Software applications are an integral part of daily activities like getting from point A to point B or remotely controlling the air conditioner in your house. As such, software developers are faced with a very demanding labor market. Already making their first professional steps, they must have both sound theoretical knowledge and a good understanding of certain technologies.
At MentorMate, we want to help young developers get a solid start in their software career, so we created DevCamp — a three-month paid training program. After completing a theoretical track, participants choose a combination of one front-end and one back-end technology. Then, they have the opportunity to be part of a real MentorMate project team. Throughout the process, they acquire knowledge and get support from lecturers, assistants, and new friends — all of them experienced software engineers at MentorMate.
The first edition of DevCamp took place entirely online as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. That didn’t stop the group of 28 trainees from being any less motivated to make the most out of the intensive full-time format. After successfully graduating from the program, 14 participants started working full-time with us. You can read about the experience and impressions of two of them below.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Asen: I studied in a high school with a focus on math, and now I study Computer Science at Sofia University. I have experience mostly with backend — Java.
When and how did you decide to take up software development?
Polina: I started working as a construction engineer, but I couldn’t see enough opportunities for career development. The demand is rather weak, and it’s especially difficult for women. This is why I started taking programming classes and after a while, decided to change course. I wouldn’t say that this decision was a compromise, because I know a lot of people working in the sector, and I have seen the advantages it has.
Asen: I chose to study in a math high school with software development in mind. I had even taken part in development competitions as a child. I liked programming already back then, and the idea stuck with me. The interesting thing is that ever since I started at the University, my passion has been growing stronger. I learn new things, and I realize how powerful software development is.
What experience in software development did you have before DevCamp?
Polina: I’ve taken several courses in software development.
Asen: I’ve done projects as a freelancer.
What is the place of software engineering in the world and in Bulgaria?
Polina: I think it’s growing pretty fast, and the demand is very high. If you’re motivated to learn new things every day, you can grow your career really fast. Although a lot of people in Bulgaria have already taken this path, I believe demand will remain strong as more companies will be entering the market.
Asen: Right now, globally, the demand for software specialists roughly doubles each year, and Bulgaria is definitely following this trend. Most of the companies are still concentrated in Sofia, but the sector is gradually expanding in other cities too.
Why did you decide to join DevCamp?
Polina: I had already decided to change course, and this was an opportunity that showed up at the right time — I was already looking for internships. I saw that DevCamp was about to start, and I applied for it. I had also heard nice things about MentorMate from a friend who works at the company.
Asen: Quite a lot of companies organize training programs, but I chose MentorMate’s DevCamp because I needed one that would lead me into the software sphere in a more general sense — not through one specific technology that I could start working with immediately and stick with it in the next five-six years. DevCamp offered exactly what I was looking for.
Which two technologies did you choose to focus on in the program?
Polina: I chose React as a frontend and Python as a backend technology. I’d had no experience with backend, so it was an entirely new thing for me.
Asen: As I had previous experience mainly with Java and C++, the logical choice was C#, but I chose Python because of my interest in machine learning. As a frontend technology, I chose React.
What were your biggest challenges?
Polina: Backend technology was much more difficult for me because I didn’t have any previous experience. However, it turned out that I mainly write backend (with Node.js) for the project I work on currently.
Asen: Frontend technology. At the beginning, some things were difficult for me to understand. Now that I’m working in React and Angular, I like the whole concept of the components and the way the different parts of the programming code are being reused. But I’ll still stick with backend, at least for now.
What did you find was the easiest part?
Polina: Frontend technology was the easier part for me, because I had previous experience with frontend before DevCamp.
Asen: Since I had worked with this technology before, the material was more of a recap for me rather than something new to learn from scratch.
Tell us a little about your teachers and buddies.
Polina: The teachers were very thorough and helpful and always answered our questions. They were available to help even after classes in personal messages or chat. The teaching assistants were checking our homework and giving us feedback. The buddies were always very responsive to our questions, even technical ones. Before the program ended, we were giving demos to the buddies, in which we showed what we had done during the day. I’ve kept in touch with my buddy Dimitar Hristov (Junior Software Developer), even after the program ended.
Asen: The organization was excellent. The teachers were great and gave us solid ground to build on during the rest of the working day. My buddy is Georgi Kostadinov (Senior Java Developer) and we still work together – we are on the same team now. We get along very well and I appreciate him a lot. At present, it’s only the two of us who write backend on our team. We have a lot in common so we work very well together.
How did you feel about DevCamp taking place entirely online?
Polina: It had its positives and negatives. The positive was that I could work until later, if needed, and I didn’t lose time for travelling to the office. The negative was that we didn’t meet the other people in DevCamp in person and we didn’t encounter the actual atmosphere at the office.
Asen: It wasn’t ideal from a social point of view. I missed meeting my colleagues in person. On the other hand, the fact that it happened online helped me a lot with my university studies, because I didn’t spend two hours traveling each day.
What projects have you had the opportunity to work on so far since joining MentorMate?
Polina: Until recently, I was part of a gaming project. We developed a gaming server, which was to be integrated with some of the client’s games and payment functionality. I was mainly working with Node.js and rarely got to work on the frontend. Currently, I’m working on another project for the same client, in which we work on various functionalities, related to competitive activities between the players on the platform.
Asen: Currently, I’m working on a pretty big project. It’s taken some time to understand but after about a week, I was up to speed. Everybody on the project is very nice and all of my colleagues are responsive and open. They don’t look down on new people on the team.
Why did you decide to start working for MentorMate?
Polina: I liked DevCamp and I really liked the project I got to work on right after the program ended. I found out what it’s like to work on a real project and really enjoyed the atmosphere and my colleagues.
Asen: I took part in DevCamp with the hope that I would get a job in the company afterward. On one hand, I needed experience which DevCamp provided; on the other hand, I want to be active in this industry.
What does the future hold for you professionally?
Polina: I would like to gain more experience in backend development. So far I like what I’m doing with Node.js. In the future, I see myself still at MentorMate working in the fields of both backend and frontend. The DevCamp program was full stack and I would love to mix technologies in the future as well.
Asen: Along with continuing my studies at the University, I’ll continue to work and do my best to get to the next level. At present, I work mainly with Java and I reckon that I will stick to that.
Describe DevCamp in one or two sentences.
Polina: The program was an especially valuable and helpful experience, which gave me the chance to recap my theoretical knowledge, learn about new technologies, alter my way of thinking in a way that allows me to cope with difficult, and tense situations adequately. It also helped me develop my teamwork skills and understand that, in order to be good at what you’re doing, you need not only a solid academic background but also motivation and constant strive for perfection.
Asen: DevCamp is an excellent place for enriching already existing knowledge. It is also an opportunity to learn industry best practices from teachers who have proved their authority in this field.