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From self-taught to professional software engineer at Zühlke in Serbia


From chess to coding

“I have been playing chess all my life,” says Aleksandar Marković, a Professional Software Engineer at Zühlke Serbia. “I almost reached a professional level when I was younger. So, problem-solving and love of strategically overcoming challenges are in my blood. I think this has helped me become an expert software engineer.”

Insight in brief

  • Understand what it takes to be a software engineer – from someone who taught himself to code.
  • Discover what it’s like to be part of Zühlke’s buzzy Belgrade team.
  • Learn about flexible working, international games nights & being a ‘Black Panther’.

As well as an ongoing dedication to chess, Aleksandar trained at technical school and college in railway engineering. But soon, he realised it was not only very hard to get into, but also not the right career for him. Like railways that connect different cities, countries and cultures, software coding then emerged on Aleksandar’s vocational horizon and he started teaching himself from scratch. So began his one-and-a-half-year solo journey - educating himself in a huge variety of developer skills for 8-12 hours a day – to become the expert he is today.

Career change

“None of my friends or family were in IT or software,” explains Aleksandar. “My father was in transport, that’s how I started to learn about railways. But when I decided to change career direction, I had no one to look to for guidance.”

After a lot of research online, Aleksandar realised that, with time and commitment, he could start educating himself, without taking an official course. With a copy of ‘Java 8 for Dummies’ and the internet at his fingertips, he began to learn the ‘easiest programming language’ first.

“The first time I installed Java and typed in the program from the book, it threw up 50 errors,” he remembers, frustratedly. “And I didn’t have anyone to ask for help. That would have been the easiest time to give up. But, twenty minutes later I had resolved the problem, understood the theory and the rest is history. Every day after that became more interesting and more fun.”

Frontend to full stack

For Aleksandar, it was as if with every different subject he learned another door opened and he’d discover more and more about backend, frontend and databases. With a huge volume of knowledge now bubbling away in his mind, he went on to get his first coding job. Despite it being advertised as a Java Developer, it turned out to be more of a full-stack role – further deepening his skills and putting his theoretical learning into practice.

Recently, he was recruited by Zühlke Serbia and is now an integral part of the Belgrade team. Knowledge sharing, collaboration, brainstorming and strategic planning ahead are all important parts of his every day.

Beyond the technical

“It’s a myth that being a software engineer is all about computers,” insists Aleksandar. “Previously, developers may have been happy sitting in the corner typing code. But now, especially at Zühlke, as systems get larger, the role cannot be purely technical. And there are so many opportunities to learn and develop. I have already signed up for two courses: clean code and giving feedback. As part of an international organisation, interacting with many other nationalities and teams is not only necessary, it’s also hugely enjoyable. So, a variety of skills and knowledge is needed.”

Currently working as a developer on a highly collaborative telecoms project – a big platform with multiple applications - Aleksandar has been assigned to the ‘Black Panther’ team (think Marvel movies). But, Zühlke’s team-building goes on way after the day job finishes, with frequent interactive game nights across the world.

Beautiful Belgrade

Aleksandar is setting his sights on returning to Zühlke’s Belgarde office in the heart of the ‘beautiful and spacious’ business district. With Zühlke organising COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees wherever possible, it’s hoped that’ll be soon. For now, he’s on the Ready employment package albeit working from home remotely, but he appreciates the professional flexibility that’s available to him in the future.

“At Zühlke Serbia, you have the option to work full-time, overtime, or just 80 or 60 percent of the time,” says Aleksandar. “You won’t always be in the same place in life. It’s great to know you can work more and earn more when the time is right. But there will be moments when you need more free time. I really appreciate this flexibility and I haven’t come across this anywhere else before. And I would never have met so many different people from so many countries and cultures in railway engineering.”

For now, Aleksandar is wondering which colleague he can take on – and take down - in a virtual game of chess.

You don’t have to have taught yourself software development or be a semi-professional chess player, but if you think you have potential, we’d like to hear from you.

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