Birds, commuting, and Flutter -- that’s our App Guy!
Who do we have this time for the fourth edition of Meet MewsDev interview? The Head of Application Development (or, simply, App Guy) Kirill and QA Engineer Natalia (Tasha) have been married for six years and are truly inseparable. Tasha chose not to be the main star of this piece, but during the interview it was only natural that she jumped in. As usual, the topics we covered couldn’t be more diverse. How did a Russian couple end up living in Most? What are the most photogenic birds? What is Kirill’s favorite Czech beer? And why the hell is Kirill the biggest lover of the Flutter framework?
Oh, before I forget: there was something unique about this edition of Meet MewsDevs. I was in Prague, Kirill and Tasha were in their apartment in Most (about 100 km from Prague), and the entire interview was done online (like almost everything we do these days). Stay strong everyone!
A long way from Chelyabinsk, a long way from Most
You’re one of the first “imports” we had to the Prague office back in 2017. How did we find you, or, how did you find us?
It was actually via StackOverflow. I believe I’m the first and only developer Mews has ever hired through this portal. I just saw the job posting and I applied. It wasn’t that I was looking very proactively for a new job in Europe [Kirill and Tasha are from Chelyabinsk], but I was monitoring the situation in the Czech Republic since we already had an apartment there.
WAIT… you bought an apartment first and then found a job at Mews?
Yeah… the idea of living in the Czech Republic is a little bit older. We were planning to obtain a business visa. We applied for it, we got the apartment, but then we realized that it would be too difficult to finalize all the paperwork so it never materialized.
So how long have you had the apartment?
Are you kidding me? Alright, alright… let’s start over. How does a married couple from Chelyabinsk, Russia end up owning an apartment in Most without living in the Czech Republic?
Well, we didn’t plan to not obtain the visa. And one of the requirements was to have an apartment in the Czech Republic. Actually, there was a company that was helping us with the paperwork that connected us with a real estate agent who was also Russian.
And this person told you that Most is the place to buy an apartment?
Not really, but what he said was that if we were planning to buy an apartment in Litvinov, he wouldn’t help us. Not sure why, but we followed his advice. They have a nice army shop in Litvinov though.
So did you use your apartment in any way during those three years?
Yes, we would always get a temporary three month visa -- we did that like 5 times. So, combined, we lived in the Czech Republic for 15 months before we moved for good.
Why the Czech Republic anyway?
Why not? What I knew was that you had good beer. Then I investigated a little bit. Good location in the heart of Europe, good climate with normal winter and summer, good business opportunities, and high quality of life. So far, we’ve confirmed all that while living here.
Tasha: Sometimes the summers are too hot for Kirill, but not for me…
And why Mews?
I joined Mews as a frontend developer and you guys were just migrating the stack from Angular to React and it was the exact same thing I was doing on my last project in Russia. Also, Mews, at that time, was still quite a small company (about 20 people in Prague), which was something I was used to, so it seemed like a perfect match. And it only took 7 months for me and Tasha to relocate. During that time I worked long-distance.
I have to say that we were really scared of you once we checked your Facebook profile. Leather gloves, your physique, some guns.
Yeah, you saw pictures of me from the army.
So do you guys feel at home in the Czech Republic now? Is it all you thought it would be?
Hmmm… not sure how to answer this one. For me, the concept of “home” is kind of difficult because, since university times, I’ve moved around Russia and different apartments, different people. So wherever I am at the moment, that’s home.
Tasha: I am not too sensitive to details. People are people everywhere in the world.
Not only do you travel back to Chelyabinsk once in a while, but you also travel every day from Most to Prague and back. How are you able to do that?
So, I’ve been doing it for about two and a half years. The first two years I didn’t mind and I’d say I even enjoyed it as I was able to focus and work in the train. However, at some point I was like, this is crazy, six hours every day. I don’t want to do it anymore… I’m too old for this shit.
Tasha: For me, it wasn’t one particular point when I started hating it, but it was a steady decline from liking it.
Kingfisher or woodpecker? Definitely not weddings
I know you love nature and it was one of the reasons why you didn’t want to live in Prague and why you liked living in Most. Close to the mountains, etc...
Well, that’s the idea. But if you leave at 7AM and come back at 8PM, you don’t really see any nature. We started looking for an apartment in Prague -- and to have the one in Most just for weekends -- but now we’re happy we didn’t get one. During the current situation one of them would be empty all the time.
Tasha: I know I never wanted to live in Prague, but now I know there are a lot of nice and big parks where I can find a lot of beautiful birds.
Birds… you are known as passionate birdwatchers and you take a lot of amazing pictures of them. What’s the story behind this? 🦅🐦
It started with me picking up photography as a hobby. Tasha started to be interested in birds, so it was natural that we combined the two hobbies.
What is your favorite bird to take a photo of? Is there any?
Tasha [quickly, without hesitation]: Green Woodpecker!
Kirill: For me it’s the Common Kingfisher. You can find both of them in open nature.
Tasha: Even in Prague!
How do you know the best spots to find them?
Tasha: I have different sources. I see where other people took photos of them and I mark it on my map. We also travel a lot in the national parks and, to be honest, we--
Kirill: We are members of the Česká společnost ornitologická (Czech Society for Ornithology). We pay the yearly fee and we receive magazines, calendars, etc. Unfortunately, we’ve never managed to attend any of the meetings.
