Developer Who’s Visually Impaired Finds Career Rebirth Using Oracle APEX
Vladimir Goncharov wasn’t born blind, but he’s been losing his eyesight progressively since early childhood. As an adult, his developer career has involved learning new workarounds to stay ahead of his failing sight due to retinitis pigmentosa—like using bold type, then white-on-black type, then big monitors, and finally screen readers.
Trained as a developer, he became an Oracle database administrator because it involved more thinking and less time on a screen. But then he discovered Oracle Application Express platform (APEX), which worked well with the JAWS screen-reader tools. Oracle APEX let Goncharov combine his database and developer skills. Working in APEX brought such renewed energy to his career that he calls his discovery of Oracle APEX his “second birth.”
While we’ve never heard it called a “second birth” before, we do hear from lots of developers, DBAs, and analysts who get a career boost or change of direction from using APEX. Oracle APEX is a low-code app dev platform, integrated with Oracle Database, which lets people quickly build and deploy data-centric apps. Inspired by people like Goncharov, we’re sharing a series of these APEX-fueled career stories hoping they’ll help people think about their own tech careers.
Declining Sight, Tumultuous Politics
Goncharov was born in Novomoskovsk, 230 kilometers south of Moscow. Throughout his high school and college years, he sat in the front row of classrooms so he could see what was written on the blackboard.
When the USSR collapsed in 1991, Goncharov was 19 and supporting himself and his mother as a computer laboratory assistant in the neighboring city of Uzlovaya. He was promoted to head of the laboratory, worked as a computer science instructor, and became a Microsoft FoxPro developer.
Goncharov was introduced to Oracle Database while working at his next job, an ice cream plant in Moscow.
Goncharov lost the senior Oracle developer job at the ice cream plant when he couldn’t get a new, government-required registration. Goncharov’s next 20 years would be marked by uncertainty and upheaval—fueled by a combination of Russia’s unrest and change, career detours, and the consequences of steadily going blind.
Career Twists and Turns
After the ice cream plant, Goncharov worked as an Oracle developer for a systems integrator and software development firm that went broke in the 2001 global recession. He reworked his resume to position himself as a DBA and landed a job with Channel One Russia, the main TV channel and website for news.
By that time, Goncharov’s eyesight had deteriorated to the point where he couldn’t read certain fonts, so as a temporary workaround he made the type bold. When the TV station cut salaries across the board, Goncharov found a new job at a bank as a senior Oracle DBA. Feeling underpaid, he showed his boss about a centimeter-thick stack of DBA job listings, but to no avail. So he joined a consulting firm as a senior Oracle applications consultant, working on one of the largest Oracle E-Business Suite projects in Eastern Europe.
“When I got a new job in 2006, I hoped it would be my last job because the most difficult thing for me was filling in the paperwork for HR,” Goncharov says. He could no longer read bold type on computer screens, so he designed another workaround—using white type on a black screen.
Despite his failing eyesight, Goncharov proved so effective at improving database performance that his boss asked him to teach a class to internal and client developers and DBAs. However, he couldn’t see what he was writing on the white board, a fact he didn’t want widely known.
“In those days, I tried to hide my disability. If my employer knows I am blind, they would replace me,” Goncharov says.
Tired of hiding his fading eyesight and struggling to make his daily commute on the metro through snow and rain, he quit consulting and moved back to Novomoskovsk, his hometown, to work from home as an Oracle developer and DBA. Working remotely allowed him to hide his disability.
In 2018, for personal reasons, Goncharov and his wife left the Russian Federation for Orlando, Florida. They enjoy their new home, though the ups-and-downs of work life continue. Goncharov finished a recent project as a contractor for a multinational organization, but that work then dried up. He has licensed his Oracle APEX application to one of Russia’s largest Pentecostal churches, and he’s looking for new opportunities.
APEX Plus JAWS
As Goncharov’s eyesight dwindled, he asked several platform providers for help, but he says only Oracle responded to his requests for better accessibility options and general bug reports.
Goncharov recalls how several years ago, Anthony Rayner, a software developer and accessibility lead on the Oracle APEX team, began making accessibility changes that helped Goncharov build and update Oracle APEX applications more easily. During one exchange with Rayner, Goncharov explained he was blind and having trouble with the screen reader he used to read text, a problem he assumed to be an Oracle APEX issue. Rayner suggested Freedom Scientific’s JAWS screen reader, which eliminated the problem. Goncharov’s productivity soared, and he became a certified JAWS user.
While Goncharov feels Oracle APEX has done a lot for his career, Rayner says he also greatly values his ongoing working relationship with Goncharov, and the invaluable feedback he has provided over the years. Receiving this kind of real feedback from developers such as Goncharov, Rayner says, helps Oracle build a tool that works for all developers.
One of the things Goncharov likes about Oracle APEX is that it when developers build applications for sighted people, they automatically contain a number of features that work well with tools like JAWS. That means developers, without giving a lot of thought to accessibility, can make their apps accessible to people who are visually impaired.
More fundamentally, Goncharov hopes blind children and their parents won’t lose hope of living independently. He’s proven it’s possible for a blind person to have a successful career as an Oracle APEX developer and Oracle DBA. It might seem Goncharov beat the odds, but he wants to show people who have a disability that there is a way to make enough money to live the life they want.
“I have two ways I can be blind: I can just sit and wait for death, or with APEX I can do my job,” Goncharov says. “It gives me another way of life. It gives me an interesting life.”