*APAC Heritage Month* This is What a Technologist Looks Like
Let us introduce you to industry experts in the APAC region and discuss their most pressing issues.
Tune in to learn more about today's guest, Cooper Viktor, Software Developer, Grace Papers.
Hi there, I'm Gretchen and you're here listening to This is What a Technologist Looks Like.
This is a series of talks that's going to go over six weeks and we really want to show you what opportunities are available in the technology industry.
So what the people are like that work there, how they got to be there and kind of some of what they do because who really knows.
I mean I work in tech and I still don't know what I do.
So my guest today is a reformed banker, we hold that against him all the time.
He's worked his way through a coding boot camp and coding boot camps are quite torturous but what he did along the way was help everyone else with them.
So as well as being a reformed banker and a technologist he's a solidly good human.
He's now a software developer at Grace Papers so I'd like to extend a very warm welcome to Cooper Viktor.
It's great to have you with us. Hi, thanks. And actually love your shirt.
So I was going to start with these questions about tell us about you and what you do but can we first off just have a little look at the Pokemon because this is a stellar shirt.
Yes. I love it. I dressed up for you obviously.
Thank you. Got up early, got coffee and put on a fancy shirt. So Cooper, tell me about your current role.
What do you do each day? Yeah, so I'm currently a junior full-stack developer and I work for a company called Grace Papers.
So we're all about improving diversity in jobs, in companies. So we're an enterprise coaching and education system.
Ah, so you help organizations make sure their diversity mix is as it should be or tracking towards where it should be.
Yeah, so diversity is one part of it.
It's also to try and help the discrimination against pregnant women.
So if you're planning on having a family, if you're returning from work, how to have pay conversations with your manager.
But because it's enterprise system, it's actually with the company or processes.
So it's all co-branded and yeah, so the goal is to make change from within the company itself and we're in some of Australia's biggest companies and also government as well.
So when you say that, that's not a tech company, but I think that's the hoax of the 21st century, right?
Every company is a tech company. You need the technological tools to do the work you're doing.
So when you go to the office or not office each day to do your fabulous work, what does that look like?
Do you just sit there and write code on a black screen all day?
Yes and no, not really.
We are all about flexible working, of course, because that's one of the core tenants of the company.
So I do do a lot of work from home, but the office is not very far, but everybody tends to juggle family.
So we're all very flexible with how we work.
I tend to be an early riser, so I like to kind of start early because I prefer to finish by four, definitely five, but that's because I like to start early.
I go into the office sometimes because sometimes I actually just want to get out of the house and have a change.
If we want to do collaborative work, we do tend to go into the office.
We're in a big redesign at the moment, so when we do need to do collaborative stuff, we have been going into the office a bit more to do that.
But other than that, where we work doesn't matter.
It's what we do. That's cool. And so when you do in the office or not, how much of your day is writing code?
A lot of it is writing code. I am a junior developer and we are undergoing a redesign, but there is a lot of planning as well.
We do follow agile methodology, of course, but we're all still trying to work that out.
So we're only a team of two in the tech team and we've only grown to that level because the platform that they've had for I think since about 2004 was outsourced and written and now they're growing and we've got plans for extra features.
So we're actually designing it from the ground up. And building it in -house.
Yes. So there is a lot of coding, yes. And a lot of planning. I bet you're learning heaps.
I am learning heaps. And is that one of the things you notice the most about technology is that you just are always continually learning or figuring stuff out?
Yes. That was a terrible question for me to ask because it was a yes, no answer.
What I did want to follow up on just quickly, you said earlier you're a junior full-stack developer.
So much. What does full-stack mean? Yes. So traditionally, I've been a front-end developer.
I do prefer to design and make things pretty for the user in the end.
I've never been particularly strong at the back-end handling the data, working with AWS or cloud services like that.
But when I came into this because they're a team of two, my journey just took me to being, well, great, I need to get in and do a bit of everything.
