Many roads can lead to a career at Apify. Think you don’t have the right background or experience? Think again.
Apify has already made its mark in the Czech Republic and beyond as a dynamic up-and-coming start-up, with its impressive growth numbers, ambitious roadmap, and promising product. But who are the Apifiers, the heart, and soul behind the wheels of this expanding startup machine? We’ve already discovered how a former philosopher, an ex-financial auditor, and a marathon runner found their ways to Apify. If you are one of our Apifiers-to-be, you might find their stories quite relatable, including this new one.
This time our spotlight is on Kuba Drobnik - a full stack developer by day and one of the oldest members of the Apify team by… also day? It’s hard to keep track of the time zones, as he’s currently in Mexico. Or Costa Rica? Somewhere good and sunny for sure. In any case, he’s distinguished not by his age but by time in grade, so to say. Having spent more than five years with Apify, Kuba surely has a couple of stories up his sleeve, so let’s see what brought him from the first few lines of code of burgeoning platform architecture to a sabbatical to travel around the world.
Origins of an early Apifier
Back in 2016, when I was still a student at the Economic University, I got enrolled in one of the classes that Jakub Balada, Apify’s co-founder, was teaching. I heard very good things about this professor, and for good reason - and I’m glad he’s teaching to this day. He mentioned his very early start-up called Apifier as one of the examples during his lectures, and it got me interested.
Over all these years (sounds quite epic, huh), I’ve worked on all sides of Apify. There were never any right or wrong ways to do things (and this is still the way it is now), just plenty - plenty! - of work (just as now, but even more). I was even doing support and customer communication at some point - which today’s Apifiers would probably find hard to believe. I remember in 2018, during my second year, there were already a few of us, and we basically launched almost everything Apify is known for these days: Apify SDK library, Apify Proxy, Apify Store with its public actors, plus the Apify Freelancers program (now replaced with a more informal freelancer system), important Integrations, and Apify CLI to build and run scrapers from a local machine. All at once! This last one is my particular favorite since the CLI solution, which I came up with years ago works properly till this day - and that’s no joke for any dev. When I think back to it, I also did a lot of stuff that isn’t that visible, like refactoring the code when we were switching technologies - I’m talking thousands of lines of rewriting here. I did break a lot of things - and still do, as any respectable dev should - but that’s what the team is for, so we can learn, grow and find new solutions and workarounds.
I’d say that’s when I understood for myself that the strength of Apify is really in its developer culture. I’ve always been leaning towards focusing on developers and bringing them the best service first. Like the scaling, SDK documentation, simple integrations with the tools they use, like GitHub, and all of this stuff. I was more for bringing our future platform close to developers as much as we could from the beginning. So I worked on Integrations, which was quite the rage at the time, took care of the API, came up with new features, and made sure most bugs were fixed.
I also made one of the most popular scrapers we’ve got - Google Maps Scraper (you can still see some of its ancient interface here). An interesting story is that I created it because we had, and still have, a simple rule that every dev should make at least one public actor - back then it was to boost the newly launched Apify Store. So I figured Google Maps (Places back then) was a good target for me. Now it has over 10,000 permanent users, and I don’t keep an eye on it, but it’s interesting to see how it grew over time and how the community team managed to maintain it in line with the always-changing Google Maps itself.
The turning point
So it has been a six-year-long ride like that for me so far, fun in some ways but kind of hard in others. I would say that lately everything's been changing almost every month. I’ve been responsible for critical technical aspects that needed to be adapted quickly. In addition, I was trying to bring new ideas into the company - which is quite normal for a startup mentality but tends to get difficult over time. I would say I did the hard work there and generally love what I do, but at some point, I realized I had to step back for a while and take a rest. Besides, when else is a good time to follow my dream to travel and explore the world?
Some good bits
My initial decision was to switch from full-time to part-time: have a career break and just take a step back, travel, read some books and learn new things. Just avoid day-to-day work. But the reality turned out to be quite different. I was thinking I would have so much time on my hands… Never been that wrong in my life; you’ll see why.
