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How Ukrainian became a WhatsApp programmer

When Sasha Sturm was 15 years old, her father presented her with a book about programming on Android. Now she lives in the USA and works as a programmer in WhatsApp.

Sasha Sturm. Photo:

For online magazine Happy Monday Talks Sasha Sturm shares his impressions of working in WhatsApp and gives advice to those who want to work there.

Sasha, how did you learn to program?

There was a lot of self-study, mainly on Oracle tutorials and Android documentation. I have also been preparing for Java Oracle certification for a long time. This training and certification clearly helped me get my first job as a programmer in the USA.

What resources for training can you advise?

Now there are a lot more high-quality online resources, also with real teachers. I strongly advise to take courses from leading universities such as MIT, Berkeley, Stanford. It is very important that someone qualified assess your homework and give advice.

In general, basic online courses are enough to push off and start programming “for yourself”. But to become an expert, look at what disciplines you need to complete in order to get a diploma, for example, a software engineer, and systematically work on them.


How did you get into whatsapp?

By that time, I already lived in the USA and worked full-time on our own project with my husband. At some point, I decided that it would be nice to combine a startup with a job that does not exhaust and brings a steady income, which I can invest in my company.

I started an online job search and very quickly came across the position of a specialist in the Ukrainian market to support and localize WhatsApp. Sent a resume.

How was the filing? What was important to know which skills were tested?

A few days after sending a resume, a recruiter contacted me to clarify certain organizational details. Soon the invitation came for screening interviews. At the screening they checked the motivation, asked very general technical questions.

About a week later I was invited to the office, and 4 5 various specialists conducted an interview with me for hours. They asked a lot of situational and organizational issues. For example, how do I manage time, cope with the constant switching between programming and operating activities, and the like.


Technical issues were also, but not engineering level. A week later, I was invited to lunch with 6 employees. We talked mainly about my projects and hobbies. In the end, instead of localization, I was offered the position of a specialist in technical support for Android users. The first offer did not suit me. I asked for a higher salary, which satisfied both parties.

Two years later I moved to the position of a programmer in the automation team of the client application.

Are you familiar with whatsapp founder Jan Kum?

I know Yana, but, unfortunately, I was not able to work with him directly. I believe that they, together with Brian, are very talented leaders who adhere to their principles, respect the employees and always actively participate in the life of the company.

Can a Ukrainian go to WhatsApp?

Yes, of course it can. To do this, it’s enough to apply on Facebook Careers for a relevant position for yourself in WhatsApp. At the moment we are looking for employees not only in North America, but also in Europe, for example, in Dublin and London.


What is the atmosphere in whatsapp?

For me, WhatsApp, especially the early one, is a family-type company. Brian and Ian were able to create a friendly and open atmosphere. I joined WhatsApp after the merger with Facebook, but when we were in a separate office. Therefore, the feeling of a small startup in a company with large resources was very interesting for me. I got all the advantages of a large corporation and the atmosphere of a small company.

Did you feel prejudiced towards yourself as a woman or because you are not American?

According to statistics, in the US among programmers only 10% of women. This is very small, so prejudice is inevitable. However, in my experience, it manifests itself already in the process of work, and not at the interview stage.

I often conduct interviews and I can say with confidence that when submitting and passing an interview, everyone is equal and has the same chance, at least in our company.

Silicon Valley is a multicultural place, I do not feel discriminated against because I am not American. However, in the southeast, when I lived in Georgia and North Carolina, I met a certain dislike for those who “came in large numbers” because they “selected” jobs and generally eat some strange, red soup. But curiosity often wins, and sometimes even friendships arise.


What features of the mentality of people in the USA surprised you the most?

I was rather surprised by my mentality compared to Americans, and not vice versa. I have more skepticism, lack of self-confidence, some kind of constraint, but also greater adaptability to inconveniences, such “severity”. Here the lack of hot water is considered an emergency!

How did the adaptation process go?

My adaptation process has been going on for over 20 years and has dozens of flights between two continents. Liberal multicolored California definitely suits me more than the religious south-east. It is also easier when there is a close person nearby and you are already overgrown with a bunch of good friends. In the valley I fit in.


Are there any features of communication with colleagues?

WhatsApp has a lot of Russian-speaking people, so communication is often very easy. There are also many people from different parts of the world. It is interesting to learn about traditions and modern trends directly from culture carriers.

Most of all I was surprised by the open and friendly attitude of colleagues to each other. I recently went on vacation to Kiev. My manager and three other colleagues from the London office arrived here for the weekend to visit me and see the city. This is unreal nice and well describes our relationship.


The creator of WhatsApp, Jan Kum, is also Ukrainian. In 1992, Yang, together with his mother and grandmother, immigrated to the United States from the small town of Fastiv, near Kiev. Having moved to states as a teenager, for 20 years went from surviving on social benefits to creating the world's most popular mobile messenger bought by Facebook for $ 19 billion. Ian Kuma’s success story read this link.

Reprinted with permission from Happy Monday Talks online magazine.

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