Interview with Roxana Rugina from Simplon Romania

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  • Roxana Rugina was included in Top 30 under 30 by Forbes Romania
  • She is the founder of Simplon Romania which offer free programming classes for non-technical people. From the first group of students all of them are now working in IT. However, the project is facing the risk of remaining in a stand by phase because the French model of social business which was the model of Simplon Romania also, cannot be applied to the Romanian one. On the other hand, the other business project, Digital Kids that Roxana founded, where the children have the possibility of learning how to code through interactive games, is a success story.
  • Cluj-Makers Founder
  • Organizer of Start-up Weekend and Innovation Labs Cluj
  • Before working in IT field, Roxana had a successful carrier in PR and a strong involvement in the digital world. She was the first person to have a twitter account in the company she was working at the time. Also, she was the person who contributed to the development of Friends for Friends foundation and the series of workshops for creative writing: “”Creative Est”.
  • She lived for 4 years in France. She went there because she fell in love with a French guy and gave up a job offer in marketing and communication at Microsoft India in order to leave
  • She learned French in 6 month.
  • Gets bored easily. That’s the reason behind her involvement in multiple and different projects, but she strongly believes that one should always know which are his limits. She never questions herself about the decisions that she already took: “In the moments when you need to take a decision, but you keep thinking and overthinking which is the right decision you can only kill your creativity and energy. That’s way, you actually need to take that decision.”
  • She doesn’t like to dream for too much time, because she likes to make things happen: ”So I said to myself: I want to take a holiday once per month. So every month, I take a week free.”
  • Roxana doesn’t believe in the expression of “Not believing in yourself”. “You need to analyze very well what is that you’re feeling, because it’s not lack of confidence, it’s something else. You always have yourself for support. You are the one who wanted to make things, no matter what decision you took, you were the one who took it. You can’t lose the belief in yourself.”
  • She believes that nothing can be done by yourself: “You can’t make nothing by yourself in this world, absolutely nothing. Even a food, if you want to cook it, you need vegetables that were cultivated by someone. There is nothing on this world that was built by a single man. We need people. You meet them along the way when you’re interested in a specific subject and you become more open and see that everything that shows up in your way it’s what you need at the moment to bring the idea to life.”

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-Roxana, i read in an interview that back then, when you were a high school student you were passionate about mathematics, physics, chemistry, but despite that you initially choose a university and career in a humanistic area.

-I loved school, basically. And I dedicated all my free time to studying. If I had to choose between going out, or going somewhere with my parents, I preferred to stay home and study history.

-Even at history, at everything?

-In eight grade when I had to choose a high school, I went to psychologist to help me choose a career based on my personality. It was then when I first asked myself: What do I want to do with my life? I said then that I would like to study journalism, but the psychologist told me that I am not the type of person you through out the door and enters on the window, but that I do like people and I am good at them. I took a high grade at my final exam at mathematics, but I chose instead the philology profile. Still, during high school I ended up participating to the math Olympics. I was the only one of my class who liked math. The minus of my high school profile was the lack of informatics classes and only later in my life I took on this path.

-During high school, you took part in an IT group

-I started that club. When I first started high school I felt the need of doing something with my time. So I went to the city youngsters club where not much was happening. I went to the mayor office and I told him that he should be doing more activities for the young people in the city and that we had ideas. So he supported us to start this club, which name was Voltin. There we equipped a studio with European funds and we started writing projects, talking to sponsors. At 14 years old we were to do all sort of stuff, like obtaining 100 t-shirts for the whole club, a place on the scene for the club, activities that other children our age didn’t know that were possible to me done.

-Especially in the small cities.

-Yes, especially there. But I think that out of boredom, we started doing them. So that’s how we set up the first club of informatics.

-And you had teachers?

-We were only by ourselves.

-So that was the time you first enjoyed to make a project

-Yes, I enjoyed it very much. To see how they come to life and how others can be involved and can enjoy them also.

 

The carrier in communication

-When you went to college, you didn’t thought yet at choosing informatics? In those times it wasn’t such a popular field of work.

-No, the technology was not so present and important in people’s life. It was necessary to know how to Office applications and to have a blog. In my job it was very important to have a bog. I worked all along my college years and I was the first one in the company to have a Twitter account. It was very new back then for the client and the big companies we were working with: Sensiblu, Carrefour and others. I proposed for them interactive websites, experiences. I liked the most the virtual campaigns that could be offered online t the clients and it was something different that was happening at the time, when the communication meant mostly outdoor campaigns, like decorating a bus station and that was considered the great user experience. All this, while the online was there all time, and was available to millions of people. That’s why I choose to go deeper in the digital field. I searched how you can make a website, so I can have my own, in the first place. I went to every event about online marketing, everything that was organized in this domain. But I have always been lucky regarding the people that came across my path, even my bosses who supported and inspired me.