Thanks to your hobby we have an in-house photographer(s) for our events, profiles, and office life. How is taking photos of Mewsers different from a Common Kingfisher?
Tasha: It’s completely different because a kingfisher would never look at you and smile. You really have to do the opposite. With bigger groups of people, you actually have to move back so that you can fit everything into the photo, but in nature you have to run after your targets. But it's important to say that I really enjoy the opportunity to take photos at Mews events. Because when I do it I have a special connection with the people. We don’t even need to talk to each other. I feel like I know most of the company thanks to my camera’s lens.
Have you ever thought of doing it more commercially? Because you are really good...
Well, we never made money from taking photos, but you could say I was an event photographer for a while. We like to go to concerts and I started to take my camera with me. After a while, I realized I enjoyed the photography more than the music itself. I know for a fact that I never want to do weddings or other events. For us it’s a hobby and we take photos of what we’re interested in, not what we have to.
You two live together, travel together, work together, and share a passion for photography and birds. Is there anything you enjoy doing alone?
Tasha: I know one difference. I’m not a gamer.
Kirill: Well, I used to be a big gamer when I was younger. These days, I’m still interested in what’s going on in the gaming industry, but I’m no longer willing to spend too much time just gaming.
I guess this is my typical question, but was gaming the reason you became a software developer?
I would say it was part of the reason. From childhood I was interested in computers in general. When I was a kid my father agreed to buy me a computer but I had to promise that I wouldn’t just play games and that I would do something useful too. And then I realized that programming could be more interesting than games themselves.
And you studied computer science at the university?
Tasha: I also studied something like that: applied informatics in economics. Not quite, but close enough. 👩💻
What was your first computer?
It was actually a Russian computer called Poisk. Basically an IBM PC clone. That was real prehistory. For example, instead of a hard drive it used audio tapes, etc.
If we talk about gaming, I had a Panther console which was a pirate clone of a Dendy which was a pirate clone of a Nintendo. Yes, those were the ‘90s in computing in Russia.
By the way, did you know that Tetris was developed in the Soviet Union? It was some kind of offspring of another project…
I honestly had no idea.
OK, we’re doing our bit of popularization of Russian computing history.
So, what was the game that you spent the most time with?
I never was a one game type of person, but if I had to choose it would be Fallout and Half-Life.
Tasha, how about you? Do you have any activity that doesn’t involve Kirill?
Tasha: Anime! But not like Pokémon, that’s for children. 😀
Kirill, how about you and beer?
I like beer a lot. I used to drink a lot of Dark Kozel, but now my favorite beer is Pardubicky Porter. 🍺
OK, let me get this straight. Guy from Chelyabinsk, working in Prague, living in Most, and drinking Pardubicky Porter. That makes no sense. Yet it’s true.
[During the interview I saw a little gym in the room behind Kirill and Tasha.]
How much can you bench?
I don’t really chase personal bests on single lifts. First, I don’t like the idea that someone would have to be with me securing the bar and, second, I am not a fan of professional sport (or going for records) because it’s not healthy. I prefer to do healthy sports.
Introvert Kirill loves Tasha, but he loves Flutter too...
The last (and a very important) thing when talking to you: Flutter. You’re a big fan of this framework and I want to know where this love comes from…
I’ve always been kind of a full-stack developer. I started when there was no real difference between what a frontend and backend person does. It was just a webmaster. And I’ve really done it all. And I’m always trying to have as wide an approach as possible and I always liked the idea of cross-platform development. Plus, especially in frontend and also app development, it’s not unusual that you learn something and in a couple of months you realize it’s already old or obsolete.
Is it that crazy?
Yes. For example, Android. I was working on a project where I was doing backend, frontend and application development, and for about six months I was really focusing on backend. After we finished this major refactoring, I came back to mobile development and I realized that everything had changed. Then you are really like, “What the hell?”
So, over time, native iOS and Android development was driving me crazy, especially when I was working by myself as a freelancer, knowing that whatever I developed for one platform I would have to do for the other.
So Flutter was the answer for cross-platform development?
Well, it was the first answer that looked reasonable to me. Google went a long way in how mobile platforms should be made and I see big potential there. Currently, it is a production release, but it will always be kind of tricky because the moment Android or iOS releases a new thing, Flutter will always have to catch up.
How is the community around Flutter? Is it active?
I’d say it’s really good. In terms of popularity among developers it’s the framework that is most generally accepted and liked. In fact, this February, Flutter collected more stars on Github than React Native. So the community is growing. There are new libraries done by third parties, but they are still developed and maintained by Googlers.
In Mews, we are currently using it for an application for the housekeepers of hotels and for side projects.
And you don’t like to keep your admiration of Flutter to yourself. You are one of the most active devs in terms of talking at events, writing blog posts, etc. So what is the key to your success -- how did an introvert become a star like this?
I wouldn’t call it a success. You know, many people think that introverts are people who don’t like talking to anyone or about anything, hiding in a cave. I am an introvert 140%, but it’s about the topics and themes you like to talk about. So, if there is a topic I am interested in, I can talk about it endlessly. And Flutter is one of them.
That’s a good statement to end the interview with, to encourage other introverts to start talking about the things they love. Thank you!
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Photo © Natalia Bubochkina.