From Circus to coding - how Milos turned COVID into an opportunity

From Circus to coding - how Milos turned COVID into an opportunity

At 32 years of age and after 10 years of climbing the ranks in the theatre industry, Milos Dokic from Australia had to start again because of the pandemic.

While many entertainment workers weathered the storm, Milos mustered the discipline to explore his growing interest in programming, enroll in a university course, and get ahead. The university course was fine but when Milos started to look for work he realized he was totally unprepared. There weren't many jobs around C or C++, which he was learning at school, and because Milos hadn't yet graduated, he didn't have any credentials to get in the door.

Around that time, Milos discovered Scrimba and the Front-end Developer career path! He built some exciting front-end projects and developed a stand-out portfolio and LinkedIn page. Along the way, he realized more of his experience was transferrable than he first thought.

Milos joins us to share all the specific details about how he found his job and what the interview process looked like. You will learn more about what to expect and how to succeed yourself!


Timestamps

  • Introduction (0:00)
  • Milos' journey from Cirque du Soleil  to Junior Developer (00:50)
  • When the pandemic hit Cirque du Soleil came to a halt but Milos was determined to turn it around (05:54)
  • How Scrimba compared to Milos' experience at university? (09:31)
  • Milos' experience buying a CV template from Etsy (10:19)
  • Staying focused and on-track even when you experience setbacks (13:28)
  • How learning Linux helped Milos feel comfortable with commands and servers (14:48)
  • How Milos specifically found this job and what the interview process looked like  (15:49)
  • Milos' take-home task and how it went (17:56)
  • Changing carers at 32 and after 10 years in theatre (20:42)
  • How to stand out among thousands of developers according to Milos (22:42)

Transcript

Alex Booker (00:01):
Welcome to The Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior developer job. Today, I'm joined by Milos who, would you believe it, used to work at Cirque du Soleil. Now, I know what you're thinking, but he did not work as a gymnast, nor a circus ring master, but rather an automation technician. There's a lot to that job and a small, small part of it was coding. So when the pandemic hit and unfortunately, all the shows came to a halt, Milos decided to pursue programming and web development as a potential career avenue. And today, I'm really excited to share that Milos succeeded and became a junior developer, in part, using Scrimba. I'm really excited to see what we can learn from Milos, so let's get into it.

Milos (00:50):
I started my career around 10 years ago in entertainment, starting on the cruise ships, and I started as just a techie man backstage, hooking up bands and setting up scenery. And there, I pushed to learn more about automation, which is very niche market, a specific type of job that you don't see in a lot of places. Anything that you see in shows, in theater, that moves, that's basically automation. When you see performers flying through the air or something like that, or any massive scenery moving around, that's basically what I've done. I got promoted into that and I loved it. It was just the best job ever, to be honest, and the job is you become, I don't know, a master of a lot of things, because you deal with PLCs, programming PLCs. You deal with a lot of different softwares. Then on the other side, you deal with mechanics, with electronics, with hydraulics, with random stuff, just all the time. That's when I found a little bit of interest in coding, because it's all connected and you want to know how it all works behind the scenes, I guess.

Alex Booker (02:04):
What is a PLC, exactly? I just searched it up. Is it programmable logic controller?

Milos (02:09):
Yeah. So it's basically, if you have a winch, you would have a PLC between your desk and a motor, that will talk to that motor and tell it to what position to go, to what speed it wants to go to, and what acceleration, deceleration, all of the fun stuff. It tells it where's the limit switches, and stuff like that. So that's what makes, in theater, every single show, exactly perfect and the same, because you would want the flights to always be the same and safe. That's where the PLC comes into play.

Alex Booker (02:44):
And you programmed that with a specific language, or is it using some visual software?

Milos (02:49):
Yeah. Visual software and yeah, you can dive into that kind of world where you can learn how to program Beckhoffs and Siemens PLCs and yeah, also coding kind of side of it, but it's all connected. When you think of it, it's all kind of connected.

Alex Booker (03:07):
Sounds awesome. I've never met someone who got into programming that way and it sounds like yeah, you're having a great time. I guess you got to travel a bit, whether it was on the cruise ships or setting up in different places. I guess when the pandemic hit, that was kind of not good news for the stuff you were doing.

Milos (03:24):
No, absolutely. Yeah. I've been around with cruise ships and touring with Cirque du Soleil as well.

Alex Booker (03:32):
You worked at Cirque du Soleil? That's amazing.

