Today's interview is with Tommaso, a former poker player who learned to code and became a software engineer. He now runs his own company as well! Keep reading to learn about how he made this big career change, his tips for learning to code and how to get an entry level software engineer job without a degree.
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
I’m Tommaso, 32, I come from Florence. I came to Dublin 2 years ago and started working as a software engineer. Finally, since last October, I started my own company with the same shareholders for the company I was working at.
Can you tell us how you went from playing poker for a living to becoming a developer?
Well, it happened very fast. Last years of my career as a professional poker player were not as satisfying as it was before. I didn’t enjoy playing anymore and if you don’t have the motivation in poker it becomes very hard to concentrate and play the ‘A-game’ (being at your best).
Eventually, with a friend of mine who was also a demotivated poker player like me, we decided to found a startup. As usual, we were missing a programmer, yet we didn’t have any budget. That’s how I started watching videos on Udemy and reinventing myself as a programmer. So, the more I watched and learned, the more I was interested in coding. In the end, I realized that this is what I want to do in my life.
What attracted you to the Boolean coding bootcamp?
When I decided to attend a coding bootcamp, I didn’t know anything. I wasn’t even sure what I was doing. I was just copying what people were doing on the videos without fully understanding. However, I really enjoyed coding - writing a piece of code and the computer is doing what was on your mind, it was fascinating. Sadly, the startup didn’t go well due to our lack of experience and knowledge. But thanks to this failure, I decided to proceed studying to become a real dev this time.
Firstly, I checked for some courses online, as well as some courses from universities. In the end I decided to take the course by Boolean because I thought it was the most complete course to start a new career. I knew that after finishing the course I would be ready to work as a dev because in their program, they don’t only teach you the basics of coding, but they also provide you the knowledge you need if you want to start working as a developer the next day.
In addition, they guaranteed that after the course we will receive at least one job offer. Because I didn’t want to work in Italy, first I didn’t pay attention to this promise; however in the end thanks to Boolean I got the offer from the company in Dublin I worked at until last October.
What did you learn at Boolean?
When the course started, I thought I had more experience than the other people who were taking the course. However in a very short time I realized that what I was doing ‘as coding’ was randomly pressing the keyboard with my fingers. In other words, this is what I used to call programming before Boolean.
The most important thing is that they don’t only teach you these languages but also a method that helps you to learn different technologies without any problem. For example, when I got hired I started working with Python and machine learning libraries. This was something we never talked about at Boolean, but I learned them very quickly. It would've been almost impossible if I hadn't completed the course.
What did you enjoy about learning to code at Boolean?
Programming! This course made me realize that what I was doing was something that I really love. I spent my nights trying to make little programs for my fantacalcio (a popular game in Italy) auction, or doing some useful apps for my racing team at the university (I used to be a driver for the University of Pisa).
Can you tell us about the company you started?
As I said until October I was an employee, but I always worked more than what I was being paid for, just to learn as quickly as possible, always looking forward to starting a project of my own.
I got an offer to start a company using AI in a project related to betting with some contacts I had from my days of poker. This offer really excited me and I talked about this project to my company’s CTO, Bruno, who wasn’t only my colleague but also a really good friend of mine. He also thought that this was a great opportunity and he wanted to join me on this adventure.
When we talked with our company’s owners that we are thinking of leaving and building something that is ours, they made us an offer as well. They offered us to start a new company with them, bringing the same business (digital advertising) in a fully automated way. We discussed it a lot and in the end we decided to accept the offer and abandoned the betting project that I mentioned. So as I said, we found ourselves starting a company that is completely different than what we decided.
Finally, last year in October, we started our company and now our goal is to get as close as possible to my previous company in terms of numbers. Our new company might sound a bit confusing and similar to my previous company, but there is a big difference: My previous company had 30 employees including the marketing and the IT team, now we are trying to reach the same numbers with only 2 people (myself and Bruno) and by using AI.
What advice do you have for people who want to learn to code?
My biggest advice is that first you should try to understand if you can like programming. Start with watching some videos and try to understand how the things work, what happens when you type some keys on the keyboard. If you find it even just a bit exciting and have the will to learn more, Boolean’s course is definitely the one I would recommend.
It’s perfect for you if you think that you want to be a part of this exciting, yet scary looking world. Just like how I was feeling. The most important thing is that even if you find it hard but still get intrigued by it, don’t hesitate. I believe that if you have the will, and the right course, all is possible.
With Boolean, you will have the chance to understand if coding is right for you as well; while I was doing the course, I was sure that I was on the right path. And now I've been working for 12 hours per day for the last 2 years without anyone asking me to do this. I just do it because I love it and I love learning new technologies and design patterns every single day.
What was the interview process like?
Since the job was located in Dublin, I came to Dublin and stayed for 2 days. During the interview process I felt kinda bad and a bit afraid because I was impressed by the knowledge of the IT team and because it was my first job interview of my life. I had many thoughts going on in my mind. I even thought maybe I wasn’t ready to work yet, especially outside of Italy, because my English wasn’t very good as well.
During the interview, my task was to integrate the Facebook Business API into an internal tool for the marketing team, using PHP. I had an entire day to work on the task, but I also didn’t know where and how to start.
I took some tips from the guys who were working there, read the Facebook docs, Stackoverflow, used Google and everything else I could find, and of course, used as much as what I learned at Boolean. At the end of the day, I managed to complete the task.
Do you have tips for people who want to learn to code without doing a CS degree?
After joining my company, I experienced that after taking the course at Boolean, I wasn’t a junior dev as I thought I was. I was capable of doing so much more. After a few months of joining, I interviewed some people (also with a CS Degree), and I noticed that most of them were less prepared than me and my colleagues at Boolean.
I believe most of them couldn’t complete the task I completed for my interview. Long story short, don’t be scared thinking that if you don't have a CS Degree you won’t be able get a job. A degree is useful to understand what really happens when you write a `print(‘Hello World’)`, but especially in the IT sector it is not a parameter that makes a person more valuable compared to the one without a degree.
Thanks for the interview!
This article was sponsored by Boolean coding bootcamp.