Private Sonea reports!

Andra Sonea
4 min readSep 24, 2020


When I was a private in the Romanian army my family name was not Sonea but my maiden name which was very long, rare and unpronounceable even for Romanians. I use Sonea here for brevity.

I was a private in the Romanian Army for a brief period in ’89 and this was not out of choice. It was mandatory for all women going to university. I am one meter and half tall and in ’89 my weight was just a bit over 40kg. The uniform they gave me was probably never worn as there were very few other women before me with my constitution, in that military unit.

That morning I woke up late. I was already supposed to be at the unit. I overslept. I went outside my room in the student residence trying to find somebody at 5:30 am to help me put my winter coat. Nobody passed. I put the coat on the floor, threw myself in it and wrestled for a while to put my arms through and then to somehow get up. Imagine getting dressed in something of the consistency of your living room carpet.

I run in the dark until I reached the unit. My group was outside, in formation. It was too early for me in the military training to have known the drills. I just run to the group. I was the last in line. I always was the last in line.

The officer screamed from the depth of her lungs: “Private Sonea, to report!” I run to her red faced from my other longer run with a Soviet style winter hat falling over my eyebrows: “I am sorry, I did not wake up!”.

I could not have angered her more and I was clueless to why. What seemed then like an eternity of drills afterwards was focused on me repeating the right steps, the right formula for addressing her. What I did not want to give up though was the reason why I was late — I did not wake up. The humanness of this simple fact did not sit well with the three raised steps, the salute and the formula: “Officer Alexandrescu, allow me to report. I am private Sonea. I did not wake up.”

This memory came up a few weeks ago as I woke up late for a call with somebody I did not meet before — João Rosa. As I woke up, I immediately typed: “ I am sorry, I did not wake up”. Afterwards, I told myself — Andra, it’s so unprofessional not only to be late but also to shamelessly state such a lame excuse.

Then I remembered the 18 years old me in the ’89 winter not wanting to renounce despite the repeated drills, the only human fact from that situation in a cold Bucharest only a few weeks before the fall of communism.

My meeting with João was of course not so dramatic :) The times we live in though, are pretty dramatic. UK politics is surreal. Our lives are surreal.

João asked me for an interview for his Software Craft Podcast. *That* was surreal. Even if I did build systems, now I do program only for my PhD. Am I an imposter? I do think in systems it is true and this is what I did all my life.

We recorded the conversation. I shared it with my son. “Mom”, he tells me, “it feels like you are jumping on the sofa all the time.” What? It turns out that me being profoundly deaf for high pitch sounds I could not hear my desk hitting the heating elements behind it, while I was waiving my arms explaining Joao how I “solve problems”.

Joao was kind enough to give me again a half an hour of his time and record again. The discussion turned up to be completely different this time. This is what you have here:

Our conversation was real, like my first reaction to João. He made me think and put into words things I did not think about before. Listen to his podcasts. They are the real thing from people doing their jobs with intellectual honesty trying to navigate a difficult world.