Milos (03:34):
Yeah. I ended up being around 60 plus countries. That was amazing experience and you just don't find that in any other job, at least I've never seen it. But yeah, my goal was continuously to push and learn more and to be able to get to the level that you get into Cirque du Soleil. Cirque du Soleil was always stuff the people talk about, best of the best go there, and stuff like that. And yeah, I was working for cruise ships and then from there, I moved to Australia, started living there, and then from there I moved to Macau, worked in casino for six months. And then from there, I finally made it to Cirque du Soleil, so that's the span of 10 years of my career to build up to get to that point.

Alex Booker (04:13):
Would it be fair to say that Cirque du Soleil is like the Microsoft or the Google of the theater world?

Milos (04:25):
Yeah. Pretty much. Exactly. And yeah, I loved it. It was the best thing ever, but for me it was cut short so much because I was only there for four months before the pandemic hit. So I dropped everything, I moved to Europe and joined Cirque du Soleil and I was in Germany when everything hit, and entertainment is the first one who got shut down. I mean, not even air companies or hotels were not shut down. The entertainment was first to go. It was pretty devastating. I was there with my Mrs. And yeah, we were both working there and yeah, in March, we had to move back to Melbourne.

Milos (05:04):
It was a hard moment, I guess, losing all of it just when you got it, but yeah, I mean, I was born in Serbia and I lived there most of my life. I've kind of lived in very turbulent country where I didn't have much and had to make it from nothing, so I kind of was in some sense prepared for it all. I've seen worse, I guess, so when it all happened and I came back to Australia, I was like, "Well, you know what? It could be worse." I've seen worse, I've experienced it, and at least here we had a government that was paying us for that first year when it hit. We had food on the table, a roof over our head, so it wasn't that terrible.

Alex Booker (05:51):
It wasn't great, but you had a good outlook, didn't you?

Milos (05:53):
Yes. Exactly.

Alex Booker (05:54):
You started, I guess, quite quickly to take some of that enthusiasm for configuring software, and did you start learning to code front end and websites? Was that the first thing you tried?

Milos (06:05):
It was bizarre. My Mrs. was actually pissed off at me because we came from Germany to Melbourne into a lockdown. Well, not lockdown. First isolation, right? We got Airbnb and got in two weeks isolation and I decided, well, I have to do something with myself. This is all a question mark. Nobody knew what's going to happen, how long it's going to go for, it was all up in the air. So I wanted to, rather than think of all of the bad things, I decided to get straight away into something, use that time, those two weeks, and she was actually pissed at me because we didn't spend that much time together even though we were at the same place isolating. I got a course online. I just wanted to see if I will be interested to learn more about coding. And I got, I don't even remember what was the course. It was just something that I wanted to try out to help keeping my attention or not. After those two weeks, I was like, "Yeah, I can see myself doing this."

Milos (07:04):
I found it interesting, and I was always kind of interested in it, but never had time to actually spend time and properly learn it. So yeah, when we got out of that isolation, we pretty much went straight into the lockdown. Most of the countries did. And yeah, I decided, "Well, I have to be inside of the house anyway. I'll use this time. I'll use this year or however long this takes to learn something and to better myself." So I jumped into computer science for an actual bachelor's degree. I went full on. I was like, "Okay, I'm going to dedicate myself. I'm going to do this. There's nothing else to do. Either I'm going to sit and watch Netflix all day or play games or something and do nothing basically, or I'm actually going to learn something." I set my plan. I was like, "I'm going to do a whole year of this, and then next year, I'm going to start applying for jobs." And that's what I did.

Milos (08:00):
I went full on applying into the uni and getting four units done that year, and that was C++, there was some C-sharp, there was a lot of SQL and stuff like that. I was like, "Okay, this is interesting. This is all happening and I'm progressing and all of that," and then I finished that year and I was like, "Okay, I need to apply for jobs," and when I looked at the market, I was like, "Well, it's very hard to get into a job where you're going to get a job as a C++ engineer or something like that as a just nobody." Most of the jobs are web development so I was like, well, I have no clue about this. I have no knowledge about this. I have to learn this now, and then I jumped on Scrimba. I was just Googling to see where is a whole package that I can find and just learn it and not waste time. I needed to find job yesterday.

Alex Booker (09:00):
Just a quick question, Milos, if you don't mind. I'm just wondering, most kind of bachelor degrees doing computer science are like, what? Three? Three, four years, maybe? But I think you're describing so of looking for a job after a year. Can you just fill me in?

Milos (09:12):
Yeah, so here in Australia at least, it's either part-time or full-time and it's online, well, everything is online now, but they were offering online or in-person back then. So I was like, "Perfect. If I get a job, I can do it part time."

Alex Booker (09:27):
You're still studying, essentially. You're just doing it alongside a full-time job.

