From a Maritime Officer to a Blockchain Programmer. Meet Rafał – a Fullstack Developer

Rafał was a maritime officer who decided to settle on a software development land. He learned how to code aboard the ship, having very limited access to the internet. Can you imagine doing that without Stack Overflow? He can! 😉 Check out his road from a navigator to a full-stack developer who specializes in Ethereum blockchain.

Rafał - Fullstack Developer at Bright Inventions

You were an experienced maritime navigator before you became a software developer. How do you remember those times?

Yes, I had been a ship navigator for 4 years. Actually, I wanted to be an airplane pilot but my vision defect disqualified me from pursuing that career. So I started to think about a maritime navigator career. I met their vision requirements. Both jobs are quite similar. Of course, the main difference between piloting an aircraft to a ship is the speed and the fact that you operate in three-dimensional space as a pilot. Everything happens 10 times faster in the plane. However, in terms of navigation, understanding weather conditions, and route planning I could see similarities. Plus, I always enjoyed sailing and had a sailing license so I figured this could be a great career for me.

So I moved from Częstochowa to Nothern Poland to study at Gdynia Maritime University. When I graduated and became a navigator everything was so new and exciting at first. After a couple of years, I felt that even though I became an officer I did not see any exciting challenges ahead. Everything became so monotonous and homogeneous. There was nothing new for me to learn there.

Maritime Shipping

Also, I felt that I missed so much being at the sea. During these long contracts, you don't have time for your family, you don't have time to actually live your life. People often think that this line of work gives you lots of opportunities to sightseeing. Yet in reality, I barely step on the land. On most of my contracts, I never left the ship.

Another aspect is that the world was moving so fast in terms of the new technologies and I felt I was left behind. When I was a student not many people had smartphones with internet access. Then I started to work on the ships when the whole smartphone revolution started and I felt like I was missing so much. That was painful because I was very keen on new technologies, loved to operate machines on deck, and felt good at that.

That is when you started to work on your move to software development?

Yes. As I said I was always into new technologies. Math, Physics, and Informatics were subjects that I really liked in high school. I learned some C++ then as well. I also passed the Polish Matura exam in Informatics. So I thought that programming could be another chapter for me.

Many of my high school friends actually were programmers so I contacted one of them and asked him to help me with my career change. He recommended me some books that I brought on board with me for (what turned out to be) my last maritime job ever. Believe it or not but we did not have an access to the internet onboard. We had one computer with an internet connection that could be used by everyone so you could spend on it max 30 minutes a day. So I read lots of books and wrote some code in my free time and sent it to my colleague via email for a review. That was how I learned to code. I focused on Java back then.

After that last 3 months-job, I came home and never pursued a maritime career again. In total it took me 5-6 months of learning to get my first software development job. I was going to the interviews. One of them was at Bright inventions but I didn’t get a job here then. ;) I was hired somewhere else. The project I worked on was quite interesting from a business perspective because I worked on a solution for a smart card company. However, in terms of technologies and software processes, there were not many opportunities to grow as a developer.

Fortunately, 2 months after my interview at Bright, they called me and asked me if I wanted to join them. I said yes.

You must have sunk deep into the recruiters' memory. Why do you think they called you?

I think they could see how determined I was to start my software development career. It was a total change for me, a pivot that I truly accepted with all its advantages and disadvantages. I had a successful career that I decided to cross out. Nevertheless, I was ready for everything to get my first software development job.

I must say that the technical interview at Bright was challenging. Yet, I wasn’t discouraged. I felt that I wanted to work with these people because they were experts who could teach me a lot.

That was over 5 years ago and my Bright adventure continues. For me, the crucial thing about working at Bright Inventions is that this is a company with a human touch. Everyone is open and friendly to each other. And your boss is not some evil guy you don’t like as it often is a case in other workplaces.

What did 4 years in the maritime industry give you? Are there any knowledge and skills you incorporated into your next profession?

