The year 2020, illustrated best with the keywords COVID-19 and restrictions, has been nothing but a fantastic year. Well, at least for me. At the beginning of the year, I was a perfectly happy full-stack developer in a small company, developing mobile applications on a daily basis.
I had always liked developing and had also studied it at the University of Tartu. I can boast of a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and am currently finishing up my Master’s degree in Software Engineering in an integrated program between the University of Tartu and TalTech. So, as you can see, developing mobile applications was the job for me. Or that’s what I thought back then.
Consistency can make all the difference
It was a sunny afternoon in the middle of February when I logged into my LinkedIn account and saw a message from Liisa - a wonderful Talent Acquisition Specialist from Playtech. Liisa contacted me because they were looking for a Java developer, which has never been my passion, so I passed on this job offer without any regret.
Not giving up, she then told me about a vacancy for a technical project manager, or more precisely, an Integration Manager. My initial thought was wow… that really is something I would like to do, but as I was still halfway through my full-time Master's studies, I passed on that as well.
Why? Because I’ve seen plenty of my schoolmates dropping out due to work and my plan did not involve following the same path. But Liisa assured me that although it was a full-time position, Playtech would support my studies and it would not become a problem. At that point, I started to build up my inner motivation and agreed to meet my potential new team for an interview.
I nailed it!
I remember thinking that I had no experience to land that position. This was also the reason why I went to the interview with almost no prep - I have a job, this is a long shot anyway, if the interview goes badly, I will simply continue my everyday life as it is.
Well… the interview was awesome, to say the least. I met with Andi, Cross Product Integration Team Lead who was to be my potential direct manager, and Egert who manages the entire Cross Product Solutions Group unit based in Estonia. And I must say they were highly inspiring. The whole meet-up was so carefree and fun — certainly not anything you would expect from a formal job interview.
Fast forward to the
evening of the day after the interview. I was in the middle of having dinner with
my family, when I received a call from Liisa — they loved you, here’s our offer… My mom didn’t hear what I was
talking about or who I was talking to, but she saw me across the room as I was
trying not to jump up and down in a restaurant.
A month passed, and during that time, I was able to actually join the team at Playtech, well… virtually at least. But by that time, the coronavirus was at the start of its first wave. Estonia was in lockdown and the government had just declared an emergency, so no more than two people were allowed to be together, and even then, they had to keep at a distance of at least 2 meters. Schools, shops, cinemas… everything was closed, and it was suggested that we stay at home at all times. It was a tough time for many people and for me as well, but luckily, I was distracted enough by my new job.
How do you start a new job during lockdown?
To be honest, the first couple of work days were exhausting. I knew that Playtech develops games, but now I had to learn and actually understand the whole structure of Playtech and it’s systems. And it was a lot to take in.
When my HR Generalist brought me in to sign the employment contract, we were walking through Playtech’s Tartu office, and she casually mentioned that I had landed the best team in Playtech. I haven’t asked her if that’s a standard closing line of hers or not, and it actually doesn’t matter, since it really is the best team.
There are nine of us now in the integration team, and everybody is open and easy to talk to. I have felt accepted literally from day one, which is saying a lot, since it’s something that usually doesn’t come to me very easily, if at all.
I remember that on my first day, a technical question was asked in Teams and a colleague told me in a separate chat that I should be the one to reply to it. So, he gave me the answer and I did it. The answer was a simple No — let’s be honest, I could've winged it since I had a 50-50 chance of getting it right anyway, but my team lead Andi saw right through me when he wrote to me a couple of hours later: “Well, well, well… spill it, who gave you the answer?”
I decided to confess that the answer was indeed given to me by a colleague, revealing to Andi that I wasn’t his star integrator, who dives into the technical questions from day one, after all. I mean, I barely understood what my job title even meant. Well, anyway, at least now I know, right?