Milos (09:31):
Yes.

Alex Booker (09:31):
That's cool. Okay. Good for you, man. How does Scrimba compared to the online university experience?

Milos (09:37):
There's a unit that does web development and I haven't taken it, I'm actually interested in doing it there just to see and compare it. The units I've done a pretty good. I enjoy it, but yeah, I'm interested to see how web development specific subject compares, and I'll probably find out next year. But yeah, I started doing Scrimba and it's like you make a plan and then you start adjusting it because you've figured out, "Well, I need to know web development. I have to learn all of this stuff." And then when you do that, you're like, "Okay, I can start applying for jobs, but I guess I need a nice looking CV." Then you start chasing up a CV. I ended up just buying a CV, I think on Etsy, or something like that.

Alex Booker (10:19):
Oh, really?

Milos (10:19):
Yeah. You can get CVs that are like 10, 15 bucks. Not really expensive or crazy, but enough to stand out. I was like, "Okay, so now I'm set. I have a bunch of courses I've done online, I have Scrimba, I started uni so I can put all of that on the CV. Okay. I need to sort out my LinkedIn." Okay. Change all of that to be specific because I'm transitioning from this whole background that is automation to something completely new, so you have to tailor that. After that, I was like, "Well, I might as well make a portfolio or something." So then I started doing that and then figuring out how Netlify works and how I can host it and make it work. Then following that is like, "Okay, well, everybody talks about, you have to have a GitHub. You have to have all of these things." So I was like, okay, so this is just building and building. It takes time. It actually takes a lot of time.

Alex Booker (11:17):
If you are enjoying this episode of the weekly Scrimba Podcast, please do us a favor and share it with your friends on social media. Word of mouth is the single best way to support a podcast that you like, so thanks in advance. Next week, I'm really excited to bring you an episode with Florin Pop, who is the author of Ten++ Ways to Make Money as a Developer. In the episode, we talk about the book and his contents, which basically outline a bunch of different ways you can make money as a developer, such as the traditional career routes. There's nothing wrong with that and Florin agrees, but we also spoke about freelancing, how to create your own content. We even spoke about starting your own technology-based businesses and products. It all requires a lot of hard work and there's no guarantee of success, but I'm super excited to lay out all the options for you with Florin.

Florin Pop (12:06):
When I look back at my journey, I would do it exact same way. I started creating content for free, and then when I saw a need in the market, I created a digital product, my book, and then the course, and the next thing will be a SAS eventually. Besides my passion for programming and my passion for teaching and inspiring others, I also am passionate about the business side of things. What I've learned along the way is that it's very wise to have multiple sources of income and not just rely on one source, because if that source crashes, then you are in a bad situation and you want to avoid that.

Alex Booker (12:44):
That is next week on the weekly Scrimba Podcast. It's going to be an amazing episode so please make sure you subscribe in your podcast app of choice, be that Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, wherever you like, and I'll see you there. Back to the interview with Milos. Can I ask you, Milos, what was your sort of strategy and how did you manage your time and doing this? Because if you see me glancing in my other monitor, it's because I'm checking out your portfolio, your GitHub, your LinkedIn and your resume. I'm so impressed with all of them. They look amazing and they have so much content within them. You've actually got a few projects and you've written descriptions for each project and a bit more information. I think a lot of people aspire to do that, but it's quite a lot of hard work. Things get in the way sometimes.

Milos (13:28):
Oh, absolutely, and I think it's important to understand that you do get discouraged and you do give up in certain times when you get burned out. Like if you smash yourself, and I've done it so many times, days and after days of just coding and learning and learning, you see that moment when you're like, "I just spent two hours and I have no idea what I was looking at. I have no idea what I've learned. I didn't learn anything." And you have to give up basically, on that day.

Milos (13:57):
You have to go and recharge and do something completely different. There's definitely those moments where you just feel terrible. You're like, "Well, I'm never going to learn all of this." You have to learn all the basics, all the HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and then you jump into react and then all of a sudden, well, you need to learn how to use Git, and then besides that, you have to learn how to use command line. It's very important as well, and it's just building up and building and you're like, "How am I going to master all of this?" There's never enough time and it's just insane.

Alex Booker (14:31):
It's like the first thing you learn, the first thing you really learn is that you can't learn it all. And then you don't realize how little you know until you've gone down that path for a while. And then you realize, well, it's okay, right? Because that's why there are specialists and there are different skill sets but yeah, it's overwhelming, for sure.

