Six years in retrospect:
PhD, Work, Life, Loss, and a 100K challenge

Published: It feels odd to share personal stories on a platform where I typically write about web technology. On the other hand, this has always been my personal website. And where else would one jot down thoughts had they wish to revisit them in a decade and think to themselves, "What an idiot was I?" if it wasn't for the web?

– Written in September 2021, published two years later.

It's been a while…

… since I published anything here. 5 7 years.

It's not that the thought of writing never occurred, but I've always fooled myself I don't have enough time. I do, it just never ended up on my list of things to squeeze in a 24-hour day. Or a week, a month, not even a year. All I have are a couple of unfinished drafts and a bunch of ideas in my head.

Anyhow, I'm doing this now. Maybe because I am home alone. Wow. These two exciting words have a completely different meaning when you are 18 and when you're in your thirties. On both occasions, you're probably going to do things you normally can't, but those things are going to be miles apart. Which is good, it means you've grown. I am home alone because Maja took our dog Echo and our 4-month-old daughter (more on that coming soon) to the seaside together with her mom and sister. Even though I spent 10 hours per day in an office, it still felt like the length of the day had increased by 387%. So I better put this extra time to work…

I should have written several posts in the period I mentioned at the beginning. But as I did not, this post is going to serve as a retrospect of what has been going on in my life in the last half of a decade. Ouch, better change that to "last 6 years", it's less scary that way. Why do this at all? Several reasons. For one, I don't trust my memory. Two, throughout that time, it has been bothering me that all I did with this domain was pay six invoices to keep it. A third one is that I hope when I'm fifty and reading this, it will bring joy to my day. Or tears.

I should probably begin, eh? And to lure you into the comfortable journey of reading, I am going to take the courtesy and set the mood by informing you that I am sitting on a terrace and sipping a porter. A normal beer would do, but these days I either drink a non-alcoholic beer or something cool-sounding. Beer used to taste better, too, but how else would I do "write drunk, edit sober"? I rarely sit on the terrace. Of course, when I decided to buy this apartment in 2017 I could easily picture myself outdoors, but the reality is more than half the time spent on the terrace is either mopping the floor or watering plants, which are dying anyway. It was difficult to get a loan approved (banks don’t like startups as much as tech nerds do), but I am glad I was persistent enough to get it over with.

Ph. D

In 2015 I was working at Celtra, one of three buzz-worthy startups in Slovenia, alongside Zemanta and Outfit7. On paper, this was a Slovenian dream job. Regular full-time employment with a salary more than double the average. But I wanted to earn my PhD and Celtra wanted me to be a senior software developer. Those two did not mix well, so I said goodbye with a cake I made and wrote "I quit" on it (April 2015). I hope they remember me as a better co-worker than a cook.

Of course, I vastly underestimated the time I needed to spend focusing on a PhD, to the extent that I no longer felt comfortable being without an income, but at least the progress I made in the 6 months was enough to get me going with a pace that the light at the end of a tunnel no longer felt like a train rushing towards me. In 2016, I earned it. Dr. Robert Sedovšek. Feels odd, doesn't it? I don't use that title. I don't feel I deserve it. However, I am glad that I was one of the pioneers in the field of user experience research. Even though this was a popular domain in the industry, the academic world lacked journals and papers on that subject.

Throughout the years I felt obliged to write about my experience earning a PhD. Especially in the field I work in, as people would often ask dumb questions like "Do I really need a university degree if I can just do an online course on JavaSc… fuck off". If this post gets more than 5 kudos, I might do it.

On the day I earned my PhD, I bought a wristwatch. I was into watches long before for no particular reason apart from a general appeal for the mixture of art and technology. I am not a collector but I decided to commemorate meaningful moments with a wristwatch.

PS: I know some people find it difficult to believe I earned a PhD. I can understand that. All I can say is that it requires an addictive personality. An obsessed person. Back in the old days, it was just a different addiction, a different obsession…


I'm not making this up, but Nick Mason was reading one of my blog posts. If you scroll down to my earlier posts from 2012 (yes, time flies), you can see posts about beautiful, editorial-like layouts, but on the web. At that time, this was the heart and soul of Turtl. It still is my passion. It's art, it's technology and it's beautiful.

So anyhow, Turtl was founded in 2014 and one of the two co-founders, Nick Mason, hired my former manager (VPE) at Celtra, Rodoljub Petrovič (his first hire!). The two talked and Nick asked Rod if he knew me. Yes, you read this correctly. This was of course a shock because no one from London knows anyone from Ljubljana. I don't know the details about the conversation but in September 2015, I joined Turtl. It was a team with a handful of people and an interesting product with promising potential. I began building it; a feature here, a widget there, a mobile makeover, started doing usability testing, introduced some processes, etc.

Six years later, I am heading the customer engineering department and the company is worth 100 million dollars. If you're reading this from 2025 onwards, we're a unicorn, worth billions (or so I now aspire). At the time of writing, we are about 100 people – across London, Boston, NY, and Ljubljana. Our customers are the likes of Cisco, Amazon, and Google. Saying this made me feel as if I deserved another beer. Cheers!