-And you liked you’re job, right?

-I did, until the economic crises came and budgets were cut and many creative ideas didn’t make sense, at least not in the economy from that moment. My job become a boring one and everything got to be mostly about money, because we had to cut the costs, to give up ideas, beautiful things so that the job became really boring. So I started to think about doing something else. For a period of time, I had an interesting project: I was part of the team who created a foundation for creative storytelling, which still exists today. There we had workshops where people could learn how to write better, how to make journalism. The Foundation is called “Friends for Friends” and the workshops “CreativeEst”. That was the project which kept my interest going for a while, until the pressure at the job become too much to handle so I decided to give up, but I am happy that the project is still running and it’s growing constantly. From there I left to Paris. Initially, I was supposed to leave for India, because I applied for a job at Microsoft in the communication sector and I had been accepted, but I felt in love with a French guy so I had to make a choice between love and my desire to travel and living the country.

-You had a thing for India? A strong desire to visit that country in particular?

-No, I wanted Microsoft. I wanted to see how it’s like to work in the tech industry, but, something else happened.

-Yes, you left to France.

-Yes, where I stayed for 4 years. In the first place, I entered a Master’s study with a focus on digital creation that implied a lot of online study, work and learning how to use digital tools. I would have liked though to enter a Master’s studies in Artificial Intelligence, but I didn’t meet the criteria, like a high school in informatics and all kind of certifications.

-Was it complicated to apply for Masters Studies in France?

-The most complicated thing was that I didn’t speak French and that I needed a certificate. But in 6 months I learned the language and I took the B level certificate. I learned by reading a lot of books. I took the book, I read, I didn’t understand but I kept reading until I could see some connections and understand better. It’s the same in coding, too. You go, you dive yourself in a thing until things start to wire and make sense where at first seemed to be nothing. I have this strong belief that as long as you want to learn something, you can do it. For some, it may be harder but it’s possible.

-It’s true, but a great deal of people gave up at some point. Did you have projects that you began but you had to give them up?

-I did start an app that I had to discard. It was my first lesson about the market: if there is no market for your products that you must stop. It was an app for bike friendly communities, which in the end transformed into a community, a real one. I mean, some people that I gathered in one place, started to meet up and they made an incubator for creating smart bicycles with integrated, intelligent systems. It was a cool thing to do, a projects that continues without me in Paris.

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-How did you come up with the idea of developing it?

-I wanted to learn how to code and this was the idea that helped me to get in at Simplon. I worked for 3 months and a half with a team made up of people, until we realized that the app does not answers peoples’ needs. In the meantime, we were organizing meet-ups and were talking with people, validating our idea, so they told us: “guys, what you want to create it shouldn’t be an app. We need a whole community for creating and sustaining a smart city, bike friendly.” And this is how a complete different project was born, but my main and basic idea died, even though I was not bothered about it. From our meetings, teams got to be created and they went to all kinds of hackathons and they are still creating a lot of apps today. At that time, was the hype with Google glasses and they created an app for quick tracks, maps for the wheelmen in Paris.. So the end result is very cool.

-So you have several projects that you started and now they are growing bigger without you.

-I only was a pylon in those processes. I got enthusiastic about them and I land a hand.

 

France Chapter

-When you decided to leave to France, did you have any doubts about it?

-The hardest thing to do is packing your whole life in two suitcases and go. And that was the first time when I did that. Now it is very easy for me to pack everything in two suitcases. But the first time was hard. I remember that day and I had to throw away a lot of clothes so they could literally fit in two suitcases.

-And did you have any moment in which you asked yourself: “What on earth was I thinking?”

-No, none. I like doing new stuff. That was what I was looking for and what I got. It was something extraordinary and I would do it again, anytime.

-And I suppose you knew your boyfriend very well.

-We have been knowing each other only for seven months.

-So, it was more of a gut feeling.

-I said: let’s see what happens. I remember my mom when I first told her that I want to leave and she said to me: “think about what do you have to loose and what do you have to win. The worst thing that can happen to you is to gain a new experience.” And this was the thought in my mind that I left with.

-So your mother was very supportive. What if she would have told you to choose Microsoft? Do you think she could have made you change your mind?

