Cristian Tabacitu – Full-Stack Web Developer & Entrepreneur from Bucharest, Romania

21.05.2018

Cristian Tabacitu is a Full-Stack Web Developer and entrepreneur from Bucharest, Romania. He's had to wear many hats in his time, and his accumulated experience has given him a unique perspective on both web development and freelancing. Read more to hear his journey with a variety of companies, as well as advice for fellow web devs and entrepreneurs.

 

Hi Cristian, we are delighted to have you in our Insides series! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what are you up to?

 

Thank you for having me. I’m a full-stack web developer by trade; nowadays I spend most of my time working on my businesses and coding public software. I live in Bucharest, Romania, but I’m fortunate enough to have the flexibility of travelling about 1/3 of the year, so I’m all around the world. 

I’ve started out as a freelancer, doing HTML5, PHP, MySQL work for a few years. I’ve had multiple clients and collaborators, but developed a special connection with two collaborators. About seven years ago the three of us joined forces, and we built a company in Bucharest that creates medium and complex web applications, UPDIVISION. We’re now proud to have 11 employees, clients on five continents, and have built everything from blogs to ERPs, eCommerce, eLearning, payment gateways, video on demand, etc.

In the past few years I’ve made an effort to diversify my time and interests, so in addition to helping my company and my clients, I’ve started a few startups that failed, and a few that haven’t yet. One of the projects that have had a surprising impact is Backpack for Laravel, a framework that lets Laravel professionals build custom admin panels. It’s passed 150.000 downloads with zero marketing budget. It’s a project that is very dear to me, because it fixes a problem that I as a freelancer and we as a company have, and honestly, I think it’s the best tool for the job, right now. There’s a lot of potential there and a lot of room to grow, so I’m pretty excited of what it could become in 1-2 more years.

Another tool I’ve recently launched is ScheduleThatEmail, a simple service that helps busy people like me automate more of their communication. I try to launch products as fast as possible, because some stick, some don’t. I have other projects I’m eager to launch, like a cryptocurrency investment app. But…baby steps.
 

 

What exactly made you want to become a Web Developer? And how long have you been freelancing?

 

Well I’ve been building web apps for fun since 2004-2005, so it came as a natural extension of my hobbies. My other talent and passion in high school, acting and theatre, didn’t sound like a good career choice, so I chose a university degree in computer science. I do have a bachelor in CS and a master’s degree in database design. My studies have been very useful in providing context and structure for my previous knowledge, but I consider myself more self-taught. In my experience, nothing beats real-world experience and trying stuff in order to learn and master a skill. The technologies and skills I use now I’ve learnt independently, mostly. 

Well I consider my work for my company as freelancing too, when I code software for our clients. I don’t do that very often nowadays, since Backpack and business development take up a lot of my time, I mostly consult on mission-critical aspects and software architecture. But I think I’ve been doing it for about nine years all-in-all. 
 

Often, we tend to forget that it’s all about happiness. Everything we do has a simple goal, happiness. And when you remind yourself that, magic happens.


 




So, you have your own company, :DigitallyHappy. Could you tell our readers a bit more about it?

 

Yes, well, :DigitallyHappy, is my very own web product factory. I build software for others at UPDIVISION and for myself at :DigitallyHappy. One thing I’ve learnt is that values matter. What you care about matters. :DigitallyHappy is the corporate entity that represents my values, process and goals. And the name best represents my take on this. Often times we forget what the goal is.
 

The goal isn’t to build a software by the specs. It’s to make the users happy. The goal isn’t to deliver the app on deadline, it’s to make the client happy. And the goal of a developer isn’t to build yet another eCommerce website, it’s to hone your skills, to get better at what you do. That’s what makes me happy, as a developer.


Often, we tend to forget that it’s all about happiness. Everything we do has a simple goal, happiness. And when you remind yourself that, magic happens. So that’s why I’ve called it :DigitallyHappy - as a reminder of what’s important. 

It turns out, once you take the time to write them down and make these things public - real values and processes, not some corporate BS, people that share them gather around you. So :DigitallyHappy is now also a collective of individual freelancers and agencies that use the same tools, the same process, and have similar views toward web development and client service. In the past two years, since Backpack has taken off I’ve been receiving dozens of emails every week for starting new projects on Laravel. We can’t do all of them at UPDIVISION, because of cost and scaling issues, so we usually forward them to other developers that we trust. Some are freelancers, some are agencies. :DigitallyHappy is also the name of this community, where we share projects with each other when we’re too busy to take them on ourselves. Basically it tries to solve the feast-or-famine experience that usually plagues freelancing. Just like freelancermap.com, but within our tight-knit community of Laravel lovers that know each other and have worked together on different projects or on Backpack.

Whenever I can, I work alone. I’m a big fan of deep, focused work, which I think can only happen when you’re alone. Working alone allows me to keep my 10x productivity bursts, since no one is dragging me down, and most of all it allows me to eliminate myself as the bottleneck - which I am way too often.

I’m a pretty busy person. My interests pull me in dozens of directions every day. So if I’d be a member of 10 different teams, no matter what I’d be working on today, I’d be holding down nine other teams. Tried that, didn’t work well. Nowadays I usually prefer to work alone, to have most of my communication asynchronous and automated. But most of what I do is the product of teamwork, from every client project we deliver to the wonderful Backpack code, which is the product of 50+ contributors in addition to my code. So I guess it’s teamwork, but asynchronous teamwork.

We have offices in downtown Bucharest, but I have a separate office so that I can keep this quirk of mine, deep work. Everybody has been very understanding with it so far, I’m grateful for that.
 

