András P. Tóth studied computer science engineering at Budapest University of Technology and now works as a serial entrepreneur in the IT sector. He’s currently building CodeBerry Programming School with his friends. They hope to decrease the shortage of IT professionals in Hungary.
During the interview, Andris told us the story of his first [$110] salary and his first company sale as well as the cats of Instagram and the path lying in front of Hungarian developers.
I live here: Budapest, Hungary.
I work here: mostly at home, sometimes from internet cafés.
I use: iPhone | MacBook Air | Sublime Text | bash | PHP | Node.js | Mailchimp | Google
My work style in a few words: small steps every day.
When you’re asked about your profession, how do you answer?
I usually say I build enterprises. If I see confusion, I add that I create enterprises in the IT sector. My job is to give other people jobs.
Tell me more about what you do regarding programming?
Normally I’m occupied by several different projects at once – some are for-profit (like CodeBerry Programming School), some are non-profit ones (e.g. Invisible University, YearCompass). Sometimes, I just code to relax.
We started CodeBerry Programming School in 2016 with a few friends. We teach programming to people who’ve never done it before and help them find a job. Among other various tasks, I have plenty of things to do as a developer at this company:
- I’m one of the code mentors who help students with technical things.
- I write lots of code for our website as well as places where it connects to other software, like surveys, analytics and payment solutions.
- I create modules for the system dealing with the programming homework, like admin statistics, badges, progression indicators.
I relax by programming different little things I find interesting at that given moment. Some of my recent projects include:
- Instagram script that gained followers for our cat’s Instagram.
- Slack bot that creates photos of every teammate.
- Temperature graph (with data collected by sensors).
- Chrome plugin that shares the view of the webcam with another computer.
How does your workspace look like?
Andris’s desk (Credit: András P. Tóth)
When, where and how did you learn to code?
I was 10 years old when we got a C64 for Christmas. I learned programming with the help of books and friends. We had a little team captivated by the demoscene subculture, we all wanted to create art. We drew, composed music, programmed and, of course, competed with each other.
My first paid job was creating a webshop for an Italian company when I was sixteen. With the help of a dial-up internet connection, I would go online each night and attempt putting together a working website from code snippets I found on the internet. I was 18 when I applied to university where I studied computer science engineering.
In my third year, I started working as a developer and project manager. A year later I created my first company.
What are the job opportunities for web developers? On average, how much time did you spend looking for a job?
I have never looked for a job before. Until the middle of my university studies, people always approached me with developer jobs and, after that, I always worked for my own company. I still get emails via LinkedIn every other week, asking if I’m interested in developer jobs, so I think the market is pretty open to us.
What is your daily, weekly, yearly schedule like?
Usually, I get up between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning, depending on meetings. I work out, take a shower, have breakfast, and work until midday. I have lunch with someone, then work again until five, and then I try and relax. Mostly, I work from home, so sometimes I doze off in the afternoon, but that results in late-night work. That is not good for anyone.
Most of the times I apply the Pomodoro technique to my work—25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute rest filled with some chores.
We have operative discussions on Monday and strategic discussions every Tuesday morning. Tuesday to Thursday we all work from our home offices, and Friday we organize live or online meetings to summarize the week.
My job is rather diverse—a part of it is communication (insider conversations, outsider meetings, and code mentoring), a part of it is marketing (managing ads, writing copy, and getting marketing systems to work), and some of it is technical (all kinds of programming tasks).
Four times a year, I take a week off. I also have few-day trips with the colleagues twice a year.
The Invisible University causes two weeks every six months to be rather packed (at the beginning and the end of each semester), and the YearCompass results in an intensive December and January. These make me accept fewer other jobs in these periods.
What surprised you about this job that you never thought of before?
Time flies when you program. I start solving a problem and two blinks later it’s already night time. This really surprised me first.
The other thing is the speed with which the whole programming knowledge evolves. I occupied myself with marketing for a few years and when I returned to programming, I could hardly understand what my colleagues were talking about. It must have been a similar feeling to what elderly people experience when their children try to explain things they can’t catch up with.
Do you have skills that would surprise everyday people?
When somebody asks for help from us (e.g. “the internet is down” or “the printer doesn’t work”), we usually don’t know the solution right away either. All we do is patiently read the error message and find the answer on the internet.
Who do you work with?