During the onboarding phase, I had daily video call meetings with my team lead Andi. As he thought sketches were required for me to understand the system, we went back to the basics. Andi fired up his Paint, dusted off his drawing skills, and started doodling me pictures about how API communication works. Guys, let me tell you this, he’s no Michelangelo, okay? Although I guess it’s fair to say that I have never seen a Paint drawing by the grandmaster. It’s tougher than it looks.
The rest of the time I read our API documentation by myself, wrote down a lot of questions, read some more, crossed off some of the questions I already had answers to, wrote down some new questions, and the next day we would have another video call where we discussed it all.
Besides our onboarding schedule with Andi, there were some general activities for the newbies – for example, HR organized trainings where I learned about Playtech’s history, the organization, different teams, our products, security, and much more. Playtech also has this cool motivational package, called the Fish Program, which can be used to get compensation for personal expenses on health, sports, entertainment, or home office equipment.
In two weeks I was slowly introduced to the actual job. Although I was now given some projects to ghost, I was still quite lost otherwise. Our Teams group chat is always active, and there have been so many times when I have read about an issue raised by a colleague and thought to myself that even posing the question seems to require extremely deep knowledge of the system, and I kept wondering - will I ever get there as well?
I’m still wondering about it by the way. I have learned tremendously over the past 8 months, more than I ever have during a similar period of time. But I do feel that I’ve barely grazed the tip of the iceberg, as Playtech’s systems are so complex that it seems like the questions will never stop popping up. But that’s what makes it interesting and motivates me the most!
These kinds of new beginnings are difficult, and there have been at least a hundred times when I have wondered, “What have I gotten myself into now?”, but then you get over it and learn some more about the systems. Step by step, you start to understand a little bit more about what’s going on, and then the puzzle comes together as you finally start making connections. And then you end up craving more – more puzzle pieces, more new puzzles…
Conquering my first real work project
My first project to go live was quite unique in how it ended. I was assigned to be the integration manager for an online casino and I was to help them develop their API correctly, so that they could launch Playtech’s games on their portal. I worked on this for 3 months, the launch of Playtech’s games in their casino went seamlessly and their portal ended up looking extremely cool.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last long, as only a week after the launch the licensee - this is how we call our business customers - closed its virtual doors to its players. So much for the integration I worked so hard on. But this is something you need to get used to when working at Playtech – things change fast.
Usually, I work on approximately five projects simultaneously. I handle each project for a few months, after which I may get a new project with a new licensee or continue with the same licensee on the next phase of the project. I spend most of my days talking to the licensees in Zoom or chat, and helping them to develop their APIs and launch our games or simply answering their questions about how our games work.
The integration projects themselves consist of understanding our API and how it works, creating gaming instance requests, configuring these instances, and troubleshooting errors via manual testing by actually playing the games as well as looking through the logs. I especially like that my days are never the same and every day can bring me a new challenge to work on.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
Playtech really cares that we have our fair share of fun as well. There are many planned events for the whole company as well as team events for smaller groups.
Already during my first week, we had a small virtual team event since the lockdown made it impossible for us to meet up in person as my team normally would. It might be the introvert in me talking, but I really liked that little online party of ours. We all turned our web cameras on, had a couple of drinks, ate snacks, played online games, and just talked and had fun.
In the summer, we chilled out at Väike Kuuba near the river or went for a barbeque at a colleague’s house. Once, we even went to a karaoke bar, where my team lead Andi and I sang the song “Kaelakee hääl” together.
As the COVID numbers started rising again, we had a virtual team event with our whole Cross Product Solutions business unit, which was simply amazing. The day started off with an information day, which was followed by a cool online team event. We were divided into 3 groups and we had to solve tasks and puzzles to get to the final big puzzle, which was a door code for a package. The whole game was extremely exciting and intense, which only made it sweeter when my team won.
One thing that I really like is that our whole unit is like a big happy family. There’s a group chat where people communicate daily and it feels good to be a part of it. I was once told that this kind of connection can’t be achieved when people work from home, but Playtech has proven that distance is nothing but a number.
2020 really has been a victory year, despite COVID – I have an amazing job and colleagues and hopefully, our team will only keep on growing!