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Tech-Talks in Turkey: Becoming a Freelancer, with Mehmet Çubuk

There is no such thing as saying “I learned something very well and now I can stop learning.” There is constant progress in the tech industry and we need to keep up with that if we want to be successful software engineers.
Can you tell us a little about your background? 
My hometown is Ankara and I have graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Bilkent University. Then I earned an MSc degree from the Technical University of Eindhoven in The Netherlands.
Did you enjoy living abroad? 
It changed my life in a positive way by helping me to pay more attention to enjoying life! I moved back to Turkey in 2011 and I’ve been living in Istanbul since.
Can you remember what inspired you to get into tech? 
I’ve always enjoyed playing computer games and that inspired me to study Computer Science. So it was a no-brainer for me to join the tech industry. 
Did studying computer science live up to your expectations? 
For the first few years at university, it was tough because the emphasis was on theory. But when I started practicing, I discovered I really enjoyed building software. 
How important is it to “learn how to learn”?
There is no such thing as saying “I learned something very well and now I can stop learning.” There is constant progress in the tech industry and we need to keep up with that if we want to be successful software engineers. 
With every new project we will be challenged with different problems of different domains and we will be learning something new as part of the process. So I would recommend getting used to learning new things such as different programming languages or libraries on your own because during your career you will be facing similar issues all the time. 
But I would also suggest that you shouldn’t feel bad if you find yourself unable to keep up with everything. I would say that's perfectly normal as it's not possible to keep up with all the content getting created, just to try to focus on learning things relevant to what you are currently doing or what you would like to do in the future. 
As with anything in life you need to find a good balance between learning new things and diving deep into subjects to use your new skills well.
As a Computer Science graduate, what are your thoughts on coding bootcamps? 
Having worked with graduates from coding bootcamps, I must say I was pretty impressed. Often I had no idea that they learned how to code at a bootcamp. That’s a pretty good sign! 
Whether you get a formal education or not doesn’t matter that much. The coding bootcamp alumni were great teammates. 
After seeing how good they were I told my friends – who want to switch careers into tech without 4 years of study – that they should try a bootcamp too. 
What matters in the real world of tech is practical skills, and although you may learn more theory at university, personally I would much prefer to actually build stuff!
Where did you start out in tech? 
I started out at a fintech (financial technology) company in İstanbul but the tech was pretty outdated. As a new graduate I wanted to work somewhere using cutting-edge technology.
So I joined a startup building a social media monitoring platform. Working there for a few years was great because I could try out new technologies and build systems to extract information from masses of data. 
After that I worked for BiTaksi for a year and developed my Node.JS, which quickly became my favourite. 
When did you decide to strike out on your own as a freelancer? 
Well in 2016 I took a leap of faith and formed a small software development agency with a couple of my friends. 
Eventually I decided to go solo as a freelancer in late 2016 and since then I’ve been working remotely for companies internationally including the UK, Denmark and USA. 
Why did you decide to go freelance? 
For me it was a transition going into freelancing. I had been working at a company and I felt like I could do this on my own with my own work-style. 
That was about 5 years ago. So I formed a company with a couple of my trusted friends and we started working together as a software development house. 
Eventually I decided to go solo because we had different styles.
What was it like going solo? 
My decision to start working freelance was the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. I had no idea what to expect. I asked myself: how will I find clients?  
At the time I only had 3-4 months of saving so I don’t think that was really enough to be honest! Looking back I would have done things differently. 
But it worked out in the end? 
Absolutely! Within a week I was approached by a Turk living in Dubai via Linkedin and I worked on a specific project for 3 months. It was my first taste of remote work…
A few months later I was married and just got back from a trip to Colombia. I had absolutely no clients, which was scary. I had to do something! 
So I signed up to TopTal – a freelancing community – and after a week of applications and interviews, I got accepted. That was a turning point. 
From then on I received lots of opportunities and after 6 months of building a track-record I became more visible to additional clients. They felt confident in my abilities and trusted that I could deliver services remotely. 
And that’s when Hostmaker found you? 
That’s right! Hostmaker was a property management startup for short-stay apartments. I stayed with them as a back-end developer for about 3 years on a full-time and remote-basis. 
I was the first Turk they hired but pretty soon I called my friends and then there were three of us! 
What are your thoughts on remote-working? 
I’ve been doing it since 2015 and I haven’t looked back. This decision changed my life a lot, in a good way! As a result, I have a much more flexible lifestyle.
In the beginning it was out of my comfort zone, but ultimately it helped me to work harder and push my limits and work with international clients. 
I’ve also become a better developer because of remote-working…
Why is that? 
Remote work forces you to be disciplined. You can’t rely on speaking to someone else. You need to do everything in a structured way. 
Once you have that structure and the right processes then developing becomes much easier. You can’t program remotely if you are careless or don’t have the right structure. 
And you need discipline and I know some great developers who simply don’t like working remotely because they need the social interaction. It’s not for everyone but for some it’s a great opportunity. I’ve been working remotely for years!
I enjoy working with multinational people, learning from their cultures and making friends abroad. 
What do you enjoy the most about working in tech? 
My greatest passion in tech is driven by the itch to build stuff. Tech gives you incredible opportunities to build amazing things. 
I really enjoy seeing the life cycle of a product take shape. Building something from thin air, transforming an idea into a useful product to solve real life problems, is extremely satisfying. 
What are you working on at the moment? 
At the moment I’m working on building a tool to make the life of merchandisers easier by providing them with planning capabilities.
What is your advice to Le Wagon’s new graduates? 
After you graduate, I think it’s a great idea to start out by working full-time for a company with a great development culture that can teach you best-practices. 
Go to a real office and work for them full-time and don’t focus on earning lots of money in the beginning. The focus should be on learning and learning how to do things in the right way. 
Don’t rush it! Once you get that knowledge you will be able to earn a lot more later naturally as you build your experience.
Additionally, after some time you can branch out as a freelancer once you have the necessary knowledge and experience.
It’s an opportunity to solve really hard problems and dive deeper. 
What about alumni who want to work remotely?
Remote work is great, but it’s hard to rapidly improve your experience level if senior developers are not next to you. 
For people who want to work remotely, a community like TopTal can help a lot. It’s a great channel to find clients and once you are in, there are no extra costs. 
Having a great network can act as a safety net. With freelancing and remote work you have to be responsible because it’s not as reliable as a permanent job.  
Thoughts on the Turkish tech ecosystem 
There are great communities here in Istanbul and amazing meetups with active participation. Lots of Turkish developers are looking to build great projects and many of them are working remotely for clients abroad. That’s a great sign! 
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