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Most movies and novels follow the “Hero’s Journey”. The story starts with a restless young hero realizing he’s destined for greater things; he goes on a quest, building character over many adventures, and in the end returns home … changed. It’s the basic structure used everywhere from “Lord of the Rings” to “Star Wars”.

In this article, you’ll meet Strypes’ Petar Georgiev – who’s made a Hero’s Journey of his own, a years-long odyssey that took him to Southern California and the Dutch capital of Amsterdam before joining Strypes in Bulgaria. (Hardly surprising, although a small country, Bulgaria is a land of stories, with one of the longest histories in Europe!)

This means he’s had a life of big decisions, starting in his teens – but of all those choices, he regards joining Strypes as the best decision he’s ever made. In fact, during our interview, he never stops smiling! Let’s find out why.

You’ve lived in several countries, but a common theme connects them: technology. What brought you to tech?

– I knew I wanted to study software – so majoring in Computer Science was always my plan. While Bulgaria has plenty of great courses – our country’s well known for its software engineering expertise! – I was interested in studying overseas, so I applied to Eindhoven in the Netherlands. It was a city I already knew, so my initial thought was to stay in Europe for my university years.

However, while the Netherlands has many high-tech businesses – one of which I’d later go to work for! – when you think of technology, most people think of “California”. I didn’t realistically expect to be able to study in California, but as with many things in life, there are ways to achieve your goals if you put the work in.

Graduation Day, San Luis Obispo, California, USA, Personal Archive

Obviously, US universities are expensive. But there’s a more economical path than simply applying directly. It’s possible to start your degree at a Community College – they’re much cheaper – then transfer to a University later on. So I applied and was accepted by Saddleback College, which has a long reputation for technical and vocational training. It’s not in Silicon Valley, but in Southern California’s Orange County, not far from Los Angeles.

In the meantime, I’d been accepted at a university in Eindhoven, my original plan. So I had my first big decision to make, thinking hard about the positives and negatives and discussing it with my friends and family. In the end, we agreed that if I had the chance to study in California, I should go.

I spent three years at Saddleback before transferring to California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, part of one of California’s two main public university systems. San Luis Obispo suited me because California State University has much smaller class sizes than the giant University of California; this let me form much closer relationships with students and tutors.

But in some ways, those years were harder than I expected. As an 18-year old who spoke functional English, the American slang I encountered every day took some time to get used to. And at San Luis Obispo, I wasn’t an “international” student anymore, so the choices were fluency or failure!

I learnt by doing – my preferred style anyway. I completed several internships with various technology companies doing everything from healthcare to satellite navigation. And by 2017, with that Computer Science BA on my resumé, I was ready for the next stage of my life: finding a job.

You loved the USA’s learning opportunities, but not its workaholic culture. Where did you start your jobhunt?

– I initially headed for the Netherlands to join my girlfriend at the time. I was looking around various companies in the tech sector, with the goal of using my software skills professionally. My girlfriend worked for one of the world’s greatest technology companies, ASML, but of course that’s known as a hardware company – so I never expected to end up working there!

Here’s how it happened. Visiting my girlfriend at ASML for lunch, she mentioned she had a meeting, and couldn’t leave me alone in the office – so another employee would sit with me for an hour. It turned out that “employee” was actually in HR, and started asking me interesting questions about my career plans … which led to me attending a Recruitment Open Day at ASML a few days later.

That day was intense! I had six interviews, and got along well with everybody. When the recruiter called me, she stated “I have good and bad news. The good news is you’ve been offered six jobs. The bad news is you can only take one.”

So I ended up in the Embedded Software department of ASML, more specifically in the Wafer Positioning group, having to learn about hardware and software at a very deep level. Embedded software – the kind you find baked into chips – isn’t like anything I was used to, luckily, I quickly realized that this term has a different meaning at ASML. Nevertheless, a real challenge. And I started to like it.

ASML, of course, is a Strypes client. And a very important one. So I soon had my first encounter with people from Strypes, including a Group Manager called Desislava Stoyanova. Ex-ASML herself, she once told me, “One day, you’ll be working for Strypes!” Which at the time sounded strange – many Strypes people have gone to work for ASML, but it’s rare to move from ASML to Strypes.

For my last two years at ASML I worked with Koen van Wijk, the founder of Strypes. While I’d enjoyed my time in the Netherlands, I was starting to think about returning home to Bulgaria, having been away for over a decade. And Strypes had several bases in that country carrying out software development for its clients, under its “Nearsurance” model.

Eventually, I asked him the delicate question, “Would I be а good fit at Strypes?” It turned out I would be.

So there was nothing you disliked about your job – it was a life change you wanted?

– Exactly. I liked ASML very much. In fact, this was another huge life decision. Because my ideal situation would be to move countries back to Bulgaria … but keep on working for ASML, since I respected the company so much.

My solution? Simply to be honest about it. I said, “I want to go to Strypes, but I want to continue working with ASML.” That set the scene.

And the best part, I was able to get some time off between the two jobs which allowed me to take a well deserved break. I spent the next few months traveling quite a lot, and was frequently in various cities in Bulgaria – Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv, and Burgas. By coincidence, all places where Strypes operates. So when the time to get back to reality and start working at Strypes came, many people in different places thought I was going to work in their office! Sofia people thought my job would be in Sofia, Plovdiv people thought I’d set up home in Plovdiv, and so on.

In fact, my role would be based in Varna. And that was the easiest decision for me. Because Varna is my hometown – so I’d fulfill my goal of returning to my family and friends, having spent many years overseas.

Seven Rila Lakes, Personal Archive

Tell us about your job now, and why it suits you so well.

– I would describe it as my dream role. I’m very happy, because it answers every single one of my objectives. I’m in Varna, I’m working for Strypes, but still closely involved with ASML, including many of my old colleagues!

While the relationship is a little different – I keep reminding myself ASML is now my client, not my employer – the actual work I do is similar to my previous job: a Technical Lead heading a team of experts. Strypes special ingredient has always been “that people thing” – customers talk about its sense of partnership and human understanding, not just its technology smarts. That’s what I wanted.

In truth, I feel I’m a partner of both ASML and Strypes. It’s such a strong relationship, requiring so much deep understanding, that the fact we work for different companies often doesn’t matter: we’re an integrated team, with a shared interest in solving difficult technical problems.

I very much like the culture of Strypes. While it’s now a sizable company, it still has “that startup feel”, people interested in trying new things and collaborating on fresh ideas. It’s not a typical corporate structure; I have the freedom to plan my days in the way that delivers the best results. There’s no micromanagement or box-checking processes; it’s an environment where people are trusted, and trust others.

Tell us your plans for the future!

Petar in Tromso, Norway, Personal Archive

– At the moment, I’m enjoying NOT making plans – just doing my job, improving my skills, making sure my team is performing strongly. As you can probably tell, I’m very happy here, using all the experiences I’ve gained overseas to make things better for my company and my client.

When I walk around Varna, it’s like being on holiday, all the time. Because for so many years, my only visits to Bulgaria were holidays, visiting friends and family.

So no more country moves for a while. In fact, I’ve just bought an apartment here in Varna, which is another big milestone on life’s journey.

As a final thought, give us 5 words that describe what Strypes means for you.

– Relationships. Culture. Freedom. Trust. And startup-like!

Did you enjoy Petar’s Story? Read the rest of our colleagues’ inspiring stories in our Blog!

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