Djordje Nijemcevic, senior software design engineer at Microsoft Belgrade, skydiving at 1600 meters above airfield Lisicij Jarak.

DJORDJE IN
A SNAPSHOT
Age: 33
Nationality: Serbian
Piece of technology you could not live without:
I would pick my headphones & Xbox Music combo. Having the ability to listen to my favorite tracks (I like progressive rock and jazz) and explore new music wherever I go is something I got really hooked on.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
Some 1000 years forward in time. I'm curious to see if the human race can find a way to survive the internal conflicts, and if we are really alone in the universe. By that time, I guess the answer to both questions will be known.
Which is your favorite programming language?
C++, no doubt

It was a TV commercial he saw when he was four years old that first turned Djordje Nijemcevic on to skydiving. “It was a commercial for pâté,” recalls the lanky Serbian, “and the skydivers were spreading it on slices of bread as they jumped. I wanted to see if I could do it too.”

Twenty-eight years and one hundred and thirty-eight jumps later, Djordje hasn’t yet put pâté on his bread in mid-flight. But he still gets a kick out of skydiving. And it’s the teamwork involved that really excites him—that, and the sense of focus.

In fact, he grins, “It’s one of the rare moments when I’m really focused on one thing.” Which is a little disingenuous when you consider how much focus went into the optical character recognition (OCR) source code that Djordje and his Belgrade-based team at Microsoft Development Center Serbia developed, from scratch, for the Windows Phone Translator app and other Microsoft products.

The young Serbs were convinced they could come up with a better text recognition engine than the one that Microsoft could have bought. Besides, as a new development outpost, they had a lot to prove. “We really feel that this is our story,” explains Djordje. “Most people here feel that they have to give their best so this place can grow.”

The young Serbs were convinced they could come up with a better text recognition engine ... "Most people here feel that they have to give their best so this place can grow." explains Djordje

And they did. After more than a year and a half of work, which involved long, night hours and setting ambitious goals, the team came up with a completely new optical character recognition engine that challenged the market’s state of the art.

What’s more, Microsoft’s Belgrade development hub has grown. The source code was developed out of a poky office in the old town. But Djordje’s Augmented Reality (AR) team, along with teams from Bing, SQL Server and Office, now occupies the third floor of a spanking new building on the other side of the Sava River in what’s known locally as New Belgrade, which is where we meet one morning in early March.

The VILLAGE SHAMAN

A tall, dark-haired figure in blue jeans, open-necked shirt and hiking boots, Djordje is a senior software design engineer in the Belgrade in the Belgrade Augmented Reality (AR) team—and characteristically modest about his personal contribution to the source code development.

Djordje Nijemcevic, 33, taking a break in triple exposure, at the Microsoft Development Center Serbia.

And they did. After more than a year and a half of work, which involved long, night hours and setting ambitious goals, the team came up with a completely new optical character recognition engine that challenged the market’s state of the art.

What’s more, Microsoft’s Belgrade development hub has grown. The source code was developed out of a poky office in the old town. But Djordje’s Augmented Reality (AR) team, along with teams from Bing, SQL Server and Office, now occupies the third floor of a spanking new building on the other side of the Sava River in what’s known locally as New Belgrade, which is where we meet one morning in early March.

THE VILLAGE SHAMAN

A tall, dark-haired figure in blue jeans, open-necked shirt and hiking boots, Djordje is a senior software design engineer in the Belgrade in the Belgrade Augmented Reality (AR) team—and characteristically modest about his personal contribution to the source code development.

“It’s a bit more about the team here,” he insists, adding that he’s not even team leader. In fact, he explains with a smile, “I do like having a positive influence on the people around me, but I like staying focused on the core engineering work. For me, being the village shaman somehow always felt more suitable than being the village chief.”

Djordje, it transpires, has been influential indeed. During a dinner conversation with one of Microsoft’s distinguished engineers, Djordje expressed an idea of an autonomous multi-copter taking aerial pictures for Bing Maps. The conversation ultimately led to forming the Augmented Reality Hardware team in Belgrade.

While being a member of the OCR team, Djordje has filed nine patent applications. But what matters most to Djordje is the team’s achievements. “If I could pick the times I’ve been really proud of myself, they weren’t when I came up with some extremely smart idea that turned out to be an important part of the product. They were when the team was in trouble and I got them out.”

"If I could pick the times I've been really proud of myself, they weren't when I came up with some extremely smart idea that turned out to be an important part of the prouduct. They were when the team was in trouble and I got them out".

A few years back, for example, the Belgrade OCR team was under pressure to port their OCR engine to a mobile platform and build a user interface around it in a very short period of time. Djordje’s rigorous and systematic approach to the challenge paid off. “Within two months we released one of the key features in Bing app for the iPhone, allowing people to build web-search queries by tapping on words in a snapped photo instead of typing them in a search box. The largest piece of the work was on my plate, but I think I made the team shine,” he says.

