Timotej Jarc, Infobip

Support is hard. You can probably imagine that working long hours and handling often unreasonable requests is not a really fun thing to do. It’s easy to either burn out or get to the point where you simply want to get out and change the environment.

When this happened to me, I approached my manager to discuss the future of my career development. He gave me an answer I thought was cliche – “You’re an important part of the team!“, “You’re not ready yet” and  “There’s so much you have yet to learn here“.

I was not happy with that, to say the least, but I was not experienced enough to give up on Infobip just yet and try my luck elsewhere, so I decided to go with it and stick around for a bit longer. As it turned out, I made the right decision.

An unexpected internship

It was 2015, and I was still in college and looking for an internship. At that point, I liked development but wasn’t a very hard-working student. My project portfolio had more cobwebs than projects, which meant I didn’t have much to show.

After many e-mails (some polite rejections, many more complete ignores), landing a development internship, or my first job, seemed nearly impossible. That’s when I received a call from Infobip HR about an interview for the Infobip Support Academy.

It was an interesting concept – 3 weeks of full-time (9 to 5) lectures in a remote village in Istria, focusing on the support department, the company, and the Telco industry.

The learning part was a bit overwhelming because of the sheer amount of information we were given, but this was expected because of the niche industry in which Infobip was operating. Who would’ve thought you could have a company that sells SMS to other companies?

Jack of all trades

Once the academy ended, I was offered a role of a Junior Support Engineer. The job title sounded kind of made up (you can check my LinkedIn profile for more details), but hey, which one doesn’t today?

In the beginning, my day-to-day job was handling customer complaints, the most common one being “Why wasn’t my SMS delivered?“. In retrospect, this seems pretty mundane, but it was a great foundation, and as time went by, my scope broadened.

The mentors from the academy did a pretty good job with onboarding and explaining things, so I sort of knew what I was getting into, but it wasn’t until after about 6 months that the realization kicked in.

I wasn’t just a supporter, I was also:

  • Integrator – we had a server-side solution that had to be deployed and configured manually
  • Scripter/developer – because that solution had to be customized from time to time with scripts written in groovy
  • DBA – the solution used an internal database that had to be managed, and sometimes integrations required custom database procedures
  • Master negotiator – because sales sometimes wanted to upsell the impossible things

I had to learn how to write professional emails, attend calls, and even live meetings with clients. Basically, I became a jack of all trades.

From working with developers to becoming one

It’s important to mention that at some point, I also became a Product Engineer, which meant I was a dedicated person for a specific product and was closely working with the dev team that was developing it. In other words – I was supposed to bridge the gap between Support and Development departments.

I would report bugs and pain points identified by clients or our internal testing while also informing other team members about the product roadmap, so they could be aware of when some fixes or new features would be released.

I started looking up to members of that dev team as my mentors, as they would often help me with code review or debugging when I was working on a complex integration. It was somewhere around that time that I realized I don’t just like development; I wanted it to be the next step in my career.

In the support department, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by a group of great individuals, and we made our workdays sort of a healthy competition. It was expected that we grow and learn as fast as possible, and since the company was expanding, there was no fear of one team member replacing another – there was more than enough work for all of us.

Those who had a better understanding of something were always eager to share the knowledge and help others; those who were a bit behind were always trying to learn and catch up. But this had an expiration date – the learning curve started flattening, some team members left or moved on, management changed… And so my time to move on came as well.

Letting go of support and becoming a software engineer

Support is hard. But hard times breed tough men – or, in this case, tough developers. In retrospect, more than 7 years later, I can be thankful for the opportunity I got.

A lot of the knowledge and skills I acquired through learning by doing and making mistakes.

You cannot learn how to write a professional email without someone proofreading it and correcting you hundreds of times. You can’t understand the platform just by working on one microservice application – you need to get into all the nooks and crannies by trying to find out why various things happened the way they did.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I didn’t always see eye to eye with my manager related to my career path. It took me more than 2 years to make the transition since the first conversation we had about it. But once I finally did, I realized all those cliches had some truth to them.

The additional time spent in support, while straining, made me a more versatile developer and helped me learn soft skills some of my more experienced colleagues struggle with. So, if you ever find yourself in my situation, wondering if support is worth it – I say go for it.