And I'm quite language agnostic.
And I think that's one of the important things anyone coming into tech should really understand is that you can have things that you love about tech.
You can love working with a specific tech.
But tech changes. And if you get too attached to something, you can potentially get dragged down with it.
So, I just kind of, any day of the week will go and work in a garbage tech stack with a great team rather than work in a dream tech stack with a garbage team.
So, yeah. So, you'd give away a language preference for good people?
Absolutely. I'm just lucky at the moment.
I work with React in the front-end and Laravel in the back-end. And I didn't know Laravel until I started this.
But it's actually a really fantastic language. So, I've kind of got the best of both worlds.
I've got a great team and I've got a great language stack.
Don't ever move. I know. So, now you're here in technology. And I have to say to everyone, I met you early on in this journey.
We've known each other for a few years.
It's such a different industry to where you were before.
So, you've gone from a banking career and changed over to this super flexible inclusive workspace.
Why did you, why and when did you start looking at moving away from the banking industry?
Yeah, that's a long journey.
I was with a big full bank here for seven years. I joined in 2011 and I started as a teller and I worked my way from a teller to a bank, to a personal banker.
Sorry, I've got a cat here and it's going to apologize.
So, I worked through to a personal banker, to a manager and then I went into digital change management and some usability testing towards the end.
What initiated my wanting to leave the industry was, I was studying business and economics the whole time.
And when Australia had the Royal Commission into banking, the real rotten side of the industry came out.
And I think I just realized that I hated capitalism and the lies and decided I need to make a change.
But one of my last roles, the digital coaching, which was actually going out to communities and engaging with the community, trying to get our banking and Internet banking popularity up, because that has been a traditional dragging section in banking.
And it's partially because our bankers and our managers just either don't know or don't want to.
So, the team I was in was going around and actually upskilling tellers and bankers with the technology and coaching and working with the bank managers to implement digital rhythms and conversations into their daily rhythm.
And we had a branch for a month at a time and it was ultimately, it was a really good experience.
I realized that I actually loved working with the community and I loved tech and I loved showing people how to use phones and that's kind of where it came around.
And I had a girlfriend who worked for Macquarie Bank two years before I eventually left.
She left and did a coding bootcamp.
And I spent a lot of time talking with her about what it was like. She gave me very accurate descriptions.
She said it was going to be hard and grueling, but ultimately it's rewarding in the end if you really want to do it.
So, yeah, after leaving the bank, I did a bit of soul searching and spoke to my partner and I had an unsuccessful job between that and Westpac and my partner was just like, listen, you're really unhappy.
We'll just go and do the coding thing. It's only seven months of school.
You need to change. So that was easy. That was not a difficult part.
I think what you brought up there is so important. So I've been involved in boot camps and I think they offer a really efficient way to change and reskill and upskill and introduce you to the industry.
But you need to be supported to do that in any way, shape or form.
They are absolutely grueling and the boot camp name is apt.
It's a torment. So your boot camp, seven months full time. Yeah. Just total immersion, total torment.
I think now I can see, I mean, one of the most standout things about you when I saw you in the boot camp was your ability to bring and connect other people there.
So they felt like they belonged and you helped them through their journey as well as going through your own, I don't know how you had the energy for that, to be honest.
It's making sense now because you'd honed those skills already, right?
When you were teaching at the banks, how to move into tech.
Would you recommend a boot camp to other people as a way to change careers or not?
Or would you, some version of it or some different way of going about it? I would absolutely recommend a boot camp if people are considering.
You should definitely do the research because it is very intensive and it is something that you basically need to say, I'm going to put my life on hold for this period.
When you say life, do you mean you just can't have a job and have an income?
There were people there that did have a job and I know that it was really difficult for them because they were working late at night and towards the end, they were coming in later.
I noticed it was hard. So it is doable. It's highly unrecommended. I know that that's kind of a bit gatekeepy because it means that it's only available for people with options and I think that that's where boot camps have changed since they now offer part-time with over a longer stay.
