An insider’s perspective
We wanted to give an insider’s perspective on how it is to work here. And what better way to do just that, than to let people who work here do the talking?
With this in mind, we started Notch Talks, a series of interviews held with our senior developers, management, designers, and project managers.
For the first Notch Talks, we invited Goran Pugar, Hrvoje Ruhek, Marko Štefančić, Darko Špoljarić, and Nikola Mašić, our senior engineers, to talk about their role in the company, projects they work on and what they do when not coding.
Can you tell us about how you started working at Notch and your current role here?
Hrvoje: I started working here five years ago. At the time, we wanted to form the QA department, and after that, I worked on a few other projects. Since 2019 I have been working as a senior developer for StackState. I’ve been coding for 25 years, and although I’ve started working here a couple of years ago, I’ve known Roić, Madunić, and Kolonić for a lot longer. We’ve been involved in an unsuccessful startup together back in 1998, then went our separate ways, working for different companies, before I came to Notch. It was only around 20 people back then.
How did I get into coding? My first programming steps were with Sinclair ZX Spectrum when I was ten years old. At the beginning of 1990, I played video games on DOS at home. I had a modem and was exploring the BBS scene that existed at that time.
The mind-blowing thing was the computers that were at the time available to students at SRCE. A computer connected to the Internet that ran on Unix. That was a big step up from BBS I used before. The second mind-blowing event happened in 1996 when I installed the first Linux on my home PC. A proper Unix-like OS running on my home PC, like the ones I used at SRCE. In 2003 I got my first MacBook that ran MacOSX, a brand name Unix OS. I never looked back.
Marko: I joined Notch in 2012, straight from college. I’ve been coding since high school. Pascal was the language we learned in Zadar MIOC, but what I loved to do at the time was to develop text-based games with friends. Let’s say they were the closest thing to bookie games, a great way to expand my coding skills and fun to make. After finishing college the first job I applied for was at Notch. Of course, not counting all the summers spent waiting tables. Something everyone did when growing up on the coast.
Is there anything you would like to highlight on the project you’re currently working on?
Marko: The Football Club project, definitely. It’s a greenfield project through and through, we were at liberty to select the platform, architecture, and technologies. Not many projects allow for such a high degree of independence. Besides the game itself, there is a whole metaverse around it where you can build your avatar and upgrade it through challenges and quizzes, or by directly purchasing an upgrade with coins. This is where NFTs and blockchain technologies come into focus.
We’re working with Flow blockchain to build a bridge between the marketplace and the Play-to-earn concept. Play a challenge, earn coins and trade those coins for an NFT (usually an avatar upgrade), which you can later sell on the marketplace.
The whole game is based on live streaming of events like Bundesliga football games. Data is processed instantly through live stream services. If there’s a goal in the match, you’ll find out about it before everyone else does due to TV signal delay.
We’re using React on the frontend and Java, Spring Boot, and Micronaut frameworks on the backend.
When you’re that much involved in a project and can see direct results of your work, it becomes your responsibility, you start to own the project, and that is a strong drive for pushing even harder. Not because of Notch or the client, but because of the challenge you put before yourself.
Goran: Besides working on commercial projects, I’m heavily invested in developing new internal platforms for knowledge sharing, and adding on to the existing ones. If someone can say after working at Notch that he/she learned a lot then that’s mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned.
We, and by we I mean our team of principal engineers, want to enable dialogues and discussions about old technologies, new technologies, anything and everything that might be of interest to our younger colleagues. And ourselves.
Any project in particular during your career so far you’d like to mention that helped you grow your skills? It doesn’t have to be a Notch project.
Darko: In 2011/2012 my then employer sent me to Scotland to work on a project. It was called Wildfire, and the name could not fit any better, we’ve been extinguishing fires from day one.
I was there alone for the first month and it was my first international project that wasn’t agile or Scrum. It was a classic waterfall type of project and after a couple of months, I could slowly see the finish line. But the closer we got to it the more it started to “smell”.
The specifications for the application were not clear from the start and kept changing throughout the project, and after three months of work, when it was plain the application wouldn’t deliver, most of the developers ran for their lives and away from the project. It took additional three months to reach the production phase and during all that time I had no one to have my back, no safe line to lean on.
