Szymon Michalak
Senior Full-stack Developer

In this interview, we sit down with one of X-Team's Senior Full-stack Developers, Szymon Michalak, to talk about his career and passions.

Szymon is incredibly talented, with a true craftsman's heart and attention to detail. We also learn about his passions for travel, family and nature.

What inspired you to walk the path of a developer?

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.

At that time, I also received the 'Guide to the Internet' — a book with a list of websites with descriptions of 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 many games.

Then I took part in a lot of 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 will 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.

Was there a particular project over the years that you are most proud of?

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’ve learned a lot of new things about technologies, code standards, patterns, etc. I also improved my soft skills — I think I became not only a better developer but also a better teammate.

But if I had to pick one particular project, I think it would be the first one that I did for Riot Games.

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.

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, and eslint.

What are your other passions apart from programming?

One of my biggest passions is traveling. Every time I pack my suitcase, I feel that unusual adrenaline — a feeling so much 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'd seen 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 1 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 — I can’t wait to plan the next big trip.

Around 1.5 years ago, we moved to a bigger house with a huge garden. 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, 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 fresh air and a quiet and peaceful atmosphere lets me forget about any “roadblocks” I encounter and let 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.

And last but not least... what dent do you hope to leave on the universe?

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 6 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.

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