Step back in time – story #1 Marcin Sieprawski
Episode 1 – Marcin Sieprawski
The IT world is a fast-paced environment with constant turnover and short-lived relationships. However, every now and then, a brief narrative becomes an epic story. What makes a tale special are the protagonists, and who’s better to tell the story than the main characters themselves? That is why we decided to give the floor to our colleagues who cooperate with us at Software Mind for more than 10 years. Their memories are humorous but also do a brilliant job at showcasing the reality of the IT business of the past decades.
1/ What’s your current position at Software Mind?
Marcin Sieprawski: As for today, I’m Head of Big Data Lab – the unit I’ve had a chance to build from scratch over the last few years. Together with my teammates, we focus our working on innovative solutions in the field of data science both in R&D and commercial solutions.
2/ When and how your cooperation with Software mind started?
My first days in SM were almost 15 years ago as I came to the company in the middle of 2005. The chance to work here felt like being on top of the world. I remember at that time we had a tagline/slogan “Where quality meets the future”. What we had in mind was not that the products were always bug-free, we all know that’s impossible ;), but the quality of the code. Now it might seem like something obvious, that shouldn’t be the company’s motto, but back then working in place that keeps its code clean and cares about its quality was exactly what I wanted.
Almost immediately after I joined Software Mind, I had a chance to be involved in an interesting and demanding project – we started working for the first web–scale Semantic Web Startup from the UK. The product was highly innovative and working on it provided not only amazing professional experience but also tons of unforgettable memories. We ran that project using Hadoop – being one of the first companies in the world to use this technology commercially. As the times were completely different is was anything but easy. If you want to learn how to use Hadoop now, you can find a book about it, there’re millions of them, read it and apply the knowledge to your work. If one book is not enough – just grab another covering more advanced aspects. In 2005 we didn’t have possibilities like that. What we were doing instead was analysing the source code and looking for any links to the developers responsible for it. Once we found some, we tried to reach him/her for some advice, if not the source code had to be enough. I really love those memories, we were exploring new fields of technical possibilities day after day and had to find solutions to problems that these days don’t exist. I recall that as a young boy I wanted to become an inventor and working in such an environment allowed me to feel like one.
3/ How did the daily work look in 2005 and did it change a lot compared to today?
It was completely different as for the first year I was working in our client premises in London mostly ?. But jokes aside – we were much smaller at that time. The company consisted of around 30 people – now the Software Mind itself has more than several hundred employees not to mention the whole Ailleron group. The rooms were smaller, and the office wasn’t as convenient – especially if we compare it to our newest space that we moved into a few months ago. But many things stayed the same, and we’re very proud of it because many people worked hard to keep them that way. When we were a small team, everyone knew each other and in case you had any troubles there was always someone more familiar with that framework or technology ready to help you. Now it’s impossible to know everyone due to not only the number of employees but also multiple locations we have offices in, but the internal “vibe” of the company and feeling of playing on the same team are the same as back then. Even though we work in different teams on various projects and with some people we can meet only once a month during the company lunch everyone is always ready to help, and you’re never left alone with any problem.
4/ What’s the first anecdote connected with working in SM that comes to your mind?