When doing web dev, you code something, then hit refresh in your browser to see if it works. Change, then test. Change, then test. It took me some time to learn and accept that entrepreneurship is the same - you try something that might work as a business, test to see if it works.

 

You have lots of working experience, including the fact that you opened and closed two tech startups. What advice would you give to those aspiring to become Developers or Entrepreneurs?

 

For people getting started in web dev, I’d recommend mastering a technology or programming language. Any of them. There’s a new programming language coming out every week now, and it’s easy to buy into the hype. But I don’t think you can develop the kind of deep knowledge you need unless you master one technology. One programming language or stack. It will then be a lot easier to translate that language into other languages or stacks.

For young entrepreneurs like me - keep at it. I don’t think I’m in a position to give a lot of advice here; I’m still learning myself, but one thing I’ve learnt is that web development and entrepreneurship have a few big skills in common:

  • Change, then test. When doing web dev, you code something, then hit refresh in your browser to see if it works. Change, then test. Change, then test. It took me some time to learn (and accept) that entrepreneurship is the same - you try something that might work as a business, test to see if it works. Change, then test. Change, then test. It’s clear now that I think of it, since I failed so many times, but it wasn’t at first. I stuck with failing businesses for too long because I didn’t test. So if you’re a web dev starting your own business, you already have a skill most entrepreneurs don’t have. Change, then test. Use the force!
  • The modern law system is similar to CSS or OOP. If you write something in a contract, what you specify there will overwrite the country’s laws. But some laws cannot be overwritten. Sound familiar?
  • Scratch your own itch. If your business is fixing something that’s not your problem, you won’t be interested in it for long.
  • Work with people you like. Another thing I’ve learnt the hard way. Building a business takes years. So think about your happiness and lifestyle during those years. If you want to be happy, do stuff for people you like working with/for. Don’t do something in banking just because you know it’s profitable. Most businesses fail. If after three years you’ve failed andhave been miserable because you worked with people you didn’t like, well…just know I’ve been there too.

 

If you would search for your profile on Google, which are the three keywords you would type in the search bar?

 

Backpack for Laravel creator.” I think that’s what I’m best known for.

 

What are a few of your favorite development tools and why?

 

I’m pretty proud of my stack: nginx, Laravel,MySQL/PostgreSQL, Backpack for Laravel, MacOS.

I use (and always recommend) DigitalOcean for hosting, Laravel Forge for deployment, CloudFlare for DNS, GSuite for email and docs, and of course ScheduleThatEmail for recurring emails. Marketing teamwork happens in Asana, development teamwork happens in JIRA, and I keep personal tasks in Todoist.

 

I assume your life is very busy. What does your working routine look like and how do you manage the pressure of meeting deadlines?

 

Some people have told me I’m a workaholic, yes, but I don’t usually see it that way. Many of the things I do are also my hobbies, I’m lucky that way. So if I do come back home a 12-hour workday, sure, it was work, but it was also fun. So most of the time I don’t mind.

I do have a lot of self-imposed rules to help with productivity, yes:

  • Eat your frog - I do my most important task first thing in the morning. The one task that if I missed, I’d be ashamed at the end of the day. It helps me get going. I love it when it’s 8 am or 10 am or noon and I’ve already finished my most important task for the day, makes everything else I do that day feel like a bonus.
  • I try not to answer the phone or check email before noon. This way, I get stuff done before reaching the death spiral that is email.
  • I try to eat three times a day at consistent times. Lunch is invariably at noon. This helps a lot with energy distribution throughout the day.
  • I use the Pomodoro technique a lot when I have a bunch of non-technical tasks on my plate for the day. Otherwise, if it’s coding all day, I like to keep it loose, to allow for productivity bursts, when I’m “in the zone.”
  • I try not to wear two hats the same day. Each day, either I’m a “product guy” or a “market guy.” Either I code, or I don’t. Doing both the same day just didn’t work for me. Also, it helps put things in perspective. In a startup, marketing is a full-time job. Sales are a full-time job. If you just do them when you’re not doing anything else, you’re not giving them the importance they deserve, and you’ll do a lousy job at them. Been there, done that.

 

Do you have any hobbies?

 

I’m big on winter and water sports. During winter I spend a lot of days snowboarding, during summer wakeboarding and more recently surfing. I spend a lot of time and money on these sports, but I don’t regret it one bit - each day doing something you love is one day you’ve gained. That’s what I think.

I also do software design, architecture and development for fun. I love imagining and building new services, then testing whether there’s a market for them. I’ve spend many weekends like a caveman, working on something just to think it’s crap on Monday and drop it. But it’s a really good opportunity to learn new technologies, experiment with stuff and put in practice things you’ve recently learnt. Every project I’ve tried out has made me a better developer or a better marketer.

I’ve also helped run an NGO for about 11 years, the biggest youth theatre festival in Romania. Not so much right now, as my interests have taken me elsewhere 

I also enjoy reading non-fiction. It’s a habit I had lost during my university years and I regret that. Now I’m back and loving it.

I travel a lot. More than 100 days a year. I think it broadens the horizons like nothing else.

I’m a movie buff. TV shows buff. Love Netflix and chilling.

 

Is there one particular project that you are especially proud of or that it was fun to work on?

 

Backpack for Laravel that I mentioned earlier. It’s definitely my sweetheart right now.

 

Last chance! Is there anything more you would like to tell our readers?

 

Nope. Thank you for reading this far, if you have.
 

 

Where to find Cristian Tabacitu

 

Cristian Tabacitu

Website: http://tabacitu.ro/

 

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