Interview with Alexander Pinin, Software Developer at Smarp

Michael Andreyev
April 27, 2020

How did you decide to become a developer? Tell a bit about yourself.

After graduating from a technical college I worked as a communications engineer for about ten years. Working with documents was time-consuming and at some point I realized I could use Excel for that. I knew it was possible before, but didn’t use macros and formulas much. So when I finally started using them I really liked it because it helped speed up my work. Then, as I got deeper into that I arrived at a conclusion that I needed to learn C++. I didn’t know much about where to start because I only tried a bit of BASIC in college, so I turned to googling and bought a book by Stroustrup to get started.

Eventually I started thinking of finding a more exciting job. Since I had already spent a lot of time learning C++ and the salary level was about the same as my job at the time, I realized there was nothing for me to lose. So I started sending CVs to companies in Chelyabinsk, but with little luck. One of the companies I interviewed at for a tester position suggested that I should learn Java instead since it was more in-demand.

Finally I quit my telecommunication job and after spending six months making a film about nature and sending out CVs at the same time, I got a job at a local company that had one team working on a core framework and the other team using that framework to build business logic. It wasn’t hard to get into it, but they were using C# instead of Java so I got to learn that in the process. I had been learning Java and working on a simple app before getting that job, but my knowledge wasn’t enough for building something enterprise-level. At the time I knew the syntax but didn’t know much about practical concepts such as CI. C# and Java are conceptually similar so it wasn’t hard for me to learn them by practicing at work.


OK, let’s talk about how you got the job at Smarp. As far as we know, you applied on our website. How did you hear about Toughbyte?

My friend Nikita moved to Helsinki a year before I did and he got a job at Zalando via Toughbyte, so he recommended checking out your website.


What did you like about our process?

Once I got the offer from Smarp, Toughbyte was staying on top of things asking about how things were going with relocation and answering any questions I had. That’s really important because when you’re relocating to another country, you have a lot of questions. You can google the answers of course, but it’s definitely easier if someone just tells you what to do, which papers to fill and what are the possible roadblocks along the way. I didn’t expect Toughbyte to keep helping me with advice after I got the job offer, because I thought that since things were agreed on with Smarp, I was on my own.


What did you like best about the interview process with Smarp?

Big companies often ask candidates to solve tasks that rarely come up in the work environment. The first interview at Smarp was about checking theoretical knowledge as well, but their main focus was on testing practical TDD skills in real time. I liked that a lot because the task was something you actually get to do at work.

The next interview was a discussion where they asked me what I wanted from the job from a technical point of view and shared their expectations in return. They also asked how I would approach different tasks and I would give my opinion, but it was all in the form of a discussion rather than an exam. I liked that too.


Why did you choose Smarp over the other companies?

I was talking to other companies but didn’t have any luck there and Smarp said they were restructuring their team, so I had to wait for a bit. After a while, they reached out to me and said they wanted to continue with me. I really liked the job, the stack and the way the company communicated, so I accepted the offer.


How was the relocation process? Did anything unexpected happen?

The biggest surprise came from the Russian side. I had to put the apostille on some of my documents and it turned out that you can only do that in the region where these documents were issued, so I had to fly over to my hometown to sort that out. The Finnish side, on the other hand, was really fast and everything went smoothly with them. Most papers can be submitted online.


How long did it take to get registered, find an apartment and set up a bank account?

Getting registered was the most time-consuming process. It wasn’t complicated, the forms were easy to fill, but waiting for your turn in to submit the papers to the Registry office took a few hours.

As for finding an apartment, I asked Elena and the other colleagues from Smarp for advice and found a suitable place in two weeks, which is pretty fast, as I’ve heard that it could sometimes take longer than that.


How was the first couple of weeks living in Finland? Was there anything that surprised you?

There were some little things about Finnish apartments that I found unusual - most of them have blinds built in and the bathroom floors are heated.


What was your first working at Smarp like? What were your first tasks and what are you working on now?

Onboarding was interesting. It was very thorough: they explained how their processes work product-wise and how their business evolved. This makes navigating through the work environment much easier, because you see the big picture and understand how the things you do affect the business. My previous job wasn’t like that - it was hard to understand what the code was for and few others knew it as well.

The first work week was mostly onboarding and some minor tasks to get acquainted with everything but I made the first commit on Thursday or Friday already. Right now I’m working on a team responsible for backend development of the project. The office is nice and not too far from my place, so commuting doesn’t take long.


How are you spending your free time?

Mostly checking out Helsinki and building a small app in React, since I’m also interested in frontend development. In addition to that I’m thinking of starting a blog.

Interested in working at Smarp?

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