So that's more accessible and I think that that's really important because if only people that have a partner that can support them for a year can do it, then it's very exclusive, but it's good to see that that has changed.
A part -time model potentially leaves you more study time space too, right?
Because I like boot camps to a degree, but I think you're just, you know, you're drinking from a fire hydrant of information and you don't always get to process all of it.
So I think the part-time ones offer a bit more space.
When you finish the boot camp, so you did a boot camp and then they run a short internship at the end.
What is that like? What happens there? Yeah, so I went into one of Australia's biggest retails and worked on their front end and so we get one month, but I ended up staying with them for six months.
So my first month wasn't, it was included in the course, so I didn't get paid.
Some people did, it really depended where you went.
There was a one month unpaid internship, which is just, you know, basically a chance to get skills, but you know, I worked my butt off.
I didn't have to, but I worked my butt off because I wanted the, you know, I want the job.
This is what I put my life on hold for. So, and I stayed there for six months, that wrapped up.
And so that wrapped up at the end of January in 2020.
That is tough timing for anything to be wrapping up in this kind of yeah, January, February, 2020.
That's chapter two of my life. Nothing had happened, nothing had happened at the end of January, but I had immediately, I had about four applications in the process.
So I was interviewing in four different companies.
There was not a shortage of jobs coming out of tech. People could choose to jump.
And I had one picked that I specifically wanted and we were doing the third interview all really well.
End of the, end of the third interview, I'm sitting there with the CEO and the, you know, the infamous line that will forever live in my heart went along the lines of we really love you.
And we, you know, we are so close to actually giving you an offer, but we want to be honest.
There's a virus that we're very worried about. And we, just from a business perspective, we want to at least take two weeks to make a decision.
And we don't want to feel like we're leading you on.
And I really respected that they were a health company as well.
So, you know, there was totally legitimate and yeah. And then COVID just devastated the industry.
Every single job, every single internship just got put on hold or cancelled or, so 2020 was a very rough year.
And my current role, I didn't actually find until December of 2020.
And I didn't start until January, January the 4th.
So the process went really quick. And that was great. How was your, I mean, that's soul destroying to go.
You've stopped your life. You've learned all these new skills.
You've done really well at it. You played the game in essence.
You've done the interview process. You've done the internship. You've, you've proven you're there.
And I guess the tech industry has kind of had scales for those people that aren't involved in it.
So you go on as a junior or even before that, perhaps a graduate and then a junior and then a mid-level and then a senior.
And all of those roles need a lot of support. So what I was hearing in 2020 was a lot of the organizations that used to take on juniors and really mentor them and teach them and, and bring them along on their journey.
Just, we don't know how to do this remotely.
We don't know how to support and nurture and encourage.
And we don't want to do it badly. And we also don't know what's going on in the universe at all.
So they all backed out of the market really fast. So it was rubbish timing for you particularly.
How did you stay sane-ish? I didn't stay sane.
I'll be honest. There were a fair few and long dark periods. There were times where I stayed in bed for a week at a time and I just, but in a way tech saved me because I had, I know that that sounds really corny, but I actually had something to study.
I had something to do. And while I tried to stay positive the whole time, that wasn't always successful, but I was generally able to just sit in bed with my laptop and study and build stuff.
And, and that was kind of the saving grace at that time.
I don't, if I didn't have tech, I don't know what I would have done.
I would have gone crazy because I wouldn't have had that thing to study and focus on.
It was a great distraction. So I, I spent, I kept, I kept coding the whole time.
Just practicing and practicing. I knew, I knew there would be a time where jobs would come back and, and I just figured that, you know, this was not, not great.
You know, people, people were sick. Yeah. And, you know, I definitely approve of the lockdowns that happened in Australia.
We kept it under control, but yeah, it was very, it was very tough.
