Andrei Balaj, Software Engineer, shares insights on his passions, persistence, and video games playing a role on the journey to succes in tech

This was a talk worthwhile, and as soon as you’ll dig into Andu’s answers, you’ll understand why. At work, Andu thrives in a collaborative environment and values face-to-face interactions with his colleagues. He embraces emerging technologies like React for front-end development and Adobe After Effects for video editing. Outside of work, Andu dreams of a career in video game development and admires companies like Remedy for their innovative storytelling. Despite his busy schedule, Andu remains dedicated to learning and expanding his skills while enjoying the creative process of storytelling in video games Did we leave anything out? Oh, yes we did, we managed to talk about a lot of extra things that you need to discover for yourself.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How does Andu usually spend his personal time?

Between plenty of side gigs and my passion for music, my free time* is a myth. I plan my schedule some 10-14 days in advance. It doesn’t mean I don’t benefit from relaxing activities, but those are usually considered in advance or late at night. At the moment I’m juggling a lot, with a second job, some video side projects and involvement with my local church. Time is a luxury I am slowly losing. Despite all of that, I like to make time for close friends, engage in interesting conversations; I try and watch movies from time to time – I am somewhat of a cinefile myself; and my childhood favorite still lingers: video games, which actually leads me to the next question that I’m going to ask myself:

What other passions do you have?

Why I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you, of course. According to my Steam database I’ve spent an outrageous amount of hours on playing video games in the past 15 years and on Steam alone. Video games, like some TV shows, hit very close to the heart. Unlike TV shows, however, a video game leaves a lot into the hands of the player. The investment you get being actively involved in a good story is incomparable to the one you get just by watching a show. I’ve found good shows. Great ones even (see Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul). But I’ve never had a show surpass what some video games were able to craft. I could spend a lot of time talking about my favorites but I’ll focus on just one small aspect of it – development.

I’ve been interested in making steps towards the video game development industry. Doesn’t matter if I write a story, the music, make a level design or work on textures. Simply being a part of the creative process feels very rewarding. One company I’ve been looking up to since I was young is Remedy. The developers behind great titles like Max Payne, Alan Wake and Control have always had me fascinated with their very odd and uncommon take on storytelling. I looked into applying for a job with them a while back; unfortunately they demand 5 years of experience as a senior in a previous triple A production for anything you want to sign up for. I wouldn’t be surprised if the janitors have had to be sweeping for Rockstar before going there. Fortunately, AscentCore also has had their own time with development work on game engines and that might be an opportunity to exploit, when the time comes.

Alas, I’m interested. It’s something I’m dabbling with. But for now, I’ll have to make due with learning more about the development world as a whole, bettering my personal skills and just enjoying video games from the outside.

What led you on your career path, to ultimately become a Software Engineer?

Since I was little I had a fascination with computers. At first just video games, but very quickly I learned that you can also create things utilizing this technology. I went to an  afterschool program specializing in computer science and studied Pascal since before I was 10. My passion could also be seen in the interactive PowerPoint presentations I was putting out in my early school years. This persisted to the end of high-school, at which point they had evolved into movie like animations, with synced music and plenty of work behind them.

I chose to follow the computer science path since middle school, and I picked the specialized high-school accordingly. C++ was the technology we studied there, but it was mostly the algorithms that explained all the core principles of programming. My interest in computers went further than just the software, so I elected to study Automation in college. Little did I know it was there that I’d find my utter distaste for our teaching system. Most of the content taught was fine, but the teachers, their methods and especially their attitudes were a huge turn-off for me. I struggled to maintain my composure and then my attendance at some of the classes. This led to me being quickly pulled away by actual work that offered much more growth than what the courses offered, and eventually to me dropping out.

