From A Gym To Clurgo: A Conversation with Łukasz Wełnicki

How he didn't get hired at a nuclear power plant, what gas turbines have to do with airplanes, why he didn't major in computer science, what karate and programming have in common, and how he went from a gym to Clurgo—this and more in an interview with Lukasz Wełnicki, Senior Java Consultant and Team Leader at Clurgo.

20 October 2022

From a gym to Clurgo

What was your biggest mistake in life?

That I didn’t major in computer science.

What did you major in, then?

Power engineering at the Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering.

Why did you choose that?

I didn’t want to have a desk job staring at a computer screen all day. But it turned out exactly how I ended up anyway.

What did you do at your first desk job?

Simulations and calculations.

For bridges?

No, gas turbines.

Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

Where are they used?

In power plants, for example.

So you worked in a power plant?

No, although I was counting on it. I wanted to get hired in some big facility, maybe even a nuclear power plant. But in Poland, there were no nuclear plants then, and there aren’t any now, so I landed my first job at the Institute of Aviation.

With gas turbines.

That’s right, because they’re installed in airplanes.

Did you like the job?

Very much. The calculations were fun, I had a feeling of doing something important, and my superiors were giving me positive feedback.

So why are we talking in Clurgo’s offices right now?

For two reasons. The first is that the job market for power engineers is very small compared to the number of applicants. That’s why it’s difficult to get a promotion.

And the second reason?

I went to a gym.

Go on.

At the university, I went to the gym almost every night. I met computer science students there, who told me they were already working part-time in tech, often remotely for large foreign corporations. That’s when I realized computer science had a bright future. They even tried to convince me to switch my major to computer science.

But you didn’t.

Well, no. I was already halfway through my studies and didn’t want to start from scratch.

Or sit at a desk in front of a screen for eight hours straight.

Exactly. But one day, reality verified my expectations and that’s when I remembered my friends from the gym.

Did you enroll in computer science?

I didn’t have to. Two of my colleagues also wanted to switch careers. We pursued that goal together and motivated each other.

Did you study together?

We had different approaches. One of us attended a boot camp, but I mostly read books.

You mastered programming from books alone?

I also did a few courses on Udemy, though in hindsight, they seem a bit impractical now. But I did manage to develop some hands-on skills, honing them like karate.

What do you mean?

I would open a website with coding tasks, such as CodingBat, and solve them. The same with recruitment tasks. I practiced them on HackerRank or Geeks for Geeks.

How did you know you were ready?

I didn’t. I just started applying. I went to an interview for a junior position, but the recruiter wasn’t happy with my answers.

What questions did you get?

About breadth-first search and the complexity analysis of binary search.

Were your answers wrong?

They were correct, but not detailed enough.

You must have felt crestfallen.

A little bit. For a moment, I thought all my efforts had been in vain. But there was a happy ending. The same company offered me the position of tester.

Which you quit after three months.

Being a tester had almost nothing to do with coding. And I wanted to be a programmer. So I started sending out resumes.

Was it then that Szymon from Clurgo called you?

Correct. It was a completely different conversation. Szymon asked me only one question–about the difference between ArrayList and LinkedList and when to use them. I answered correctly and came to the office for an interview.

What task did you get that time?

Marcin asked me to write a program for Fibonacci numbers on a piece of paper. Fortunately, I was prepared, but in general, I think my performance was mediocre.

But you still got the job.

Yes. I think Marcin believed in me. I want to thank him for that opportunity.

Do you remember your first day at Clurgo?

Perfectly. One of the best days of my life.

Where was the office then?

On Panska Street in Warsaw. It occupied half a floor. Fewer than forty people worked there. Early days.

Different from how it is now?

Definitely. We’ve moved to Jasna Street, taking up three floors, and opened offices in three other cities. Over a hundred people work with us now.

Do you remember anything else from those early days?

My first encounter with Piotr Drajski.

What was special about that?

He spoke super fast. I could barely keep up. At one point, he handed me a laptop with a flash drive and asked me to install Linux on it. I had half an hour to do it.

Baptism by fire! I take it you passed the test.

That’s right. And then the rollercoaster continued: Git, IntelliJ, code reviews, deployments, databases. I soaked everything up like a sponge.

Did you have moments of doubt?

On the contrary. The more I had to do, the more motivated I got. But it paid off. After a few projects, I already had a reputation for delivering on my assignments.

You got appreciated.

Yes, and not only by colleagues but also by Piotr. I remember him telling me in private that he barely has to do anything in our team because I take care of everything.

Why would anyone want to leave such a company?

Out of boredom. COVID came along, and we started running out of projects. I ended up in one that was written in .NET, while I code in Java. What’s more, the project was an old product that only needed maintenance. I had to look for extra tasks to fill the day.

Did you apply to other companies?

No, but I was getting more and more restless. Months passed and nothing changed. Then an interesting technical blog post caught my eye.

Probably on some company’s website.

Yes, and where I sent my one and only application.

Did you part ways with Clurgo on friendly terms?

Definitely. When I was leaving, Piotr even told me to call him first if I ever thought about changing jobs again.

And did you want to go back?

At first, no. In the new place, I got an interesting project, met great people, and took part in super team retreats. But somewhere along the line, I felt it was time for a change.

So you called Piotr.

Yes, remembering our last conversation.

What convinced you to come back?

Apart from the great relationship I’ve always had with Piotr, Clurgo’s management opened up a new career path for me, offering me the position of team leader.

A big challenge for someone who had never managed a team before.

Of course, but also an invaluable opportunity for growth. An additional benefit was that I was returning to a project I already knew.

Did you bring something of value to Clurgo from your previous job?

Sure. My previous company did things like publishing technical blog posts or organizing knowledge meet-ups and lectures. Today I can proudly say that – thanks in part to my suggestions – we are beginning to introduce similar practices at Clurgo.


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