I talked to Ilia Dzhuibansky about his first job as a mobile developer. Ilia is a software engineer employed by Soshace.com, a hiring platform for web developers. He is a passionate React Native and iOS developer with an extensive background in web development, a career he started way back in 2000. He’s been programming in PHP, JavaScript, Objective-C, and Swift, but knows many more other languages.

Ilia with his kids
Ilia with his kids

Ilia Dzhuibansky is a true embodiment of a self-learner: he dropped out of the University when he was a sophomore, found his first job in mobile development when he didn’t even own a Mac. Nevertheless, look at him now: a successful web, iOS and Android developer working in React Native, having a bunch of kids, having built his own house, emigrated from Russia and enjoying his full-time remote work. Here’s his story. 

Hello Ilia! Let’s start with your passion for programming. How did you realize that web development was your call?

Ilia at the computer when his was just a kid
Ilia at the computer when his was just a kid

It all started with my father’s interest in computers: he took immense pleasure in assembling the stuff. The first one was RC-86, which assembly instructions were printed in (back-then) famous Radio magazine. Then he made a clone out of the ZX Spectrum. That happened to be my first computer to learn programming in Basic.

Around the same time, I started going to the computer club, where we also practiced Basic on BK-0011, and, of course, played computer games. I even tried to create my own game on the Soviet IBM PC clone. Later, when I was studying in the 8th grade in high school, I took a private course on Clipper (database system for MS-DOS), then learned Pascal.

When my family purchased the first PC compatible, I taught myself Delphi. I think I still have some of those old textbooks on Delphi back home in Izhevsk.

Back then, I just wrote small programs for the fun of it. For example, I rewrote 300 kilobytes of C-code in Object Pascal. It was a project on ray tracing from a book on computer graphics. I supplemented it with a language interpreter for scene description, and you could even make cartoons frame by frame.

I wish I could take a look at that code right now. What’s also interesting: with that same project, I took part in one of the local competitions among school kids, but unfortunately, no one seemed to appreciate my efforts, although I spent three sleepless nights before the competition trying to finish the project on time and then slept for the whole day afterwards.

I entered university without any exams because I won the programming competition. I also became a winner of another programming contest held by a local internet provider, which even paid me some kind of scholarship.

While at the University, I accidentally downloaded about one gigabyte of data archive with WGet on the remote Sun workstation (Oops! That took a lot of time). That was a lot of space back then — almost all space on the disk ran out, so they had to introduce quotas for students after that particular incident.

However, that was not the reason I dropped out of school when I was a sophomore student; the reason being completely stupid — I didn’t pass the physical exam on time. But it turned out all good anyway: I got a few system administration jobs, and then — my first real programming job when I was improving scripts in Russian accounting software similar to the modern 1C system.

What happened afterwards? What jobs did you end up having after dropping out of school?

Then I got busy writing my first chat room in PERL, which later became one of the best chat rooms in the town I lived in.

Later my friends asked me to help them with a dating website, which they were trying to make: they had the code ready, but it just didn’t seem to work — turned out it was a fantastic opportunity for me to use PHP and MySQL — and quite magically the site went live.

Then there were many other projects that followed, some of them were easy, others — very difficult. Overall, I spent quite a lot of time working in Izhevsk for the company based in New York. The manager found clients for me — and I wrote websites in PHP, Magento, Mootools, jQuery, Flash, Yii, and finally, Ember.JS. Then I briefly worked for our town’s forum, izhevsk.ru. 

During that time, though, two things happened: I was seriously burning out and the company I worked for significantly cut my salary. By that time, I’d already had twins and started building my own house, hence — the fact that I lost a portion of my salary made me look for other opportunities.

Ilia building his own house
Ilia building his own house

I talked to my HR-friend and he advised me to look into mobile development and Objective-C. I installed Mac emulator on my notebook and started to read all the docs I could get my hands on.

I finished my first test task a few days later (but it was mostly algorithmic — so it was quite easy to do). A week or two later, I went to my first interview, which I failed, of course. The reply being: “yes, you’re obviously good, but you don’t have relevant experience, sorry.”

Nevertheless, I never backed out and studied further. In a month, I’d already landed with a job offer from an iOS developer. I am not denying, though, that I might have been just lucky. The reason I’m saying this was because back then I didn’t really know a lot of stuff, like how to set up a new account on Mac or how to switch a keyboard’s input language.

It was like somebody threw me into the water without teaching me to swim first. But I knew myself and what I was capable of, so I managed to start fixing bugs from day one.

One year later, I started working for EPAM office in Izhevsk. After a short while, the management decided to organize training for the whole pool of mobile developers and teach us React Native. Not everyone in the team was particularly happy about it, but I really felt it was pretty cool.

After a couple of those React Native projects, I ended up on a native ObjC project with Sberbank, the major bank in Russia. On the one hand, it was a great experience working for such a big corporation, on the other hand, everything seemed super slow.

Approximately at that time, I accidentally stumbled upon a vacancy looking for an RN developer in a Danish startup. The Danish guys turned out to be the friendliest bunch and the whole company was comprised of developers from more than 15 countries, 30 people in total. It was mostly a remote job; however, during the spring and autumn, we had training sessions lasting for two weeks onsite in Denmark.

Please, describe your current workday.

Every day, I usually start with meeting my team online. During the conference call, we usually synchronize on the work that we’ve been doing, ask questions about the design or status of the development of a particular part of the project. Afterward, I try to do the most important or difficult tasks that are either pretty urgent or have been nagging me or team members for quite a while already. By the end of the day, I try to assess what has been done, figure out the condition of the project, issues we have not yet solved, look through Jira, and prepare for the next morning’s meeting.

