The 30th US president, Calvin Coolidge, was known to be a man of few words. Luckily, that wasn’t the case with Standa during our interview. We covered everything from the hard life of a PhD student and changing musical taste to a recently developed passion for road bikes. Standa gave us some tips about where he enjoys the roads the most and, if you’re not from the Czech Republic or Slovakia, you’ll find out about a sport which you may never have heard of. Whenever I talk to Standa, I always learn something new, so I hope that will be the case for everyone who reads the following lines.
School or work?
I ask every candidate: What do you know about Mews? So, I will start by asking you, what did you know about Mews before you started working here?
I knew that Mews was in the hospitality business and I knew—and that was the reason why I came to the interview—that it’s a modern thinking solution with its open API and Marketplace.
And how was the interview? Was it what you expected?
It was nothing like I expected. I had an interview scheduled with you and back in the day there was nobody at reception, but there was only this kiosk where you’d choose the person you were meeting. But I didn’t know that I was supposed to do anything. I waited there, you weren’t coming, and I was really questioning the decision of coming to the interview. Plus, I wasn’t actively looking for a job, so I was ready to leave.
Oh, you were one of the ones who didn’t pass the first interview task.
Yeah, but then the interview was great and, when I was leaving, I knew right away I wanted to work here. Even though I said I wasn’t looking for a job, I felt for a while that I needed a bigger challenge. I thought I’d get it with my brief “career” in the corporate banking world but it’s even worse than what they say. You feel completely unused and underutilized. And even if the pay is good, it’s not good for your mental health.
You are a Matfyz alumnus and you even started your PhD there. Were you ever thinking about pursuing your career in academia?
I was. Definitely. I was in such euphoria after my master’s in theoretical computer science that I immediately applied for the PhD. However, in only one year, I realized that that environment is not for me. It’s slow paced and conservative. Also, it’s difficult to live a normal life with just the stipend.
Was the topic of your academic paper Boolean functions with long prime implicants something close to your heart?
Not really. It was a paper that emerged from my master’s thesis topic. What I wanted to pursue was the topic of computability theory. I really enjoyed algorithmic randomness and things like that, but the professor responsible discouraged me greatly by explaining that it was a field where it would be very difficult to find something new and even to catch up with everything known would take years.
Given how powerful computers have become recently, we might believe every problem can be solved by them, provided enough time and computational resources. One of the fundamental results of computability theory is that, regardless of how powerful computers will be, there are certain problems which they provably cannot solve and those are by no means esoteric. A classic example is the halting problem—the task of writing a program which would, for any other program and its input, decide if it finishes or not. This makes it clear that writing an interpreter for a reasonably powerful language which would detect that your program hangs indefinitely is a futile effort. For an introduction and links to further reading, see the Stanford Encyclopedia.
Recently we counted that approximately one third of the Mews technological team are either alumni of Matfyz or curent students. Are you comfortable in such a setup?
Yes, very much so. I kind of know what to expect from them and I can anticipate how they are thinking about things. I can relate to them so it’s a big plus for me.
One fellow alumnus of Matfyz is the Head of Backend, Pepa. He is still just 23 years old and already leading the whole backend team and is tutoring at the school he is still a student of. What’s your take on that?
You know, age doesn’t mean anything. And if it does, it’s only something to admire that a guy at such a young age is capable of so many things on such a high level. You know, if I remember myself at his age, only working as a developer and the rest of my time spent watching TV series in my dorm room…
Pepa along with the CTO Honza are big fans of functional programming and they are passing it onto the rest of the team. Were you familiar with the concept or you got into this only at Mews?
I was always aware of functional programming ever since I studied at the university, but I never thought about its application. So, to your question, I got hands-on familiar with it only after joining Mews. After I got familiar with the concept, I learned to love it and I have to say it’s that it’s the best way of programming I’ve found so far. I am still trying to get better at it and I am happy that my company is such a strong proponent of it.
Can you explain to a noob like me what is the difference between object oriented and functional programming?
In object programming the idea is that you have objects that contain both the data and operations on top of the data. While in functional programming, function is the primary concept and, if possible, it just takes some data, returns new data, and does nothing else, so it's like a mathematical function. It’s when you combine it with functional data modeling that it becomes really powerful. Thinking about designing systems becomes much easier and tractable. In my opinion.
Asking Kirill, our Head of Application Development, who is taking photos:
Do we use functional programming in Flutter as well?
Was it influenced by how things are done in Mews or would you do it nonetheless?
I think both... I love the principals of functional programming and it's great we have the opportunity to use it in production.