Yeah. And it's quite isolating too.
I think you touched on a beautiful point there around, you could study tech for eternity and still never cover off all the things.
I know you did some fun stuff with, oh my God, what were you using?
3GS? 3GS. Yeah. So I'm, I'm doing a few things like I'm, I'm, I do my work in React and I still build a lot in React and I'm learning 3GS, which is a 3D library.
So somebody has, has built a 3D game engine that runs in the browser.
And every time I make something and I'm still going through, through introductory courses because it's very in depth, you've got lighting and you've got scenes.
And so there's a lot to kind of get in. So much. To get in, because it's, yeah, there's a, there's a lot of complexity around it.
But some of the things that you can create in 3GS is just crazy.
You can make 3D games. I'm pretty sure.
The browser is not performant. They are not performant. I think all I got to was some spinning cubes and then trying to make them have dice numbers on the faces so I could figure out which one was spinning, which way.
And I was like, oh, this is cool and terrifying.
I could spend my life here and still build something that looked a bit lame.
Yeah. So getting that job was rough and you went through like a never ending journey of, I guess it felt like rejection.
And I always think back to long time ago, we had a speaker at one of the bootcamps and he's an unbelievably talented technologist.
Like I think, I think he writes code in his sleep that goes straight to production.
Like he doesn't even need a computer for this stuff to work.
And he, I remember him saying for his very first job, he applied at 200 places before he got a job.
And it was not, there was no rhyme or reason.
I think it was just, you had to throw it out there and see what came back.
But I think over the years, what I've seen is that the network connections and the meeting people and the being an active community member will help you hugely.
What would you say to that? And especially now we don't even have in -person meetups.
Would you have any pointers on being visible? Yeah, definitely.
It's, it is good to kind of have that media presence. I originally started Twitter as a dev, as a dev tool.
And I still do use it as a dev tool, but I post a lot of jokes and garbage on it now.
The occasional political comment, which loses you followers in Twitter on Dev Twitter.
But anyway, yeah, definitely, definitely visibility is difficult now because of COVID, but it looks like, things here in Australia are starting to pick up.
I always loved going to meetups and seeing just the wide range of people that went to the different events and you could chat and hear what was happening in the industry and, and learn new wild and wonderful things.
I'm looking forward to those coming back.
Maybe we'll get to catch up in real life too when that does. Oh no, I can't wait.
And pizza, I miss pizza. Yes, the pizza scrum. So you've gone on this journey from being a banker, doing the bootcamp, learning to code with a cat on your lap in the dark during lockdown life.
At what point did you go, huh, I'm in tech, I'm a technologist?
I mean, I don't even really think of myself as a technologist.
I'm definitely not a specialist in the field of anything, but probably shitposting on Twitter.
We have to preface this with, oh no, I was letting the swearing go.
I was going to say, I told Cooper I'd be asking this question and I love this.
He went and Googled what a technologist definition was because he's being an expert.
And I was like, there's got to be another definition.
So my take on what a technologist is, it's someone who implements solutions with a technology platform, if you like.
So it could be a medical technologist or an IT technologist, but also I think you're an expert in many things, Cooper.
I make great spaghetti code.
So I'm probably closer to a chef. Yeah, it's all coming together.
I don't think you really start truly learning code until you actually get in that job.
The internship, anything, once you actually get the on job experience and you have somebody mentoring you, you can sit in your bedroom and build things on your own.
But a lot of the intricacies of dev work are fighting with Git merge conflicts and and trying to mash PRs together and actually having somebody there to guide you through something.
And this is why I always recommend juniors to do joint projects.
It doesn't even have to be with anybody more skilled or less skilled.
Just find someone, build something together because you will get that ability.
One of those things I did find when I did a lot of interviews was there were some questions in a lot of them and I hadn't worked with a lot of Git.
It was a bit of a weird one because even after JB HiFi, they had a different process.
So it's like you're asking me things about Git and I don't know, I haven't used it that way.
