We continue the series of interviews with the people behind Modex. This time, the fascinating story of Cornel Zgardan, Head of Development, a cool guy with over 9 years tech experience (writing code, software development, managing a team of developers). From failing an informatics exam during University to his current position, Cornel’s story is all about passion for technology and the continuous drive to learn new things. 

On the educational side, Cornel’s story doesn’t start with a tech-related event, as some might expect. He went to the High-School of Chemistry in Braila, one of the best in Romania, then at University he studied Road Vehicles at Politehnica University of Bucharest. It was then when he said to himself that he’d like to do something related to computers, but luck wasn’t on his side in this regard during his youth years. “Between 5th and 8th grade I didn’t do informatics, then at high-school I couldn’t get into the informatics-mathematics profile, so I went to chemistry-biology. Then I thought about admission to the Informatics University, but since I wasn’t prepared for that, I went to Road Vehicles.”

In the car parts business for 11 years …

“After graduating from University I got at job at Augsburg International, a company that was selling automobile parts and accessories. They were Romania’s first supermarket for car parts. After 2 years with them – my job was to process car parts from original catalogues, then I become responsible for parts acquisition – I moved to a competing firm, Auto Total, where I’ve worked for 9 years. After 11 years of doing this, I said I didn’t like how the future looked for the job I was doing and there weren’t too many opportunities going down the road. I wanted to change careers, so I started looking into computer programming since this has been a childhood dream of mine”, recalls Cornel.

… but still dreaming of becoming a developer

How did Cornel’s passion for technology start? In his own words: “As a kid, surrounded by my friends who had computers, I was fascinated by several games. I also had a personal computer, one of the early ones (HC-90) and during the 6th and 7th grade I did a short programming course, writing a few lines of code. I also tried to enlist in the School’s Informatics Club, but it was always full and you could get in only if you knew someone who could get you in there. Two years in a row I’ve tried to sign up for that informatics class, but I couldn’t. And, as a funny fact, in the first year at Politehnica University I failed the informatics exam.”

As the turned 29, Cornel tried to learn programming by himself, but that didn’t work, so he went to Titu Maiorescu private University of Informatics, attending remote learning classes held on Saturday and Sunday. During the day he was working at Auto Total, during weekends he had university classes, then in-between he also had to find some time to learn programming. “I liked it a lot, and two years later, when I was 31, I got a job as a Junior Developer at Temenos, where I had to develop banking software. After the first year at the University of Informatics I knew that programming was the right thing for me and I said to myself that I can’t do anything else but this.”  

Innovating at Moneymailme, fine-tuning at Modex

After one and a half years at Temenos, Cornel has arrived at Modex recommended by a friend from childhood: Alin Iftemi, now Managing Director and Co-founder Modex. “We’ve known each other since we were kids and Alin has also encouraged me to take the path of programming. Alin, Dan Neacsu and I were Modex’s first three employees”, says Cornel. “Actually, the Modex story has started, for me, with Moneymailme, the money transfer and chat app released before the Modex journey began. My job at Moneymailme was to take care of the server side. The smartphones which had the app installed were communicating with the server through a rest API service, written by me. So I was writing code, server-side. Besides this code, I was also in charge with the Admin dashboard of Moneymailme, a front-end app where you could see the users, transactions, etc.”

How would Cornel describe Modex to someone who doesn’t know the blockchain database company? “Modex is a software development company which brings innovative, high quality custom-made solutions for our clients. There are also many challenges along the way when it comes to this, but thanks to our experienced team of developers, IT experts and security banking professionals we always find a way to overcome them and meet our objectives. What I like the most about Modex is exactly what I’m doing now: server side development. I miss writing code – last time I did this was more than one year ago – but now I’m more valuable to the company from my current position.”

Developing world-class custom software for clients

As Modex’s Head of Development, Cornel is currently in charge with custom software development for clients, focused on the server side. If I have time and I would like to create a library, a new functionality or something else, I’ll write that myself instead of asking programmers to do it. As Head of Development I have to manage any adopted solution, at the technical level. To manage how the code looks like, to standardize the custom solutions we’re offering to our clients and to fine-tune the code writing process of the entire team. I’m also in charge with supervising the developers, holding trainings, code reviews, and other tasks.”

Speaking about the work environment at Modex, Cornel believes that we are still adapting to the pandemic reality, with many months of working from home, holding meetings online, attending online conferences and events, etc. “I think that a developer needs to concentrate and work in a silent environment, without noise distractions around him, in order to write quality code.” We’ve also asked Cornel which part of his tech career he enjoyed the most and why. “Without doubt, being a developer at Moneymailme. I had the liberty to do design the way I wanted – of course, in line with the company’s business plan. Back then I could write code and focus on this instead of spending half a day on phone calls, meetings, etc. At the end of the day, I was very satisfied to do this!”

Growing demand for software developers

“I’m sure that the demand for developers will surely grow in the coming years as the need for digitization is increasing day by day, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Speaking about blockchain, I think that the biggest challenge over the next 5 years will be to gain the trust of users towards this groundbreaking technology. There are lots of non-technical users to whom is very hard to explain that blockchain gives them privacy, security, and other advantages. For instance, when people are asked to give personal data so they can register on an online blockchain-based voting platform, most of them think that their data could be used for other purposes. If people would know the advantages of blockchain they wouldn’t be so reluctant to adopting it. Currently, only enterprises are promoting blockchain – and especially tech companies – because they are aware of its advantages and the opportunities they bring.” 

The future of the FinTech industry

When it comes to FinTech, Cornel thinks that more countries will head towards a cashless society model. And this will happen naturally. “A few days ago I’ve seen some stats which said that 80% of the money are not in physical format, but just numbers on some servers. I also think that some banks will lean towards partnerships with FinTechs, others will have their own FinTech section, while some banks won’t embrace this model. Adapting to the technological changes and the industry’s evolution is surely a challenge for many banks. If we look at the banking software (how transactions are created), it was invented in the 70s and since then not much has changed”, states Modex’s Head of Development.

Useful advice for those who want to become developers

With over 9 years tech experience, Cornel offers some advice for those who dream, just like he did, of becoming a tech guy. “Programming is not for everyone. I’ve seen many so called “developers” who weren’t actually true developers, they didn’t understand many principles and didn’t have a clear overview of the industry. What I can say to developers who are really passionate about this and want to start a career: if you feel like doing this, do it and always try to learn more, to find out more, to push yourself to become better. Some people are entering this domain because they’ve heard it pays well. Guess what? Only the best developers are paid well. Those who are average are paid average.”

Cornel continues: “Another thing I would tell them: never stop believing in you, keep following your dreams! Those who want to become developers must be able to sit for long periods in front of the computer, and stay focused all this time. They must also be curious to find out how processes are working. I’ve seen many developers who were copying code from Stack Overflow and knew what that code did, but didn’t know how it did that. If you aren’t curious enough to see how a programming language works “behind the scenes”, how software works, chances of becoming a senior developer are slim. Those who want to become tech people should also be able to build something new, not just adapt some existing functionalities or replicate them”, concludes Cornel.

Still a petrolhead after all these years

We’ve ended our pleasant chat with Cornel by asking him what he’d like to do if he were to quit the software industry, programming and writing code. “I would like to own a big car service and to have my own car elevator. I’ve been passionate about cars ever since the University – I can talk about automobiles, vehicles and engines for two days in a row, so I would like to get into the business of modifying / tuning various cars. During University I was curious to find out how a car works, how the engine is linked to the gearbox, how power is transmitted to the wheels, etc. Later on, I’ve applied this curiosity to programming, to learning software development, and it served me well.”