It started at a bouldering gym
The whole journey started with my friend Martin Sopotnik – IT Operations expert, now co-coworker, whom I met at a bouldering gym a few years ago. At the time, I was still knee-deep in my PhD studies in electrical engineering. He talked about this place called Flint SI, an atypical IT company, where people are genuine, full of ideas and, above all, full of compassion and empathy that affects everyone. My friend seemed very happy to be working there and to be honest, I envied the freedom he had when it came to scheduling his work hours and how easy it was for him to arrange everything with his co-workers and the management when it came to organizing his day. It felt very dissimilar from my previous places of employment, where the working conditions were very different.
The interview – not the kind you would expect
Fast forward a few years and I applied for a job at Flint SI. This is an IT company that specializes in content development and delivery of various IT technology courses. I am an electrical engineer by trade and have very little relevant IT experience, but I always enjoyed teaching. I sent my CV, which reflected my lack of experience and my drive and eagerness to learn and teach at the same time. We scheduled an interview remotely due to the raging covid outbreak. At the interview, I was greeted by three distinct characters: the CEO Nina and two Senior Technical Experts, Jaka and Tine. The interview felt like I was having a drink with people I just met somewhere on a holiday. First, Nina described the company and what they do in detail and asked me to tell them something about myself and what I would be interested in doing at the company. I described how I enjoy teaching and that I am a fast learner and all the things one says when afraid of not being up to the task. Next was Jaka, my soon-to-be mentor, who asked me to tell them something in English, since a teaching position requires good communication skills. It felt a bit funny to switch from one language to another, but I started to explain how I used to train in fencing and what are the rules and just gave them a quick intro to fencing for beginners. They seemed amused. Last, but not least, the very quiet and almost brooding Tine, one of the funniest people I have ever met, asked me about my prior IT experience. I went on about how I used to teach elderly people to use MS Windows, online banking and similar. I also mentioned my experience as a System Administrator at a company of around a hundred employees.
Needless to say, I lacked the relevant experience regarding enterprise and data-centre-grade IT technologies, which are the focus here at Flint. Just before we said our goodbyes, I told them that I still have a year or so of work to do for my PhD and that I plan on doing both the job and the research work, if they are willing to tolerate intermittent interruptions of my usual workflow. All three just smiled and said that everything could be worked out. Well, I didn’t believe them as I thought it was just a polite thing to say. In my mind, that was it and it was time for me to apply somewhere else.
About getting the job and almost blowing up the office kitchenette
They called me a week after, just like they said they would, and asked me when I could come in for my first day of work. I couldn’t believe it! On my very first day, I met the usual office dwellers and they showed me where the coffee was. A big mistake on their part, as I managed to explode the Italian coffee maker and made a mess of the entire kitchen in my very first week, much to the amusement of my new coworkers who photographed the mess and just had a blast in general. They never let me forget this and are always smirking when they see me near the coffee maker.
My position was in the Data-Center department where I was supposed to help them with course development and deliveries. I already knew Jaka and Tine from the interview and I also met Benjamin and Jernej, both not only excellent Cisco DataCenter technology experts but also fast thinkers and excellent teachers. Jernej really inspired me since he studied journalism, out of all things, and instead of making a career in the media, he became one of the leading experts regarding Cisco UCS systems.
Diving into the world of CCNA & CCSI
My first task was to start studying for the CCNA exam, an entry-level IT exam where you learn the basics of networking. Let me stress that Flint SI was willing to hire me and pay for my education as part of my actual job. My mind was blown. Normally, a CCNA certificate is a prerequisite to applying for a job in IT. I asked Nina about that, and she replied: “You can always teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude”. The little smile she had during the conversation conveyed a clear message that Flint is not your ordinary company and things are done differently here.
I had complete assistance throughout my studies, and Jaka was formally my mentor. His knowledge and patience seemed to know no bounds, and he never failed to explain whatever I didn’t understand in a way that was both clear and engaging. I could ask practically anyone in the company for an answer and I always received one.
There is a culture of knowledge sharing at the company. Nobody here is trying to hide what they know for job security. It is quite the opposite, honestly, as everyone is happy to share what they know. You only need to ask.
During my CCNA studies, I also met two moderately fresh Flint employees: Jakob and Amadej, electrical engineers by trade and avid network experts by heart. Their job was to take me through the entire CCNA course with them as tutors, which would better prepare me for delivering courses to the clients. They were overseen by Jaka, who popped into our classes from time to time to check on us and give us a mind-teaser that showed whether we just knew the answer by heart or if we truly understood the underlying mechanics and derived the answer from a deeper understanding of the subject matter. I always knew that there was a difference between knowing and understanding and was glad to see that people at Flint knew that too. It took me two months to pass the CCNA exam thanks to my mentor and everyone else in the company who always took the time for my questions.
The next task was to study for the CCSI exam, which is a certificate for official Cisco Instructors. This meant that you had to know everything there is to know about the topics in CCNA as well as know how to present the material. This certificate teaches you how to teach. It was by far the most intense and rewarding experience during my Flint-led education. The soft skills I got during CCSI are as important as the engineering skills a gained during CCNA! Jaka proved himself again as an awesome mentor as he shared his ample experience as an instructor and showed us the little tricks on how to handle your students with dignity, grace and respect regardless of the situation. I passed the CCSI and officially became an instructor. I was a Flint employee for almost half a year at the time and my sole job was to gain knowledge.
Becoming an expert – and a full-time tech nerd
The first real task I got in the Data Center department was to develop laboratory exercises for the students. The course was about Cisco Intersight, an IT operations platform to manage servers, storage, and networking, coupled with Terraform, an open-source infrastructure-as-code tool. This meant I had to create a step-by-step guide with explanations for the students to follow and develop an entire environment where the labs could be hosted. I had to learn how to work with virtual machines, how to couple cloud and on-prem endpoints and how to automate the re-initialization of the environment for the next group of students using tools such as Python and Ansible. Last, but not least, I also had to teach the class and learn the theory behind the technologies. I fell in love with this kind of work. The engineering part of lab design and environment really transitioned nicely to the teaching part where I could explain the pros and cons of the technologies and share the dos and don’ts I encountered during testing and development.
After a year or so of similar tasks, I really developed a taste for lab automation and DevOps in general. Nina offered me a more DevOps-oriented position where I would develop lab automation for all the courses in the company. Now I transitioned from a hobby engineer/smooth talker to a tech nerd who, for all intents and purposes, creates magic behind the scene – and I absolutely love it. I do miss teaching a class from time to time, mostly when I wait to see whether the deployment of labs succeeded.
The camaraderie of genuine professionals
Here at Flint, there is a place for everyone: the die-hard tech nerds who are happiest left alone in their office behind a computer making magic, smooth-talkers who enjoy a crowd hanging on to their every single word in anticipation, or the sometimes-forgotten mix of the two, the hobby engineer who likes to learn and work with people. This is a place where everyone’s individual quirks and interests are celebrated.
This camaraderie fosters a dynamic, collaborative environment where colleagues are constantly sharing their expertise and bouncing new ideas off one another. In short, Flint Si is more than just a workplace – it’s a community of like-minded individuals who bring their whole selves to everything they do.
We are not just a highly skilled team of technical experts; we are much more than that.
Get in touch, we are looking forward to hearing from you!