Before arriving here and settling as a Software Engineer I had a brief stint as a programming professor at a local afterschool and some intensive experience as an IT Technician in one of the biggest companies in Bucharest. I saw one of these interviews some two years ago and thought it looked like a very friendly environment to work in, and so I asked my friend to let me know when an internship would be available on a technology I was interested in learning. I applied, when the time came, did an intensive 80hr of online courses the week prior to the interview (one good perk that stuck with me from college) and was accepted. I’ve been learning and enjoying the experience ever since.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I enjoy working from the office – I find I’m more efficient and focused that way; so I wake up, as early as I can, and make my way to the office. Being early and keeping up appearances is essential 👌. I don’t need coffee, but the coffee making experience and the good coffee provided at the office makes me make one. Then I check my daily agenda, put my noise-canceling earbuds in and start champing at the daily task. In my short breaks I like to walk around and engage with the people around the office. Sometimes the work frustrates me and I like to isolate myself (or stay late, when it’s less crowded) in order to solve that pesky little bug that’s been haunting me for the past few days, but usually my days are very laxed.

What emerging tech are you most optimistic about? Least? And why?

While there’s plenty of ways to rank tech and subjectively decide which one is better than the other, I’ve always found that the best tech depends on the task you need to solve. I can be excited about JS and incidentally React because I like front end development and what it offers. However, we’ve seen the recent drop in the usage of TypeScript and how projects are choosing to go back to native JS. I’m also too young in the field for my interests to be of any practical use to anyone. If suddenly there’s a shift in the needs of the market, I’ll be the one to adapt and meet that need. I won’t keep using my toy just because I’m comfortable with it if it doesn’t help anyone else.

What is your favorite tech?

Again, my lack of experience is working against me. I’d be forced to say React as it’s the technology I’ve worked with. However, my side gigs have somewhat of an influence and I’d say I have a particular love for video editing software. Adobe’s After Effects is a favorite of mine, and I have some 15 years of experience with that. DaVinci Resolve is making some great strides in the field as of late and I’m excited to see what else they get up to. And there’s also the gaming world where Unreal Engine 5 has revolutionized the game creation world.

What’s the best piece of tech-related media you’ve read/watched/listened to?

The Social Dilemma, hands down. With tech comes the inevitable ability to do things better and faster than the average person. This comes with consequences, as the past and even recent past has shown the population is easy to manipulate. Seeing kids spend 12 hours a day on their phones, scrolling mindlessly through social media is a horrifying sight when thinking about the upcoming generation.

Which is your favorite AscentCore value and why?

Relationships are the heart and soul of this company. The great people you see everyday, their availability and desire to help at any given moment is commendable. You will quickly find that the people here are a great bunch that aren’t afraid to put down their work in order to spend some quality time with you, no matter what the topic is.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your time here at AscentCore?

Teamwork and relationships should always come before the project. You should never devalue anyone no matter what bad thing they said or did – people and relationships are something you’re in with for the long run; projects come and go.

What’s next in your career journey? What skills are you looking forward to developing?

I’ve always been a person eager to learn new things. Now I know, that sounds like the most cliched line ever to be said, but I feel it really reflects the truth in my case. Beside my passion for programming, I’ve also had a lot of experience in being a technician. Then outside of this world of computer science and development, I am a novice audio engineer and I play the guitar, piano and vocals. I also have a knack for the visual, which stems from my background in video editing, visual effects and motion design. I’ve also been told I have acting chops, but I find it difficult to be subjective on that (though I am looking to take an improv class).

And with all that verbal vomit out of the way, what’s next? Well, I’ve thought about expanding into other programming languages, specifically Python (given my current project’s needs) and becoming more versatile in the work I am able to do and the problems I can tackle at any given time.


AscentCore Labs

Live Event Video Recap: Overcoming Data Bias & Increasing Model Fairness Using Counterfactuals

For businesses across every industry, the customer experience is more important than ever. In a time when a brand’s success is often closely tied to customer loyalty, finding ways to improve and optimize customer service is critical. Keep reading for five AI-powered solutions that can help businesses transform and enhance their customer experience.

AscentCore Labs

Using Counterfactuals To Overcome Data Bias & Increase Model Fairness

For businesses across every industry, the customer experience is more important than ever. In a time when a brand’s success is often closely tied to customer loyalty, finding ways to improve and optimize customer service is critical. Keep reading for five AI-powered solutions that can help businesses transform and enhance their customer experience.