When you don’t refuse challenges, they can lead you to unexpected places
Henri Tanskanen has progressed from trainee to senior-level coder in just a few years. The knowledge worker’s thoughts are grounded at home at a 19th century farmstead, far from everything.
An open and sociable guy, great at customer service. This is how colleagues and clients describe Henri Tanskanen, 39. These are not the most typical adjectives used to describe software developers, who are typically viewed as introverts.
Henri’s career path to Senior Software Developer at Haallas is also a little different from many of his colleagues. When he joined the company, he already had two careers behind him. First, he spent 15 years in customer service and management positions at Alko, and then some more as a project researcher at the University of Eastern Finland.
“I’ve liked all my jobs, even though they’ve been different from each other. And all my previous experience has been useful,” Henri says.
Trading 15 years of customer service for a research chamber
In truth, Henri’s longest career to date was accidental.
“I wasn’t supposed to stay at Alko for so long. My intention was to finance my studies, but I ended up staying there for fifteen years and had a great time,” Henri says.
Because of his work, his studies at the School of Computing at the University of Eastern Finland also stretched to 16 years.
“Eventually, I wanted to finish my studies and thesis, so I took a study leave.”
While working on his thesis, it occurred to Henri for the first time that he could actually work in the field he was studying.
When Henri graduated in spring 2017 and was offered a part-time project researcher position at the university, he decided to take it.
“Maybe my 15 years in customer service were starting to show as a lack of enthusiasm and I was starting to develop an interest in a job that would allow me to spend some time in my own bubble, so to speak.”
As a project researcher, Henri created dynamic exercises for mathematics students in the Moodle learning environment. His main task was to transform the exercises previously used by the mathematics department into a more modern format on a digital platform.
The work also involved coding, and Henri found himself particularly enthusiastic about it. Even to the extent that he started to study it more on his own time.
“It was great to see how my choices become concrete right away, and how different choices can make different things happen. I still get inspired by that realisation.”
I think I’m a coder
Henri found that he was developing quickly as a coder. And the more he achieved, the more he wanted.
“I found myself applying for jobs in the field, and when I got as far as a few interviews despite my inexperience, I thought this might be a path worth following.”
When training company Saranen Consulting was looking for coders through recruitment training, Henri decided to try his luck.
After the interviews, Henri got a training place at Valamis, from which he later moved to work at Valamis' daughter company Haallas.
“I had no idea what was in store. I only knew that I was in some top-notch company now,” Henri laughs.
At Valamis, Henri got down to work straight away. He tried out different programming techniques and languages and learned about technology. He was particularly asked to join projects that involved working quite directly with clients.
“I was given responsibility from the very beginning and I always took it as a point of honour. I always tried to do my job as well as I could and show what I was capable of.”
It paid off, because after the training, Henri was offered a job at Valamis as a Junior Software Developer. He got to continue working on the same projects he had started during his traineeship.
A customer service specialist after all
In just three years, Henri has progressed from a trainee to a senior-level software developer. He also works as a technical lead on projects, responsible for the team-level software development and technical integrity of the project.
The pace of progress has been staggering, as he himself admits. He says the biggest reason for his progress is that he rarely turns down any of the tasks he is offered, but rather accepts the challenge.
“I still get excited about the same things as when I started: problem solving and the versatility of coding. But I want to learn just about everything. For example, right now I’m learning to use React.”
Ironically, customer service is now a big part of Henri’s job. In many projects, he works closely with clients. It’s not an obvious part of the job for a coder, but Henri is good at it and also finds that he enjoys working with B-to-B clients.
“Coders are super fun, but the cliché is often true, and many are introverts. I myself am open and quite sociable, although I like to spend my free time alone with my family.”
The best thing for Henri is when he sees that a client trusts him. It offers its own kind of reward.
“Just a few days ago, a client said, ‘Thank you for saving us again.’ That felt good.”
The man of the forest has no yearning for the big cities
There is a severe shortage of coders across the country, and Henri has noticed that competition for them is fierce. He himself has received some offers from other employers, but has always turned them down.
“There have been some good offers, but my employer has shown a willingness to keep me here, so I haven’t felt the need to change jobs. Here I’ve been entrusted with responsibility and have been allowed to grow into a professional. I feel appreciated.”
Henri also enjoys his work community, which he says is made up entirely of great individuals. In three years, his colleagues have become his friends.
“We have a great team and it’s fun to do more than just work with them. We organise game nights, for example. And the work community of parent company Valamis even has its own beer.”
Henri is also a North Karelian to the core. He calls himself a man of the forest. One that would not be comfortable in a big city.
“I literally live in the middle of the forest. I love the silence and darkness there.”
Henri’s home in Polvijärvi is a grand old farmstead built in the 19th century, with plenty to keep a handy man busy. The same is true of his summer cabin not far from his home.
A few years ago, he also found a partner there, with whom he has rolled up his sleeves and got to work. Their work in recent summers has resulted in both a greenhouse and a sunroom in the cabin yard.
Henri likes to see his own handprint reflected in his surroundings.
“One summer I built a brick barbecue in the yard. Cooking on that barbecue always feels good.”
Independent exercise and meditation
When Henri goes to the Haallas office in Joensuu, the commute adds up to more than an hour a day. Although practically all his work can be carried out remotely, he feels that it is important for him to visit the office and spend time with the work community from time to time.
Especially on office days, Henri is not in the mood to go out for hobbies after work, but instead prefers to exercise and engage in other activities on his own.
Henri started bodyweight training a few years ago to compensate for the stationary nature of sedentary work. He is also an avid jogger.
“I started exercising to control my weight, but at some point other goals came along, such as gaining muscle mass. Now I mainly do it just to stay fit,” he says.
Last summer, Henri and his partner got into hiking. They hiked the Kolinpolku trail together, and both were immediately hooked. Next summer, they are planning to hike the Karhunkierros trail.
“There’s something really meditative about being by ourselves in the wild for a couple of days. And we have some amazing scenery and trails right next door,” he says, referring to the nearby national parks.
Henri is also kept in North Karelia by his three school-aged children. It feels important to him to watch them grow.
“Childhood goes by so fast – before you know it, they’re all grown up. Luckily, even our teenager still joins in all kinds of yard games with the family,” Henri says, smiling.
Live and grow
Growing is also a goal for Henri himself. In his personal life, he would love to conquer one of the bigger fells. Learn to survive in the wilderness.
In his career, Henri wants to develop his project management skills. Holding the reins feels natural to the former manager. Perhaps a lead role in slightly larger projects than the current ones could be a worthy path to follow, Henri reflects.
“I probably wouldn’t want to be a full-time manager anymore, but I could see myself as a project manager’s sidekick.”
On the other hand, Henri’s eagerness to experience more has so far outweighed any desires to leave new paths unexplored.
Text: Annika Lius
Photos: Tuomas Kinnunen
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