When you were 17, what did you want to be?
So, at the age of 16, even before, I was very passionate about designing and coding. I taught it to myself from age 13, [using the] Internet, Google was the main place. I took some video courses, and I also learned English better that way than I did in school, because in school you study grammar and stuff like that. But when you watch video courses, and you’re constantly reading English and writing English, you get to learn English much better. So I took a lot of video courses in specific subjects that I wanted to learn about. It was really clear for me from a very early age that I wanted to be in this industry, a programmer, a designer, or a combination of both. So that’s what I did. At a very early age, I started to work as a freelancer. My first real, paying job as a freelancer was at age 15.
How did you get your first job?
There are a lot of people in Israel who really want to help techy kids. Like Nir Kouris, he helps young kids and connects them with customers. I met him at some kind of forum that deals with this industry where kids could talk and get advice. We met there, and he was super nice and told me about this life-changing book that he had read about connections, networking, Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, by Harvey Mackay. From the day he read this book, his mission in life was to network and connect people. He knew my area of specialty and what I’m good at, and he connected me to my first real customer. And from then on it just spread. Obviously I had really low rates because I was a 15-year-old kid doing the job of someone older, so this customer recommended me to other customers, and I got a lot of jobs. That was ongoing until the military service.
What kind of freelance work were you doing?
Mostly websites. I was really into custom things in WordPress, sometimes with the design, sometimes the coding. I really loved it. I loved being able to get an idea from a customer or from myself and make it happen. I was really passionate about it. So I did some freelance jobs while I was in school, and I also had this website that I loved. I loved Threadless - do you know Threadless? I loved it. So I decided to make a website that offered coupons for Threadless. And when you build a website, you need to know design and programming, and then you need to know how to promote it. So I got into SEO because I needed to promote this website. I grew this website and it was one of the first few websites when you searched for Threadless coupons.
So I had this website and it got a lot of hits, it got a lot of sales. For each Threadless sale, I got a $3 credit for Threadless. I remember being at school with my smartphone, and I got an email for every sale. And when they had sales, it was like every minute I got a new email, “you have a new sale, you have a new sale, you’ve got a new credit, you’ve got a new credit.” I was so amazed by that. I bought my whole family a lot of Threadless shirts. I think I even still have some credits.
I did that for about two years and I got bored managing one website, so I switched back to freelancing, just learning new technologies. In the tech industry, especially in front-end development, there’s new technology you have to learn every couple months. So the big advantage of a high school kid who deals with tech is the ability to just study at night, practicing it. You get out of school at 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 and you do your homework, but still you have a lot of free time. Another thing that helped me practice these coding skills is that I couldn’t really do sports because I at age 17, I had back surgery. I had scoliosis from a very early age, and it got worse and eventually I had to have surgery. I literally needed to be home, sitting down, so what did I do when I was home? Played on my computer. That was my free time.
What did you do after high school?
In Israel, every guy needs to do three years of military service. Because of my medical situation, my doctor told me, “I can give you a letter - you don’t need to go to the military if you don’t want to.” But I was all into getting into the military, because everyone did it. I wanted the regular path of an average Israeli. I knew some people who went off that course. There’s a program where really good students go to college first and then go to the military. So you do your studies, and then do at least six years in the army. I knew people who did it, and they didn’t like it, they complained about the difference between this and the average path. So I didn’t want that.
Before you go into the military you take some tests, like IQ tests, and I got pretty good scores. And based on these scores you get invitations to all these different programs. But because I had this surgery at age 17, I couldn’t get any invitations to the different units. So I asked them, “What can I do?” They said I could postpone my military service for one year to get invitations, but I decided not to waste a year of my time, and I still got a pretty good job in the intelligence unit in the Navy Seals. I had fun. I did some volunteer programming for my unit, but it was not really serious programming. And in the second half of my military service, I did some freelance jobs.
How did you get from there to where you are now?
