This is the third part of my story about my journey toward becoming a web developer. Part one covers my first timid steps and part two is about my experience as a freelancer.
I felt my learning accelerate when I eventually started working with various other developers and individuals, as well as small teams.
I need to find some work
Working with other developers positively reflected on my skills because I was being exposed to more complicated problems. However, my growth as a developer came at a price - I didn't have time to put into being an entrepreneur. If other people were in charge of the business part, I could focus on coding. If I'm completely honest with myself, I still prefer it that way. I do like my clients and I've always done my best to maintain a friendly yet professional relationship with them. My problem was that I found all the business and admin side of running things very distracting from what I am actually really interested in doing - programming. All the socializing, listening to their ideas of how they want to run their online business, trying to make sense of how they could achieve their goals, suggesting solutions, contracts, etc… I found that all quite boring.
During the second half of the summer of 2019, my co-worker and (much as she hates that word) boss (in one person), Ippy, told me that some of her projects had been cancelled and Netuxo wouldn't have any work for me until late autumn or even the end of the year - I was unprepared. We'd just got back from a road trip around the EU, which cost us a bit more than we anticipated. The little savings we had left were quickly dwindling.Are we moving to Letterkenny in the north of Ireland? Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash
Letting go of my own business of 12 years was still a huge step to take, I had built it up from scratch alongside my wife but I’d known for a while that I needed to work as part of a bigger team, to stretch myself. Most of the work we'd been attracting just wasn’t challenging enough.
I made sure Ippy knew I was looking for work elsewhere. I started looking at my options - the original idea was to work remotely. I turned to various online agencies such as Toptal, Honeypot and Ciklum but they didn't work out that well for me. I struggled with their hiring process, something that would later become clear, that it's a pattern in the IT industry… but more on that later.
I started looking at jobs online. At first, within the Granada province but there weren't many listed. I'd registered with a bunch of online job portals such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor and the Spanish Tecnoempleo. I'd also sent out a few emails to my peers, asking them if they knew of any job openings and to keep their ear to the ground for me.
The first step to being able to apply to all the various jobs I found advertised online was to make my CV. I was keeping my LinkedIn profile more or less up to date. I exported a PDF and sent it out to a selection of the jobs that seemed interesting to me - I didn't get a single response!Ireland is stunning but the weather can be very miserable. I just know I wouldn't last there, I need sunshine to be happy. Photo by Anne James on Unsplash
How could I make my CV better? I found the r/resume sub-reddit quite useful. One can post a resume there and people, including HR professionals, give you feedback - it's free! You may get contacted by a couple of professionals that watch that subreddit and use it to fill their funnel with potential leads but that’s ok, they are usually not too pushy and quite nice to talk to. Another little gem that came out of it, is the CV tool called Resume Worded. Their app lets you upload a CV in TXT or PDF, as well as import it from LinkedIn, it then runs an analysis of various aspects providing you with a detailed report of all the areas you should work on to improve your chances - I was only using the free version. After about 17 different attempts, I settled with a score of over 85%. I felt I was ready for my next round.
I was still hoping to find a remote job because I didn't really want to leave the area. It was the first time in 15 years that we'd found a Spanish community that accepted us. I'd made real friends and felt really settled. However, I was getting increasingly more pragmatic about my whole situation because the opening positions were somewhat sporadic or offered really mediocre conditions. I broadened up my search radius to the whole of the EU except for the UK, as they were about to leave the Union.
Shameless plug and a spoiler at once: Funny enough my new job spins around CVs. What a coincidence! 🙂 I feel obliged to recommend you our product – Resume Coach as I am convinced that it provides a great value for a reasonable price. Go and check it out.
I sent out so many applications that I lost count. I must have been doing something right because the HR people noticed me and started scheduling interviews.I was trying to imagine our life in Brussels. Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi on Unsplash
If there's anything that can trigger my imposter syndrome, then it's the system that the 3rd party HR companies use to evaluate a candidate for a position. The vast majority of the technical interviews are done using a platform like Codility. A good place for training for the technical interviews are also Code Wars or HackerRank. These are all quite straight forward, my problem is the way the HR teams prepare the interviews. Mostly, I was applying for frontend or full-stack positions but the technical interviews were not actually testing my ability in these fields of expertise. The tests were based on my knowledge of slightly advanced mathematics, something I knew but had last used when I was in the first or second year of my university studies. I hadn't needed a matrix or converging series since those days and all I remember is that they exist. I know where to find them if I ever need to learn them again, which is fine if I'm not in a timed technical interview exercise. Often, I found myself spending 90% of the allocated time on a quick math refresher and then just ran out of time for creating the algorithm and coding. You can just imagine how I felt after a couple of days filled with rejection after rejection, knowing full well that I wouldn't be against any of those problems (from the test) in a real-life job scenario.
