How a volcano eruption got me a job at Apify 🌋

Paulo Cesar
Paulo Cesar
Table of Contents

Many roads can lead to a career at Apify. Think you don’t have the right background or experience? Think again.

What can you do - sometimes that’s what it takes to land a job in a startup. But hear us out, as this story is full of such unexpected twists and turns. This is because this time in our spotlight is none other than Paulo from Brazil - a veteran Apifier whom we only got to meet in real life this year! Buckle up, this is gonna be a wild one.

Curiosity, sculpting, and programming

When I was a kid, I used to be obsessed with creating these mini statues - a specific type, very characteristic of Brazilian sculpture art called esculturas de biscuit. I could spend days making various objects from scratch out of a simple mixture of cornstarch powder and glue. It was fascinating, sort of like drawing but in 3D. And although it took around 7-8 hours to finish one of them, I loved the feeling of completeness this process gave me. In my work life, I looked for something that would challenge me with the same level of creativity and complexity, and I found it in programming. Coding seemed to have the same construction concept, being able to create anything using time, with a side benefit of actually generating income, unlike my dear sculpture hobby.

I’ve been in the web automation business since 2007 and I’ve always loved it. I had no relatives with programming know-how to share, no easily available computer to practice on… Despite that, I’ve been learning programming since I was 14 years old, especially different languages - out of curiosity. I now know 13 of them, including assembler - a rather non-practical one which I learned just for the heck of it. As you might suspect by the way my story goes, I am an infinitely curious individual. A strong INTP, Wikipedia-rabbit hole-diving type, with a little side interest in medical publications of PubMed magazine. My curiosity made it only a matter of time before I would come across Apify.

The long road to Apify

Oh, it’s a funny, long story! Let’s start from the very beginning: my dear dad has been a mechanical engineer his whole life. And as all of you children of mechanical engineers might know way too well, being an engineer is not a profession, it’s a lifestyle. He has always been pushing me to have a stable white-collar career-focused high-tier management position. Saying, Paulo, you gotta start your own business, become some kind of a top manager, or a CEO at least, and this the only surefire path to a good life. I understand that my dad, just like most parents are, simply wanted the best for me. It was a lot of pressure back then because at some point I realized that kind of life is definitely not for me - as we will see later.

It might be surprising, but despite all my experience with and passion for coding, I never strived to get a university major in Computer Science. I didn’t like the idea of studying programming at university because of the outdated methods and inflexibility of the education sphere. I prefer a self-taught approach to everything and that might come off as unusual at least. I’ve been a very quick learner from childhood, started learning English on my own when I was 7 for example, and I was often seen as “distracting other kids”. It’s only later in life I learned that it’s because of my ADHD. It gives me a superpower of a very good memory and hyper-focus on new and exciting things which is at times both a blessing and a curse. I can remember and replay whole conversation pieces, even code snippets. So no wonder grades were perfect but school just wasn’t challenging enough - which might sound arrogant, but it’s a common issue among ADHD folks. And when you have the 'spark' for coding, programming is always new and exciting, it's always evolving, you never stop learning and you're always in "kaizen" mode.

As you see, formal education was a bit limited for my curiosity. So I chose a psychology major instead. It was quite interesting for a while, especially the theories, but I quit almost right after the theoretical part was over. What influenced my decision the most was the practical part with patients. As students, we visited a few retirement homes, and that’s when I realized this direction is not for me - it would be extremely difficult to decouple my emotions from psychological work.

Paulo meeting Hanka in real life
Paulo meeting Hanka in real life

So I decided to go with what my dad has always wanted for me combined with my own rules. I started a web design company of my own, then another one, and then another one. I was both a CTO and the only programmer in almost all of them at the beginning. It was not easy: I was making all kinds of foundational decisions all the time: infrastructure-, database-, architecture-related, but led developers with different backgrounds and languages. For various reasons, all of my startups failed, one after another. Six or seven startups later in 2019 I quit this whole strategy, partially because the last startup was taking too long to lift off, and still hasn't, it's surviving in a limbo post-pandemic. And I was looking for a more liberating job where the boss and the deadlines wouldn’t be breathing down my neck.

Throughout this time, I had been using the Apify SDK for a few automation projects. Then I made a few Typescript Typings in my free time and created a neat automation chain for lead generation using a few Apify actors. Then a Marketplace position for Apify caught my eye. My solution was connected to the Greasemonkey browser extension that was doing the automation, cowboy-style, and I figured you can use Chrome for that. Lukaš (Lukáš Křivka, Head of Delivery - Developer community: read his career story) was nicely surprised with my solution and started onboarding me for Apify Marketplace (now Apify Freelancers).