Nothing like a smooth tarmac
Enough about Mews and work, or almost. Let’s move over to sports. Once you told me that having the Mews sports t-shirt on you when on bike, you never allow yourself to not push hard when you go up the hill... Was it just you pleasing my merch job or is it true?
It’s true. When I have a nondescript black t-shirt, I don't care too much. Of course, my ego never allows me to step down off the bike and walk up the hill. But when I have our shirt, I represent the brand and the people I work with. And the t-shirt is very visible with its massive QR code on the back, so people may check it sometimes. I wonder if anyone has ever scanned me.
BTW, cycling is the only sport I can watch on TV. Last year, we really enjoyed the Tour de France. Also, because, at that time, we were planning to move to the French mountains for a couple of months.
You are a big cyclist. How did this passion come about?
It’s always been part of my family since I was a kid. We didn’t do much of other sports, not even skiing, which would make sense since I am from a city in the mountains, Trutnov. So I started with a mountain bike and a year ago got myself a road bike as well. I’ve never done it competitively, but my girlfriend is nudging me to participate at these veteran races. 🤷♂️
So, no team sports for you?
Actually, I did play organized football two separate times of my life. As a very small kid, I played for TJ Jiskra Horní Staré Město. We were the loser crew of the neighborhood. Then I did all possible sports and I got back to football in my teens, but it didn’t last. I am somehow not a big fan of football culture. I promise to Míra that I will one day come to our Thursday football. Although, I prefer nohejbal.
Nohejbal (Football tennis)
One of the few sports invented in former Czechoslovakia. The English translation is very self-explanatory. One to three players stand on each side of the court and they try to play the ball over the net and away from the reach of the opposing team. Team members can pass among each other a maximum three times (as in volleyball). And, as in football, players cannot touch the ball with their hand. It’s a very popular holiday and laid back activity, but it is also played at a high international level. Watch some of the best plays from the World Championships or listen to a great song by Monkey Business.
You’re one of the most active members of our Strava running/cycling clubs. Seeing others biking and running all the time, does it force you to do something yourself and be better than others?
Oh yeah, definitely. It’s the pressure of knowing others will check you out and you have to deserve the kudos. So, when I can gain 100 more elevation meters, I try go for them.
What are your favorite routes to take your bike on?
On the road bike, it’s definitely Český kras and Hořovická pahorkatina. Not much traffic, it’s up and down and never boring. It’s great for natural sightseeing with, for example, Koněpruské jeskyně. And one which is further is the area of Southern Bohemia around Písek. The quality of tarmac there is just amazing and, again, no cars whatsoever. When it comes to a dream cycling destination, it would have to be Pyrénées-Orientales in the south of France, not far from Catalunya or Andorra. I’m already planning my routes on Mapy.cz but we’ll have to wait a bit.
Many people I know bike alone, not sharing it with their significant others, but based on your Strava photos and your Instagram, you cycle a lot with your girlfriend. Did you infect her with your passion?
She didn’t own a bike before we met, but actually our first trip together was to Italy. We left our car up in the north, going down south with just the bikes and all the baggage. And she did it and she loved it. That’s when I realized, yes, this is THE girl.
Relaxing with World War II, IPOs, & The Backstreet Boys
What is your gateway thing then, only for yourself?
I mean, I do bike alone a lot, so it’s not just a couple’s thing. However, I go to the woods a lot myself. That’s my energy source. I listen to a lot of podcasts there, so I combine the two things. For example, Hardcore History. Those are usually like 4-hour long episodes, so I spend a lot of time on my own. I discovered this podcast when we did Camino de Santiago a couple of years ago. When you’re together for three weeks on such a trip, you realize you don’t need to speak to each other all the time. It was truly an immersive experience.
Speaking of podcasts, I haven’t gotten into listening to them very much yet. What are your tips?
There is so much noise these days as almost everyone has their own podcast. So, it’s difficult to find a good one. But I have a couple of podcasts that I’ve found over time and subscribed to, trying to listen to every episode when released. My top three podcasts would be:
- The Peter Attia Drive - he’s a medical doctor focused on longevity. As he is a former athlete, he combines sport aspects with the topic.
- Hardcore History - I’ve already mentioned it, but it’s really great, mainly the parts about World War II. To be honest, I don’t remember any facts or names of battles, but while listening I get so hooked and enjoy the storytelling.
- Acquired - two guys talking about technological companies. About their history and progress towards acquisition or IPO giving their opinion about how successful it was, etc.
