Alumni Stories: Marcin Szcześniak
"Be unique – make yourself stand out from the competition. The junior market is full of ‘identical’ candidates with the same boring and empty CV, which often makes it hard to find a job right after graduation. Use your thesis work to make your CV shine against the competition and someone will notice you (as in my case) or create a start-up that will succeed."
Name and surname: Marcin Szcześniak
Place of residence: Helsinki, Finland
Position: Software Quality Assurance Lead
Degree subject at the Jagiellonian University: Applied Informatics
What is your best memory of studying at the Jagiellonian University?
The way I came up with the idea for my thesis. At the beginning of my second year at university, we were moving to the Campus, in Ruczaj. While riding Blablacar, I met a student from the Institute of Applied Psychology who told me about problems with an app he uses when teaching children with ADHD and ADD. After analysing the problems of that application, I came up with the idea that I could do it better, using newer technology. This was the moment when Google Cardboard project was becoming popular – cheap in production VR glasses, for which I really wanted to write something. The result was Space Balls VR – a Serious Game for detecting attention deficits using Virtual Reality. If everything is a coincidence, then there really have been a lot of them in my life.
How did your career start? What were the turning points?
The history of my career is divided into two stages – before and after graduation. I found my first job just before the start of my engineering studies in Computer Science at the University of Economics and Law in Kielce. After graduating from high school I gave myself an ultimatum that I would find a full-time job before going to university in order to become at least partially financially independent from my parents. If I didn't find such a job, I would start my studies a year later at the most. When I presented my plan to my parents, they were devastated, but a few weeks later I found my first job. So I finally made up my mind. By combining work and studies I acquired quite a lot of knowledge, which helped me get started. I didn’t get properly started until June 2016, about 8 months after defending my MA thesis at the Jagiellonian University. On one of the technology portals, I came across information about a competition in which the prize was a trip to a month-long programming camp. I hesitated for a long time whether to send in my application, but finally, just a few minutes before the closing time for applications, I sent it in. A few days later, I received an e-mail that the committee liked my projects very much, and in the second half of June, together with two other winners, we found ourselves in Skopje. As participants of this ‘bootcamp’ we were obliged to submit our projects to the EYA (European Youth Awards) competition, where one of the two mobile apps I submitted (AR Music Box) made it to the final of EYA 2016, whose final gala was held in Graz, Austria. There I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of people from different corners of the world, representatives of different industries and professions. I had never before had the opportunity to participate in such a large networking event. People who saw my application ‘live’ were very impressed, and among them a special person - a lecturer from Tampere University of Applied Sciences (Finland). She invited me to give a guest lecture at one of the annual events she organised (TAMK International Week: https://artmusicmediaweek.wordpress.com). I visited Tampere for the first time in April 2017 and fell in love with the city, its people and Finnish culture. The level of kindness and openness towards me was amazing - no one looked down on me, to them I was a young innovator who had created something worth noticing and sharing with the world. It was then that I made it my goal to move to Finland as soon as the opportunity arose. Upon my return, I gained experience in Germany at the Zeiss Industrial Metrology Department testing software for robots working on production lines in car factories. A year and a half later, I simply packed my bags and flew to Finland to sign a contract and start working.
How has your education contributed to your career development?
The projects I mentioned earlier were applications I created as final papers for my Engineering (AR Music Box) and Master's (Space Balls VR) degree. Without the knowledge gained during my studies – especially in the field of programming, which I use every day – I would certainly not have been able to create these applications, and thus I would not have walked the path from Poland, through Macedonia, Austria, to the place where I currently live. Thanks to these projects, I would never have ended up in a company dealing with VR (Virtual Reality) technology.
Tell us about your current job. What are you doing now?
For almost three years I've been working as Software Quality Assurance Lead at Glue - a platform for VR conferences, the quality of which I care about. I manage the testing team (sometimes I also test myself), I do planning, process improvement, analysis, reporting, in general, a number of different activities that aim to ensure the desired level of software quality, to the satisfaction of customers using our solution. Using Glue, you can conduct classes, workshops, business meetings without having to leave your home, let alone travel for hours on end. Just put on the VR glasses and you can have a meeting with customers from another continent, for example. Dry erasable boards, notes, screens which can be used to present various types of documents, images and video files. Our platform is constantly being developed. Recently, we have, for example, introduced gesture support, thanks to which users can shake hands in the virtual world, give a high-five, doodle or clap their hands. Because of my job I use VR almost every day. For me it is something obvious, even natural. However, it makes a huge impression on people who have not used this type of solutions so far.
source: private archive of the graduate
What are your biggest challenges now?