-First of all, I don’t think she would have done it because my mother had always told me to do what I feel. And this is what I always do.

 

Decisions and Fears

-Have fear ever stopped you from doing something that wanted to do? You don’t seem to have any doubts in taking decisions. I was actually reading an interview with you where you said that when an idea comes to your mind you immediately start to implement it, to see how it can be done.

-Well, you can think about it, make a great plan and then someone else does it before you, or it just doesn’t happen because there are 1000 other reasons and possibilities that stand against, but in order to happen, there is only one: to make it!

-So how does this process look like? Do you start it alone?

-You can’t do anything by yourself in this life, absolutely nothing. Even a food, if you want to cook something, you need vegetables that are grown by a farmer. There is nothing on this world that has been made by a single man. We need people. You meet them on your way, when you are interested in an idea and you open up and you see that everything that comes in your way it’s on the same direction and has the same scope as you do. So new people enter your life, people that are interested in the same idea that you are. This is the beauty of creation: people and resources come to you. But that’s why you got to start and the more you do, the higher the chances are that you will make it.

 

Starting again in France – a new career

-In France you were employed?

-I was an employee at the Cultural Romanian Institute and afterwards I made my own company, meaning I become an authorized financial person. And I had many and different projects I was involved in from doing websites to fashion week, shows, etc.

-And how did the clients reach you?

-I either searched for them, I went to many events in the start-up field, incubators, co-working places and I talked to people who needed this kind of services. I was there, or I was online on freelancing websites and I met with people after that. However, many projects were from Romania.

-And did somebody help you during the process?

-No, I was by myself. I was one man show. But it was easier from bureaucratic point of iew: you could open a company in one day. But I didn’t have clients all the time. It was terrible then. I had all the time in the world, I could have done anything, but I couldn’t, I was blocked in this thing: how do I find the next client? So there were also hard times there.

-How did you overcome these periods?

-Searching and searching. If I would have stayed, nothing would have happened. And people were asking me: what do you do here, with all your skills, why don’t you get hired somewhere?

-Have you tried to get hire?

-Yes, I did. But it was a complicated time there. Sarkozy was president and there was this law against immigrants and I couldn’t get hired unless an employer would guarantee for me and pay to get my work license, but nobody knew when that license would come out.

 

Simplon – from student to partner

-Simplon offers 6 months of free coding training, for non-technical people. What made you want to pursue these classes?

-The need. I felt that I needed new skills. The desire of being in online and to participate at the creation of new digital tools, the possibility of getting into practice any idea and the people that were there, with whom I got into contact and with whom I felt I am on the same level.

-How did you end up bringing the project in Romania?

-I really liked the prototype of the project and I liked my colleagues. We were 16 different nationalities and fields: journalists, people who were making pizza, artists, all kind of people. From the first month I went there before we officially started, I went there every day and I proposed myself to be in charge of a few projects. They liked very much what I did, the trusted me and when I came with the proposal of bringing Simplon in Romania, they told me: we support you 100, tell us how can we help you. From there, we needed a plan with clear step to follow and implement and I started to contact people in Romania.

-What kind of people?

-First of all, I searched people that would help me with space, than I had to look for programmers, trainers.

-Did Simplon offer you any financial support?

-They gave me only a business plan.

-Of which you said it didn’t fit into Romania business landscape and system.

-No, it doesn’t.

-What kind of business model are we talking about?

-It’s very hard to have one on coding boot-camp in Romania. And I say this because I have friends who are doing the same thing and for whom is very difficult to find a model in our country. But there, in France, you have in the first place, an institution for unemployment which Finance professional reconversions. We don’t have that in Romania. They invest 2000 euros for tech classes for unemployed people in France, but in Romania the agency for un-employment does not have this money. Secondly, the companies in France have a special budget allocated for professional development that gave to every employee who is obliged to take these classes once a year.

-From what I know, our IT companies have this kind of trainings, but internally.

-Here everything is internalized. Everyone with its own thing. They don’t go to experts. Simplon is an example delivering trainings in IT for non-technical people. The companies from Romania need experts. The third factor is the government. Look how much the IT section is bringing into the country capital and development and see if there is any support on the government side. None. There isn’t. Because if it were, than the need for education and development would be understood. So three main aspects from the French system don’t work here. If you don’t have three wheels, what do you twirl? The only system that works here is the one with tax, that doesn’t serve the ones who are disadvantaged so they still remain without perspectives.

