‘Hallelujah, I’ve finally found a developer!’ Not a sentiment I would have imagined myself thinking a few months ago but one that apparently isn’t uncommon to Recruitment Agents, HR Personnel and IT Managers here in Gibraltar.
I’ve been looking for a developer to speak to for a while now, I didn’t mind if it was software, web, front-end, full stack, heck, I don’t even know what the distinction is between those things anyway – but I want to get an insight into what it’s like to be a developer here within the iGaming or Cryptocurrency industries. I want to know what it has to offer and why there is such a demand for them.
So when Full Stack Developer Susanna Kosic’s details were sent to me from a mutual contact, I couldn’t wait to arrange a meeting with her. I was especially keen to meet the woman whose Skype status was ‘I ♥ my job’ – I mean seriously, is anyone that happy at work? It’s work, right? Well, apparently, she really is! So, I was even more curious to know what’s so great about being a developer in Gibraltar. (Career change on the cards?)
We sit outside on the terrace at Wagamama’s in the beautiful Ocean Village and I ask Susanna to explain to me (slowly) what it is she actually does. Susanna is currently a Full Stack Developer at Playtech Games Innovation Labs. PlayTech is an iGaming software development company that provides products for online casinos, poker rooms and sportsbooks. They create and develop games like live dealer, slots and scratchcards, bingo, poker and fixed odds arcade games. If you’ve ever worked in the iGaming Industry you will know what a huge player they are – and from what Susanna tells me they are only going to get bigger.
When I ask Susanna how she became a developer I don’t get a response I’m expecting at all – but then maybe I should have anticipated it from someone with an obviously analytical mind… She tells me that ‘Based on statistics in 2002, software development was one of the most promising job markets – which turned out to be true! So, I said OK, let’s try this.’ Hmmm. Makes me think I’m going about my career choices in all the wrong ways! I just needed to check some stats! She explains what it is about it that she loves so much: it’s basically problem-solving in a creative environment. ‘My job is about building features using modern technologies and languages. An important part of this process is problem solving. I enjoy focusing on the problems and coming up with different solutions for them. When there is no pressure, I am in the zone and times goes quickly. This inspires me, and that is the reason why I am passionate about coding and software development.’
’Also, it is very important to me to achieve personal growth. Software development is a very innovative space. Keeping up to date with evolving technologies is a constant challenge. I enjoy learning new things and keep growing as a developer to enable me to build more elegant and efficient solutions to problems’
With Susanna’s blatant passion for her career sitting quite happily on the table between us, I probe further into her current role and project. She explains that she’s working within a team who are currently nearing completion on an industry changing product called Playtech Games Marketplace.
Playtech have built and provided games to iGaming operators for years, the operators, all with their different front-end platforms, as well as Playtech, have had to adapt, adjust and perform various manual processes to the games and the platforms to make them ‘fit’, as it were. Marketplace is a revolutionary piece of tech that came about as a solution to this issue; as Susanna explains ‘It provides an interface for content studios to distribute their games and for operators to install them into their portals through a user-friendly interface. It makes the process of distributing games much easier and saves time by automating processes’.
Now I understand the aim of the project I want to know more about the practicalities of it; talk of prototypes and portals is all very well and good for my sci-fi loving side but the pragmatist in me wants to know what it is about this role in particular that she loves so much. Susanna is unequivocal as she tells me that the reason she has enjoyed this project so much is the autonomy the team has had over the project because they have built it all from scratch. This is apparently a completely different way of working than just developing someone else’s software – when trying to fix an issue in an application that has been built by someone else there is something she refers to as a technical debt. It means that when you fix one bit you break another! ‘In this project we are starting from the ground up – so that’s really cool.’