There were exceptions amongst the companies, some were a bit less interested in knowing whether they're hiring a good mathematician and did seem more interested in finding someone who is a good fit for the actual job vacancy they were trying to fill. Some of them, like for example Leadtech, would give me a well-prepared brief for the test exercise and a reasonable amount of time to complete the task at hand. They asked me to develop a frontend module with well-specified requirements, wireframes and graphic elements supplied by a graphic designer in InVision.Starting from the zero in a country I can't speak their language as a freelancer? I think that would be a bit too much of a challenge in my 40s. Photo by Luiza Giannelli on Unsplash
After all these pointless boring mathematical quizzes, this kind of exercise was a pleasure to sink my teeth into. I made sure I over-delivered. I made a git repo, split the task into features and commented on my code, created a changelog, readme file and sent it back. In the third round of the interviews, whilst talking to the head of the frontend department and his superior, they asked me if I always give this level of attention to details. I said: “Absolutely! If the time allows me to do so." 😁
Accepting the right offer
Within a week or two I ended up with three solid offers. One in Letterkenny in Ireland, another in Brussels. Both of these well-paid gigs based on Drupal and related to projects of the European Union. The third one was Leadtech based in Barcelona.
I couldn't contemplate living in the north of Ireland. My happiness is a function of sun exposure with a positive coefficient. The money they offered was good but deep inside, I knew I wouldn't last there for long.Should we go to the rainy Ireland? Or face the language barrier in Belgium? Or the sunny Barcelona? Photo by Benjamín Gremler on Unsplash
Brussels is slightly better weather-wise, the money, they were offering, was significantly superior. But there were buts… I would be working as a freelancer and the costs of living in Belgium is known to be enormous. I can't speak any French or Flemish – it was just a bit too much of a change.
All in all the only viable option seemed to be Barcelona. After a week or so of weighing my options, I accepted their offer. I did make a rather embarrassing hiccup while accepting the offer though. The majority of the job ads do not advertise the salary, for obvious reasons. That's in case the candidate asks for less than they're ready to pay. So, it's sort of a negotiation game. The differences in salaries between different parts of Spain can be quite substantial. I hadn't kept any precise records of my talk with the HR people, so when I said, "Yes" to the offer, I accidentally asked for more money. There was an awkward silence on the other side of the phone and then the lady told me that she will have to speak about that with her colleague, the one who did the initial interview with me. Her colleague got back to me straight away and I could tell she wasn't very happy about my sudden extra demand. The difference was not too big and I'd already said, "No" to Letterkenny and Brussels - so I conceded.
It all felt rather sudden. I mean, I knew this was a likely outcome, yet until I'd said, "Yes!" I wasn't actually believing it. So then, here I was going to Barcelona in a month or so. That's when it dawned on me - it wasn't just about me. My very supportive wife, with whom I consulted everything every step of the way, even before I started looking for a new job - I'd kept her updated on each and every possibility. One day she was daydreaming about the west coast of Ireland with me, then we were Googling different zones to live in Brussels and then we were musing on how Barcelona had changed over the years - she took it all rather calmly (luckily she’s always up for an adventure).Barcelona, they've got Czech beer on tap? I think this is settled! Photo by Alana Harris on Unsplash
It was happening – we were going to Barcelona! And in the midst of all this, yet another offer came in. A big international bank was looking for someone to join their team in Madrid. The team that was taking care of their Czech branch and they even said, "Yes" to me when I asked for more money. They were talking about a couple of business trips to Prague every year, so I could see my family. That was a tough call to make.
I have been to Madrid a few times before. Once in the summer and twice in the winter. The winter visits were miserable. Coming from a mountainous region in Czech, I'd like to say that I've seen enough snow for the rest of my life. I'd already said, “Yes" to Leadtech, plus they were really nice to me and I’d enjoyed that very well prepared technical examination. My wife has a philosophy, she claims that we don't actually need to make any decisions in our lives, in due course we simply arrive at a point in time when things become obvious. In this case, the direction I should take – Barcelona, here I come!