A different kind of Magic Mike: From hostel reception to teaching coding

Sport, history and geography geek helping the tech geeks of Mews be seen and heard around the world.

Yet another extraordinary life is about to be revealed in our interview series: this time it’s Mike, our QA whiz. Before he turned his life around by finding bugs and making our system better, he gained experience in hospitality by working in hostels and Mews’ customer care.

If you’re not afraid of deep conversations, he’s your guy, and if you feel nostalgic about Jackass, Mike may have some stories to share. And who knows, maybe one day he’ will be programming the system he once used for check-ins as a receptionist. Based on his Pluralsight hours spent on C#, it won’t take long.

Staying in a hostel is cool. But have you tried living in one?

I always do my due diligence before every interview but there was one thing I didn’t find: What’s your academic background?

I studied industrial engineering as I always wanted to work with robotics. But then I got bored with it and I changed my major to physics, but I didn’t finish the studies partly because of the crisis that hit Spain in 2011.

Where did you move after this?

I moved, literally, to London. As mentioned, Spain wasn’t in a good place back then so I just took my backpack and flew to England to try my luck. And as usual when you have nothing, I started working as a waiter in restaurants and later on got myself a weekend job in a hostel. Cleaning toilets, changing bedsheets and all the other duties of a housekeeper. And then I moved to reception.

Sounds like a Spanish dream in the United Kingdom.

Well, yeah. I also lived in the hostel. In a dorm with nine other colleagues of mine.

Wow, that’s not a typical short-term stay – you lived there permanently, right?

Well, this was already luxury –, I started living in London in 20-bed dorm. 😅 And even though there was no privacy and kind of a military style, it taught me not to have much stuff which proved useful. And you know what? I’ve never regretted going to London and starting off like this. Firstly, I didn’t have many options at the time and also, it helped to shape me as a person. And I hope it did a good job in doing that. 🤷‍♀️

How long have you worked in hospitality?

I did one year in the first hostel in London and then I moved back to Spain to work in Cats hostel which uses Mews these days. I spent two and half great years there but then I got the opportunity to work in Clink hostel. That was, for me at that time, a real dream job because Clink is a really well known and respected brand in the hostel sphere.

The number of lights above Mike’s head approximately correspond with the number of people he lived in a dorm with… 🙈

Clink was one of the first bigger clients of Mews. Did you work with the system when you were there? I guess when you worked in Cats, Mews wasn’t used there yet, right?

True, in Cats we used a different system but I actually had a chance to play around with the demo. In Clink we did the whole training and switched from the old system to Mews. All with Maksym who is now doing the product marketing in Mews. And I worked with Mews there with them for almost three years.

I remember Clink very well. It was actually one of my first big projects after I joined Mews when I had to build it in the system. And since it was very manual process, I obviously made a mistake when creating 600 units (beds) and had to go through them one by one to find the problem – one missing bed in the installation file. Good times…

Back to you – tell me, can you remember some big fuck-up we caused for you as a receptionist? Or what was the one thing you struggled with when working with Mews?

It’s important to say that things have changed so much since I was working with it from the user perspective. And even though I know you want to hear some saucy stuff, I don’t really remember any big issues with it. For me, it was great change from the previous system we used. But if I have to say one thing, I really struggled with dealing with big groups which in larger hostels are very common. And Mews wasn’t quite ready for hostels in general which have very different operations than classic hotels. But still, the pros overcame the cons big times.

No hablo checo pero amo Praga

We’re talking about hospitality and your experience there, but did you have any computer experience before joining Mews?

Nope, doing QA here is my first professional experience with tech. However, I didn’t start as a QA right away. I joined the customer care team originally. As much as I love hospitality, I grew tired of it and to be honest, I grew tired of London as well. And since I knew Mews really well and another colleague of mine, Angelo, was also joining the team, it felt like a perfect fit. A combination of hospitality and technology, something I was always fond of. Also, the office was in Prague so it was just ideal. Truth to be told, living in Czech Republic was never on my radar. Before I moved here, I knew very little, basically just that Einstein lived here. Now I can say I love the city and everything about it.

Oh, OK. That’s a random fact but still better than the classic perception of Prague as a place of cheap beer and fun for stag parties.

Albert Einstein in Prague
The famous physicist lived in Prague between 1911 and 1912 when he was appointed a professor of theoretical physics at the German Charles-Ferdinand University (today’s Charles University). Apart from teaching in Prague, Einstein studied and worked on the relativistic theory of gravitation which laid the foundation for the theory of relativity.
Find more on Einstein’s time in Prague here.

How much time did you have between finishing in the hostel and starting with us?

Zero. It was straight from one job to another. Here it proved useful that I had no personal belongings. Only now I’m starting to gather more stuff since I live in an actual apartment. 🙂

A lack of physical stuff may lead to an active social media presence… I’ve browsed through your profile and tell me: what’s the name of a bar in Prague that sounds funny in Spanish?

Ha ha, that would be Chapadlo (tentacle in English) in Nusle. In Spanish it would mean something like Just close it as an imperative. I found it funny as it was the beginning of the quarantine.

Mews, Mike, Prague…

Also, the first post after you moved to Prague was with a Czech grammar text book. How are you doing with the Czech language?

Not too good. To be honest I haven’t spent much time studying. You know, it’s difficult when you live within an expat bubble all the time. It’s so different from the time I moved to England. There, if I wanted to succeed I really had to learn the language well. Here it’s not the case. Unfortunately, in terms of learning Czech, Mews is so international and many of my friends are from Mews or friends of colleagues who also speak English.