Among partner teams in the US, Djordje’s group has become known for its rigorous approach to testing infrastructure and to measurement. That’s a message that Djordje also takes to the kids he mentors at Petnica Science Center, a nonprofit located about 100 kilometers from Belgrade that organizes seminars and workshops for gifted secondary school science students. “If you can’t measure something, don’t build it,” he tells them. “You need a benchmark to know how good you really are.”

A few years back, for example, the Belgrade OCR team was under pressure to port their OCR engine to a mobile platform and build a user interface around it in a very short period of time. Djordje’s rigorous and systematic approach to the challenge paid off. “Within two months we released one of the key features in Bing app for the iPhone, allowing people to build web-search queries by tapping on words in a snapped photo instead of typing them in a search box. The largest piece of the work was on my plate, but I think I made the team shine,” he says.

Among partner teams in the US, Djordje’s group has become known for its rigorous approach to testing infrastructure and to measurement. That’s a message that Djordje also takes to the kids he mentors at Petnica Science Center, a nonprofit located about 100 kilometers from Belgrade that organizes seminars and workshops for gifted secondary school science students. “If you can’t measure something, don’t build it,” he tells them. “You need a benchmark to know how good you really are.”

Djordje enjoys providing students with real-world knowledge they don’t get at school. And, he likes showing a new generation that those with talent can stay in Serbia and do interesting work.

COUNTRY BOY

Though born in Belgrade, Djordje spent much of his own childhood in the countryside of central Serbia, where his grandparents had a farm, and in Serbia’s fourth largest city, Kragujevac, where his parents (both electrical engineers) live and which he still considers his true hometown. In fact, he prototyped one of the key OCR software components on a bus, on a weekend trip home. “You have time to think on a bus,” he says, “to absorb new things”.

Djordje Nijemcevic likes to absorb new things outside the office – here at the river Sava.

Djordje enjoys providing students with real-world knowledge they don’t get at school. And, he likes showing a new generation that those with talent can stay in Serbia and do interesting work.

COUNTRY BOY
Though born in Belgrade, Djordje spent much of his own childhood in the countryside of central Serbia, where his grandparents had a farm, and in Serbia’s fourth largest city, Kragujevac, where his parents (both electrical engineers) live and which he still considers his true hometown. In fact, he prototyped one of the key OCR software components on a bus, on a weekend trip home. “You have time to think on a bus,” he says, “to absorb new things”.

Djordje Nijemcevic likes to absorb new things outside the office – here at the river Sava.

Djordje has been absorbing new things since his grandfather taught him to identify the parts of a tractor when he was less than two years old. A reader from the age of three, he shone at school (despite that lack of focus) and after toying with pure science as a career, he opted to study electronics at Belgrade University because, he explains, “you’re close to real hardware—how things work.”

He spent time abroad while at university, in both Mexico and Spain. But after working in Germany for eight months immediately after graduation he returned to his roots, resolved to make a positive contribution to Serbia’s economic development, and joined Microsoft’s Belgrade development centre in 2007.

Djordje Nijemcevic, wrapping things up after his 142nd jump at airfield Lisicij Jarak outside Belgrade.

Djordje has been absorbing new things since his grandfather taught him to identify the parts of a tractor when he was less than two years old. A reader from the age of three, he shone at school (despite that lack of focus) and after toying with pure science as a career, he opted to study electronics at Belgrade University because, he explains, “you’re close to real hardware—how things work.”

He spent time abroad while at university, in both Mexico and Spain. But after working in Germany for eight months immediately after graduation he returned to his roots, resolved to make a positive contribution to Serbia’s economic development, and joined Microsoft’s Belgrade development centre in 2007.

Why Microsoft and not a smaller company? Because, says Djordje, “to give your best and learn as fast as you can, you really need to be surrounded by a lot of talented people, and Microsoft gives opportunities to talented people in Serbia.” What’s more, he says, “no matter what project you’re working on, you get a chance to work with top-class people from the industry.”

Right now, Djordje is working on a new augmented reality project led by Microsoft Partner Scientist, David Nistér, an expert on computer vision. “I read his papers at university and now I’m working with him,” he says. “It’s awesome.”

And the skydiving? Isn’t it risky? Does he have any plans to quit? Absolutely not, declares Djordje. “I like taking the risk.” Besides, “Every time I jump, I learn something new.”

About Petnica

Djordje, alongside other Microsoft Development Centre Serbia employees, is involved in the Petnica Science Center, the biggest independent nonprofit organization for extracurricular, informal science education in South Eastern Europe. The centre aims to get talented and motivated high-school students into the world of science by providing seminars and workshops. Since 1982, Petnica has organized more than 2,500 programs (seminars, workshops, research camps, lab exercises, specialized tutorials, etc) for nearly 50,000 students and science teachers in 15 disciplines of science, technology and humanities.

Djordje volunteers at the applied physics and electronics seminars in Petnica, where he works with young students on many projects, tackling themes like computer vision, robotics, numerical simulations and embedded systems. All the knowledge and practical skills gained through these seminars offer young students numerous possibilities for further specialization and research.

Photos taken by Danijel Vesic Dasha

Djordje Nijemcevic: "Every time I jump, I learn something new."