Milos (14:48):
One of the things that helped me a lot was I have a friend from uni, his name is Brad, and he was continuously bugging me to get Linux on my system. So he's like, "Install Linux. It's pretty cool, you learn a lot. It's going to be painful to set it all up, it's going to be all this," and I was like, "You're not really selling me on this," but he's like, "But you'll learn a lot." So we went and installed the actual Linux, which is painful.

Alex Booker (15:15):
So let me get this right. Your first Linux distribution was Arch Linux, which is often regarded the most advanced version of Linux. Not exactly playing on easy mode, are you Milos?

Milos (15:26):
No, but yeah, that helped me a lot because once it was set up, I started using it for coding, specifically just work and study, and when I finally got a job, using command line continuously just sped up a lot of things that I bumped into work. I was like, "Oh, okay. Well, I know this. Yeah, this makes sense."

Alex Booker (15:49):
You work at a company called Walker Corporation. What is the role, exactly? And how did it come about?

Milos (15:54):
I started applying for jobs in January, right? It was one of those things when you applied for hundreds of jobs and hope to get a call from one company. In the meantime, I got a job actually working for Harry Potter. I was back in the theater and this specific job I applied back then in January, and I got a call actually in March. When I got a call, I was actually not sure which job was this. I applied for so many jobs, I wasn't even sure, but yeah, they basically called me, they said, "Can we set up an interview?" We had a quick chat and they're like, "We're going to do a followup interview with the rest of the team."

Alex Booker (16:37):
This initial call was just a kind of screening call, it sounds like. Maybe 15, 20 minutes, just getting to know you a little bit.

Milos (16:43):
Yes. Just a very short call just to see what I've done, what I know. I think they just wanted to see that I'm a normal guy, that you can have a proper conversation. It wasn't technical at all. So basically, just to see if I'm interested, which I was, absolutely. I was praying for one call from anyone. Yeah, then the second interview was meeting the team and they said to me, "Here's a website we want you to build, here's a PDF, how it should look," so there's just an image of the website that they want me to build.

Milos (17:18):
They were like, "Just use plain CSS, HTML, and JavaScript and don't use any bootstrap or anything like that." So I was like, "Yeah, cool. Fair enough." But like I said, I was working at Harry Potter at that time and the hours were insane. Absolutely insane. I was working 12, 13 hour shifts and then driving home, so that's additional hours, so it's like 13 hours, and you have to go and sit in front of a monitor. Well, before that I was sitting in front of monitors running automation, and you have to go home and then code a website which is mobile responsive and all of this and it has to be perfect because you want to really show off, right?

Alex Booker (17:56):
So it was a take-home task they gave you?

Milos (17:58):
Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Yeah, it was, but I just couldn't find time for it. I was so drained. I was like, "This is not going to work. I just cannot physically focus after 13 hours of work. I can do half an hour a little bit, and then everything starts melting in front of me." And then I actually ended up sending them an email because they didn't really give me a timeframe, but I mean, it's also not a big task so it shouldn't take me that long, but I ended up sending them the email being apologetic. I was like, "I'm actually sorry. I really can not do this. This is my schedule, I'm doing this many hours a week, and I cannot find time to sit down and do this." And I thought that was it. I'm never going to hear back from them and that's it.

Milos (18:50):
They turned around and said, "Listen, just take your time. When you're done with it, send it over. Whenever it is, just send it over." I was like, "Okay." Then I felt really bad. I was like, "Well, now I have to sit down and do this." So I found time, and it doesn't matter if I'm working 13 hours, I'll spend an hour and a half and actually commit to it and kept 10 coffees and Red Bulls and whatever I need to get it done, which I did, eventually. And I sent it back and they were happy. They're like, "Yeah, sweet. This is fine." So I was in Melbourne, their office is on the Gold Coast, which is next for Brisbane. And they're like, "Yeah, cool. We'll organize a flight for you, stay in a hotel for a couple of days to set you up with everything on a laptop, all the environments, everything that you need, meet the team, see that everything works for you."

Milos (19:43):
And I was like, "Jesus, okay, this is happening." The company wouldn't just pay for flights and hotel and all this stuff for no reason, so yeah. I was like, "Okay. Well, I need to roll the dice here." I need to decide if I'm staying with a theater life or turning a completely new leaf and in the age of 32, switching to a completely new career path where I spent last 10 years building one career, and now you have to go from scratch. And yeah, I did it. I was like, "Yeah. This is what I want to do. I jumped into a university because of this, I'm going to keep pushing this. It's not going to go away." So yeah, I quit my job, got on a plane, got there, met the team, they were awesome. I was superbly surprised. You just don't expect much because you don't know what you're getting into. It's my first job. And yeah, it was just awesome. It was just perfect.

