Step back in time story #7 – Marek Golonka
The IT world is a fast-paced environment with constant turnovers 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/ How did your cooperation with Software Mind start and what’s your current position?
I joined Software Mind in 2005 as an intern. Currently, I am a software architect.
2/ How did the beginnings and your path to becoming a software architect look like?
Back then the company looked completely different, there were about 20 of us, and the office in which we had just 2 rooms had been located on Bociana Street. I joined the company about a month after our current GM Tomek Misiak. My role in the team was usually advancing when I changed the project in which I had been involved. As an intern, I started working on the roaming management system for one of our clients, and after some time I became a regular developer. During those early days, we cooperated with several large telecoms. I particularly remember one company which at that moment was just starting out and after some time became one of the biggest telecoms on the Polish market. It was a great customer with an exceptional attitude towards cooperation, with whom we always managed to get along without any obstacles.
When I started, the company division was less formal than it is now. After some time spent in a part that we now refer to as Telco, I was “lent” to a branch providing services to financial companies. From this department the apps subdivision was separated, which currently operates as Software Mind, and I have stayed in this branch ever since – one can even say that I’m still “loaned” from the Telco ;).
For me, the promotions always happened “along my way”, it was a natural path. Let’s look back even further – I am from a generation for whom IT appeared as something completely new in our late childhood/early adolescence and it interested us, we enjoyed it, and that motivated us to dive into it. It sounds like a cheap slogan from a weak advertising campaign, but I simply like my job and that’s why I’ve been doing it for so many years. Nowadays, the profession of a software developer is very well paid and promises a great carrier. As a result, some people decide to choose this craft due to these reasons only. At the time when I started, it was not so certain, and we devoted ourselves to this field simply being fascinated by it. I think this approach has persisted with a lot of my contemporaries – we do it because we enjoy it and it gives us satisfaction, while promotions and financial gratification come naturally as our skills and experience grow.
3/ What distinguishes Software Mind Culture and how it changed over the years?
Many things have changed over the years, but fortunately, a lot has remained the same. When I came to the company, the projects, and therefore the teams, were much smaller. Thus, even in terms of roles in the teams, the division was not as clear as it is now, and we all did everything ?. Now, because of the scale on which we operate, the roles must be more clearly defined. What was cool and what made SM stand out from many companies back then, was that it consisted of experienced people whom we had a chance to learn from. Building your teams around such specialists was not so obvious at that time. Even now I know that developers often complain that they end up in teams with people who have little experience and therefore have no one to learn from – this was definitely not the case there. The people I started working with were top-notch experts from whom I learned a lot – both technically and in terms of the approach to everything we do. I remember a conversation about those times which I had much later with our founder. It clearly showed that hiring the best specialists at first and promoting knowledge sharing and participation while the company grew was a deliberate act. What’s more, you could see this approach even from the founders’ involvement. They were very close to all the activities in the company, they wrote the code themselves (I still remember correcting the code after one of them), and even though around the time I joined the team they started to focus mostly on the business part, they were still involved in the production to some extent, and you could talk to them about all its intricacies.
I want to believe that we are still like that. Our company is constantly growing, we are hiring more and more specialists, yet the current scale is not stopping us from striving to make sure that working with us allows people to develop their craft, gain valuable experience and simply become better in what they do. And even if over time someone decides to look for other opportunities, we want them not only to speak well of us but also to be valued, ensuring that the experience they gained with us will pay off. Looking back on it, I think we succeed ?.
Going back to my first days at SM – back then (and to some extent the situation is similar today) you could go to a company like Software Mind or to a corporation. In 2005 big, international corporations were already operating in Kraków, now there are simply more of them. So, you could get into such a company, fit into the organization, and calmly move forward. On the other hand, you could choose a more challenging path, go to an organization like Software Mind, where things happen much more dynamically, and be closer to all the processes and decisions. In a corporation, the rulings are often made in another country, several levels higher, so a regular employee just sits and does what someone else has come up with. Here, all the decisions and arrangements were made close to us, the people sitting at the desk/in the room next to me and other developers were involved in signing new cooperation, establishing processes, and so on. Thanks to that we had a feeling that we are a part of everything that goes on and we were able to have an impact.
