After graduating from university last July
, I decided to return home so to give myself time to relax, cope with health struggles and think about what would be the best for me going forward.
A few years ago, when I went for my Placement year, my mindset was that any job in the field would be beneficial and acceptable. I have always been curious about things and have wanted to be exposed to as many technologies as possible. I did not know what to look for when applying, what questions to ask during the interview and, in general, how to ensure that I am joining a place I would be happy at. It is probably hard to know beforehand anyways, but I saw that there are things I should be on the watch out for when applying for a permanent position. I have been trying to think that are always advantages, or, more precisely, opportunities, in every situation, even if not immediately obvious. If you are interested in learning more about my Placement year, you can read the “University
” and the “Placement Year
The decision to take some time off and not rush with the job hunt was also influenced by Covid and the situation around that — I could not live in a place where full lockdowns were in place, as this was taking a toll on my mental health. I get extremely frustrated with myself when I am not productive or cannot achieve what I want. In an environment in which your health suffers, it is very difficult to stay motivated and to keep on proactively working towards your goals. In that sense, I wanted to wait and see how things would develop worldwide, as this could have a direct impact on where I would look to move and live.
The beginning of The job Seeking
In the spring of this year, I started feeling unsatisfied with myself, as I have not been doing much since my graduation. These few months were the first period in my life I can think of that I have not been actively studying or working. It is not to say that I did not need to take a rest, however, I started feeling as if I was wasting valuable time. This feeling made me take up a few online courses on topics I am interested in, as well as brush up my skills, as everybody loses inertia after taking a break. As this is true for athletes, it is also true for software engineers.
At the same time, I started thinking about looking for a job. There were decisions I had to take — such as if I should find something in Bulgaria, in the UK or try somewhere new. While, in general, I feel better at home (nicer weather, better social life, etc.), finding a job back home felt to me as if I am throwing away all of the progress I have made abroad. As I still have around three years left of my pre-settled status as part of the EU Settlement Scheme, I thought that probably I should take advantage of that and return to the UK.
Another thing I had in mind was the size of the company I would be joining. I have seen the drawbacks of working in a big corporation. This time I was thinking of joining a smaller one instead. I have never been crazy about working in the biggest workspaces like many of the software engineers I know are. I am sure these would look great on your resume, but I feel that the experience is often not as good as many believe.
As I was not in a rush to find a job, I could afford to apply only to companies I feel passionate about. In general, they can be divided into two groups – the first one consisted of companies whose products I know very well and have been using for years. The second group was companies that focus on current technologies, paradigms, and developing solutions that I believe would benefit everybody either now or in the imminent future.
The application process is also very important for me, in a sense that, I think, it can differentiate the good and the bad employers. The number of companies that would pay a ridiculously low salary (around £27K pa in London), would require a first-class degree from a Russel Group university, would ask the candidates to do CS puzzles, go through assessment centres and a few rounds of interviews is disturbingly high. The average time from applying to the start day can be anywhere between 6 to 12 months. Unfortunately, many recent graduates settle down with this. Maybe because they are in urgent need of securing a job, or maybe because they think it is okay as they have just finished university. However, this allows these companies to keep on operating in this way, not valuing candidates’ time, and placing very high demands in return for a very low salary. I have been avoiding them at all costs, as this is the only effective way to stand up against these HR practices.
I was also in a quite interesting situation. I have always been attracted to good user interfaces and have shown interest in design. I started building my first websites when I was around 11 years old. Even if the Software Engineering course at my university is among the broadest ones in the UK, modules-wise, which is why I chose it, there was still a very low emphasis on design. Good design solutions were appreciated by some of the lecturers, but the design aspect was not on the priority list. Fortunately, I worked on a few big projects where I could be in charge, get creative and build modern user interfaces for. I also feel that I managed to get students I had to work with more passionate about UI and make them think about how each design and implementation decision impacts the user experience which was a great achievement. During my final year at university, I have been mentoring first-year students taking modules in web technologies and software engineering.
