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Jan Popieluch
Back-end Developer
ExtraORDERnary
13.09.2023 | 6 min

We Are ExtraORDERnary - Meet Our People: Jan

Janek is a breed of programmer that is becoming rare: he entered his IT path through formal education and has zero regrets about it. Let's delve into his experiences, as told by the man himself — an OG senior Python developer!

We Are ExtraORDERnary - Meet Our People: Jan - 2024 24
Table of Contents
  • How did programming enter your life?
  • How did you and the Order Group cross paths?
  • What do you enjoy most about working at Order Group?
  • What do you mean by the “common goal” of the company?
  • After 10 years in the industry—what hard and soft skills do you consider most crucial for a programmer?
  • So, finally, what advice would you give to a beginner programmer?

How did programming enter your life?

I've always had a knack for STEM subjects and attended a computer science-focused class at Staszic High School in Warsaw. Programming was part of the curriculum, and even then, I considered pursuing computer science in college. I was thinking about working at CD Projekt RED or another game development studio.

After high school, I got into the computer science program at the University of Warsaw. In my third year, I took a course where we learned how to build websites. I absolutely loved it, probably in part because the professor was fantastic.

I realized then that web development is an exciting field that's rapidly growing, offering many opportunities for programmers. You can work with various technologies, and you can focus on either the front or back end. Plus, the barrier to entry isn't as high as it is in game development, where you need specific experience with certain engines.

During college, I also got involved with Poltergeist, a website dedicated to fantasy & science-fiction culture, where I'm now the editor-in-chief. I started by contributing to the computer games section, but since it's a fan-based platform and I had already picked up some coding skills, I eventually began working on the site's code as well. 

This experience only further convinced me that web development is an exciting career path.

How did you and the Order Group cross paths?

After finishing my studies, I applied to several places, including Order Group. I had known Filip since we were young, and I knew he had started a firm specializing in web apps, so I contacted him. 

Despite lacking commercial work experience—my background was purely academic, and some work on Poltergeist—I performed well in the interview and received a job offer almost immediately.

I worked there for about six months, and the experience was incredible. I got to work with modern programming languages for the first time and contributed something valuable to the team, too. I was the only person at Order Group with experience in modern PHP frameworks, and my first project required exactly that expertise.

However, come spring, I decided to explore other opportunities and left the company to freelance.

During this time, I continued to work on Poltergeist and another cultural portal, but my primary source of income was Topcoder. It’s a platform where corporations submit their technical challenges, which any developer can take, and if their solution is top or second-top rated, they get the money. 

I won about 50% of these challenges and eventually became part of the review board.

However, after a couple of years of freelancing, I started craving more stability and structure to align my job with my long-term life goals and career aspirations. So, for the second time, I began to look for full-time work.

This was around the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. Despite many industries struggling then, the IT job market was booming. So, I sent out a few resumes and, just like the first time, reached out to Filip to see if they were still hiring. 

Within 30 minutes of wrapping up our conversation, I received a message saying they'd be happy to have me back. 

And I was more than happy to return.

What do you enjoy most about working at Order Group?

It might sound cliché, but the work atmosphere here is fantastic, and I can't describe it any better.

First and foremost, there's a culture of openness, transparency, and clear communication among team members. If something's going wrong, there's no problem discussing it with anyone in the company. I really appreciate this level of openness.

What's more, I feel we all share a common goal within the company. We have enough structure to achieve that goal and enough freedom so that confusing processes and procedures do not bog us down.

Even as the company grows and processes inevitably increase, I never feel stuck doing something I don't want to do. This applies to the company's structure, the relationships among colleagues, and our projects. 

I feel that both sides—the staff and management—are open to understanding what the other one needs, and I value this immensely.

What do you mean by the “common goal” of the company?

Once a year, the management organizes meetings where they're very open about the direction they want to take the company. While not all of these goals directly relate to us developers, this level of transparency allows us to align our personal objectives with the organization’s.

Because of this, I can continuously gauge whether what I enjoy and find fulfilling in my work is aligned with the direction Order Group is headed. So overall, this feels like we’re all heading in the same direction and share the same, or at least very similar, goals.

After 10 years in the industry—what hard and soft skills do you consider most crucial for a programmer?

I've had a somewhat non-traditional career path, which is becoming increasingly rare. I actually studied computer science at university. 

Nowadays, there are more and more developers coming from online courses, and that's fine. However, I believe a formal education in the field, while not essential, gives you an invaluable advantage. 

Not because it will teach you how to code—technologies change so rapidly you have to keep up on your own—but because it gives you a structured way of thinking about problem-solving in the tech world. This means that when you face a problem that needs solving through code, you already have the mental toolkit to tackle it. 

You have pre-established thought patterns that guide you to write the appropriate algorithm or know where to look for solutions. So, I think the ability to debug what you write is critical when it comes to hard skills.

As for soft skills, the ability to flag issues is key. I know many introverted programmers might struggle with this, but if you don't understand the issue you're meant to solve, instead of spending two days trying to figure it out alone, just ask someone who knows, or at least try to. 

It's a skill you can acquire through practice.

This is also a great test for a good employer or team leader: when you ask for clarification or advice on a task, is it perceived as a sign of incompetence or a positive trait?

Additionally, I believe that giving feedback respectfully yet assertively is crucial, especially when working directly with clients. A developer should be willing and able to communicate that what someone else is proposing may not necessarily be the best solution—and, importantly—that an optimal solution can be reached collectively.

After all, none of us works in isolation. We form teams that work together to achieve a common goal.

So, finally, what advice would you give to a beginner programmer?

I often hear from my friends working in recruitment that the days when everyone was getting hired due to the high demand for programmers are long gone. Nowadays, there's a greater emphasis on social skills—like whether someone can work well in a team, communicate needs, and offer feedback without offending others. 

So, I'd focus on developing those skills alongside your coding abilities.

Additionally, if you want to start a career in IT, you must do what every other job candidate does in any other field—send out resumes and look for opportunities. Sure, there may be fewer of them, especially for those without experience, but they're still out there. 

Keep an eye on tech trends, see where the actual demand is, and aim your job search in that direction. This industry evolves every year, with new technologies constantly emerging that you need to stay updated on. 

Whether you're new to the field or have been in it for a decade, you must keep improving to stay relevant.

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