Coffee Chat with Alex Z.

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Coffee chats are a way to share the personalities and the insights of the people who work with technology. The focus is not on companies or the work being done but on the individuals behind the code. This is the first chat in the series.

Alex Zagniotov
Software Engineer, ThoughtWorks

Alex is one of the quirky (but awesome) guys that I work with. He agreed to let me “interview” him over coffee (but only if I let the Irish Maritimer come out). How could I say no?! With Alex you never know where the conversation is going to lead… is he going to be deeply reflective or talk about an interesting video he found on the internet (like this or this).

How did you get into IT?

I’m actually a dental technician by trade. But after finishing my mandatory military service in Israel I got my first computer at the age of 20. I started by taking a basic computer course to understand how to use my computer. It was during this course that the instructor explained about the world of shareware and IRCs; this made me curious about how such things were done and why people do this (e.g. for fun or for statement). Through playing around on the IRCs I learned basic programming skills and discovered these were interesting.

My family looked at sending me to college in Australia, Canada and the United States; I liked Australia because it was so far out of the way and going to school in this country was cheaper than the other two. After graduating, I became a permanent resident and then an Australian citizen.

What inspires you and keeps you working with technology?

I started late in IT and was under so much pressure to study hard and learn more because kids younger than me were exposed to computers earlier and knew more than I did. Because of the social economic class that I started in, I have come a long way. I am proud to have made it this far. I inspire myself.

What sort of things have you done outside of ThoughtWorks?

I do some WordPress development. I also run an HTTP stubby server that allows people to run their websites; it’s all open source… like SoundCloud.

I started a small business in Australia and sold it for $20,000. This was a business that used a web application to allow people to opt in to receive emails from small companies who send bulk SMS updates. Clubs in Australia used this to alert customers about their current happy hour specials.

What amazes you about the web?

The smart phone has revolutionized the web, now everything is accessible to you on your mobile. You can access data and information from your phone. It has changed the world and how we do development.

Looking back, what would have done differently?

I would have gone to a better university. I think this has an impact on your ability to enter the IT market. I had to learn a lot of things in my free time but with a proper education I would have had a solid base in algorithms and other concepts that people learn in school. I believe that every person has the responsibility to learn on their own but university gives you a base to start with.

Most companies in the United States now look at the university you graduated from; and, when you graduate from a place like Stanford you are already labeled when you enter the market. This sets the standard for everyone else and is a solid advantage for the first 5-years of your IT career.

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