Beaches, Beers, Archaeology, and Changing Careers at 30

Community Jul 20, 2021

If you’re living in Prague and you know an American, they most likely came over to teach English. However, not many of them stick with it for too long, and that’s the story for Tim. Surprisingly, after his short-lived English teaching career, Tim’s passion for archaeology got him interested in programming and computers in general. Through QA automation he got his dream job, being a backend developer, but he’s much more than that. He’s a pescatarian who enjoys meat restaurants. He’s a bookworm who enjoys killing people in board games. He’s someone who gets stage fright sitting in front of the computer screen. He’s Timmy!

Archaeology can lead to Python

As an American living in Prague, you were obviously an English teacher at some point here. I know so many others who had a similar journey. Do you know why that’s the case?

I think it’s the way that it’s sold back in US. “How can I get an experience abroad?” In the back of everyone’s mind is “Hey, I could teach English.” But the truth is, not everyone can teach English. I thought I could. I thought I would like it, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me.

How long were you teaching, and how difficult is it to become an English teacher?

I did it for a year. And I would say it is quite easy, but there are still things you have to do to get there. In my case, for example, I had to give a demo lesson in front of a bunch of applicants. It was recorded and then checked by the language school. Then I had to find a TEFL course, and for some reason, most of them are in Prague, China, and Japan. I actually applied for Japan, but it got too sketchy too soon, so I came to Prague instead. I planned to stay here for a year and then move to another country, but I’ve been here for five years already.

So, you taught English for one year, but then you moved to another field, as many others do. What did you start doing? You majored in history, right?

Yeah, I studied history with a focus on World War I. I had planned to be a teacher, and that was one of the reasons why I chose to teach English. It was more to get a feel for teaching and to get my foot in the door to see if I’d enjoy it. I quickly found out that I didn’t. But I didn’t want to leave Prague, so I had to find something else to sustain myself. Luckily, I found another job as a project manager in a translation company. I always considered that as a transition period for me while I thought about what to do next, and that’s when I got into programming and the Python language... sort of through a back door with my background in history and interest in archaeology.

Wait, what?

There is this thing called LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. In archaeology, it’s a somewhat new technology. It works by shooting a laser, and then it measures the time between the shooting of the laser and when the reflection returns. For example, a plane with this technology flies over a rainforest and uses it to look for man-made objects and mounds. This is actually how they discovered a lost city in Honduras. There’s a great book about it by Douglas Preston.

But this wasn’t part of your project management role...

No, this is something I was reading and learning about on the side. Since you need to visualize the cloud map returned from LiDAR, I got into Python and data science. So, I was teaching myself programming while putting food on the table with my job at the translation company, but the stars aligned, and a position opened in the tech department of that same company just as I was thinking about leaving to test my new knowledge somewhere else. I got the job. It was my first job in IT, and it allowed me to focus on what I was learning in a professional setting. I did mostly small projects for web scrapping and automation, which led to my role as a QA Automation Engineer here at Mews.

You’ve never worked as a manual tester before joining Mews?

No. I was talking to Olga, who was (and still is) working here, and she was telling me about the company, and I got curious. I had a list of questions about the atmosphere within the team, the collaboration with the developers, and a lot more about the stack, technologies, etc. At that time, I was looking for a developer role with Python, and this was a QA role with C#, which I had never used before. However, during the interview with my now manager, Renat, he assured me that I would learn everything.

When you join Mews, you gotta walk through the neons...

What was the selling point then?

I think, in the end, it was the collaborative atmosphere within the team and the company in general. I really wanted to learn more about programming at that time, and I saw a great opportunity here at Mews with all the other experienced guys.

It’s been roughly 20 months since you’ve joined. You are now transitioning to be a full-time backend developer. (A lot of people have moved to the QA team, e.g., Mike, but this is the first success story of someone internally becoming a developer.) Was this time frame satisfactory for you, or did you want to become a developer sooner?

This was exactly how I imagined it. You see, when I started teaching myself programming, I said to myself that I wanted to be a developer by the time I’m 30. And I just turned 30 a few months ago. In fact, a couple of weeks before my birthday, Renat called me to tell me that I would be working as a developer for one day a week, so my plan worked. Score!

How is the collaboration with your developer buddies on the team?

Both of my direct colleagues, David and Vaclav, have been a tremendous help to me even during the time I was doing QA. When working on end-to-end tests, I always had to make pull requests and send them to level 1 and level 2 reviewers. They consistently commented the crap out of my PR’s, which was the best way for me to learn. And they’re funny guys too. It was the collaboration I was looking for when applying to Mews.