So far, we’ve made a small loop through four countries - first to Costa Rica, then flew to Canada, driven through the US, and now we are in Mexico for winter. For work morale, I’d say autumn Canada was kind of best because it’s been raining there all the time. But my favorite has to go to Costa Rica; it’s truly a gem in the middle of the Caribbean filled with good-natured people, good food, and good internet. Somehow they manage to make everything seem like back at home.
Also, contrary to popular belief, developers do not carry around cash printing machines - we have to stick to our trip budget. In San Francisco, for example, where we wanted to spend two weeks at least, we ended up dogsitting, which was quite fun and cheap. We used an app matching people who need accommodation with people who need their dogs to be taken care of in their absence. We found a Spanish couple who desperately wanted a vacation in Madrid and had no one to leave their two doggos with. They were happy to hear our stories, and we were happy to make new dog friends, live in the city, and save some money. A win-win situation.
Looking back, I’m glad my girlfriend Dominika and I went for this trip despite facing the uncertainties of traveling in the COVID-19 world. But traveling is all fun and games until you have to deliver. I am definitely not complaining, but the way I work has changed a lot, and I had to adapt to that. And while my girlfriend and I organized certain things well, we still have to consider the difference in time zones, internet availability, and the little day-to-day things that you don’t know automatically just because you’re in a foreign country - like where to live or what to eat. All this influences my focus and my way of working. And it’s not like I didn’t know these things before, but such a nomadic lifestyle made it even more obvious how much routine and structure support daily programming.
So I work two weeks a month, which sounds like a sweet deal. So far, it’s been manageable, although I do miss the times when I could just come to work, code for 10 hours with a few breaks, socialize a bit, go for a beer, and then go home. It is hard to admit that sometimes you’re not as productive as you are used to being. Which is another reason I’m happy for the support I’m getting from my team, Honza our CEO, and my team lead Mara (Marek Trunkat) especially, who accommodates my sometimes unpredictable schedule, checks on my workload regularly (in a good way) and recommends me some books to learn from. He knew why I had to take my break and never made a fuss out of it. So I miss the office dynamics and shenanigans because I’m quite used to the people I’m working with - they are my friends. So no, this is not some made-up story from Instagram about how a dev works half an hour a day and surfs the waves/drinks mojitos during the rest, as you can see. It’s more complicated than that.
On the future
It’s amazing that we’re almost half a year through our trip. The best thing is that I don't know where we’re headed next, since we had some pretty long-term plans in the beginning, but it’s hard to plan with Mr. Covid. So now we plan it only a month beforehand.
Of course, I am sometimes sad that I can't fully be a part of the new important stage of the company's evolution and can’t meet people in the office. Joining an all-hands meeting can sometimes make me a bit emotional. But I knew that I had to pay the price for my long-term dream. Actually, now that the company is growing a lot, I have a lot of faith in the future of Apify and the people behind it. I don’t know how to explain it, but being an Apifier is really a state of mind or more like mentality.
I remember what we were told when we were just starting with web scraping direction: naaah, the competitors are too huge, we cannot compare ourselves to them, blah blah blah. Now, 5+years later, we are at least on the same level, even way above. This is why I’m not scared for the company’s future as we grow - the right people with the right mindset can be found anywhere in the world. With our approach to openness and flexibility, we can reach any heights.
I’d say this trip is something every Apifier should do after five years with the company. Like a tradition of traveling around the world for a year. Or maybe more? I set a one-year limit for this trip so as not to scare Marek, but the truth is I am still unsure if I’ll manage to come back after a year - there’s so much to explore! So I won’t be setting any timing boundaries here since once you like something from day one, it’s difficult to stop. Hmm, sounds just like my career story with Apify, don’t you think?
Does this story strike a chord with you? Check out our open positions, and you might find that you will fit right in. We don’t always care where you’re coming from, but we definitely want to know that you’re enthusiastic about where you’re going 💪🚀