Mikhail (Michael) Filipchuk

AGE: 30
INTERESTS: Coding is my main interest. I do rock climbing and sometimes I volunteer on some side project.

Tell us more about where you are from and what shaped you:

Originally, I am from Moscow, Russia. I was born in the USSR, in Dushanbe, formally Tajik SSR now Tajikistan. I lived there until the age of 4, then we had to leave because there was a war. At a very young age, I was a child actor. Surprisingly I made it and I have been around the whole world just because of that. I was one of the three leading actors in a film. I just kind of got lucky, I didn’t have any developed acting skills or extreme talent. While in school I was super interested in math and all the things related to precise sciences, coding, and physics. I studied math because it made the most sense. But it was abstract, I wanted to study something you could observe.

I completed a bachelor’s degree in general and applied physics. Afterward, I earned a master’s degree in quantum radiophysics. Quantum radiophysics is a branch of physics that studies the quantum effects of radiation (like light or microwaves). My project involved solid-state infrared lasers. I published 2-3 scientific papers in journals. I had some business ideas about what to do with that. It was hard to pursue mostly because of the problems with customs. In Russia, it is hard to bring in new equipment. Here in the U.S., you can order whatever you need. Any startup that is based on technical equipment, time is crucial, and I realized I was not able to make it. The startup was based on a solid-state laser that could potentially be used for skin therapy usage.

What did you do before 42?

After moving on from the startup, I was working as a management consultant. It was my first 3 years on the job. I got to see my own country and see what they are working on, what their conditions are like, and how businesses are run. It made me realize that in this role I was also working as an analyst building models and programs. First in Excel and then scripting. Then I transitioned to being an analyst in a logistics company for another 3 years.

After I transitioned to being the head of analytics, I realized how to manage people and concepts from the moment of their creation. It was a good perspective, all of the logistics depend on systems and how they collect and process data. With algorithms and data acquisition I saw the direct approach with how to build something I actually need for smart analysis systems. But I didn’t have the skills needed to do that. One of my coworkers read about 42 and he was thinking of going on a trip there to check it out. He was second in line to me and I told him you can be the head of analytics, that I need to learn (to myself I was just thinking that it can be a cool adventure). So we switched roles and I went to 42.

First thing I realized is that I enjoy coding very much and being in control because it is up to you. Especially when it comes to both design and implementation, which I am genuinely concerned about. Right now I work mostly on the backend and infrastructure when it comes to reliability, performance, monitoring, and data engineering issues.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

It is very interesting because concerning real experience I didn’t have any. But when it comes to interest it was my entire life. When I was 5 or 6 years old my favorite book was a Professor Fortran’s Encyclopedia where there were a cat, a bird, and some robots all trying to code. It was very fascinating to me. My first experience with a computer was when I was 4 or 5 years old. When I was around 8 or 9 years old I used the money I got from acting in the movie “The Thief” to buy my first computer system.

Generally, in school, we had a pretty good education when it came to basic programming. Also, I had two semesters in assembly scripting in my university. In addition, you need to be familiar with both Python and Matlab to be able to analyze data doing scientific research during a bachelor thesis and master’s program. When it comes to production code, or something like that, or writing a basic application I never did anything like that. But I was always solving some tasks or problems where I used the same problem-solving skills that you use with programming.  

What did you like best about your 42 experience?

The community. I think 42’s community is the best one because most of my life wherever I went, people were doing stuff they didn’t necessarily like. Fellow students at university, or most people I encountered at my work in the past, they didn’t seem very enthusiastic about what they were doing. With 42 it was a completely different atmosphere. They were very excited about everything around coding and they wanted to excel. It was the first time I communicated with everyone because they all liked doing the same stuff.

That type of community gives you personal growth and growth in your profession. A lot of people who had traditional college degrees said they learned more in 3 or 4 months at 42 than any other program they had done. I think it is that atmosphere that encourages people to push their limits. Motivation comes from being challenged by other people around you. That is the core strength of 42, that drive and sense of community.

Is there anything that you do now at work that you don’t think would come as easily if you hadn’t attended 42?

I would say that definitely interacting with people is one of the core things. Most of the time when you solve a problem you can’t do it only for yourself. You need to read other people’s code, understand their solutions and style, explain well enough your decisions and that is part of the 42 program. Mostly, like the other part of it, I was able to think in purely logical terms for quite some time without much effort. That is a prereq for any engineer when it comes to problem-solving. Without this habit I wouldn’t be good enough. One bootcamp for 2 or 3 months won’t give you the right mindset to perform your tasks. 42 promotes learning skills, and you need to constantly learn or you are out, and that is how my current job is as well.

How did you get your foot in the door where you work?