When I got out of the military service, I decided to be a freelancer for different customers. It was nice being at home, nice getting money, but working from home as a freelancer is not very social. I wanted to socialize a little more and go to a real job. I got an offer from someone who I had worked with as a freelancer to go to the office and get a real salary.
Usually the regular path of an Israeli after the military service is to work in shitty jobs, like a waitress or something like that, get some money, then do half a year of traveling in South America or Thailand or some place like that. Then you study, then you get a job. But I got a real job at 21 years old, and I was super excited.
I was a programmer at CraftTech; we managed a big news website in Israel, with mobile applications and stuff like that. It was high tech, it was nice, but it wasn’t what I was looking for in my career. I worked there for a year thinking that I would go to college at some point and study software engineering, but I got an offer to work at a really good startup, which is the startup I work at now, Kaltura.
I’m a big believer in networking as well. I was on Facebook one day, and I got a message from Nir Kouris. He asked me if I knew the dimensions of the recommended image size to share on Facebook, so I gave him the sizes and he said “Oh, that’s great I will pass it on to [my friend] Artium.” I realized that I knew Artium because I had worked with him on another freelance project. I talked to him and he needed a freelancer for another startup, so we worked together on that project. And then he recommended me to a project manager at Kaltura who was looking for freelancers. She talked to me, and I went for a meeting with her, the designer, and the VP of [Research & Development].
After this meeting, the VP R&D said “Dvir, I want to talk to you privately.” He asked me professional questions about my past, what do I do, what do I want to do. And he offered me a job. So that’s is how I got into Kaltura, which was super surprising, super not planned. So I’m a big believer in networking.
I started as a front-end developer, and then I got also some part of back-end, so now I’m a full-stack developer. Kaltura is huge; we have 500 employees. The video platform that the majority of US universities use is Kaltura. In addition, we have a product called Lecture Capture, which is used in most US universities. The product I work on, deals with kind of Netflix platform for media companies, like our biggest customer is Vodaphone Spain. They basically provide us with the content, like movies and TV series, and we customize it for them and their customers.
Before I came to We Roam, I knew that in this particular year, I wouldn’t be able to develop my career as much as I wanted to. If I had stayed, I had been offered a team to start my own thing in Kaltura. But I knew that if I went on this year, I wouldn’t get it. So I took this year, I took that chance.
My goal in my career is to be a software architect. That’s the role that, when you have a startup idea, you need to choose which technology to use and how to use it and make the first setup. The programmers take it from there and continue to work on it. So the decisions of a software architect means a lot to these companies once the product gets a lot of traffic and scales up. This is my top professional goal, and after that I will probably want to go to management.
All of my friends are sure I will start my own company at some point. I always have ideas to make something, but I never take it the step further in order to get the funding and do the real thing. It’s kind of scary, it’s a big risk, but maybe. I always have ideas and then I find out there’s something kind of similar. It’s pretty hard nowadays to come up with something that will change things completely.
Do you think you’ll go back to school at some point?
I wouldn’t go for software engineering, but I do want to do a degree at Open University, but I want to do a degree but in some other field, nothing related to software engineering. Something like law or history, just to widen my horizons. I think it would even profit me in software development. You need to be creative and open-minded about stuff, and I need something else besides the coding, so I will probably do that.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I pretty much knew what I wanted and I was passionate about it. It wasn’t like I didn’t know what I want. I would say, just go with your gut feeling. My father worked for the electric company in Israel as an engineer, and in high school I ended up studying not programming but electricity. So I would say don’t go with what you’re expected to do, go with your gut feeling.
And if you don’t have a feeling, just go explore. There is enough material on the Internet to just go explore fields. Even in tech, I explored a lot besides coding; I was a designer, and I was dealing with 3-D modeling. I wanted to explore a lot of fields to know what I liked the best, what I’m passionate about, what I want to do. I think you can do the same with other fields. If you’re 16 and you don’t know what you want to do, just explore it. Take a week, go explore law, go explore tech, go explore other fields you’re considering, and then see what you like best.