In my second year at university, we had to build an interactive web application for the University of Sheffield library team. This was a perfect opportunity for me to work on my client-facing skills, such as eliciting requirements with people from a non-technical background, providing them with concepts and, in general, ensuring the team will produce the best solution that meets all their needs. The final project was awarded 97%, received 100% for customer satisfaction, as well as a departmental award for its high quality. You can read more about "Software Hut" on the Second Year page
Another good example from university is my dissertation which consisted of building an iOS application, as well as a website. I did not have a choice for a module on mobile app development, but, as this was something I wanted to gain more experience with, I decided to take the opportunity and do it for my final year project. The project — ClimaFever – iOS app to research the impact of climate change on hay fever sufferers
— was my proposal. It focused on hay fever which is a condition I have been suffering from. Although a bit risky, as it meant I had to learn new things within a short time, so to deliver a working solution, the dissertation was awarded 96% which was the highest within the cohort. The second examiner, Prof Roger K. Moore, teaches Human-computer interaction (HCI). His feedback was very important to me and I was pleased to find out that the dissertation is “one of the best I have ever seen
”. You can download the dissertation
or find an overview here
It is safe to say that my affinity for design has always come naturally and what I know so far has been self-taught and the learning has been self-initiated. I could have done more throughout the years and I feel regretful that I did not. For instance, I never learnt a popular front-end framework, such as React or Angular, in-depth, which, understandably, is a core ask for any front-end developer nowadays. I have tried to incorporate Vue.js within one of the group projects I mentioned a few paragraphs above, however, the additional overhead was met with criticism from the team members which meant we had to ditch the idea. I have wanted to join a company as a front-end developer, as this is what I am drawn to, however, I knew it was going to be hard without the required professional experience in the field.
One day in April, I received a call from Couchbase
regarding my application. For those unaware, Couchbase is a distributed NoSQL cloud database
. At the same time, I had received two other offers which I had put on hold while waiting for the outcome of my interview with Couchbase. A week later, I signed the contract. My initial impressions were beyond positive so there was no reason to think twice
about getting on board. I genuinely felt respected during the interview process and the whole process was enjoyable. I was told I would be given responsibilities, based on my strengths shown during the training. This was the first time I have heard something like this from any company. This immediately made a good impression.
The company is truly international, with offices in the USA, UK and India with employees from all over the world. The position I was offered is in Manchester. I first visited Manchester in the autumn of 2017, shortly after starting university. Ever since, I have been thinking about how much better living in Manchester would be, compared to Sheffield. In general, I was hoping to secure a job in either London or Manchester, so the office location is perfect. Just to give some context, I am coming from Sofia, which is the capital city of Bulgaria. I have always been used to being around people and have always preferred busy places. Both Sheffield, where I went to university, and Cheltenham, where I did my placement year, did not provide that.
The first month with the company was spent learning about all the Services the company provides, as well as their market placement. I also obtained my first certification (Couchbase Certified Associate Architect
) and have been working towards more advanced ones.
This week, I was finally placed in my team which is responsible for the front-end of our products and I have already started committing changes. I am excited about all that there is to learn. I find this to be a unique opportunity, based on my situation. I will have the chance to learn many of the tools and frameworks I have wanted to explore. I also hope to become a better engineer as a whole and smooth out any rough edges! It is also the first time I will work with designers, developers, and product managers as separate entities and see how all of them interact.
I consider Couchbase the most premium quality database solution in the market, with unique and differentiating features, and I am confident the company has a great future! I have experienced how a person can be brought down when in the wrong environment, as well as how one could be stimulated to unleash their productivity and creativity when around the right people. After some rough experiences in the past, I am hoping to rebuild confidence in the workplace, make up for what I have missed in the past, get professional experience in a field I have been excited about since a child and start making a real difference for my team, Couchbase and our customers!