Learning is good: no matter if it's management, piano or F#
I was really looking forward to interviewing Pepa one day. I had observed him for months, almost like David Attenborough observes emperor penguins mating in Antarctica. And, indeed, he is a unique species. Talking to him, you wouldn’t think that he was born after the Czech hockey team won the gold medal at the Nagano Olympics in 1998 (you’ll see why I mention this later). I believe this interview brings a healthy balance between philosophical answers and very concrete thoughts from a young man we can all learn a lot from. Who knows, one day he may teach your kids! Of course, it wouldn’t be a talk with Pepa if it didn’t include functional programming and F#, but I kept him on a tight leash. Enjoy!
Being a good manager equals being a good person
Obligatory first question… how did you get started at Mews?
I first got in touch with Mews at a career fair at my school almost three years ago. It was Jirka, current CPO and Matfyz alumni, who represented the company there. And Mews was really the only company that stood out among all the others. We had a good chat, I left my contact info, and then didn’t hear from him for the next five weeks. He’s apologized many times since, so it’s fine.😁
Well we all know how busy Jirka can be… But wait, you say that Mews stood out, but it couldn’t have been our booth at the time…
It was the technology, really. Also, Mews was one of a few companies where I had a feeling that they wanted me to work there. The rest of the companies made you feel like they were doing you a favor by giving you the possibility to work for them. But the funny thing was that Jirka really tried hard to explain the hospitality industry and what Mews was doing and I just couldn’t have cared less at the time.
That sounds like something I’ve heard from other developers as well. For them, the key is the technology and only then do they care about the product itself. But still, you wouldn’t work just anywhere… What kind of a product do you have to work on for you to enjoy it?
I’d say it has to be a customer facing application and it has to be innovative technology. I wouldn’t want to work for a company that deals just with big software with a lot of tables.
You were in your first year of university back then. Fast forward, you’re finishing your bachelor as we speak. How are things going and what’s the plan when you’re done?
I just finished my thesis that focuses on a recommendation system for recipes. I shared a survey about it in our public channel on Slack, but nobody was able to understand how to fill it in. 🤷♂️ Luckily I got enough relevant data for the research elsewhere. If everything goes well, I will continue with a master’s program in computer science. And, if I’m still as enthusiastic as I am now in two years, then I might even continue with a PhD as well.
What role does education have in your life? Let’s say in regards to earning money.
I think I’m an unusual case. Many students drop out from our school for money. I’m really happy that I started working as a programmer when I was 16 and even before. I was used to working already for quite some time at KFC, for example. So when I joined the university I already had decent income. Very often it’s the first opportunity for students to earn a lot of money and then they’re inclined to leave school because they see no use in continuing their studies. So I see education more as a hobby, not as a path towards making money.
If I dropped out of school now, I’d still be interested in the stuff I’m doing and I’d still do it. And I’ve proven to myself that managing a full time job and university is pretty doable.
That’s what I wanted to ask in the next question. How do you manage to juggle these things?
It’s really not so bad. Of course, in the first year it’s tough because you have a lot of math and a lot of compulsory subjects. So that takes a lot of your time. However, as you progress, you realize that you can afford not to attend all of the lectures. I’ve watched a lot of lectures on a tram or in the evening at home. But I’m not gonna lie, sometimes it’s very stressful.
For the last couple of months, you’re not just a developer, but you’re leading a team of about 20 people. Your responsibilities and day to day work have changed. How comfortable are you with that?
It was my choice to go this path and it is actually much more rewarding than what I did before. At some point in your life you want to do something beneficial for the whole society. When I was a developer, I made a better life only through software for people I’ve never met. As a manager you can make your friends’ and colleagues’ lives better by talking to them, listening to their issues, and trying to help them as much as you can.
You make this path from a developer to a manager sound too easy. Still, you’re just 21 and you don’t become a good manager overnight. You haven’t managed teams before, have you?
No I haven’t and I wouldn’t say I’m a good manager. You have to learn a lot and, for me, I had to make a lot of changes about my behaviour. I was known for being impatient and sometimes even cocky when it came to code and development. Not everyone has the same background of computer science, etc., and that is totally fine and often even beneficial. So I think I took it very seriously. I am spending more time reading about leading teams, being a manager, etc. Right now I am reading the mainstream book Radical Candor which I really like. And so far I’ve learned two important things. The first is that being a good manager equals being a good person and the second is that every conflict is caused by a lack of information.