Firstly, I learned responsibility for my actions. When you are on a shift and are responsible for the whole crew, you quickly understand the gravity of the word responsibility. I was the first officer and most people who have that position are around 25-30 years old. So at a young age, you quickly learn that your actions influence the life and safety of others.

Secondly, I learned analytical thinking and making decisions under stressful conditions. Thanks to my maritime career I also knew English very well because it was the lead language used at that job.

Rafał's navigation career before software development

Also, this profession gave me an incredible chance to meet and cooperate with people from different countries. I learned how communication depends on people's customs, backgrounds, and nationalities. Existing in such a global and diverse community was really special.

I believe that it was one of the reasons why Bright eventually wanted me on board. We work mostly with international clients so having this experience in international communication must have been an advantage of mine.

What is the solution you work on?

I work on a project for one of the top humanitarian organizations. We have been working with them for over 5 years. I must say that it is a really rewarding project. We have been developing a blockchain solution that helps a humanitarian organization provide refugees with life-saving resources.

For me, the most important aspect of programming is to deliver value. While working on this project I know I achieved my goal. A “side effect” of my daily work is helping people. It is incredible to feel that you really have the power to help somebody, to change something. I create code that is truly used, it is not something that will never see the daylight.

Rafał's quote on delivering value as software developer

Also, due to the fact that I have been on this project for over 5 years, I can look at it from this great perspective. Not only have I seen how this project evolved, I actually have been a part of this development.

Another great aspect of my work is direct communication with the client. I even went on a business trip to Bangladesh to see with my own eyes how my solution assists a humanitarian agency’s employees and volunteers during their humanitarian missions.

What stack do you use at work?

I am a fullstack developer. Yet nowadays I am mostly focused on the backend. I work with modern frontend and backend Typescript solutions (React, Node.js). While working on blockchain solutions I use Solidity and Ethereum. In terms of cloud services, I use AWS.

You are one of Bright Inventions’ blockchain experts. How is it to be a blockchain developer?

I specialize in Ethereum. When I came to Bright in 2017 blockchain was still in an early phase. Only bitcoin was known back then. There weren't many materials on how to work with blockchain. Right now you can see a total change. Especially when I look at Substrate and see the guides and materials that actually enable you to create your Substrate chain within an hour. It is much easier now to join the blockchain development community.

I’m glad that I get to work with Ethereum. It is definitely one of the most mature blockchains. The volume of transactions in Ethereum is bigger compared to Bitcoin and even Visa. That’s huge!

Ethereum transaction volume

Source: https://stark.mirror.xyz/

Ethereum has a great community built around it and lots of use cases. I am happy that I can build a private chain for our client with Ethereum. The project I work on proves that blockchain is much more than cryptocurrency. I do not invest in crypto. I believe that blockchain gives more than that. And we should focus on utilizing it in other ways.

Rafał's wuote on blockchain

What is the most important thing you learned at Bright?

Definitely problem-solving. I learned how to turn clients’ requirements and challenges into a solution that will be of help.

You prefer to work remotely. What do you like the most about working from home?

Even before the pandemic, I was into remote working. It is easier for me to focus when I am at home than in the office. I don’t have children so I guess it is easier to find that focus at home. My wife works at the hospital. So when the pandemic started she practically lived there. We adopted a cat so I could have a coworker who would remind me to do some breaks for cuddling. 😉 Sometimes I visit the office to socialize because it is nice to see in reality some friendly faces. 😉

What do you do after work?

I mostly play board games with my wife and friends. I enjoy orienteering, kayaking, and simply strolling. I live in Gdańsk which has lots of beautiful places to discover. Also, close to the city, there are Kaszuby or Żuławy – areas where you can spend your free time close to nature.

Also, I am this guy who still bakes his own bread since the beginning of the pandemic. 🙂

Rafał was a guest on brightdevtalks podcast and told us even more about his story. The talk was held in Polish.

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