For most of us, a ten-minute bus ride through the tranquil summer daylight of Stuttgart would be a perfect opportunity to relax. For 27-year-old Dušan Varcaković, sitting at the back of the bus as he returned home from work was his time to think of an escape plan. He had spent his early 20s cultivating a promising career which eventually landed him a well-paid, stable job as Digital Strategist for a big healthcare firm, working on fields he was interested in with people he liked.
In June of 2020 he was desperately looking for a way out of that.
“I had what in many ways was a great job. But there was no challenge there, no room to really grow,” he says today. Our interview takes place rigorously online: like most of us in the tech industry, he has been forced into home-office by the Covid-19 pandemic, but as Product Owner for the German startup Otto Wilde Grillers, the switch has multiplied his entrepreneurial challenges ten-fold.
Dušan doesn’t seem to mind. Indeed, as we discuss his experiences before and after our bootcamp, he comes across to me as one of a relatively uncommon type of worker – the sort who is happier when he has problems in his hands than when he doesn’t. “I actually have trouble enjoying regular fun,” he admits, “because whenever I get into an activity, I always find myself looking for a bigger picture, for some kind of overarching vision. It’s like I have this weird force inside me that is always pushing me forward.”
It was by following that “weird force” from the very beginning that Dušan had picked up skills that would be valuable in tech. At 13 years of age, he had taught himself some rudimentary web development on the (now archaeological) HTML editor Microsoft FrontPage. By the time he was 19, he had organised his online Counter Strike gaming community into an e-sports club capable of competing internationally, inclusive of a website he had personally designed. But after his professional apprenticeship, he discovered the local employment culture seemed naturally geared towards passive, stable, salaried positions like the one he’d found in Stuttgart.
“If I wanted to change my career, I had to step out of the program which I was being unconsciously funnelled into. I took the leap and signed up for the WBS CODING SCHOOL bootcamp in web development.” While most people take coding bootcamps in order to learn programming, though, he was more interested in learning about programmers. “I’d long since realised something. The reason developers liked to work with me was that I wasn’t just some businessman ordering them around with no clue what coding was really about. I was one of them. And I wanted to push this relationship further, which you can’t really do with online tutorials by yourself. In brief, I direly needed a community.
“In the end, I took this bootcamp because I wanted to learn by listening to other people. It’s so easy for entrepreneurs to fall in love with their own ideas, but this course helped me see the great ideas that others come up with, their unique problem-solving perspectives, their ways of thinking. A team-leader needs to know about these qualities if he or she is to harness them.
“Also, having a top-notch instructor really allowed me to take my work to the next level. If you are by yourself, there is always a limit to how deep you can go. You can ask Google a question – but there will be nobody to teach you how to ask Google the right questions.”
Dušan was able to put his new skills to use even earlier than he expected – as it happens, he was offered his current job as Product Owner three weeks before his course with us was over! “The pandemic had forced me to start looking for work early. Fortunately, a lot of the questions they asked me in the interview were exactly about the sort of skills I had been developing in the course.”
On this happy ending my interview with Dušan could comfortably find closure. And yet, speaking with such a distinctly business-minded developer, there is one final question I am impelled to ask: what advice would he give to someone who dreams of a tech career as open, free and entrepreneurial as his own?
He thinks about it for a moment, then replies with the same debonair smile: “Every entrepreneur, of today and of tomorrow, should be a tech-savvy person. You should understand why and how your code works, even if you didn’t code it yourself. So, if you’ve never done this before, don’t be intimidated by programming. Go out and try things you haven’t tried before, and the rest will follow.”