Alex Booker (20:40):
Do you think that for someone changing jobs a little bit later in their life, how much stuff kind of transfers with you? I mean, you had a little bit of experience with configuring software and things, but you'd been grinding to learn code and build your portfolio. I guess I'm thinking more about sort of your teamwork and communication skills and that kind of thing.

Milos (20:57):
Yeah. Well, absolutely. I've worked as automation supervisor and technician, so I was supervising teams, I worked in companies where, like on the cruise ships, where you work with 20, 30 different nationalities so you have to get along with a lot of people and understand a lot of people and their backgrounds. So I think a lot of it does transfer, and also being older, I think, you know way more of what you want in life, rather than being young and, "I'm going to try this and if it doesn't work out, doesn't matter." When you're 30, you set your goals and go for it. I think companies do look at that. They see, "Well, okay, this guy is serious and there's a portfolio, there's a CV, very good looking. There's a GitHub, there's this, there's that." A lot of things just put together shows the image that you are actually serious about it.

Alex Booker (21:56):
It's not the best thing in the world to be in your thirties or forties and being called a junior. It doesn't sound like the best thing ever, to be honest, but you are generally right. For someone who's been around the block a few times, you're bringing all that wisdom with you, plus not only is it likely that you're committed, but you've done the work to show that you haven't just done one course and started applying to jobs. Because a lot of people, they study for a long time, and then they start applying for jobs, but they're basically a ghost on the internet. There's no way for the employer to increase their confidence for, this person is serious. But what you'd been doing, it looks like, whether it was publishing your projects to GitHub, I think some of that, you might've done retroactively, right? Like you mentioned sort of polishing your LinkedIn and things, but overall, you give the impression that you're super serious and worth taking a chance on.

Milos (22:40):
We know that there's thousands of coders, right? And everybody's looking for a job and you want to be ahead of them. Why would a recruiter look at you and say, "Well, there's one right next to you. He does the same thing. Why you?" When you look at different videos on YouTube, they recommend, "Hey, you should have a good GitHub." And then another video says, "Well, you should have a good portfolio." And another, "You should have a great CV." My logic was like, "Well, I'll try and make a bulletproof plan. If this fails, I'm already preparing for you to fail and setting the next thing to kick in." So I was just continuously building on fail-safes that eventually one of them will catch someone's eye, or all of them. You just want to be ready.

Alex Booker (23:29):
Here's what I think, actually. If you go over university routes and you get a computer science degree and you're planning on trading on that degrees of get a job, then you're very much kind of a cookie cutter template. Everybody did the same curriculum and they got the same advice, but when you go the self-direction routes like you did, you're not even close to being cookie cutter. You've got this whole unique thing to offer, and then your resume sort of reflects that. But yeah, it's quite a sobering image just remembering that it's always a competition, essentially, especially for the good jobs, like the jobs that most people want.

Milos (24:00):
Yeah. It is, but work on yourself. At least that's what I do. I work on myself. I don't look what other people do, I just try to better myself. I don't reckon that I'll ever stop learning. It's just my desires to find out, how much can I learn? Where's the limit? Where's that boundary that I'll just be like, "Okay, that's it. I cannot comprehend more than this." I haven't found it yet, but I mean, you have setbacks. You come to a problem and you're bashing your head against it for days, and you're like, "This just doesn't make sense. Nothing makes sense anymore."

Milos (24:42):
But then one day it clicks, and then you're like, "Oh, okay. Yeah. How did I not see this?" And then half a meter away, you bump into a worse problem than that, and you just, it's a continuous thing, but you have to be okay with also those setbacks. Is just the whole process of it. You fail continuously, but I mean, at the end of the day, you only fail when you stop trying. So if you get back at it to try it again, you still don't fail. I don't know, that's the way I see it, at least.

Alex Booker (25:17):
I think they're very inspiring words, and a beautiful way to end this episode. Milos, thank you so much for coming on the Scrimba Podcast.

Milos (25:24):
Pleasure. Absolute pleasure.

Alex Booker (25:27):
That was Milos from Australia, by way of Serbia, by the way. Remember to please subscribe to the Scrimba Podcast, both to see interviews with inspiring guests like Milos, but also to support the show. I really think when you subscribe, you open up the possibility of stumbling upon an episode that totally changes your perspective or at the very least gives you a bit of inspiration in the case that you need some motivation. This episode was edited by Jan Osinovic, and I am your host, Alex Booker. You can follow me on Twitter @bookercodes where I share highlights from the podcast and other news by Scrimba. I will see you next week on the weekly Scrimba Podcast.