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From SpaceX back to Brno: A Muni graduate worked for Elon Musk

David Pavlík is not worried that the IT job market could become oversaturated. The market is going to be as hungry as ever; it’s just that its taste may change.

David Pavlík, a graduate of the MU Faculty of Informatics, has put a number of renowned US employers under his belt over the last 12 years. He worked for Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and his last position involved working on the development of space shuttles in SpaceX, a company of the visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Nevertheless, he decided to return home a few months ago and accepted the position of head of IT at Kiwi.com, the expanding online seller of air tickets based in Brno – even though he had originally planned to take an extended holiday. “But then I met Kiwi founder Oliver Dlouhý and his colleagues. I had obviously heard about them before and when they shared their vision with me, I thought it was a great chance and opportunity for further growth,” says Pavlík as he explains why he changed his original plans to spend some time solely with his family.

Big projects in SpaceX

Pavlík, who graduated from the Faculty of Informatics in 2003, was lucky (and skilled and experienced) enough to embark on a phenomenal career. Currently, his highest point was his time spent at SpaceX, a company pioneering commercial space travel. Pavlík was involved primarily in three of their projects.

As he says, “The first project was focused on automatic data processing, where I worked with the individual teams at SpaceX, trying to find out their requirements for data processing.” The second project involved the development of a “box” that would explode and destroy the space shuttle if it diverged from the planned flight trajectory. The third project involved developing the software for the Dragon space shuttle, the first commercial space shuttle built by a private company that made it into orbit and back to earth.

In many respects, experts view the achievements of Musk’s company as groundbreaking and the launches of their devices always arouse a great deal of public and media interest. And Pavlík agrees that there were at least two times when he felt like he had the honour to be a part of something extraordinary.

“The first time was on 22 December 2015, which was our first successful touchdown. I remember jumping on the shoulders of a colleague of mine and the champagne splashing around. It was sheer euphoria,” he says about one of the best moments of his life. While Pavlík was not directly involved in the development of the space shuttle, he was happy for all his colleagues at the company who gave their all to the project.

The second big moment was much more personal, as he recalls with a laugh: “That was when we made our first touchdown with a device that contained the explosive box. That one required a bottle of Jelínek’s plum brandy.” Pavlík comes from Zlín, which is a stone’s throw from Vizovice, where Jelínek’s plum brandy is produced.

When talking about all the jobs he has held, he speaks highly of the unique company culture in Netflix, whose employees are continually trying to improve the company and its culture. He also confirms the stories about the exceptional leadership skills of Elon Musk. “I admire his vision and his competence. He is probably the best CEO I ever met, in the sense that he really understands his products, which allows him to make relevant strategic decisions,” says David Pavlík, who has himself been a manager rather than a programmer for years.

As a manager, there is a certain type of employee that he prefers: “I want the people who report to me to be able to ‘embarrass’ me. I don’t mean I want to work with people who’d enjoy ridiculing me, but I want to be sure they could embarrass me because they know more about some things than I do.”

Company culture and the characteristics of the IT professionals of the future were some of the key topics in the lecture Pavlík gave to the current students of the Faculty of Informatics at the beginning of this semester. Being back at the faculty brought back a lot of memories from his student years – how he learned that he was accepted online over dial-up Internet access or how he understood next to nothing at his first “informatics 101” lecture. “When I met Professor Zlatuška at the faculty just now, who gave that lecture back then, I told him that I had felt completely lost.”

The time is ripe for more educated IT professionals

Pavlík started to learn the basics of computer programming when he was still at secondary school. He enrolled in informatics because he thought it had great potential. However, he now admits that he thought many of the things he learned would be of no use in real life. It was only later that he found out just how useful algebra or parallel and distributed systems can be. He estimates that 90% of the work in Silicon Valley is based on this.

As he joked during his lecture for students: “The future belongs to programming in C++, smart computing systems, and critical system control. I’m sure that there will be many more self-driving cars in ten years. Please take care to learn all of these things because my children will be using those cars and I need them to be really safe.”

Being back at his faculty made him think about all the things he might have done differently as a student. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he left to work for Microsoft, but with all the experience he has now, he would have probably decided to continue in his master’s studies while gaining experience either working for someone else or starting his own business.

“Of course, you can still start work immediately after graduating. But you can also invest some more time in acquiring more in-depth knowledge in some areas. The time is ripe now for this type of people, the systems are more and more complicated,” says Pavlík, who is not worried that the IT job market could become oversaturated. The market is going to be as hungry as ever; it’s just that its taste may change.

Pavlík, who is now an experienced manager, is also clear about his advice to current students: they should gain real-life experience in companies, but no matter how prestigious the company, they should make it clear ahead of time what their role will be. “One of my colleagues from SpaceX underwent an internship in Amazon when he was starting out; he later said it didn’t give him anything,” says Pavlík about why the name of the company is not everything.

Masaryk university