-But you had the first round of students.

-Yes, we had one that I financed it myself. I came with some money from France and I add my savings, I won some awards and I put everything at stake in order to finalize the project. And it happened and it was a great success and I am happy for those people.

-And a great part of them are working in IT?

-Yes, all of them

-And they didn’t know how to code before?

-No, they knew nothing about it.

-Were they unemployed?

-Yes, but not officially. Here, being unemployed is seen as a disgrace, as you know. They were families who went out of the borders to work and ere sending home 100 euros per month, others who were living in the countryside and were eating vegetables planted by the grandparents, who were ashamed to ask for food and they eat potatos all day at class.

-So you are going to keep the project going.

-It depends.

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Cluj-Makers – playground for adults

-But Cluj-Makers and Digital Kids will however remain as active projects

-Cluj-Makers…

-What’s happening there?

-There is a studio for professional formation where you can learn how some things to obtain a new job. Secondly, is a place for digital production and prototype making, meaning a lot of materials, wood, iron, everything that implies object design, 3d printing, electronics, robotics, jewellery, decorations.

-Practically, people come in, pay a subscription and find here all the materials and everything they need.

-Initially, we started with some workshops and now we are thinking on getting back to them and doing a kind of school that will exist during the whole year. For the moment we didn’t do that because of the insufficient space and lack of trainers. We have a few, but not on for every field.

-The success story – Action, management and trust

-I know it’s better to focus on a single project, to have a single idea in which you will put your energy, because in that way the chances of getting it done are higher. But how do you manage with so many ideas and different projects?

-It’s true what you say. But you have to know your own limits. I find myself in a moment where I worked very, very hard believing there are no limits, but now I now them. I give myself periods of maximum focus on a certain projects: like 3 or 6 months and when I feel it’s going well, I switch to another project. In my everyday schedule I have my time organized in droup of hours.

-How come you didn’t stop at Digital Kids? It is a successful project.

-I would have gotten bored. I get bored easily. After 6 months, a year, I feel the need to change. Look, at the begging I only had Simplon and for about a year that’s all I did: taking care and developing this project, until I went nuts because it didn’t work, I didn’t feel I was growing in any way, I didn’t see what buttons should I push to get it going. That’s why I decided to get involved in another project. I could go back and work only at Simplon but I am still searching for those buttons.

-Do you ever doubt the decisions you are taking?

-I don’t doubt my decisions. The good decision is the taken one. You can’t doubt it because you took it. So in the moment you stay and think and re-think and doubt you can only kill your creativity and energy. That’s why you have to take the decision. Probably there are many things that I don’t do best, but I do them. And the most important thing is that I keep going. Everything can be improved, you can never reach perfection, but it’s better to do something than just think about doing. And I can talk about believing in yourself for two days in a row. There was a time when I lack the confidence in myself because I didn’t see the results I was aiming for. So I asked for help and I see some specialized people who helped me see that there is no such thing as believing in oneself because you don’t have to. You know some things and you want some things and what you need to do is figure it out how to use what you know to get what you want. You need to analyze really good what you feel inside, because it’s not lack of confidence, it’s something else. You will always have yourself as a support, you are the one who wanted to make things, no matter the decision you took, you took it and you can’t loose the trust in yourself. We go to gym, fitness, but we don’t go to a couch, even though it is very important.

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The heart belongs to Romania

-Did you went on vacations in the last years?

-Yes, I enjoy to take vacation very much. I took 6 months if I could. I dream to be able to take a vacation whenever I want. But, in general, I don’t like dreaming too much, I like to make it happen. So I said: I want a vacation once per month and a week from every month I go somewhere.

-What impact had on you the experience of living in a foreign country?

-I opened very much. In the sense that before I had misconceptions, I labeled people easily and now I can’t do that anymore. I say people that had no shoes on their feet, that have torn trousers but have 3 PHDs and knew many languages and that came as shock. I believe that from all the diversity and living with so many cultures you get to be more flexible, more tolerant. I kept with me everything I learned there and I am so happy that I have this extra baggage with myself. I always tell my employees to go abroad in the first place with Erasmus, or something else, just to go. This is my advice for everyone. And if you’re heart is at home, you came back. If it’s good for you there, than maybe you don’t.

-And why is your heart here?

-It’s not explainable. There are many books written on this subject and I still haven’t find the answer to it. My brother has been living in Tel Aviv for about 3 years now and he want to come home and he doesn’t know why. He has the there that he loves, his girlfriend, but he wants to come home.

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