I was quite happy about this side-gig opportunity while also participating in the interview process for other companies. I was considering one of the deals very seriously, it was almost closed: a Senior Backend Engineer position with a good offer, flexible timing (important for my night work routine), and the possibility of relocation to Ireland. All I had left to do was to have a small chat with the CEO the following week, who was in the Philippines at that time. Then suddenly, Lukaš writes up an offer to me for a full-time position in Apify instead of the Marketplace. What can I say, I was feeling surprised, and pretty torn. And at this very deciding moment, I get the strangest email of my life so far telling me the Irish company’s CEO got stuck in the Philippines because of *drumroll* a volcano eruption. So he can’t have an interview with me. Then I hopped on a quick call with Apify co-founder Kuba Balada, and the rest is history. I’ve made up my mind.

So, this is how the volcano made me pick the best place to work. I still feel a tiny bit bad for the Hiring Manager who must have had a pretty bad day that day. But now I can say it was the rightest decision I’ve ever made.

Not skipping a chance to wander in Prague with Gabin and Hanka
Not skipping a chance to wander in Prague with Gabin and Hanka

Helping others with open source and Apify

I love the idea of open-source, I see it as an opportunity to help other devs, contribute and build something worthwhile together - often with total strangers! How cool is that! Besides, open-source was the way I found Apify SDK, and, ultimately, Apify.

When I started in 2020, I was working on code refactoring first, a known artform among devs. Code restoration to me feels like keeping a classic vintage car in good shape - and my team-lead Lukaš enjoys that too, so it was an instant match. Since then I’ve been busy creating and maintaining actors and communicating with users. I can’t tell which direction I enjoy more, but users give great ideas for platform improvement and actors. So at times, my work patterns are deeply intertwined. In any case, my number one goal is to create state of art code that keeps our users happy and to constantly improve them.

We also had a great connection with Hanka, our other former Support knight, right away. Considering it was an audio-only call that was supposed to last 15 minutes and went on for 2 hours instead, I think we kicked it off pretty well. Same with Zuzka -  we had a great vibe right away. In general, people here feel to me as if they were handpicked. We share the same mentality and mindset of solving problems. I also have no dreams of occupying a management position. I don’t like pushing people, because I myself don’t like to be pushed. That's another way in which Apify is a perfect fit for me, as the company encourages me to work at my own pace.

Conquering Sněžka, the highest peak in Czech Republic, on a sunny day
Conquering Sněžka, the highest peak in Czech Republic, on a sunny day

Traveling to the Czech Republic and meeting Apifiers IRL

“Does Paulo even exist?” - many Apifiers wondered, as they’ve only seen me in Slack and on video calls. “When is he gonna visit us?” Being the only Apifier in the Southern hemisphere (besides digital nomad Kuba Drobnik), this was quite a mission to accomplish. I had wanted to go visit my fellow Apifiers for the longest time. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been invited. So when I set my mind to visit Prague, the issues began. First, I couldn’t get a passport for a very long time, then I had to face all the corona obstacles. Then I also had a few small adult decisions to make: buying a home and organizing a wedding. Then came the bureaucracy issues with documents, expensive tickets, and such. So it was never the right moment for visiting, and I kept postponing it.

But then, on March 20, the stars finally aligned and before I knew it, I was on a plane to Europe! It’s like being in another dimension. I’m not even kidding, it’s upside-down for me, but a good one. I consider the Czech Republic a very good simulation, instead of the one I have back in Brazil. The weather is great, safety is taken for granted, the food is healthy and delicious, architecture is breathtaking. And last but not least - there's snow! We went for a team building in the Krkonoše mountains and I was admiring the simple beauty of the crystalized water that I had never seen before. We went up Sněžka, the highest mountain in the Czech Republic, and I’ve been told that it is rarely that visible and sunny. We spent a good couple of hours just hanging out there.

For a week, I was in full tourist mode in Prague. Special thanks to Hanka for walking a dozen kilometers with me almost every day. I wanted to take a picture of everything that caught my eye. And of course, meeting all the Apifiers was a blast. I made sure I spoke with everyone, we had great conversations, and even greater jokes, and stayed up late. Thanks for waking me up for lunch, guys! It is definitely not my last time visiting Prague and Apify. Next time, in the new office. I can’t wait to go back!

Paulo in upside-down world at Prague Castle 👽🚲1️⃣1️⃣
Paulo in upside-down world at Prague Castle 👽🚲1️⃣1️⃣


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