42 has guest speakers that come and speak to students. Tomer Kagan, Co-founder, and CEO at Sigma did a cool presentation about idea management. He told us how he basically interacts with ideas. How he made a startup and he discussed his whole process, how he sometimes talks to a 100 people to see if an idea is good enough to proceed to the next stage. I was super motivated by his talk and moved by his system. I wanted to ask him what he was working on and his ideas. He pitched the idea of Sigma and how any achievement you have is a merit that distinguishes you and enables you to do other stuff.

Tomer was promoting meritocracy that is based on your personal achievements. That is one of the core philosophies I admire and when I realized what he is talking about I later asked if he was looking for interns. He said they weren’t right now but they could look into it. So I sent my resume to Sigma and eventually was contacted by Omer Zach who is currently head of engineering at Sigma. I interviewed and they said sure, come work with us. They decided to sponsor a visa for me. It seems like they love what I do and I love the team and what they do as well.

Describe what you do:

Sigma is a platform that accumulates all people’s achievements in one place. Basically creating a space with verified electronic identities and we rely on interactions between person and organization which acts as a source of truth when providing a certain type of Merit (achievement). Whatever you did in your life, you can have it on your phone and it can only be issued by the verified organization. It is convenient because you always have your phone nearby. You have a lot of value just in your pocket without looking back in “the archives.” Like if you are a doctor or lawyer and need to prove your credentials, you can show your license through Sigma.

Right now we are known mostly in the skydiving industry for providing and managing skydiver licenses via our platform. I am a full stack engineer, we have a small team of five on our engineering team right now. We are not allowed to have one specialization because we need to work across the stack. But we do have our focus and our expertise or strengths over the other team members. I am into the backend and infrastructure which also includes testing, monitoring, deployments, and other things related to it. There are so many elements to that. Basically just going through Google Cloud Platform and seeing how many elements are on there is mind blowing. I am learning new pieces every day.

What does your typical workday look like?

My morning starts around 9 am and by 10 am I’m at work. In the morning I read the latest articles about IT that are going around. For an hour and a half, I go through code reviews or schedule things. Every day we have a standup with all product and all engineering. We go through problems, talk about communicating with team members and go over points of progress.

After that most of the time is spent straight coding until lunch time. For lunch, it depends on what is going on. Sometimes I eat with colleagues or during an interview with a candidate or just sit alone and think. After that, it is back to work until 7 pm or 8 pm most of the time. After work sometimes I volunteer on some side project to contribute to the community and diversify my skill set. Or I go rock climbing, or just watch anime and shows with friends.

Would you recommend the 42 program and if so, why?

I would definitely recommend 42 for people who can motivate themselves or want to challenge themselves. I have seen a couple of guys who went to 42 and they weren’t up to challenging themselves. When you can’t wake up or motivate yourself you will be left behind. I recommend 42 for those who want to have connections with people who like to do what you like to do, and who are connected to the enthusiasts in your field. Your peers are going to accomplish great things. So learning best practices from them is a really good foundation, socially and technically.

Do you have any advice for 42 students when it comes to securing an internship or job?

42 students have the necessary technical skills, and they also have the skills needed to share their knowledge. What I realize now about the job search is the constant imposter syndrome, and it brings down one’s confidence. The skills that 42 students have are very big. They may need to work on communication but they have a good foundation for that. A little bit of higher understanding of how to talk about what they are doing and how it is connected with general applications. That is one thing where it is better to go through several general concepts from how networks work to database normalization. Ask yourself, can you implement this stuff? Do you know how it works? We all encounter real-life production applications, it’s a good idea to understand what they are based on.

There are a lot of good education materials on general application infrastructure components, for example, there’s Qwiklabs by Google, so going through Google Cloud Essentials will give you a good overview of what you can see there. Triplebyte and AngelList are job platforms you can go through for interviews.

“42 students have an amazing foundation, a good approach to self-education and self-motivation”

When it comes to actual onsite interviews, one of the things people should try to understand and develop is you don’t want to use ugly code anywhere. Clearly name your variables, clearly structure, it is way better even if it takes some time to do so. Anyone should be able to look at your code and read it and understand what is going on. 42 students have an amazing foundation, a good approach to self-education and self-motivation. You need to bring these qualities to the interview because that is what is unique about what the school offers. A lot of people try to fake that sense of self-motivation, you can fake it all you want, but it is still visible when you talk about a project.

Your drive is a definite advantage. You should not be shy about your projects and your experience and bring it in full force. It doesn’t matter what language you used, what matters is the architecture, the design, what your thoughts about it are, and how you solved it. Even seemingly obvious stuff for any 42 student like managing memory is one of the fundamentals and a lot of people do not know much about that. All the skills you learn at 42 can be used. They may not all be direct but approach it with the experience and creativity you have and it will be transferable for whatever language you choose after that. It is all about logic and problem-solving.


Connect with Mikhail on LinkedIn

Photos by 42’s in-house photographer, Priscilla Vongdara

Interview by: Stacey Faucett