I've only Gitted personal projects. I haven't even left the main branch.
I don't know what a rebase is yet, but that's my belief that the interviewing process for tech jobs is kind of fundamentally broken.
I don't know if many people have worked out the right way to do it.
I even believe that from a junior perspective, coding interviews are a bit redundant.
You can gain just as much knowledge from looking at somebody's personal project page and talking to a junior about their code than asking them to...
Yeah, well, you know, those are great things to do anyway and I highly suggest that any junior getting into tech should actually just look up those top 10 coding things because chances are you're going to get one of those and if you've done it before, it means you're just redoing your solution, improving something that you already know and making a better solution.
It gives you more chances to write tests and things like that, which you probably won't do a lot of as a junior before your job, but will become your job.
So you're talking about taking the system that is broken and turning it into your own because I agree that if someone wanted to talk to you about a personal project you've built yourself, they'll get a far better understanding of you and the code you write and how you think about it.
So you're right, if toy robot becomes your personal project, you've just fixed it a little bit.
Also, it's a good point. In many ways, why can't a tech interview be pull down this repo, do these things and send it back and have it broken?
Yeah. Like an actual practical thing you would do in your day-to-day job.
And they don't need to be hard. A lot of them, I've seen some crazy ones that want you to create a streaming player that pauses at a certain point in the song when the person reloads the page and goes back and I'm like, that is not a junior.
That is not a junior, that is a mid-developer role. So there is wild expectations and it is tough when you're coming in as a junior because the expectations, you just don't know what you're going to get.
Yeah. Is it hard to say, I don't know that?
And is there a better way to say, for example, in an interview or in your day-to-day job to go, I've got no idea what you're talking about or I've never heard that word or I don't know how to do that.
Is there a good way? Well, first of all, is it hard to ask?
And secondly, is there a good way to ask that? I had trouble at the start.
In bootcamp, it was hard to put your hand up and say, I don't know, especially if you saw people around you getting it.
But I think the first time you're ever in an interview or a situation where someone asks you something you don't know and you try to pretend that you do know, they'll find out really quick because the point of an interview is to probe your knowledge.
And if you say that you know something, they're going to probe further.
And if you get found out immediately to not know anything deeper about that, that doesn't look great.
So it's actually beneficial for juniors to learn how to say, I don't know how to do this, can you help me?
Rather than trying to nod and not say you don't know or say you do know.
I love that framing around because when you say, can you show me?
You're saying, I don't know, but I really want to learn. Is that second step right?
Yeah. My favorite from my coaching days is actually let's work this one out together.
I need to use that. Look out everyone at Cloudflare when you hear that line coming.
So do you have any broad advice for people interested in changing or just starting in a career within technology?
I do. We need people from diverse backgrounds and I'm not even just saying people from women or people of color.
I'm saying people from diverse professional backgrounds. Believe it or not, we have a lot of white guys with computer science degrees.
Who would have thought?
Who would have thought? We need people from very different professional backgrounds.
If you are a good manager, tech needs good managers. That's why when you find a team that's got a good manager, you stay there or you follow them.
We need a lot of people that have good people skills.
It can be a bit patchy out there. Definitely, we need people from traditional backgrounds.
Be prepared to work hard.
I think we've covered that though. Do your research before going into a coding bootcamp.
I know a lot of people see that there's money in tech and that might be their driving force.
Don't make that your only driving force. Because honestly, if tech isn't for you, then it's actually probably not a great job.
The money might be good when you get there, but it's a hard and grueling process to get into.
And yeah, you might enjoy parts of it. But ultimately, if you don't enjoy solving puzzles and you don't enjoy struggling through things that don't necessarily have an answer, then it's not a great job.
We've talked so long. I'm going to have to cut us off.
Thank you, everyone, for listening. And we'd love to see you again on Tuesday next week.
Thanks, Cooper. Thank you. Bye.