Good food + good beer = a lot of time in the gym

You’ve been in Prague for over 5 years. What do you miss the most from the US?

One thing comes to my mind, and that’s a bar called “The Ruck.” It’s next to my hometown, and it has about 20 or 25 local and craft beers on tap. They also have tons of veggie options. For example, the buffalo seitan wings. It doesn’t get better than that!

I guess both American and Czech cuisines are not the best ones when you’re a vegetarian.

That is true. I was eating a lot of smažák when I came over to Prague. And I still love it.

You don’t have to be vegetarian to love it. It is my favorite dish, and when people ask me about traditional Czech food, I always tell them about it. It’s a pity that McDonald’s doesn’t have the McSmažák burger anymore.

What are your favorite spots in Prague to eat out?

By the way, I am not “full vegetarian.” I eat fish; I think it’s called being pescatarian if we want to put a label on it. When I tell you what my favorite spots are, you’ll think I am crazy as they are predominantly known for their meat options.

  • Alerbijes – I love tacos and margaritas.
  • The Tavern – Great place for weekend brunch. Their veggie chicken and waffles are killer.
  • The Craft – They’ve got the Beyond meat burgers.

What do they put inside the tacos instead of meat? And do you cook yourself?

To your first question, I think they often use marinated cactus. Back home, I can usually get sofritas, which is spicy fried tofu. I could eat that stuff for days.

And to your second question, I don’t cook as much as I’d like to. I got my girlfriend a cookbook two weeks ago, and we’ve only used it once... which is really an insult to the book and the gift. 😅

Two of the places you mentioned you like in Prague have really good beers as well. What are your favorites?

I’ve been super into sour beers lately. I’m not a big fan of the typical Czech pilsner types as I find them to be too bitter, but it really depends on the day and the weather. On a hot sunny day like today, having a cold pilsner is great. So, I guess when it comes down to it, I am open to trying any kind of beer. I also go to the BeerGeek bottle shop quite often. I don’t usually go to the BeerGeek bar because it’s way too crowded, and I don’t remember them having many good, veggie bar foods. Also Beershop.cz has a lot of good beers as well.

This interview was conducted with no beer.

With all the beer and food that you like, you have to burn a lot of calories as well. How do you keep yourself fit?

I go to the gym around four times a week. I keep track of my workouts with notes and schedules on the notebook I take with me. During the pandemic, I ended up buying those resistance bands to workout at home, but it just wasn’t the same as going to the gym. Before Christmas, you could go to the gym with a face mask, but that was not ideal as you’re already trying to catch your breath without it.

Back before the pandemic, we did the trip to the mountains, and you looked like you knew what you were doing on a snowboard. Is that one of your hobbies from back home?

Definitely. I grew up in Michigan, but we moved to New York state when I was a freshman in high school. I learned how to snowboard in Michigan, which, if you know geography, is almost a joke because it’s as flat as a plate. In New York, we lived quite close to the Adirondack Mountains, which are not the biggest mountains, but there are great slopes around. My home city is actually closer to Massachusetts than to New York City. I always have to specify that I’m from the state, not the city, when telling people that I’m from New York. Although sometimes, I’m just lazy and let them believe what they want.

How does a guy who was born in Michigan and who grew up in New York close to Massachusetts become a Chicago Bears fan?

That dates back to my Michigan origins.

But then you should be a Lions fan, right?

Nobody is a Lions fan. And plus, I didn’t want to be depressed for the rest of my life. The funny thing is that everyone in our family supports a different team. My dad is a Giants fan. My mom is a Patriots fan, and my brother is a Chargers fan. It gets wild at our house on game nights.

Are you able to follow the games with the time difference? And are you into Fantasy Football?

I would watch the early games when it’s around 8pm here in Prague. Sometimes I go to a bar, but only if I find a bar where they play the Bears game. Otherwise, I enjoy watching it at home. Regarding Fantasy Football, I was into it the last two years, but I’m not sure I will join this season. I never do too well because there would always be a game or two that I would miss completely, and also, I am not able to follow all the last-minute injuries, changes, etc.

But something you do have time for are board games, right? What are your favorites?

My go-to game would have to be Bang. It’s a mafia-esque game about the wild west, sheriffs, outlaws, and renegades, and it’s loads of fun. Basically, everybody knows who the sheriff is, but nobody knows who anybody else is. The game has these “bang” cards, and you just start “banging” people. It’s great. Another game that's quite similar and also mafia-esque is Secret Hitler. I also love the classics like Monopoly and Chess.

