What connects the world of codes and ice pirouettes and how to combine demanding training with workload? Read our interview with our colleague, figure skater and BE developer Alex Molnar.
How did you get into figure skating and since when have you been doing it?
Figure skating was always my childhood dream. I’ve been enthusiastically and admiringly watching the broadcasts of the European, World and Olympic skating Championships ever since I was little. Unfortunately, in the part of Slovakia where I grew up there were no opportunities to train figure skating. The only stadium within a reasonable distance was only open seasonally, but even so I never missed a single opportunity to try out the various elements I saw on TV, at least on hockey skates (“I was just messing around”). The closest I got to figure skating was when I borrowed a pair of ladies’ skates for a few minutes. I immediately tripped over one of the front blade notches and fell. 😄
During my studies at university, I started looking for figure skating courses in Košice, but they rejected me because I was too old, and they only trained children. After graduation, I found a job at Profinit and went to Prague. I started searching the internet again and in 2019 I got lucky for the first time. I found classes designed specifically for adults, where different ages and ranks from beginners to advanced attended. My enthusiasm and determination was so great that I immediately signed up for the course. The first class was to take place in less than two weeks from when I signed up, and before that I had a week’s holiday abroad and no skates. The day before I left I was still running around Prague to buy a pair. 😅
As time went on, the course was no longer enough for me, I wanted to learn and train more. The trainer I knew from the courses unfortunately refused me because she had too many students.
Luck smiled on me again two years ago when I ran into the same trainer. A few spots had opened up and she gave me a chance. By now, I thought I knew how to skate somewhat. After two minutes, she led me out of my error and I faced a cruel clash with reality. Everything I had learned up to that point was technically wrong and I had to relearn it.
Figure skating is an aesthetically beautiful sport, while IT often focuses on solving technical problems. Do you see any parallels between these two different interests?
Figure skating is an aesthetically beautiful sport, but not only that. Mainly, it is very technically demanding. It looks so aesthetically beautiful because the people who do it have perfect technique. They evoke a sense of simplicity and grace.
Learning to skate in adulthood, just like IT, involves solving a number of problems. Kids learn these things easier. The coach shows them something, they repeat it, and most importantly they are fearless. Adults have more fear and require precise instructions, just like in IT assignments, of what they must do and how to do it (turn your head in the direction of travel, don’t look at the ice, turn on those muscles, switch and turn up your toe, don’t lean over, don’t bend over, be more in the knee, lie on the circle,…).
If something isn’t working, you must describe exactly what is going on, just as you do in IT, because only this way can the trainer find an adequate solution.
When using a well-functioning application in IT, most users never think about the people, effort and hours of work behind it, and it’s the same with skating. Viewers can’t even imagine how much hard work, training and pain is behind the beautiful, aesthetic performances they see on their TV screens.
When I tell my friends that I work in IT, I’m immediately asked to help fix/assemble a computer. In figure skating this is no different. Most often I get three questions:
Can you do a triple axel jump? (not that I don’t want to) Do you spin this pirouette? (meaning Biellmann’s pirouette) Are you training for the Olympics? Then come all sorts of unrealistic demands just like in IT. Teach me a pirouette at the next public skating session (I’ve been trying to learn them for 4 years and I’m still struggling myself)
How often and regularly do you train? Do you also take part in competitions?
The first two years it was about an hour a week during the winter season. Since 2021, I’ve been training on the ice for an hour to an hour and a half about 3 to 4 times a week all year round. In addition to that, I have one or two off-ice practices and each one is about an hour long. Off-ice workouts are very important for improving range of motion, coordination, learning proper positions, jumps, and spinner pirouettes. If the stars are aligned, there is ice availability at different rinks, I have free time, on-site project work at the client allows it, and coaches have free dates, I can make it to 10 practice sessions a week. I try to add at least 10 minutes of stretching or bodyweight training every night.
In the summer, I also participate in various camps that last from a day to a week. I spend 2-3 hours on ice and 2-3 hours on off-ice training every day.
I prefer longer training sessions (e.g. 3.5 hours) where I can warm up properly or days when I can be on the ice in the morning before work and again in the evening after work.
I took part in my first competition this year because I like to win. I started in the Elements category, where you have to skate predefined mandatory elements in a set order. I am currently preparing for my first freestyle skate in the Adult category.
Is figure skating time-consuming? Is it hard to juggle it with work? What are the biggest challenges you face when combining a career in IT and being actively involved in the figure skating world?
Figure skating is more time-consuming than many other sports I’ve done and I am lucky that my partner supports me, understands me and skates with me. So, I can’t avoid feeling like the day has too few hours, the week has too few days and I get less done than I would like.
The first challenge is ice. Many rinks are only frozen seasonally. Stadiums that operate year-round have a longer shutdown at least once a year. You can’t afford to rent ice only for yourself every week when it suits you. And I can’t always fit the schedules of free hours and public skating at rinks around work.
The second challenge is the coaches’ availability. When the ice is finally available and work allows me to go to practice, the coach may not have time. I have several coaches, but even so, I sometimes inadvertently end up practising alone.
The third challenge is the number of people on the ice and their capabilities. It is challenging to try parts of the freestyle skating, jumps, and improving the slide if there is a larger number of skaters on the ice or a smaller, less-skilled group (people who can’t brake and control their track at all). Sometimes it gets so crowded that one is glad to have a square meter of space on which to try a step or turn a pirouette without being bumped into. Then again, if you’re trying to practice on the ice with juniors, or dance couples and sports couples, you have to stop so they can skate around you (you shouldn’t try to dodge them, as it often happens that you walk right into their lane) and if they’re rehearsing their routines/rides to music, you have to move away to the sidelines and not get in the way.
The fourth challenge is the person himself and his state of mind. It is essential to be in good shape on the ice, both physically and mentally. You have to concentrate on your every move, the coordination of different parts of your body, and if you lose focus even for a moment you can hurt yourself or someone else. After some hard days at work, you don’t always have enough strength to concentrate and the desire to skate. Moreover, there are always days when you exceed your expectations and everything goes well, and then there are days when nothing works out and you feel like you are on skates for the first time.
And what do you do at Profinit? How long have you been with us?
I have been working at Profinit for almost 10 years. I started as a tester on a project at a bank, where we delivered internet banking and gradually worked my way up to BE application developer. While working at Profinit, I had the privilege to come across Java, Angular, C#, Visual Basic, Kotlin and React programming languages. Thanks to Profinit, I’ve gotten to work in the call centre department of a bank and I am currently working in the investment industry.
What are your plans for the future in figure skating and how do you want to further develop your career in IT?
My plans are too many. 🤣
Biellmann’s pirouette is a childhood dream, probably somewhat unrealistic. A more realistic plan in individual figure skating is a simple Axel, any of the double jumps and new and interesting elements (I like to learn spectacular elements that are often part of exhibitions such as hydroblade, cantilever, side lunge pistol…). My partner and I are currently trying pairs skating so the next plan is to practice pairs skating (including spirals, lifts and other pairs elements). Last but not least, my plan is to participate in international competitions, either as an individual or sports pair.
As far as a career in IT is concerned, I want to improve my skills in the programming languages used and expand my knowledge in Kotlin and React.