Meet full stack developer Szymon Michalak. Szymon lives in Poland and has been working with X-Team for almost four years. He's an avid traveler who's recently started a family.
Read on to find out more on how he got into programming, what his passions are, and what he believes is the key to a happy life.
What made you walk the path of (web) developer? When did it start and what was the motivation? Maybe you’ve got a story behind that decision?
It started a long time ago, somewhere around the mid-90s. It must have been at the time I was in kindergarten, or maybe it was the beginning of the primary school, when my Dad bought a COMPAQ laptop. My Dad has been running his own business for almost 30 years, and from the very beginning, he used computers for stock management, invoice printing, etc...
At that time, I think he strongly believed it’s the future and I am really grateful he shared that idea with me and let me get to know computers from an early age. Of course, it all started with playing games — Aladdin, Super Mario, Sonic, etc...
Around the year 2000, I got my own PC and a bit later, it got a connection to the Internet thanks to a 56k modem (this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV8DEJ8ydJQ). At that time, I also received the “Guide to the Internet” — a book with a list of Polish websites with descriptions what can be found there.
But then... I noticed at the end of the book a quick tutorial on how to create my own website. That’s when the magic happened. I still remember that amazing feeling when I could open my page in the same “window” where I browsed the Internet! I felt so powerful, and that probably became my biggest motivation to become a web developer.
It all started with a simple webpage where I had shortcuts to all the pages I visit regularly — like bookmarks, but faster, because it opened as the starting page 🙂. Then I had a dozen or so personal websites, mainly in the form of blogs, with a lot of photos (scanned or from my very first Kodak digital camera). Some of my school friends got interested too, and we created a couple of websites together. The biggest one was about PC games, where we published our own reviews and scores of maaaany games.
Then I took part in many school competitions and while most of my friends created posters, I always tried to encourage the teachers to let me create a website instead. It worked almost every time, and I probably spent more time on the graphic details than on content itself 😄.
I loved watching professional artists (I still do!), and I spent a lot of time creating my own web designs. I was convinced that it would be my future job, but at some point, I decided to give up design in favor of coding. My graphics were technically correct, but they missed this artistic bit. That’s when I decided to go full force into web development.
Can you tell us a bit more about one project that has brought you the greatest satisfaction and perhaps an experience that has had unique value to you?
One project? Only? Come on, it’s really hard to pick! Every project that I worked on had a great value to me. Every time I learned a lot of new things about technologies, code standards, patterns, etc... I also improved my soft skills — I think (and I hope) I became not only a better developer but also a better teammate. But if I need to pick one particular project, I think it would be the first one that I did for Riot Games — OfferCopter.
OfferCopter was made at the very beginning of my X-Team career (2015/16), and it was supposed to help to generate offers for new Riot Games employee candidates. I was responsible for developing the entire app — from the front-end (also taking care of UI/UX) to the back-end, which included dynamically generated PDFs.
They gave me a dozen or so templates they'd stored in Google Docs (that were manually filled out for each employee…), and I had to find out how to create a form and templates out of it. It was also my second project that I made in React (for the client, not second ever, don’t worry). All the lessons learned from Peter Kaleta (while working on the previous project) had to be recalled and put into practice. I owe this gentleman a lot!
The development took around 3 months, and I even made it before the deadline. The feedback was extremely satisfying — Rioters were very happy with the outcome, and this system is still in use. Actually, after a break of almost 2.5 years, I had the pleasure to work on that project again.
Apart from some regular “feature requests”, I encouraged the team to update some backbones too — from React 0.14 to 16, with all the newest dependencies (Redux, React-Router, etc.), switching to enzyme, webpack from v1 to v3, eslint and fixing a lot of linting warning and errors on rules (preferences actually) that have changed. Another satisfying part was the refactoring of the code I wrote back then — on the one hand, it was “what I was thinking?“, but on the other hand, I was glad to see the progress I’ve made, and all the instant ideas I had on how this could be improved.
Only by reading these three paragraphs one can tell you’ve walked quite a long way and grown greatly in these past few years! Congratulations! Let’s now take a bit of a turn and talk about something else. What passions do you have, what brings you joy? Do you have a favorite place on Earth that allows you to unwind and where your mind can roam freely?
One of my biggest passions is traveling. Every time I pack my suitcase, I feel that unusual adrenaline — a feeling so different from others. It’s a mixture of curiosity and happiness with a pinch of a thrill. I used to travel quite often with my parents, and we visited a lot of great places in Poland, and in Europe in general.
Then, for my 18th birthday, my aunt invited me to visit Central Asia. It was a two-month trip across Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Something entirely different from what I saw before, and that’s when I got addicted to traveling. By car, plane, or train — it doesn’t really matter; the destination is what counts most. Six months in Australia (while studying at Melbourne Uni), almost one month in South Africa, and a lot of small trips across Europe. Last summer, we drove around 6,000 km by car and were amazed by the Austrian Alps, Italian lakes, and Tuscan wineries. My wishlist is super long — can’t wait to plan the next big trip!
Around one and a half year ago we moved to a bigger house with a huge garden. It does take a lot of effort to care for everything. Each season has its own needs, and taking care of it all quickly became another one of my passions. It takes a lot of time and energy. For instance, just mowing the grass takes around 2-3 hours (per week in the summer).
But at the end of the day, the satisfaction is priceless. That leads to the answer to the second question. My favourite place on Earth is certainly our home. It’s not that far from the city center, but it’s surrounded by the forest. The vast amount of the fresh air, quiet and peaceful atmosphere lets me forget about any “roadblocks” I encounter and lets my mind roam freely. I can easily take a rest here — no matter if in a hammock on the terrace or while walking around for hours.
Serenity on tap, one could say. Incredible! It’s January. Where would you like to see yourself at the end of December? What are your main goals for this year?
2018 was amazing. My daughter was born, which changed our life a lot! A lot of beautiful memories that, I hope, will expand this year 🙂. We plan to travel a little bit more, enjoy time together. That might sound simple but it is incredibly important to us. Can't wait to show Zosia so many beautiful places around the world. We'll probably start with destinations close to home, but we keep thinking about where to go next!
Work-wise? I think I'll just continue what I've started last year. I enjoyed learning about AWS stack, Reason, Vue.js. If you are reading this and it's 2025 already and Reason didn't make it... Nah, I believe it will 🙂. Also, I plan to finish more advanced courses on cloud.guru and take some exams.
I'm also pretty sure that something will pop up on the way 😉. A year ago, I didn't expect that I will work on projects written in Java. I had to recall the basic knowledge I gained during studies 😅 and learn a lot more. While I enjoy being a front-end developer most, I find it very exciting to jump into new things. I hope that this year will also bring many challenges like before.
If I asked you about the dent you would like to make in the universe, would it be related to these incredible goals you have just described (first and foremost — being a good father!), or is there perhaps a cherry you would wish to see on top?
I grew up among lots of cousins, and while I have only one brother, I know what it means to have a big family. My wife was lucky too, as she has six amazing brothers! I strongly believe that a loving, caring family is one of the most important keys to a happy life.
I will do my best to show my kids the world in the best way I can. I really can’t wait to start exploring things again with them — I feel like this will be the universe in which I will leave the biggest mark. All the ideas in my head seem to be tightly connected to it 😃.
Thank you so much for your time! I wish you and your family happiness and fulfilment for 2019!