I am happy that moving you into a managerial role made you a good person. Sounds like you were pretty terrible before.
Well, speaking about programming, I really wasn’t always the nicest to people. Now I know better and I’m trying to pass on the knowledge I gained from thousands of hours spent reading programming books onto others in a better way.
You mentioned that it wasn’t really important that Mews was hospitality software. Honza, our CTO, had never flown before Mews and hadn’t really been using hotels either. How about you?
I love to travel, but haven’t done it much. And I’ve stayed in hotels before, but I hated to fly. I used to have a rule that I could fly once a year, for a holiday. That will change once we are allowed to fly again because just before the quarantine I realized flying was not so bad and it was thanks to the THIS trip to Amsterdam [Pepa knows that I put hyperlinks to my interviews so he put emphasis on the word “this” to promote his article]. It was just a weekend and I managed to see so many things. So I want to see more now.
You’re going to catch up on what you’ve missed.
Yes. The reason for me not travelling too much was because I really haven’t done much apart from programming. I’d say I was even obsessed with it, so I didn’t even think about flying somewhere.
When I grow up, I wanna be a teacher!
So Matfyz was your number one choice when thinking about university?
Yes, but I actually had a short break from being obsessed with programming and that was in high school where for a short period of time I wanted to be an architect. Almost everyone in my family are civil engineers. But when high school was coming to an end, I was back to being obsessed and was accepted to Matfyz without entry exams. To be honest, it’s not so hard to get in there, all you need to do is to have really good math grades throughout all of high school. Or you can pass the exams, which are rather easy.
Silence from me for a bit and then desperate laughter about Pepa’s last two sentences.
What were your maturita grades [the end of high school exam in the Czech Republic]?
Straight A’s, but I was pissed that I didn’t get 100% in math.
Coming back to your trip to Amsterdam. How did you overcome your fear of flight?
I actually worked on it consciously. The thing that helped me was to think that the pilot most likely wants to live as well, so he would take care of us. And also, I tried to focus on the nice things. Looking down at Earth. I know it sounds stupid, but, for me, planes are probably one of the most magnificent human inventions.
You went to Amsterdam to deliver a talk. You’re well known as someone who likes public speaking, something not too common among developers. Are you an extrovert?
100% extrovert. And I didn’t realize it instantly, but both management of people and public speaking, two things I recently enjoy, are tied to my biggest dream. Being a teacher. I was always chasing this imaginary goal of being good at everything (or later just one thing) by gaining a lot of knowledge. But then, when I realized that it was not gonna happen, I decided I wanted to share the knowledge I have with others.
Thanks for stealing the question I wanted to ask you at the very end… But is there any chance for you to fulfill your dream any time soon, even part time?
Last year, I was offered a teaching job at my former high school, but I had to refuse it as I wouldn’t be able to devote enough time. Once I’m out of school, I definitely want to be a teacher one day, even if it’s just a few hours a week.
What helped you the most with talking in front of hundreds of people?
Definitely the fact that I know a lot about the topics I speak about and having strongly backed opinions. The biggest source of fear for people, I think, is that there would be someone more knowledgeable in the audience. But it’s stupid because those that know less will learn something and those who know more will teach you something. So no matter what, everyone benefits from a talk or a blog post and you don’t have to know 100% on the topic. Nobody does.
My family loses money over betting on me
OK, that’s a smart and heavy statement, so let’s lighten it up a bit. You have some unusual hobbies for a developer. Cooking (but proper Michelin style with a #foodporn Instagram account) and playing piano. Did you have enough time to enjoy them during quarantine?
I actually have a lot of hobbies and my family always places bets on how long I will keep this or that hobby. And they all lost really badly with the piano one. My sister guessed two weeks, my mom one month. I’ve played it for one and half years now… So I got them there! I really like trying and learning new things all the time. I want to get to the maximum level with minimal effort in my hobbies, which wasn’t the case with programming. This way, you can go into deeper discussions with a lot of people.
That’s all very nice but you haven’t really answered my question…
Right, sorry. In terms of piano, I’ve definitely had much more time to play it in the last three months. With cooking, it was a little worse as I had the lunch box diet, but I’m looking forward to cooking more. And eventually adding onto the Instagram account. Anyway, I have it just to force me to arrange food nicely. But those are not my only hobbies. I played hockey and tennis a lot when I was younger and played chess competitively.
