From the East to the West: how a Platform.sh engineer ventured into a new world
On a warm June night in 2017, Mahdi Mokhtariirani was taking a walk along the Rhine River in Düsseldorf, Germany, with a friend. A young man on a bicycle approached, singing and yelling. Mahdi's friend suggested that the man was probably drunk. "Drunk?" Mahdi immediately jumped in front of the bicycle, stopping the man. He shook his hand and exclaimed, "I've never seen a drunk person before!" Fascinated by the phenomenon of drunkenness, Mahdi bombarded the man with questions.
Born and raised in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahdi had left his home country for the first time at the age of 21 to take an internship in Germany. He was curious about Western culture and eager to learn every little bit about his new environment. How does being drunk feel? Why do Europeans eat rice with a fork instead of a spoon? Why didn't they use spices in their cooking?
"I've had so many culture shocks, but very positive ones," he says. "It's like waking up to the sunlight—first you're startled, but then you're happy the sun is there."
An observer turns creator
Mahdi grew up in Tehran and describes his early self as "a nerdy and shy introvert." He enjoyed solving math problems, learning languages, and memorizing Arabic poems from his grandfather's library. He was passionate about astronomy and wanted to pursue a career as an astrophysicist, until a teacher at his high school recognized Mahdi's facility with computer science.
"He more or less forced me to sit in an informatics class to see if I liked it. But I didn't want the extra homework–I already hated homework. So I thought 'OK fine, I'll go to that class and just say it's not interesting.' But then I actually began liking computer science."
Mahdi became fascinated with programming languages, their semantics and structures, and found pleasure in building autonomous logical entities with them. He changed from a quiet stargazer into a creator of worlds.
An invitation to the West
After graduating, Mahdi applied to the IT and computer engineering program at the University of Tehran, one of the most competitive degree programs in the world, with millions of applicants each year, a notoriously difficult nation-wide entrance exam, and an acceptance rate of only two percent. Mahdi ranked 600 in the exam, securing his spot.
In his studies, Mahdi focused on building and developing hosting infrastructures. His family, especially his mother, worried about Mahdi pursuing computer science rather than the more traditional path for accomplished Iranian students of studying law or medicine. "My mom thought I wanted to make money by playing video games. She didn't really understand what I was training to do. I've had to do a lot of explaining, and I think she is still not really sure what I do in my job. But she's still proud of me for doing my own thing. She brags about me being 'a computer guy who can fix things.'"
Mahdi worked as a system programmer for a web hosting company while taking classes. He became more and more involved with free software and open-source initiatives such as FreeBSD, an open-source operating system. "The best part of volunteering for FreeBSD was the friendships I formed all over the world."
One of those new friends offered Mahdi the Düsseldorf internship. Mahdi, who had always been curious about the Western world, accepted without hesitation. "I was able to explore new countries and cultures, as well as experience the freedom and openness of the West," Mahdi says. "And I had access to so much knowledge, it was incredible! In the first two months in Germany, I attended more tech conferences than in my entire life before."
A new city, a new internship
From meeting drunk people to debating the vitalness of spices with his German friends, Mahdi embraced the countless learning opportunities around him. At the end of his internship, he decided to continue his studies in Europe, this time at the Université Grenoble-Alpes in France.
As part of his curriculum, Mahdi needed to complete an internship. He scored a few interviews with different companies, but when interviewing with Platform.sh, he immediately felt a connection. "I was looking for a company that was flexible, international, and diverse with a positive and ethical work culture," he says. "Platform.sh seemed to be all those things." Working for Platform.sh with its global remote workforce would let him continue his cultural explorations from the comfort of his desk chair.
Mahdi started his internship with Platform.sh in April 2019, relocating from Grenoble to Paris. He quickly became involved with several significant projects for the company. "I was very stressed at first about messing up," he says. "Coming from an Eastern origin, where mistakes are to be avoided at all cost, I was used to overthinking and over-engineering everything, rather than trying things and making improvements."
But once again he discovered that there were other ways than the ones he grew up with. "At Platform.sh, nobody expects you to be flawless. There's a lot of space to ask questions and learn from your mistakes and also from other people's mistakes. It's a never-ending cycle of learning and improving."
Train trip with a mentor
With his midterm thesis defense at the University of Grenoble approaching, Mahdi's professor invited students to bring a representative of their internship company. Mahdi casually brought up the idea to his team, not expecting anyone to have the time to make the long trip. A few weeks later, however, he was excitedly sitting on the train to Grenoble with CPO and Platform.sh co-founder Ori Pekelman in tow.
"I knew how busy he was, so I was very impressed that he took the time to come with me. Especially because I didn't have the physical support of my family, Ori's support meant a lot to me."
Mahdi ranked second-best of his entire class in his thesis defense, an accomplishment he says he wouldn't have been able to achieve if not for Ori's support. "I am an extremely talkative person, which might be good in some situations, but certainly not in a thesis defense where time is limited and talking too much can cost you valuable points. Ori did a couple of test runs with me and didn't hesitate to point out where I was rambling too much."
Finding a family far from home
Mahdi has not been back to Iran to see his family and loved ones since 2018, which is why he says the close connections he has formed at Platform.sh have become very important to him. "You lose a lot when you move to a new country or even a new city, not only your social circle but also your understanding of how things work and how people behave."
When his internship ended in September 2019, Mahdi joined Platform.sh full-time as a cloud software developer. Today he works mainly on Platform.sh core components like its foundation and service packaging infrastructure.
Mahdi spends time with his coworkers exploring different cuisines and restaurants across Paris and volunteering to provide emergency aid to homeless refugees. "I moved to a different country not only to work but also to live, which is why it's so important to me to enjoy what I do and to share it with people I love," Mahdi says. "The people around me at Platform.sh have a constant and continuous impact on my life. They teach me so many different things on a daily basis."
Mahdi made the journey from the East so he could glimpse the world through Western eyes. At Platform.sh, Mahdi continues to follow his instinct to step out from his comfort zone into unfamiliar surroundings. This, both he and Platform.sh believe, is the key to being a learning and growing citizen of the world.