What programming languages, frameworks do you know? 

I had a huge experience working with different programming languages, but most of that knowledge is, unfortunately, not relevant right now. As for now, I try to at least be aware of all the things happening in the frameworks and languages I currently deal with. I think, if you know the basics or the underlying principles of computer science, you’re going to be totally cool learning any other programming language that suddenly pops up from nowhere. 

I am a self-learner, I learn by reading the official documentation, Stack Overflow, and other people’s code. I like watching conferences that already happened, which is very convenient — you think as though you were present at the event, and still got everything important jotted down instead of just roaming around talking to a bunch of strangers. Right now, I’m more into React/React Native, and if we’re are talking about native development, then it’s Swift I truly enjoy. But let’s be honest here, it might sound pretentiously controversial, but React Native is one of the most convenient ways of creating UI for mobile devices.

How did you decide to become a freelancer? What advice can you give to other aspiring freelancers who want to break free from the office shackles?

The answer to this one is pretty simple. I started freelancing when I was still working in the office. Then I switched to freelancing full-time. The only problem with remote work that I discovered for myself was getting stuck at the same level, hence, advice — learn all the time and move on whenever you feel like you stopped learning.

What are the challenges you are facing while working freelance? Describe your regular work day. 

ilia with his kids in this drawing
This is how Ilia works during the evening. © Svetlana Dzhiubanskaia (Ilya’s wife)

I worked both ways: I know what it’s like to work in the office and remotely. As always, there are advantages and disadvantages in either of those. In the office, you can obviously communicate with your team, there’s no need to take care of hardware, the working hours are fixed, there are no problems getting a sick-leave, etc. But when you’re a freelancer, you’re literally left on your own: you buy your own hardware; you work — you get paid, you don’t work — you don’t get anything. However, being a freelancer, you can work from anywhere as long as there’s an internet connection. You can choose your working hours, which is not always the case, but usually, everything’s negotiable. There’s no need to commute, which means you have more time to sleep. You can literally wake up and get straight to work.

 The house in progress
The house in progress

How did you decide to move out of Russia and go to Serbia? Do you plan to get back to Russia? Do you plan to relocate somewhere else, like, say, the States?

We wanted to find a place where it would be at least a little warmer than in Russia, and where we could easily relocate to without going broke. In terms of the quality of life, Serbia is not much different from Russian regions — similar salaries and similar expenses. The language is also pretty similar and it’s very easy to understand what people are talking about, although there are the funny differences between the two languages that make similar sounding words to have completely opposite meanings, for example Позориште = театр {in Russian, the similar word позорище means shame, but in Serbian, it’s theatre} , право = прямо {in Russian pryamo means straight and pravo means to the right, and in Serbian, pravo means straight}, etc. The elder daughters went to school without any fuss or additional paperwork; they like to study and adore their teacher. They talk in Serbian much better than me, although their speech is not yet perfect.

Ilia with his kid in Serbia
Ilia with his kid in Serbia

As for Russia, honestly, we don’t plan to return, only for summertime, maybe, to visit relatives and friends.

As for the States, I don’t know, everything can happen… At least, I really want to travel to the States sometime in the future.

What are your career aspirations and career goals?

Ilia prefers playing in the snow with his kids rather than advancing through a career ladder in any of those bloody office enterprises
Ilia prefers playing in the snow with his kids rather than advancing through a career ladder in any of those bloody office enterprises

Well, honestly, I am not a career guy. And I admit, it’s bad, perhaps, really bad. I always did the job I was assigned to do or that was particularly interesting and exciting to me, which was not necessarily useful. If you’re building a career, you have to think five or ten years ahead of time. In Russia, we don’t really think about the future. Nevertheless, right now, I try to force myself and do something to develop my career further. I try to work on my management and soft skills, something like that.

What was the most challenging project you ever worked at?

I hate this question 🙂 Every project has its own challenges. But after a while, you just forget about all the difficulties you encountered and remember only the good stuff. But while you’re at it, there are always unexplored libraries, lots of code, etc. Switching to iOS, for example, was quite challenging and required a lot of hard work and self-study.

Why did you decide to stick to mobile development and iOS development in particular? 

At that moment in time, I was so tired of doing the work that I was doing, besides, my salary was not high enough to support my growing family. So that sounded like I needed to learn something new and develop myself further.

What’re your predictions for the future of front-end solutions?

In the JavaScript world, every day feels like the start of a new life: the constant growth of frameworks, open source projects, collaboration — these things are very exciting. However, you always have to stay on top of everything to keep up with the flow and update your code whenever need be, because it’s getting outdated pretty fast.

How did you become involved with Soshace? What interviews did you have to pass in order to be accepted? 

The interviews, in my opinion, were quite simple, the most difficult thing for me was to recall the names of the patterns during the test (I always forget them). Algorithmic problems were also quite simple. If you’re a front-end developer, my advice is very straightforward: learn JS, React, and you’ll be cool.

Please describe, how did you get a job through Soshace. 

In truth, it was quite simple, we didn’t have any technical interview with the client, I just spoke in English about my experience and learned a little about the project.

What are your hobbies, what do you do in your free time? 

Photography, bicycle, traveling. I build my own house in Russia, car repair, welding.

The house being almost ready.
The house being almost ready.

I am a copywriter at Soshace.com, a hiring platform for web developers: hire a developer or apply for a remote job. If you have an interesting story to tell, please ping me on Twitter @ MaryVorontsov I would love to hear from you and share your story.

For more interviews to other developers please checkout this article about programmers from all over the world.


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