Jakub attended a mathematics-oriented high school in Banska Bystrica (Slovakia) with his classmate, Andrej Pancik. He went on to study Computer Science at Charles University in Prague and received his bachelor’s degree. Andrej used to say: “Kubo, when we grow up, I want to be in business with you!”. After taking on several jobs, he is currently a full-stack developer at Represent.
We spoke while he was making burgers in the Represent Prague office.
How long have you known Andrej?
Since our freshman year at high school; we were probably about 15 years old when we first met. Andrej joined our class a bit later, and we hit it off more or less immediately.
What were you both like at that time?
Andrej was always very communicative and, in his own way, unique. We sat together in a couple of classes and became friends almost instantly. I knew he was exceptionally talented in Computer Science, more so than all our classmates — for example, in the first half-term of our CS class, we were only just being taught how to use Microsoft Excel, but Andrej then had already written his own computer programs. He was miles ahead of us; already writing his own code, knowing how to explain things and concepts in an interesting way.
Why did you choose a high school focused on mathematics, and how did you get into computer science?
I was brought up in Zvolen, and both my parents were teachers at a primary school where I was a student. Thanks to my parents, I always wanted to excel in school. The only high school in Zvolen is right across the street, but when I finished elementary school I thought I should go for more than just move across the street — I can do better than that! Bratislava was enticing but seemed a bit too far away, so I found a high school in Banska Bystrica which focused on math and had tough entrance exams — that impressed me a lot.
Even though I was only 14, I already knew specifically what I wanted in life — I didn’t want to have to count every penny. I wanted a fulfilling career, so I considered medicine for a while, but being more technically inclined I decided on math and computer science.
You were very motivated for a 14-year-old!
I still am! I want to be good at everything, not just at school but all kinds of skills — that’s my motto. If anyone knows how to do something, I have to learn to do it at least as well. Sports, too — being average is not enough!
Speaking of sports, do you try to balance your sedentary job?
I always loved playing sports, especially soccer with my brother. Unfortunately my knee gave out, so I stopped for a while, but in high school I started playing volleyball. The funny thing is — at first, I didn’t know how to play volleyball at all. But I was fascinated by other players so I just watched them and learned from their movements — and lo and behold, in two weeks I was playing on the school team. I guess if you really want to improve and learn, there is always a way! It’s just a question of training, motivation, and observing what other people are doing.
What sports do you play in Prague?
I play soccer once a week for the last 4 years. Sadly, I’ve fallen out of practice in volleyball — I’m slightly below the average height for a volleyball player, and although I used to train my jump to make up for it, I haven’t played in a while and it would take a lot of catching up for me to play again with my old teammates. I play squash with my colleagues, and I like to bike along the Vltava River on weekends.
How did you spend your first paycheck?
I bought a computer, of course! However, my next paycheck was spent on an expensive LEGO. It’s kind of silly, but I remember a specific LEGO set — serial number 8880, if you happen to be interested — that I wanted when I was a kid, but my parents couldn’t afford it. As soon as I had a few paychecks from Represent in my bank account, and I knew I was doing well for myself, I went on Ebay and bought that LEGO set just for the hell of it. What a satisfying purchase!
Other than sports and LEGO, what are your hobbies?
My favorite hobby — by far — is cooking. Some people may consider it a waste of time but I find it so relaxing! I can easily spend 3 hours in the kitchen just experimenting. With cooking, you can always go further and improve. I was at Eska and couldn’t figure out what it was exactly that they were doing with the food, so I researched French chefs, I bought cookbooks by Julia Child and studied details like what knives to use and different kinds of pots. It may sound insignificant, but these things really matter! When I cook food according to someone else’s recipe, and if it doesn’t taste just as well as the original, I get frustrated — I want to be just as good as the chef!
If you’d have to cook a top meal, what would it be?
Everyone likes burgers, and they’re not hard to make at all. But I love making homemade pasta with mushrooms — they’re the best! When I made my own pasta at home for the first time, I haven’t bought pasta at the store ever since.
What are the characteristics of a good burger?
Excellent meat is a must. I use only the best meat and undercook it slightly to keep the patty juicy. Also, I use fresh ingredients. I don’t like mayonnaise, so I only use a little to put in dips to improve their texture. But I like to keep my burgers light — they’re a pretty heavy meal regardless. I make my own buns as well. When I moved to my new apartment, I bought hamburger buns in the store and started cooking them but they fell apart. Of course, I looked up how to make homemade buns, how to mix dough, what different ingredients to use and I made them just the way I like them. The only problem was that they were too pale, and I like them darker, like they serve them in restaurants. I tried almost everything — adding eggs and whatnot — but then a chef once told me that it’s food coloring, nothing more.
What motivates you at work?
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a programmer, but I love optimizing things. I get very frustrated by government offices, because I see people doing repetitive tasks that could be carried out by a computer, and the employees there could then do more — and bring more value. I like optimizing various aspects of my life, including my finances. My brother started investing in stocks, and he showed me how to do it. I studied the stock market a bit, and learned about the risks and advantages of stock trading. I can’t imagine Google or Facebook going bankrupt (laughs). I don’t analyze their profits, but I trust these companies because I know a number of people who work there.
I’m a fan of Star Wars, and when Disney bought the franchise I immediately bought Disney stock. I know they’ll be making all kinds of Star-Wars-themed merchandise — games, T-shirts, movies and the like — for at least 10 years and it should be very profitable! Moreover, Disney is a diversified company with a lot of focus.
What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants to invest in the stock market?
You have to know the amount of risk you are willing to take on. Are you comfortable with the possibility of losing half of your money in one fell swoop, should the stock market fall? But if that were to happen, and if you don’t need the money right now, you can wait 5 years and the market will improve, and stock prices will reach their original value.
Second, you should research what you are buying. You have to have a degree of knowledge and trust, and if the numbers are good but I don’t know the company or who runs it, I would never buy their stock.
Third, you should always take investment fees into account — micro-purchases aren’t very economical because you pay a certain fee for every transaction. Risk and profit always go hand in hand.
If you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be?
I wish I had learned English from an early age — that’s why I want to raise my children in a bilingual environment. I’d be happy to move to the United Kingdom just to give my kids the right surroundings, so they don’t have to constantly turn a mental switch on and off — now I’m speaking English, now I’m not. I think it’s an essential skill in today’s world to speak at least one foreign language really well.
One piece of advice that I did know and took to heart when I was young is: make a lot of contacts in school. You’re surrounded by people with similar interests and the connections you make are invaluable later in life when you start working on projects. I consider most of my colleagues to be my friends, and it really affects the mood here in the office. I don’t feel like I have to get up and go to work each morning; on the contrary, I get up and I get to do cool stuff with my friends every day! I wouldn’t want to work at a company where I come in at 9, put my headphones on, hardly talk to anyone and go home at 5.