One podcast that I really enjoyed massively is American Elections: Wicked Game. Every episode is about one presidential election and the candidates. And from our talks, I know your favorite US president is Calvin Coolidge which definitely isn’t a typical favorite, let alone in the Czech Republic. Why?
To be honest, I don’t even remember where I learned about his existence or his politics. But he was one of the best examples of libertarian presidents in history and I myself align with this approach to life. His nickname was Silent Cal and it was always difficult to get some quotes from him. He wanted to let people do whatever they want, of course with some set of boundaries, and I like that.
One of the podcasts you mentioned is focused on technological companies, startups, IPOs, etc. When did you start being interested?
If you asked me three years ago, I would tell you that I have no interest in this at all. I was only interested in programming, scaling, reliability, or designing systems. The typical stuff a guy like me should be interested in. However, I read some classic books on economics and it completely changed my perspective and sparked my interest in today’s financial world. It’s basically behavioral science, which is fascinating.
You are known to be playing around with the stock market a little bit. Which platform do you use and do you have any horses you’re betting on currently?
I am using a traditional broker. I know there are more convenient ways, e.g. Revolut, but I am not too trustful of their corporate structure and its lack of transparency. And even if I wanted to, I can’t really tell you which stock to buy. I am a small player and I am more interested in the value approach to investing (Warren Buffet, Benjamin Graham, Charlie Munger). You look at the fundamentals of the company, how it’s doing, how much cash flow it is generating. As a consumer, when you go to shop and look at your basket, maybe 50% of its content was actually produced by just a handful of corporations. In every discipline, a winner emerges and it’s fascinating to try to understand why it’s this or that company.
If you don’t have a company to suggest I invest in, can you at least tell me some that you closely follow?
These days it’s definitely Mews. It would be cool to be part of a company going public or being hugely successful. For a person like me who’s interested in these things it’s really great to have the inside info about the numbers.
But don’t you miss being closer to the product? After all, you are in the infrastructure team, the real backend, cables, etc…
Not at all. I am actually agnostic when it comes to the product. I really like the “common problems” that most companies have to solve, like infrastructure, scaling, or reliability. I care about the plumbing.
Is there going to be a day when you start your own business?
I always thought I was meant to be an entrepreneur, but I am not sure anymore I am the right person for this. And even if I start something, it would be some lifestyle business that would hardly pay my bills. I don’t have the ambition nor the skills to have a billion-dollar business.
According to your Twitter bio you are a “Dylan/Jarrett junkie”. In my mind those listening to such music have come through a long process of growth and maturity. What was yours?
Even though Jarrett would be labelled as a jazz musician, I am not a fan of traditional jazz music. I like him for his long solo piano improvisations which he started in the 60’s. It really doesn’t sound like jazz and that’s why I like it. I’d say it’s a fusion between rock and classical music.
I listened to Jarrett before our interview as I didn’t know his music. And I have to say, I don’t have the patience, yet, for such music. I feel like I have to grow older to start listening to such quality music. Let’s take it chronologically with you. What were you listening to in your Walkman, Discman, and MP3 player?
Walkman: I guess East 17, Backstreet Boys and Take That. I am not going to be ashamed of that, they really knew how to write a good melody.
Discman: That would have to be Pink Floyd. I was heavily into them and, as with other things, when I discover something I like, I become unhealthily obsessed. I travelled to David Gilmour and Roger Waters concerts around Europe.
MP3 player: Those would be the Dylan years. Again, very obsessed, and I’d say I have over 2000 concerts on my hard drive. Now, when I think about it, I used to have a successful YouTube channel. With over 1000 subscribers and a couple of million views. I built a simple program that took the recording, picked some photos, and at the beginning there would be text with the information of the date and location of the concert. And it was amazing, I would upload a concert from the 70s and people would comment that they were there and they wouldn’t believe they could listen to it again. The channel is dead because it wasn’t completely legal, so the Web Sheriff would notify me and after a while it was terminated.
All the things we’ve talked about, your job, hobbies and interests, are very quarantine proof. Is there something that you really miss these days?
I am definitely missing having a beer or having lunch with the team once in a while. And the office banter with the guys. When it comes to travelling, I’ve never been too much of a flying guy, but the fact that we couldn’t go to the Pyrenees to live for a couple of months is something I am particularly sad about.
Last question: how does an ideal weekend look for you?
Spend it all on the bike under the sun. That’s how we spent our weekends during last summer, so I am looking forward to repeating it this year.
Photo © Kirill & Natalia Bubochkina.
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