Many indicators can predict your future successes or failures in life. The education of your parents, the income of your family, the country where you come from, your family’s connections, your own connections, and of course your genes – could be some examples. We could talk as well of more subjective factors, such as the colour of your skin, your sexual orientation, sometimes even your first name.
But there’s one factor which will anticipate your success with a close to 100% accuracy: starting early.
Statistically speaking, if you start early, you will end up far. There’s even a saying based on this principle. Nothing more true. The drive that keeps you going every day needs to be developed in your daily routine. For the youngest of us, this comes naturally.
Let’s take an example: a teenager who took their first job when they were 16 will have 7 years of experience more than a person who got it at 23. It doesn’t matter what kind of job(s) the 16-year old has had, important are the traits and skills that come with this experience: teamwork, communication, time management, pro-activity, sacrifice, work.
But most importantly, what comes with this is that the 16-year old will have more time to question their existence: ask themselves what is their role on Earth and what they would like to achieve in life. On the other hand, if they have chosen wrongly, it will be much easier to change the course of their studies at 19, rather than at 23. The earlier, the better.
Catalin sensed that starting early will form him in a way that the rest of his friends would not understand. He had an opportunity, and he seized it. Now he’s working with one of the most wanted employers in the world. And he’s just 25.
You got the first job when you were 16 years old. What determined you to take this challenge?
My mother was friends with the IT manager from Mittal Steel in my home city, known today as ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer. I assume my mother and him discussed at some point about me, because one day she asked me if I would be interested to work there over the summer. I got very excited about it. It was about to be my first developer job, and it seemed like a great opportunity to develop my skills.
What did you do there? You were just 16!
It worked there for approximately 3 months. I had to implement an application that is scanning the equipment used by the company in the network, to see if they are still connected. In case one of them gets disconnected, an SMS will be sent to the network administrator, informing them about the incident. This process was done by connecting a mobile phone to the computer. The first month was very difficult for me, until I actually managed to send my first SMS. That was a delight! I can clearly remember that day, I was in a complete euphoria, that I could hardly contain when I went back home.
This initial road pushed you to get a job with Microsoft later in your life. How did you get this job? Why Denmark?
It just happened. I saw an open position at Microsoft, so I applied on their website. I had an online interview, and just before the onsite interview, I got informed that the positions are in Ireland, Denmark and Norway. They asked me to choose one country and I chose Denmark.
What do you do every day at your current job?
Usually days are different, there is no special pattern. Typically we have a stand-up in the morning, where everybody in the team syncs on what they have done yesterday, what they are going to do today, and if they have any impediments. Then we code.
Everybody is familiar with the Microsoft products. What famous product are you working on now?
It is called Microsoft Dynamics Marketing, previously called Marketing Pilot. It is a business-to-business product, but it is very new. So I’m afraid it is not so “famous” among everyone. It is not Word or Excel. We are almost ready to ship a big release, and analysts in the field give us great feedback. It was cool to see that the feature I was working on was one of the main things presented at convergence to our customers. It got a lot of attention, and now the team is growing quickly.
I know you like to paint as well. Painting and coding is quite a rare combination. Why didn´t you become an artist, but instead you chose to work with Microsoft?
I was drawing and painting since I was a very child. This was definitely my first love. I went for 2 years at art school, but later I quit when I started getting more interested in technology. I didn’t find the time for it, after I discovered coding.
To answer to your question: when I was a child, I had very good results in informatics competitions that surpassed my expectations. I also had a friend who taught me how to code computer games. I got super excited, and quit most of my other hobbies to learn more in this field. Today I am wondering how my life could have looked like if I continued with design. I am not denying that it could have been a good career path for me as well.
I bet you must love startups!
I started working on individual projects with one of my best friends, since we were freshmen in university. We built a project for creating a time table for high schools. I remember we had one week of vacation, and we spend it in dorms coding all day for this project. We managed to implement it in two high schools. It was very difficult to scale this business, so we did not continue with it. But in my eyes it was a success, as our goal was just to see if we can build something and get paid for it.
So I used the money earned on this project to build a bigger one, SocialPlug: a platform that allowed business owners to send coupons to their customers via Facebook. In order to redeem the coupon I have built a service that can intercept the coupon codes by sending an SMS to a dedicated number, and sending back a confirmation SMS if the coupon is valid or not.
Talking about businesses and goals in life: what do you know for sure that you want to achieve by the time you… die?
I dream of having my own business at one point in time, with a really cool team. My purpose is to work on something that I am really passionate about, and have a work environment where I am surrounded by wonderful people.
I think the biggest joy would be to help other young people develop, and see them later achieving great things. That would really make me happy.
Extra: do you have tips for Microsoft job hunters?
I would say this: it’s not all about knowledge. One thing that pushed me in front of other candidates was that I was also prepared for the behavioral part, not only technically. I made a list with the coolest projects I made along the years, I identified the most challenging parts of these, and then I prepared a presentation. And I repeated it over and over again. Presentation skills are not something you are born with, but they need a lot of practice.
What do you like about Denmark? Would you go back to Romania?
Denmark is my first experience abroad, and I love it! Copenhagen is amazing, especially in the summer. I love the biking lanes infrastructure, the superb parks where you can go running, and the interesting people I meet here. It’s definitely a lot more multicultural than Bucharest.
I also like Bucharest, but I already spent there four years of my life, so I would rather try out something different. A new city, a new country. In case I would go back to Romania, I will start my own business, and I will not be an employee.