There are several challenges: The first is learning Finnish, which keeps me up at night. It's incredibly difficult, but maybe in a few years I'll finally be able to master it enough to speak it fairly fluently on a daily basis. The second problem - which is almost gone now, in fact - was adapting my body to... darkness in winter. Despite the fact that I live in the south, where there is much more sun than in the north (in Ustjoki the sun doesn't rise for 2 months in winter), the lack of sunlight is very noticeable. Drowsiness with simultaneous lack of sleep, constant feeling of tiredness is nothing else than ‘Kaamosmasennus’ or winter depression, which we fight here with vitamin D3 supplementation and high-powered lamps imitating sunlight at this time of year. The white nights in the summer season, on the other hand, are something incredibly beautiful – the days are very long and the nights not too dark – around the Arctic Circle the sun does not set for about 2 months. The last of the challenges is to go to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the global situation has thwarted my plans, plus my friends, who are quite close to me, do not even want to hear about me leaving Helsinki.
What is life and work like in the city/country you live in?
Let's start with work. Work-life balance deserves great praise here - you work as in Poland - from Monday to Friday, 7.5 hours a day + 30min lunch break. You can leave work at any time when it is convenient for you, e.g. when you have to run some errands, when you have to drop off/pick up your children, when you have to go to the doctor's, when you want to finish earlier or start later - you just leave a message on the company's chat so that others know that you are not there at the moment. I am the only Pole in my company. Most of the employees are Finnish and our colleagues are from the USA. I was very warmly welcomed by the team and I integrated very easily. One of my colleagues, when he found out that I play the saxophone, lent me one of his instruments. Some companies (like ours) have employed cooks who take care of our stomachs. This has two major advantages: we do not have to go out to eat lunch and we have the opportunity to spend time during lunch with colleagues from other departments, which has a positive effect on the atmosphere in the company. Life in Helsinki is quite pleasant. There is usually a lot going on here, especially in summer. Sometimes it is difficult to just stay at home. That is the charm of the capital city. In a few minutes you can be at one of the surrounding beaches for a swim in the sea, a game of beach volleyball or fishing. In winter you can skate, ski or snowboard. Generally, life in Finland is slower and more peaceful. Compared to Poland, I don't feel the ‘rat race’. There is no competition, just cooperation. Nature plays a huge role in this country - huge forests (75% of the area) and lakes, of which there are almost 188 thousand. A weekend trip to Mökki - a cottage with a sauna in the forest by the lake, combined with hiking in the forests – is one of the most common forms of relaxation.
source: private archive of the graduate
What is your definition of success?
You should not be afraid to take risks. In the film “The Girl Next Door”, the main character says these words: “Moral fibre. So, what is moral fibre? It's funny, I used to think it was always telling the truth, doing good deeds, basically [mumbling] being a ****ing boy scout. But lately I've been seeing it differently. Now I think moral fibre's about finding that one thing you really care about. That one special thing that means more to you than anything else in the world. And when you find her, you fight for her. You risk it all, you put her in front of everything, your future, your life, all of it. And maybe the stuff you do to help her isn't so clean. You know what? It doesn't matter. Because in your heart you know, that the juice is worth to squeeze. That's what moral fibre’s all about.” I remember when I returned from the camp in Macedonia, my brother got me a job. I refused because I had then started a training course which I did not want to leave, much to his displeasure. Completing this course did not guarantee me a job, but I knew I wanted to do it. Shortly after, I went to work in Germany and a year later in Finland, the country I had chosen 1.5 years before. After some time, my brother agreed with me that turning down that offer was the right decision. The juice was definitely worth squeezing.
What tips do you have for current students who are just entering the job market?
Be unique – make yourself stand out from the competition. The junior market is full of ‘identical’ candidates with the same boring and empty CV, which often makes it hard to find a job right after graduation. Use your thesis work to make your CV shine against the competition and someone will notice you (as in my case) or create a start-up that will succeed. When I wrote the AR Music Box as part of my engineering thesis in 2013, AR (Augmented Reality) technology was being covered by two other university colleagues. Others of the 120+ people in the year were creating various types of web portals. Similarly with my MA thesis using VR from 2015. None of my colleagues were using this technology, only one person among the teaching staff in my department was doing research in this area.
How do you envision the Jagiellonian University’s collaboration with graduates?
I don't keep track of what's currently happening at the University, so maybe this kind of solution already exists. I'm thinking of creating a sort of ‘University Hub’ connecting students with graduates (who more often than not are experts in their field) who will be sort of mentors to students/fresh graduates and companies who are interested in their ideas.