Having spent some time in both the Canary Islands and Barcelona, Susanna, who is originally from Italy, found that working as a developer in other industries could be a frustrating experience – the smaller software development companies were trying to eke out bigger profit margins by skimping on the time they would allow for the development to be done, and getting a lot of the groundwork done by underexperienced interns. This led to products that weren’t what they could have, or should have been. Susanna explains ‘In software development time allocation is key to a project’s completion. Building features with minimum quality requires time for development and testing. Creating valid algorithms requires time for analysis, design and implementation. An algorithm is a list of instructions that a tool or computer can understand and implies the knowledge of a specific language or framework, so it also requires learning time.’
The job market for developers was also very competitive and salaries were low so when a friend of a friend got in touch with Susanna and told her about the iGaming industry here in Gibraltar she was curious to say the least! Or at least she was as soon as she had google-mapped it and found ‘a tiny dot near to Cadiz’. She laughs as she goes on to say that she’d no idea it even existed. ‘He told me you know it’s kind of a nice British colony in the south of Spain. I went ‘What!?’. He explained to me that they speak both English and Spanish and there are a lot of foreign companies and they pay really well and conditions are extremely good. I was like, sorry – that place is in the Spanish peninsula and I know nothing about it?!’
So, she sent her CV off and before she knew it, she had been offered a UI Developer role with a gaming firm here and was flying south to start a new chapter in her career and her life! Susanna recalls how she felt at the time – ‘I had no hesitation at all, especially because of the recommendation I had from the friend of my friend who had worked here for more than two years. He told me how amazing it was working here in Gibraltar, in terms of company resources, development teams, salaries, bonuses, technologies used here, company culture etc etc’. I ask her if he was right about these things and she tells me vehemently, ‘Absolutely. It was the best decision I ever made in my career.’
Susanna is part of team that are all involved in the hiring process for a new member. Ultimately the decision will fall at the Team Leader’s feet but it is certainly interesting to hear what kind of professional and personal traits she looks for when she is involved in the interview process. She explains that strong technical skills are everything – software is built in a stack – layer upon layer of tools and a developer needs to know how each of these tools functions. She goes on to say that by establishing how many features of each tool a developer is aware of and understands, it gives her a clear understanding of their level of expertise: ‘I try to look at how deeply the candidate has explored the language features. It is often a good sign when a candidate has proved that they’ve invested time and effort in learning and comparing which was the best option for specific cases.’
As for your personal traits, well, that’s actually pretty simple, as long as you can leave your ego at home and have an open mind you’ll be set! As Susanna says: ‘I have found myself in the past fighting against other developers for ego reasons; when I was discussing something but the discussion doesn’t necessarily lead you to a better product or a better decision, it’s just for the sake of saying ‘because I know more than you’.’ Staying flexible is also very important apparently; as sometimes finding a solution is great, but you might be asked to find another or another – ‘I’m looking for someone that can listen – even if that person is able to provide a valid solution to a problem, we need a person that is flexible; meaning that he’s open to alternative ideas and open to maybe trying alternative solutions to see which is best.’
So what else makes Susanna ♥ her job so much? It’s the entire industry apparently, and it all comes down to resources! I asked Susanna at this point if she would recommend the iGaming Industry to other developers and she positively lit up – she explained that a lot of developers working in other industries maybe wouldn’t realise how well resourced the iGaming Industry is and how much of a difference it makes working with a full set of resources at your fingertips.
Gaming companies are rich in resources and, according to Susanna, this makes all the difference to the working life of a developer. They are, generally speaking, building big projects which they aim to have a long life-cycle for, so they need to be maintainable and to perform. Therefore, the projects are heavily funded and resourced. The ethos seems to be to have it ‘done right’ rather than ‘done quick’ and there’s no issue of a lack of licences for the tools, training for the systems and tools needed is readily provided and there’s certainly no shortage of experienced, talented colleagues to work with and learn from! She states again that coming to Gibraltar to work in this industry was the best career decision she ever made.
By the end of this conversation I realise that whilst maybe I’m not cut out to be a developer (I’ll stick to marketing, thanks) but that exciting times and opportunities are afoot for anyone who has the right skill set and wants to develop and grow their career, their knowledge and themselves.
By Amy Reyes