Any favorite Czech drink or food?

To be honest, I’m not a big beer fan. Of course I acknowledge the quality of Czech beer, mainly the classic, Pilsner Urquell, but I prefer spirits and, of course, enjoy zelená (typical Czech peppermint liquor that has an almost a legendary status) once in a while. As far as the food is concerned, one thing that I ate here for the first time is tatarák (tartar beef) which is really popular here and I fell in love with it. One of the best ones I had so far was in Kantýna.

And what’s the name of your cat who often appears in your tweets? (Don’t forget to follow Mike)

It’s Nori, which is the word for edible seaweed – the stuff you use for sushi. I love sushi and actually my first job in London was in a sushi restaurant. I adopted him while I was in London. Nori lives with me and Alina, from our customer care, so not only do I not practice Czech, I don’t even practice English since she is Mexican and even though sometimes, she uses funny Spanish words, (sorry Alina), it’s still Spanish after all.

Jackass, existentialism and C#… Same but different

Alright, we established you love food… But where did your love for science and computers come from?

Ever since I was a kid I was interested in the deeper meaning of things and how the world and the universe works. That’s why I tried to study physics even though my first idea for university was astrophysics. I consider myself a person of science.

Have you already come to some conclusion how world works or do you have a philosophy that you follow or believe in?

That’s a difficult one. However, there is this philosophical current called optimistic nihilism. It basically says that life is pretty much meaningless and that’s good. 🙂 I’ve always read a lot of existentialist authors and books but it can make one pretty sad and depressed so I try not to read much of it these days, but I guess deep down, that would be something close to my beliefs.

The Stranger by Albert Camus is a classic and I totally see your point regarding the feelings these books provoke.

We mentioned that you started in Mews in customer care but now you work in QA. How did you make such a transition? Of course, if you look at my Linkedin, you’ll see that a career change like this is nothing unusual to me.

I started at support and then I moved to work with the integration partners where I had a chance to get to a more tech environment – to learn and play with the APIs, and spend more time with the developers. And then, while I was doing this I was approached to do the QA because it’s always good to have some people in this team who know the system from the user perspective.

The more devices on your desk, the more QA engineer you are!

The reason why I liked working in QA was breaking stuff and pissing off the devs. Is it the same for you?

Well, for me it’s rather the notion that I can help to make the system better.

That’s definitely better and healthier approach. However, you not only want to make the system better but you’re constantly improving yourself. You’re a well-known learner withing the tech team and you’re not only doing the QA but you’re also learning how to code. You are, after all, the biggest user of our Pluralsight subscription. How much time do you spend every month studying?

Watching videos, I  average something around 16 hours a month. However, that’s just one part of the studying process. If I put together videos and then the practical use of what I learned I think I am spending about 30 hours a week studying. I started when the quarantine started as I had nothing better to do and it became a habit. Again, living and working in hostels taught me how not to have any social life. 🙈 But it’s not so bad. The only thing I do except for working and studying is actually meeting with my friends who I may sometimes tire with my eagerness of going into deep conversations. Ever since hostels I am not a big fan of small talk.

And I also play a lot of chess but I’m not really good.♟ I’m still learning strategies and game concepts.

Did you have any hobby or specific interest when you were younger? I’m sure it wasn’t always all about learning.

Yes, I was doing parkour. With a group of friends, we were just jumping around feeling cool. We mixed it with some Jackass stuff like riding in a shopping cart, jumping into bushes. Luckily, there are no videos online. At least none that I know of. 😐 It really is a thing of the past because as you grow older, it somehow doesn’t feel so cool anymore.

I think every kid of our generation went through a Jackass phase. Did you forget about or have you never heard of Jackass? Refresh your memory here.

Struggling being a leftie…

Yeah, when we get older we like more laid back activities. What was your score at the football golf we did with the tech team last week?

I believe it was 78. Which is not too bad. Only 12 behind the winner Pavel (you remember Pavel, it’s the kebab guy). But you know what, as always in my life, I struggled being a lefty because all those holes were designed by right footed/handed people I am sure.

And talking about more grown up stuff you do lately, what topic did you submit for your talk at this year’s DevFest?

My topic is little more focused on soft skills. It’s about the battle of allies between QA and developers. These are two teams within every tech company who need to cooperate well together in order to bring results. And even though I don’t like the name soft skill as it is sometimes regarded as something you may actually not have, for me the concept behind it is the core for every person within every team.

Good luck in getting your spot. As Mews, four people have submitted their talks and I want to believe that at least a small reason behind it was that a talk at a conference generates a lot of points in our engagement game.

Totally, I believe I am on fifth position now so this would help a lot. First is Kirill (you remember Kirill, it’s the bird watching app guy) and he will be hard to beat.

Is there anything more you want to learn in 2020?

I definitely want to learn C# more deeply. I’ve tried many different languages from JavaScript to Python but C# is the only strongly typed language I tried (I’m not speaking about Dart 🙊) and also, it’s the first one I started with and they say that the first language in programming you try becomes something like your mother tongue. Additionally, since our backend is built in C# I have so many people around me always willing to help me or answer any question I have. That’s actually something I cherish the most about this company. The willingness of everybody to help you be better at what you do.

Well, that I believe describes you the best as you are already teaching non-tech people the basics of programming. Thanks a lot for the interview and keep learning!

Photo © Natalia Bubochkina.

Sport, history and geography geek helping the tech geeks of Mews be seen and heard around the world.

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