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Insights

Unprecedented Times: How Two Trainees Became Professional Software Engineers At Zühlke In The Middle Of A Global Pandemic

Liliya Lazarova

Every career path is different. But theirs is truly unique. In this post, we share the stories of two Zühlke trainees who were hired just before the world went into lockdown, who progressed to Professional Software Engineers in a matter of months, all while working remotely.

Insight in brief

  • Every career path is different. But in the case of these two Zühlke employees, theirs is truly unique.
  • As the world went into lockdown and companies across all industries realised they’d have to find new ways of working, we hired two software development trainees at our Zühlke Bulgaria office.
  • We can now happily say that despite the unprecedented challenge of working during a pandemic, they’ve progressed from being Trainees to Professional Software Engineers. 

Meet Gergana and Yavor: Our Latest Software Development Heroes

Gergana Tsvetkova is a Professional Software Engineer here at Zühlke, who’s passionate about delivering smooth, intriguing and responsive single page applications for her clients. She’s currently leading on a business app migration project for a household-name insurance company.

Gergana from Zühlke Bulgaria is working from home.

Yavor Filipov is also a Professional Software Engineer – he was actually referred to us by Gergana, who had decided about a month into joining us that, “I was so happy with my choice that I was bragging about it to everyone. I realised it wouldn’t be fair to enjoy the experience all by myself!” Yavor is currently working on an app-development project for a leading Telecommunications company.

Yavor from Zühlke Bulgaria is working from his home office.

From the outside, you might think both Gergana and Yavor had been with us for years in order to get to the level that they’re at, and to have such autonomy over these big, client-facing projects. However – both employees have actually only been with us for...six months.

How did they progress so fast? And how did they do it in the middle of one of the biggest global pandemics the world’s ever seen? Well, we believe there were three very important secrets to Gergana and Yavor’s success:

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1. A close-knit culture, despite the physical distance

There’s no rulebook for how to onboard and train employees remotely during a worldwide pandemic. But from the outset, we knew that in order for our employees to feel motivated and valued (both new and long-time employees), we couldn’t just all work alone in silos.

Fortunately, we already had a few things in place to make our people feel a little better connected when lockdown hit – one of which being our chat spaces on Microsoft Teams. Over the channels we’d set up, both Gergana and Yavor were able to find everything from important training resources, to chat forums with the people working on their projects.

It was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough – we still didn’t feel that sense of community spirit that we used to have so strongly in the office. So we decided to set up virtual ‘meets’ across the company – every single day. These included everything from group lunches and coffee sessions to brainstorms. As Yavor says, “These daily ‘ceremonies’ were how we all got our fair share of direct colleague communication.” We also have a great practice of running pair-programming sessions whenever someone gets stuck on a project, which, “Really makes a difference,” says Gergana.

Thanks to these early measures, both Gergana and Yavor were able to onboard and build strong relationships with their colleagues, despite the physical distance. Today, these daily ceremonies are still very much happening, and a great source of fun for everyone involved!

2. Dedicated, effective mentorship

As soon as Gergana and Yavor were hired, they were assigned a manager – Martin Tsarev. He helped them understand what it takes to be a successful team member here at Zühlke, and how to put their interests and passions into practice. For example, in Gergana’s case, that meant putting her on projects that used familiar technologies like Angular and Typescript, as well as new ones like C#, which kept her challenged and interested. In Yavor’s case, Martin helped him discover and learn technologies that are commonly used in client projects like Jenkins, Docker and Docker Swarm (which have since proved useful in other client projects – including his current one).

Employees at Zühlke Bulgaria are also assigned mentors when they join. Gergana’s mentor – Yordan, for example, played a significant part in helping her kickstart her new role and become a valuable member of the wider Zühlke team.

Zühlke mentors aren’t just more senior versions of their mentees – they can be anyone across the company, at any level. In fact, our Managing Director, Diana Elenkova, currently has a mentor who is in his fourth year of studying Computer Science while also working as a Professional Software Engineer for Zühlke (on a project for one of the largest reinsurance groups in the world). Both Gergana and Yavor say their mentors have been critical to their rapid progress here at Zühlke.

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3. An open environment that rewards creativity

The third secret to Gergana and Yavor’s success is by far the most important – it’s that the culture here at Zühlke is one centered around creativity and innovation. As Yavor puts it, “Everyone here at Zühlke is happy to help whenever I want to improve or dive deeper into something. I’m constantly finding new things to tackle, and genuinely have the freedom to learn whatever I like.” For example, Yavor got assigned to a client project with the initial goal of working with the front-end exclusively but, since then, he’s realised he has an active interest in learning more about DevOps. Now that his manager and teammates are aware of this, he’s learning fast and rapidly improving in that area.

Similarly Gergana says, “It’s one of the first things I noticed about Zühlke – everyone’s so motivated and willing to teach others how to do what they do, and how to develop further. It’s the most important thing for us.”

Another factor that Gergana and Yavor attribute their success to is having the flexibility to work with a wide range of technologies, and to have a say in which technologies get used on their projects. As Gergana puts it, “We’re unconstrained by technology here. We have different languages across different teams, so whenever a project comes our way, we’re able to choose the best solutions. If you want to work with GO, for example, then you just tell your line manager and they’ll do everything they can to make it happen and assign you to a project using that language."

Where will your Zühlke journey take you?

We’re super excited for the future of Gergana and Yavor’s careers here at Zühlke. In fact, both employees are already on the way to their next big achievements. Gergana is now freely working and actively involved in the Frontend and Database architecture, and is looking to develop her skills further in that area. Yavor has just been assigned the task of creating a new CI/CD pipeline infrastructure for a new service that features in his current project.

Their advice for future candidates? Yavor says, “Motivation is the most important factor here at Zühlke. Because it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to learn – as long as you’re consistent, and proactively looking for help from your teammates, then you will succeed.”

Like the sound of following in Gergana and Yavor’s footsteps and becoming a team member here at Zühlke? Then we’d love to hear from you. You can take a look at our current vacancies here: