Well, this is my first ever post of any kind so be gentle. My story started while working in ops for a fintech loan company based in Estonia.
I had been in ops for over a year in this company and at this point I just got promoted to a better position in another team. However as this happened the monster that is also known as GDPR was upon us.
My team was made responsible for Data Subject Access Requests (DSAR) on the eve of the GDPR being enforced (circa end of may 2018). What did this mean for us?
Well, due to a claims culture among our UK customers for the "mis-selling of loans"
and the GDPR giving the customer free access to all of data data within a 30 calendar day period, we expected to receive a few hundred requests per month.
To manage this we had in place the following-
- An Excel sheet to document the requests and track their status
- A very old legacy DB and CRM where you had to take 'snippets' and manually compile a hell of a lot of data
What happened next?
The first day of enforcement and I arrived at work around 8am to find around 1000 requests, and they just kept rolling in throughout the day.
Turns out that customers and claims management companies on their behalf we waiting for the freebie requests so they could try to claim compensation from us. As a result we ended up receiving up to 3k requests per day.
Despite the whole team putting everything else on hold and us getting in 12 agency staff, there was just no way we could keep up with the demand, we couldn't even log the requests quick enough.
Day 2 and I was already broken
I was quite tech savvy at the time and couldn't believe that a fairly large and reputable fintech company couldn't automate the process or provide some tools to help ease the pressure. I decided to approach some of our engineers that were hiding in the corner nearby/ Their screens were vertically aligned, headphones on, leaning back on a 'gamers' chair and staring away at a screen that to me, at the time looked like something out of the Matrix.
We had a chat about the situation we were in, grabbed the CTO and some other important people and stood around a white board for a couple of hours brainstorming and sharing ideas. Following this the team put together a 6 month roadmap to create, build and implement an array of tools to start automating the process.
It was over the coming days where I would spend most of my time with the devs, product manager et al drinking copious amounts of coffee and putting together ideas, designs and testing some solutions they were putting together. I started enjoy my new found project and the environment I was in, apparently my ideas and logic made sense, I was surrounded by intelligent and enthusiastic people that made my work day fly by.
A first roadblock, other issues and projects took away our resources that slowed down our progress. It was now time to get my hands dirty, I had run a few queries in the past on MySQL so I took this as my first step and by night I was studying online courses on DB's and by day I was building them and handing over to more experienced people to 'connect' up with the rest of the pieces.
Over the coming couple of months I worked closer and closer with the developers on the project, with each passing day learning more of this bizarre language they would speak and felt like I was at home in my new environment. With every passing fortnight and sprint release, we grew closer to our end goal of automate this DSAR request process.
I suddenly found myself no longer wanting to do my regular job, but rather to be more involved with the development side of out company. So I looked around and came across an advert for an Ops role with the opportunity to get involved in the development of their products and take part in their internal company bootcamp, turning people from a non programming background into developers.
The company was Twilio, I applied, went through 9 interviews and a technical test (ops related) and after what was a grueling 4 week process I got an offer which I happily accepted.
I worked for the company for only 3 months and my take away was that overall, they are an amazing company with an awesome future ahead but sadly for me, my key expectations were not met. Their ops team in Estonia was very small, (I was number 2) I found myself in a similar environment to my previous position. I was in ops, wanting to learn to program but there we no plans to hold the dev bootcamp in Estonia any time soon. With the growth of the company and the shortage of people in my location I couldn't be spared to go over to the states for so long either.
I had to make a hard choice and that was to leave Twilio and focus on learning to code full time.
From October 2018 until the end of Jan 2019, I spent 12 hours days doing online courses in Python, Full-Stack web development et al. But this wasn't enough, I needed to get more hands on experience in the real-world and stop making silly little projects via Udemy if I was to get a job as a developer.
Everyday now included searches for internships, entry and junior level positions. It started to become frustrating, despite Tallinn being the 'tech hub' of Europe, there weren't many opportunities to even apply for. Those that I did come across were along the lines of:
Entry level developer wanted
- 3+ years experience
- Masters degree in computer science field
- Know at least 4 programming languages and all of their frameworks
It was starting to seem impossible, I had my wife at home/work trying to support my ambition but starting to worry as savings were not endless and we also had two small daughters to think of.
Desperation set in, I started posting around in Facebooks groups for expats, contacting old colleagues and finally I received a break!
An ex colleague from the Fintech I was at previously at had now started his own small company and he invited me for a coffee and chat to offer me some career advice. Our chat ended in him offering to let me study from his office, where I could ask his dev for help and advice. Before I knew it Feb and March flew by but no closer to employement.
The same person, at the end of March would come to my rescue again. Happy with how I had improved and contributed to some of their internal projects, I was offered a short term internship.
I dived in deeper into full-stack development; building interactive dashboards, reviewing other developers code, blackbox testing, fixing small bugs and continuing to study as I went along.
My learning curve was certainly not linear, it was more like a crazy roller coaster with 'loops' and inversion around every corner. As much as I loved what I was now doing, there were times were I felt like I had been thrown in the deep end, having to do and learn things that were a bit too complicated for me. I decided to suck it up and go with the flow.
Where am I now?
I am slowly coming towards the end of my internship, but I am now armed with more hands on experience and a range of skills that were previously absent. My intention is to continue search for that junior position (although it seems to be somewhat of a unicorn) and start my official career as a developer.
If you actually finished reading my post and did not fall asleep or crack open a bottle of Jack D, I thank you and commend you for your dedication.
If you're interested to know more about me, you can find me here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/serdar-mustafa/