not only implement but come up with a solution to the problem from a business angle. Insofar as we provide consulting, our range of products is extensive. Our first client was Stanford Graduate School; then we had some famous figures from Los Angeles who wanted to have mobile apps designed for their online platforms; and then we had a few other startups from Silicon Valley and England. Now we are trying to move to our own products and use consulting as an added source of financing, ideas and new team members.
We don’t have an office. Everyone works remotely. In our company, there are people from San Francisco, the Philippines, Ukraine, Italy and Uruguay. I was the first employee from Russia. Now there are five or six of us.
On the Advantages of Working Remotely ….
My first job was a remote job right from the get-go. This is by no means an ideal setup for everyone—sometimes people quit, saying, ‘I need to be around people.’ A big plus of working remotely is the ability to work anywhere in the world. You can live wherever—you can move to a place that’s quieter or a bit more comfortable to live.
In remote work, motivation and organization are key. I find inspiration in what I do and the people I work with
Of course, there are days when you are tired and you don’t want to do anything at all. It seems that the whole day has already gone by, but you look at your time tracker and see that in fact it’s only been two hours since you started working. The main thing is not to be too hard on yourself. You need to analyze the tasks, understand which ones can be done later and give yourself a clear deadline for completing them—tomorrow, by the end of the week or next week.
When working remotely or for any small company, it’s important to be cross-functional. We have a popular concept we call T-shaped people. T-shaped people are people who have not just one strength (their area of specialization) but other abilities as well. For example, one employee might be totally fluent in Python—this is his specialization. But capping this strength at the top, like the cross of a ‘T’, are strengths in other related areas: time management, back-end development, design, client communications and so on. We try to hire employees like this who have a diverse set of strengths, because in a dynamic company like ours, you need to be able to quickly maneuver between and take on different projects.
... And Its Difficulties
First of all, our remote employees are all in different time zones. Once we had a team of people from five different time zones working on one project. When we needed to call each other, it was always nighttime for someone involved. We, of course, try to avoid such situations, but there are emergency situations every once in a while, like when a client contacts you at 3 in the morning because something isn’t working.
We’ve adapted, and for us, different time zones are just another variable that needs to be considered
It is important to realize that when you are on a call, and it’s nine at night for the other person but ten in the morning for you, you’re going to feel more energetic and cheerful. But for the other person, the work day is over, and it’s probably going to be more difficult for them to process information. At this point you show some sympathy, understanding who is in what condition. When I’m not feeling great, I always say so at the beginning of the conference call—it’s midnight now; I’m sleepy and tired, but I’ll try to help as much as I can. I give advance warning that I might ask several times about things that are obvious.
Why We Need Conferences and Workshops
There used to be speakers who I just worshipped. They were inaccessible to me—I didn’t understand how they, such cool people, could speak at conferences. At some point, I started to become a part of this community myself. I started at the local level. For example, in Moscow we have a thing called PeerLab. We meet at Starbucks every Saturday at 11 AM and the group consists of not only developers, but designers and developers from related areas, and we discuss all kinds of different topics, from development to cosmic theories.
I also participate in the AppsConf team, which is a conference for mobile developers. We look for speakers who work with iOS and Android, and then we do run-throughs and help the speakers improve their presentations. In the end, we put together a programme for a two-day conference. We held the first session in October 2018.
I am very interested in sharing knowledge and conducting workshops. I like them more than conference presentations. At a workshop, you have three hours and a clear understanding of what you want to get from it.
You write a code on a live screen, you make a mistake and the code doesn’t work, so you just say: “Guys, it doesn’t work. I don’t know why”
Then we all collectively begin to correct the code and eventually identify the problem. The mistake may be a simple comma or a quotation mark, but this is useful because it shows everyone that, as an instructor, you also might not know something, and this is completely normal. You also get clear feedback from the audience—the participants either get it all or not.
Some Tips for Applicants and Students of the FCS
You need to have a clear understanding of why you want a degree from the Faculty of Computer Science. If you don’t want to do anything with it, it’s possible that you should do something else that interests you. For me this was also a challenge—making it to the end without any re-takes.
It is very important to plan your future while you’re still a student. An example that I always give is the reasons for why I didn’t do a master’s programme. After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, it was clear to me that I was working and developing, I was continuing to learn things on my own, present things and communicate with people. I understood that I didn’t need to go to grad school.
As a student, especially in your third or fourth year, you should choose some kind of technology—front-end or back-end
The FCS is great in terms of its project activities—you can always try out a different area.
It is worth reading articles and taking part in activities on social media. You might ask a junior developer or a recent alum: What mailing lists do you subscribe to? Where do you find new information? Who do you follow on Twitter? If you’re interested in iOS React-Native, it is easy to tell if you’re following someone who is prominent in that area. You can also listen to certain podcasts and go to conferences—these are the kinds of things you can do that are important when you’re on the market for your first job. By doing these things you can show that you are motivated in an interview.
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