Thank you for reminding me of hockey. I love the story where your dad tells you that when we won the gold medal in Nagano in 1998 he threw you into the air. And you have to explain to him that you weren’t even born yet.
Yeah, he told me again recently and I explained to him again that I was not born yet. So he acknowledged that it may have been the gold at the World Championships a year later. God knows who he threw into the air after Nagano.🥇
Another hobby of yours (already mentioned a couple of times) is learning. What are your tips there?
One thing is that I couldn’t live without Raindrop. That’s a Chrome extension and basically a bookmark manager. So I save everything I read or want to read. Currently, I have a queue of 250 unread articles there. After I read it, I put it down into Google Keep with notes, which makes you think twice about what you’ve learned and if you understood it well. Anyway, nothing beats the smell of a paper book. I am old school in that sense.
What do you read apart from technology?
I am really into classic literature. For example, Karel Čapek or George Orwell’s 1984. Basically the ones you are taught at school. One of the best experiences I had with a book was with Kafka’s The Trial. In school, we were forced to read it in a short period of time. And I am a slow reader so I struggled with it and I hated it. But then when I read literary reviews and had time to think about it more, I realized it was so smart. And often, when reading more abstract books, I can’t really tell you what it was about, but I know I enjoyed reading it. It’s more than enough that a book makes you think.
From unusual hobbies to unusual phobias. Why do you hate wooden stuff?
Oh, God. I hate the sound of it and I hate the feel of it. The worst are wooden spoons or brooms. But it’s not all wood, it’s just a specific type of wood. It makes me itchy just thinking about it.
And why wouldn’t you eat in a restaurant with a dart corner?
You have to play the odds. For me, there is a certain correlation between having darts and having bad service and food. Although, my friend, a professional cook, says that the most important thing when you eat a meal is who you are there with, then the atmosphere and service, and only then the food itself. So I guess I’d be OK with eating in a restaurant with darts if I’m there with the right company. The funny thing is that they just opened a new restaurant where I live and when I went there for the first time, there was a dart tournament. 🤦♀️🎯
Very specific way to determine the level of service in a restaurant indeed.
Functional programming is the key
Let’s be serious again. Why are you so in love with functional programming?
During my school years, I didn’t know much about it. When I joined Mews, I found out that Honza is really into functional programming. He even wanted to build the application in Scala, but wasn’t sure about the maturity of the language. Anyway, he chose C# — about which he had deep knowledge thanks to classes at the university. So he applied functional principles to C#. He recommended a lot of books to me and I fell in love with it. So far I really think it’s superior to other approaches. However, I remain open to it being proven otherwise. 😈
And what it is about F# that you appreciate the most?
Well, if you want to write functional code in C#, it’s doable, but it’s not really idiomatic so the benefits come with a lot of disadvantages in C# — F# removes them. Of course, there are other languages from the same family, but since I am really familiar with .NET, F# is the answer. All the apps I do for myself are in F#. Backend, frontend, mobile, everything.
But still, isn’t there a deeper reason why you have such strong feelings towards functional programming?
You know, I don’t like learning stuff that is just for one purpose. And I believe it was the creator of Haskell who said: “calling knowledge about functional programming universal is too limiting, because if there is another universe you would be able to use that knowledge there too.” And it is not just an opinion, since functional programming takes a lot from category theory which is an abstract theory of mathematics. So it’s really more of a fact than a statement. Also that’s why I really like calisthenics in sports. I don’t like machines where you work out one small part of your body. So it’s kind of similar to abstract mathematics. 😊
So do you call yourself F# or C# developer?
Not really. And it comes down to what I said earlier, that I don’t like things that are good for just one purpose. And we, as software engineers, should have more open minds and not to limit ourselves to just one language, framework, or tool.
Who are your role models that you follow and that really influence you?
Hm, probably not role models, but people I like to read and listen to and get inspired by are Jordan Peterson, Tim Ferriss, and Naval Ravikant. From the programming perspective, it would be Mark Seemann and Scott Wlaschin.
Right, I remember how you announced to everyone that Scott Wlaschin was following you on Twitter. Once again, congratulations and thanks for the interview. It was less fun than I expected, but I learned a lot. And thanks for being number one fan of the developer relations team at Mews!
Thank you, and I’d like to greet my big fans Standa and Míra! 😍
Photo © Natalia Bubochkina & Kirill Bubochkin