I work alone a lot. We have weekly meetings, and chat each day with colleagues, if we work on tasks together. I also exchange emails with suppliers, partners, consultants, and the press frequently.
What are typical career paths in your profession?
I think there are a few pronounced paths for IT professionals:
- You can choose the size and style of the company: freelancer, startup, small business, medium business, multinational and governmental companies.
- You can choose a topic: operating, developing, planning, testing or even management, sales, support, growth, data, etc.
- You’re distinct by your experience: entry level, junior, senior, etc.
and within each path, there are many specific junctions (e.g. a developer could be an Angular specialist front-end web developer)
You can choose to navigate through these routes all through your life.
I see many examples among my friends too:
- It’s popular to go from zero to infinite on the programming path.
- There are plenty of “I started as an IT specialist but found out I was good with people, so I became manager” situations.
- There are a few “I started at multinational companies, but I’m trying to build my own business”.
- And few of my friends start off with running their own company in the first place.
What are your plans, how do you wish to continue?
I’m over my first company sale (“Gyümölcstárhely”, a web hosting service was my first company, that was bought by one of Europe’s biggest hosting companies) and many failed projects too. So far, I really enjoyed this entrepreneur-developer combination, so it’s probably what I’m going to continue.
What other profession would you choose if you had to change? Could you change?
I wouldn’t change. I really enjoy teaching, so I can imagine doing some kind of consultant-trainer thing. I could probably change to a normal IT job and possibly marketing due to my entrepreneurship experience.
What skills do great developers, IT experts require? Who do you not recommend this profession to?
I find the following skills important:
- Engagement in details – it’s pretty difficult to code in a superficial style. You have to pay attention to the details.
- Capability of concentration – finding a single error sometimes takes hours.
- Proper English skills – if I’m stuck, I can only find help on the internet in English.
I don’t recommend this profession if you don’t have these skills.
What’s your favorite part?
I love programs you can leave running for hours, days or weeks, doing something useful. Creating something that works is also a great feeling.
What grinds your gears most? What are the difficulties and dangers of your profession?
The “professional religious wars” are both annoying and entertaining. Seeing people fight over text editors and whether you should format code with tabs or spaces…
It’s not easy to keep up with the constantly changing technology—deciding on which program language to use or which new tool is good enough to be learned.
Plus, there are dangers in this profession:
- Sitting all day – you need some extra effort if you don’t want to end up being a fat geek.
- The bubble – it’s easy to think a company packed with IT professionals are all well-paid 20-50-year old men who understand programming jokes.
How stable is your job? How much time does one spend working for the same company?
I work in a startup. There are faster-changing projects, undeveloped processes, and bigger uncertainty compared to a bigger, well-functioning company. I worked for 5-6 years in my previous companies; we always started new ones after that.
I have never heard of an IT professional being fired among my friends. Some are more loyal and work decades at the same company, while others change every few years, motivated by higher wages and more interesting roles.
If you had to ask for one thing in the name of all developers, what would it be?
As an IT specialist, I would ask, please read the error messages and Google them before you call us.
As an entrepreneur, I wish for clear and understandable emails when seeking help after something goes wrong—what have they tried, what did they expect and what happened instead—and we’ll think of the solution together.
How much can one earn in this profession (as a newbie, experienced and veteran)?
In my experience as an entrepreneur:
- I didn’t make a penny during the first year. I only fed the project with my money.
- The first month after the tipping point I could pay myself $110. Later my salary slowly grew to $15,000.
- I gained a bigger amount by selling my company. Enough to cover all expenses in the next 4-5 years, letting me focus on my next project.
My developer friends usually make more than that. Most of the time, they have a secrecy agreement, so we can only speak of approximates: they make $15,000-30,000 in Hungary, more as a leader, and well over $70,000 in the West. It’s worth browsing Glassdoor; they have a lot of info about salaries.
What do you think is the best way to learn to code?
There are a lot of great online and offline courses. We collected these on a website: http://programozastanfolyam.com.
The following things helped me the most:
- Actually having to type the solution to a given task (instead of reading it in a book or watching a video about it)
- Specific projects that I could finish (e.g. I’ll build a site for a friend or a project)
- A friend or mentor who already knew how to code and could help me when I had problems.
What makes code worth learning?
For me, programming:
- Lets me experience creating something.
- Offers job opportunities and stable financial support.
- Is relaxing.