During those years I’ve been involved in multiple situations that evolved into amazing memories but some of them shouldn’t be published ? The first thing that came to my mind happened at the very beginning of my cooperation with Software Mind and the already mentioned startup. Before launching the work, our client decided to send one of his partners to Krakow, so he could meet us on our ground and see how we operate in our premises. We’re always open to such meeting, so we gladly agreed and set the date, but surprisingly our guest came to Krakow one day prior to it. Back then Krakow wasn’t as popular among tourists from around the world as it’s now so we decided that our guest should not be left alone, and someone should take care of him. As all directors had already their calendars booked, I volunteered to meet with him. We sat in one of Krakow’s beautiful pubs and started talking. He took a beer and I got a glass of water since I had come to the meeting by car. Why I mention what we were drinking? Later he confessed that his wife warned him about drinking with Poles, but he didn’t want to offend me and decided to take a pint. He was extremely surprised I spend the whole evening with water ? But that’s not the clue of this story. He was a great guy – we found a common language in a moment, spent the time talking about many interesting topics and laughing till our sides ache. At some moment we talked about programming language Python and from it moved to the Monty Python which is the origin of the language name. The time flew by fast and after a few hours, we split and headed to our places. The next day he came to the Software Mind office and we started the previously set presentations. In 2005 we used XPlanner to manage task and our guest wanted to see it in action. My friend who was running the presentation had real bad luck that day, opened a project with poor task descriptions, and as result he became a little nervous. To support him I said, pretending an explanatory tone: “We didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition”. While this was obviously a reference to a famous sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the phrase “the Spanish Inquisition” is also commonly used in England, usually in reaction to hostile questions… It looked like I managed to put it out of the reference context (note that using this phrase could be considered as an aggressive reaction, or at least a huge surprise), so our visitor started to apologize and explain that this part is not that important. But when he saw me hardly holding the laugh he paused, and with a very serious face shouted, “NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!”. My colleague who was running the presentations was totally puzzled, but soon it was clear that the tension was lost. After few moments of laughter, we came back to the topic of the meeting and finished it without any further problems ? The situation with Xplanner didn’t harm the result (or maybe even helped), we later signed the contract and cooperated successfully for a few years. Apart from this being a funny flashback it shows one of your competitive advantages over other companies with similar scope of work. We always establish interpersonal relations with our partners that allow us to work side by side, feel like friends and one big team so we can go through any obstacles easily.
To illustrate what I have in mind even better I have one more story connected with the same project. As we were one week before the final release and we tried to do a million things simultaneously (with increasing doubts if we can meet the deadline), the CEO of the company visited us with a bottle of champagne in his hand. He told us to take a short break and drink a glass with him, to celebrate what we already achieved. He reminded us that we were in a place that a few months before seemed impossible to reach, and that this already was a success. We finished in time and the project was a success but what I want to emphasize here is that the relationship we established with the CEO made him came to us, cheer us up and in result allowed us to focus in the times of enormous stress. It is also nice that such great people want to work with us! During my whole carrier in SM we were always lucky to cooperate with people that believed the cooperation is a two-way street and treat us like partners rather than some external contractors hired to rapidly do the job and leave.
5/ What made you stay in Software Mind for 15 years?
Being a part of Software Mind gives me a chance to work on something new all the time and provides the space to develop myself in the fields that I’m most interested in. For example, after running many projects related to integration on a big scale, I came up with the idea of Big Data Lab and had full company support to establish it. But what’s most important for me in the Software Mind itself is that we always support each other. I remember that once my friend came to me saying that he got a great guy in his project, but he doesn’t fit well with the scope of duties in it. As the guy was full of potential, my friend proposed that I could take him into my project as it might be more interesting for him. I agreed and indeed, he found his place in my project almost immediately and became and an important part of the team. And this is the Software Mind culture – this company is full of good people that work together and support each other. I could launch a startup and work on something interesting as well, but I would lack all the positives of working here – as a team we can learn from others experience and have each other’s back all the time. I like to be a piece of puzzle that perfectly fits into the whole picture and that’s exactly how I feel in Software Mind.
6/ What about the upcoming 15 years?
It’s hard to say since it’s a too long to plan but now lots of things are happening and I’m sure we’re heading in the right direction. We recently launched an interesting R&D project with CERN and I would like to develop our lab’s work in the data science field even further – working on interesting and innovative projects allows my teammates to develop themselves and inspire each other and that’s what we focus on. If somehow, we would manage to come up with a solution to a generic problem and make our own product that would be something cool as well. But for now, we focus on an interesting project mostly ?
7/ Where’s the place for tango in it?
That’s my way to rest and charge the batteries. Sometimes it’s hard to leave the work mentally and I think about the projects, problems and so on after hours. Tango allows me to put a big line and after crossing it completely forget about work and really rest.