… so this probably is the most fulfilling part. Before Maja and I became parents, I was a total dick about it – "Anyone can get a child, it takes 3 minutes" (or less, if you're good me), yada-yada, and that sort of thing. The reality could not have been further from the truth. Yes, we've been postponing this, partially because my work at Celtra was no picnic, getting a PhD. is not a walk through the park, and then, we did not want to get into the situation of raising a child in a small studio in the city center. Also, I was always under the impression that once you decide, you have sexual intercourse without a condom, and 9 months later, you're a family of 3. Oh boy…

It took us 2 years to admit to ourselves we need to seek help. Thirteen appointments and five months later (in hindsight, we should just have sex more frequently, but millennials are too lazy for that), Maja was injecting hormones into her thighs, and I masturbated in a cup – an extraordinary experience, but hey, it's for a greater good – (I probably had too many beers by now) – and then, the science finally delivered. On September 11th, 2020, on our trip to Lake Bled, we received a phone call… before going there, I bought a bottle of champagne (not a sparkling wine, a proper champagne). If doctors deliver good news, I am drinking it alone, if the news were bad, I would have to share it. We were ecstatic! Maja was officially pregnant, and I got to keep a whole bottle of it just for myself. It was the IVF technique doctors used with us. Kudos to science and medicine!

On May 17th, 2021, I was allowed to join the delivery room at around 3 PM. We knew we were having a girl, but we had no idea how to name her. Azra? Maja said no, sounds like a cat name. Ekatarina. I fancied it, but it's also the name of a rock band where most members died over a heroin overdose. Evita? Evi, if you are reading this, I seriously considered her naming that, but with all your spelling mistakes, my OCD just couldn't handle it.

When our baby came out late in the evening, it was beautiful. I asked her mom, "Shall we name her Ada or Evita?". She replied she looked more like Ada. She does. Ada, I like your name, because:

  • it's universal – its pronunciation sounds nice in all parts of the word,
  • it's palindrome,
  • no famous idiot was ever named Ada, however,
  • if you really need association with a famous person, google Ada Lovelace.

So, there she was. I drove her home in a 265-horse-powered Mazda and it was the first time I drove slow. I did not sleep the first night as I was checking whether she was still breathing. Every 20 seconds or so. At the time of writing, you still can't walk, but you'd be happy to know I still haven't dropped you on the floor (not at the time of writing this), so I hope your bodily functions develop well in the future. Anyhow… from all the things I've experienced in my life, none of them can match the warmth of feeling I get when you smile at me first thing in the early morning. I almost shed a tear just thinking about it while writing this. Speaking of tears… not all went well in the last 5 years, so…

A family loss

In 2019, I lost my father. I received a phone call from my mother. Early in the morning. In the middle of the night. Yikes. That can't be good. "Robert, your father passed away". Thanks for letting me know, I am coming over. And I did. I packed my suitcase, incredibly calm, at a very slow pace, took our dog to the caretaker, and took off to Mežica. He was there, lying on the sofa, all cold and breathless. All that, at the age of 57. I remember him smoking Filter 57. Drinking beer, eating meat. Daily. Did he know this wasn't good for him? Would he change had he known? Who knows…

I still have mixed feelings of sadness and anger. I would love him to be around. I’m sure he would have loved Ada. Have I learned much from him? Probably. From his flaws? Much more. It made me realize I need to get my affairs in order, put my family first, and focus on my mental health and fitness. Speaking of which…


… in 2021, I ran 100 km over 5 mountains.

Yes, this sounds crazy. It was over 5500 m of elevation gain. That's roughly the same as going from the seaside to the tallest mountain in Slovenia… twice. A distance of 100 km is long even on a road bike. Heck, it's even annoying to do that with a car. But I did it on foot in 19 hours. The race starts at night and goes through a mine tunnel. At the starting line, there were no familiar faces. I knew none of the runners and they all looked intimidatingly fit, confident, and ready. All I was looking for was to find a friendly face who would ask me to go for a beer so I could DNF before the race even started. I am glad that did not happen. My family was cheering for me at the last checkpoint, 15 km from the finish line. I quickly said hi and rushed by. Ada was too young to recognize me and get all excited, and my dog didn’t seem to care either. Regardless, they gave me the power and will to continue when my mind and body were more than ready to give up (since kilometer 16 or so). There has been a war going on in my head and stomach, but every time I passed by someone, or more likely – someone passed me by, they said a few words that lifted me up and kept me going.

Speaking about a war in my head and a 100 km race… if there are any psychiatrists reading this, can you please reach out to me? I surely need your help, don't I? It is difficult to understand why we do this. I guess…

"[It’s] an important message to send my daughter and to others. We may not be confident in our ability to succeed, but this shouldn’t stop us trying." – Vassos Alexander

This personal journey is closed for comments.