I took a lot from that project in terms of how to talk to clients in a very stressful situation, how to professionally deliver without a proper system in place, and how to personally be accountable for the project delivery.
Another revelatory experience was my first React project. I was a senior with 9 years of coding experience, but junior when it came to React. It took me some time to adapt to the paradigm shift, to learn how to test components, and still, small bugs crept in… I tried test driving React development but fell back to tests after a couple of weeks in.
The client eventually dropped us from the project, because the speed and quality of development weren’t up to their expectations. A brutal experience so to speak, but the paradigms shift every 10 years or so, and if you’re not keeping up, your previous experience and track record on speed and quality amount to very little.
If you were to grab a beer with a potential coworker, what would you say to them? How would you stir their interest in Notch? What is our word-of-mouth story?
Goran: You can talk with anybody and everybody here. Plain and simple. From higher management and founders to juniors who joined the company yesterday. I like the open culture we have here, everyone’s available.
What else would I mention… There is no overtime, it is frowned upon when someone pings you outside work hours. With some companies I worked for before, we had to be on call during certain projects. But here we don’t have that.
Hrvoje: We are trying to work on as many turnkey projects as possible. Whole teams work together and guide the project forward from discovery to operations.
Marko: We have lots of different projects that developers can work on, which enables them to move more freely between them. Chances are you won’t get stuck on a project for years without the chance to switch to something that fits better with your skillset.
And, we’re not corpo. If anything, we’re very people-oriented.
Nikola: Relaxed coworkers, no-blame culture. Business problems don’t overflow to developers, and you can, with the help of your team lead, plan your personal development while at Notch.
If I’m talking about technologies in general, we try to work on relevant projects with current technologies and processes with minimal involvement in legacy projects.
We’ve mentioned the importance of life-long learning before. How do you educate yourself on the newest industry trends?
Darko: In the sea of information, I try to inform myself from relevant sources and follow people like Josh Long to keep up to date with Spring development. Brian Goetz for Java, Ron Jeffries, Alistair Cockburn, and Dan North for Agile. Usually, interesting discussions arise around their Twitter posts. A lot of agile coaches moved to LinkedIn as well.
When it comes to blogs and articles, there are few original content pieces and a lot of interpretations. I always prefer to read the originals. Sometimes it’s ok to express your personal opinions in blogs. I do it as well in my blog, but referencing original authors and sources is a must.
Nikola: LinkedIn scrolling to see what’s relevant, mostly Java and Spring groups. I don’t have a GitHub account or 150 projects on a side :).
Last but not least, what do you do in your spare time? Any hobbies or passions outside work?
Goran: In my spare time I organize pub quizzes, go on mountaineering trips. I love working with wood. And gardening. There are 70-80 types of trees and shrubbery in my backyard with a small Nishikigoi pond. That is my retirement plan right there.
Movies, series, books, you name it. When I was a kid there was this old movie theater in Križ, and often I was the only one there, watching old movies. With series, the more off-center they are, the better. The Good Place, Monty Python… stuff like that.
With books, SF is an old love, but recently I’ve been more into historical fiction. The last favourite I read was “Tragom zmijske košuljice” by Josip Mlakić, something like Umberto Eco but with a Balkan twist.
Hrvoje: Role-playing games, mostly Magic: The Gathering, board games. We used to organize Notch role-playing tournaments “in the old days”. Before the new normal hit, I was a fervent concert-goer, Močvara, KSET, Tvornica, I was there at least two to three times a week.
I’ve been practicing Yoga for the past 20 years. I also love traveling, and although I’ve put it on hold for the time being, the next trip we’re planning is to New Zealand and Japan. Fingers crossed.
Marko: All kinds of sports. Football, tennis, mountaineering. The parachute jump is next on the list. Traveling whenever I find the time. Aside from that, I play chess whenever and wherever, read anything that comes my way, mostly fantasy and SF.
Darko: These days I spend most of my free time with my family and kids. I used to be an active runner and cyclist before. In 2016 I ran two marathons and a bunch of half-marathons.
Nikola: Spending time with family, barbequing, Netflix in large quantities. Euphoria from HBO is a must-see. I like to try new things, like skiing for instance. I sprained a ligament in the process, but who cares. The only things I don’t watch are horror movies or series because they give me nightmares.
We’re always on a lookout for new colleagues! Go and check our open positions.