Now working with teams, I am doing my best to maintain and promote this culture of participation, so I believe it hasn’t changed that much. From the beginning I really liked that everything was so direct here – we all sat together, our work was very dynamic and if something needed to be done, we just did it. But above it all, I think I should mention the culture of “common sense”. And I’m very glad that despite our growth over the years, we continue to cultivate it. Many large companies have lost it on their way and at some point, people start blindly following what is described in the processes thinking that “this is the way”. In SM we promote the “common sense” approach among people – do the things you think are right, and if you have a process that slows down your work or doesn’t serve any purpose, then change it. At the end of the day, we want to get a meaningful result, make our clients happy, and that’s what we should aim for. The fact that we are not afraid to challenge top-down regulations when we see the potential for improvement has a positive impact not only on our work internally but also when we deliver projects for our clients. Although our business might be described as outsourcing, we do not run it in the model of simply providing developers for the client. We have our style of work, many best practices and we try to cooperate in a partnership model, sharing our experience with clients and suggesting improvements whenever possible. More than once we have had the opportunity to influence our clients’ organization and improve processes thanks to not being afraid to challenge the existing reality. Summing this up, in Software Mind we always were and still are not just a cog in the machine and this is one of the elements that have kept me here all these years.
4/ What’s the first anecdote connected with working in SM that comes to your mind?
As I mentioned, in the early years I mostly worked with different telecoms so my story will be related to one of them. I remember that after some time at Software Mind, I was sent for a face-to-face meeting with our client regarding the inauguration of a new project – it was the first time I had to put on a suit and leave the proverbial “factory” for a business trip. We drove to the client’s premises and my attention was immediately drawn to the room in which we were admitted. It was located in the middle of their building, so it hadn’t had any windows and the whole room – both the floor and the walls up to the ceiling – were tiled with white tiles. After seeing this I immediately checked if the doors had handles from the inside of the room. Fortunately, these were right where they belong 😉 After a while, we were joined by the client’s representative, who started the meeting saying deadly serious that “it’s not true that in this room we only meet with people from companies we don’t like”. I didn’t catch the joke at first, so my stress level increased and I thought we are going to have a rough meeting. Fortunately, everything went great and after a while of discussion, I realized that the opening statement was just a pun 😉 Later, I learned from my colleagues who worked internally in this telecom that they call this room “the slaughterhouse”. So, to this day, remembering my first business trip I always say that I was sent to the slaughterhouse 😉
5/ Why didn’t you change your job for 15 years.
Back in the pre-Covid days I often cycled to work, and since I always lived far from the office, I had the additional benefit of getting some extra physical exercise ;). But let’s be serious, I had it really pleasant here on my path. Due to going through different parts of Software Mind, and working with different people over different projects, my work environment was regularly refreshed (which is often the main reason for changing job), while the Software Mind’s culture, which I like a lot, permeated all those stages. I joined the company early enough that I was often able to decide what I wanted to do at a given time – whether it was working with a client from the USA and spending almost half a year in the States, or later, when I got tired of the time difference, switching to European clients with whom I still cooperate. What also keeps me at SM is an element which I definitely would not find in a big corporation – thanks to the fact that I have been here for many years and when I started the company had around 20 employees, now I feel that my work has contributed to what we have achieved. Of course, I’d be lying if I said it was always perfect because perfect organizations don’t exist, but at the end of the day everything always ended up well and, in my opinion, it’s just a fine company to work in ?
6/ What do you plan for the following 15?
To answer you honestly – I don’t know ? I never planned to spend here a specific number of years. It’s just that during the whole period, every time the idea of changing my job came to me, and of course it did, after weighing up the pros and cons I always end up wanting to stay. However, I still don’t plan where I’ll be professionally even in 5 years, let alone in 15. As long as my work makes me happy and gives me satisfaction, I don’t see any reasons to make any moves. Yet, if that changes then I’ll probably have to look for something new.