Did you watch the TV show The Queen’s Gambit? I heard it brought so many new players.

Yes! It was a great show, and I was researching some of the moves from it and trying to play around with what I learned. My girlfriend is also a board game freak, and we keep a running tally of how many times each of us win every month. I always win the most. Our favorites to play are Backgammon and Phase10 (both fantastic games), even though a lot of people consider Backgammon to be an old person's game.

Apart from the gym, food, football, and board games, what is time ideally spent for Timmy?

I’ve always felt the most “myself” being at the beach or close to the ocean, which is ironic because I moved to and fell in love with a landlocked country. I love the beaches in Cape Cod in Massachusetts, but also, last year we went to Mallorca because I always wanted to see that pristine, crystal clear water. We don’t have that in the Northeast US, but what we do have is really good seafood—lobster, seafood chowder, mussels, the works.

There is a room named "Timmy"!

It's true! Continue reading. 👇👇👇

I know you love books, and I guess you’ve read a lot on the beach as well. What books are now on your nightstand?

There are always at least 5 there. I have a problem. But some of the more interesting books I’m reading now are Mythos by Stephen Fry and On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

On Writing Well? Then you will write a blog post when you’re done reading! 😅

That leads me to another thing that I deal with at work, and that is talking at events. You were the first ever QA person to present publicly. Are you an introvert or extrovert? And was it challenging?

I was nervous. To be honest, I would have been more comfortable physically in a room with people. I prefer to see the people that I’m talking to face-to-face. Sitting at home in front of the screen and not seeing any faces or any reactions to what I say is unnatural. For example, you make a joke, and it’s just crickets. You have no idea if it was received well or not. I’ve given presentations before but never online. I think the biggest struggle for me was when the Q&A session came, and people asked me things I didn’t know the answers to because the topic I spoke about was rather new for me also.

I think acknowledging that you don’t know everything is actually much better than trying to come up with some made up answer. It makes you more human, but I know for a fact that the presentation was very well received. I think half of the audience was from Serbia. For some reason, the event was shared on Facebook in a large group of people learning to code and to do QA, and a lot of them attended. You’ve got a big fan club now over there.

Haha, that is awesome. I had no idea. I guess I’ll have to go to Belgrade now if I’m famous. “Hello, I am THE Tim!”

At the beginning of the interview, we talked about the perception of the Czech Republic in the US and how it’s easy to come here to teach English. Now, after living here for over 5 years, what would you tell Americans?

Do it! I absolutely love it here. One thing that I miss is access to the water. If there was an ocean or a sea within an hour drive, I would never even consider leaving.

So, are there other countries and places on your radar?

Definitely. My first taste of Europe was a study exchange in Italy during my university years. That’s where I really fell in love with Europe. I love the fact that there are so many different countries and cultures within a couple hours of each other, so, we’ll see where I end up in the future.

Speaking of university, there is one question I always wanted to ask an American. Are the frat parties as wild as they are in the movies?

In my experience, they are even dirtier. They’re an absolute catastrophe. For example, hazing is something that schools used to (and still) get in trouble for a lot. I’ve never joined a fraternity, and I am happy about that. It’s almost like a sect when you’re there, living in one house, eating in one place, going to meetings...

All of the American teenage movies from the early 2000’s were full of this, and that’s how we saw the US. On the other hand, did the movie Eurotrip have an impact on the way Americans saw Europe?

I guess so. Although, I watched it when I was younger, but I don’t remember having any idea what to expect when I first went to Italy. I was probably just thinking about all the good food and wine. It’s funny, though, to now be living in the city where all the scenes in the movie were filmed. I watched it about a year ago again, and I knew all the filming locations.

It’s one of my favorite movies and something that Czech and Prague people can be really proud of. 😁 For everyone out there, you can check out the spots where the scenes were filmed (and other movies filmed in the Czech Republic) on this site.

I will finish this interview with a very important question. It’s about your custom emoji on Slack, which drew a lot of attention. There is even a meeting room in the office named after you/the emoji. (All of our meeting rooms are named after emojis based on popularity.) Were you ever connected to Timmy from SouthPark before?

Well, it’s sort of a cliché for everyone named Timothy in the US. It’s either that or Tiny Tim from the Christmas Carol movie, which is based on Charles Dickens’ novel. I can’t do anything about it, so I guess I am stuck with it for the rest of my life unless I decide to rename myself. 🤷‍♂️

Photo © Natalia Bubochkina.


For more engineering insights shared by Mews tech team:

Tags

Jan Meissner

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