19 Aug 2021

Step back in time story #8 – Szymon Natanek

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 many years have you been working at Software Mind, and what do you currently do?

I have been working at Software Mind for about 13.5 years, currently, I’m a Senior Business Consultant. Long story short, I’m responsible for business analysis, and I manage a team in the SM division focused on providing services for telcos.

2/ How did your cooperation with Software Mind start?

Before we move on to how I became a part of Software Mind, it is worth taking a step back and recall how I got to know the Software Mind brand and what I thought about it before I started working for the company. Well, from the perspective that I have been here for over 13 years it is quite a funny story. I remember that during my 3rd year of IT studies at AGH University of Science and Technology, every student had to complete an internship. Of course, as students, we all wanted to do it as quickly and smoothly as possible, which was accepted by most employers, who only required a CV and accepted the student for practices without any additional questions nor problems. And that is when Software Mind appeared at AGH, proclaiming bold slogans such as “work with the best” looking for interns. Everything seemed very nice, so numerous people applied. Yet, it turned out that the recruitment process at SM is long and complex, which did not meet the demand of students. As I said, we, as undergraduates, wanted to settle the matter quickly and cut as many corners as possible, especially that it was, if I remember correctly, around march, so there was not much time left for the internship. As result, Software Mind became imprinted in the minds of people from my year as a company with an internship recruitment process that was like making a mountain out of a molehill 🙂

Several years after this event, having graduated and gathered some commercial experience, I reached the stage when I wanted to change the employer and the saying “it doesn’t matter what they say about you, it’s important that they don’t twist the name” immediately comes to my mind when I think about it. I decided I would apply to Software Mind only because I knew this brand from studies – well, it turned out that the company is not as bad as I thought from the perspective of an undergraduate, because after all this time I still don’t plan any changes 😉.

When I applied to SM, I was looking for a team/tech lead position – generally a development role combined with managing a small team. I remember I came in for a recruitment meeting and the position I was offered was called SS2. The acronym itself meant nothing to me but hidden under it was Solutions Specialist 2. In this role, I was meant to be responsible for our CRM implementation. So, when I found myself in Software Mind, one might say I had been thrown into the analytical path, because while my role was not called a business analyst, this was the scope of work I did during implementations, and I have been following this path ever since.

3/ How did your road in Software Mind looked like?

As the company had been changing over the years, I also had the opportunity to work in various areas and the scope of my responsibilities was transforming. In the beginning, I found myself in the department responsible for the CRM system created by Software Mind. With the CRM we were targeting a very broad market – we had clients from financial sector, the energy industry, telcos, or even a publishing house, and as the specificity of each of these areas is different, thus cooperation and implementation with each customer was like doing something completely new.

After some time, our CEO came up with the idea of breaking the monolithic CRM into smaller pieces from which we were able to compose a custom solution for clients. At first, we focused on the elements of the system related to commissions and sales representatives’ motivation. As result, we had to start targeting different types of customers. In addition, during this time I worked not only on the implementations, but also on the product itself being almost a product owner, so it felt like having a completely new job. Then the company started to grow, and to address the scale of operations decision had been made to divide us into two main competence centers – one focused on providing services for financial institutions, with the other focused on telcos.

From around that time, I strongly remember one of my managers who, as I like to describe it, “managed by courtesy”. He was extremely polite and courteous, both at work and outside of it, so no one ever wanted to disappoint his expectations, because disappointing someone so nice felt like the worst thing one may do 😉 Once he left the company, I had been assigned to a manager with completely different style – he was a tough guy with a loud voice and high, but achievable, performance requirements. None of these managers was better or worse – they were just completely different people, which translated into their management style, and it was a great opportunity to learn a lot about people management. What’s more, working with a different manager was almost like another change of job. Being in a different team, with a new supervisor allowed me to feel fresh once again at SM.

Going back on right track, when the previously mentioned division became real, I decided to follow my manager and chose the telco-focused part of Software Mind. And this was another extreme change on my career path here. Previously, working mainly with clients from the financial sector, everything was very formal – both the whole communication and more mundane topics like dress code during meetings. So, when I visited my first telco client, it was almost an eye-opening experience. Used to the financial dress code, I arrived there wearing a suit and found out that everyone else in the room had been dressed according to business casual rules. What’s more important, without going into details, communication in the project was much more informal and direct 😉 This is one of the reasons why I’ve stick to this sector for so many years – informal relations simply suit me very well.

To sum this part up, I had the opportunity to enter a new area very regularly, which allowed me to feel like I’m changing jobs without changing the company. And while I’m in the telco department for over 7 years, and it is a kind of stability, even here we have a division between the products we create and the development services we offer. Thus, even within this part of the company, I can change projects I’m involved in and feel a breeze of fresh air working with different teams, tasks, problems, and having the possibility to gain new knowledge.

4/ How has the company changed over the years?

When I came to SM the company was much smaller, we were all located on one floor of a much smaller building, most of the employees knew each other both by face and name. Then we grew to size, at which while we recognized most of our co-workers’ faces, we were not always able to assign a name to them. Now, at our current scale, it happens that after few months or even years I found out that someone I know from outside the work is an SM employee working in a different department and we simply hadn’t had a chance to cross paths during all that time. So, the biggest change is the growth we achieved, and the increase in scale affected almost every aspect of our work reality.

In the beginning, everything was less organized, both in terms of the infrastructure and operations. One can say that there was a lot of improvisation 😉 Now everything is carefully thought through, arranged, and in place. To make a long story short, with our growth we have become much more professional. You can notice that practically in all areas. Looking even at the back-office departments, once all such issues were handled by a single person from the reception desk and HR. Now we have highly specialized teams, focused only on specific elements since effective work on the current scale requires it. Looking at the HR example, we have multiple separated teams, focused on and experienced in different elements of general “human resources management”. Recruitment, Employee development, HR, Accounting, or Administration are only examples of how it all expanded over time. I could list numerous similar cases but it all stems from how the company has grown and adapted to operate on such a scale.

I also feel, but this may be due to my age and experience, that now the work of development teams is much better organized. Years ago, development teams seemed more carefree, now I have the impression that both the average experience of team members has increased, and we have better methods of organizing them, which supports the knowledge and experience sharing between all team members. But again, this is part of professionalization and without it, the company wouldn’t be able to grow so much 😉.

5/ What’s the first anecdote connected with working in SM that comes to your mind?

As we were already discussing my first touchpoint with Software Mind, there was one situation that in our current reality is completely unthinkable that comes from the beginnings. My first day in the company was exactly the opposite of what one may expect, and of how it looks now when someone joins Software Mind. After going through the recruitment process and agreeing on terms and conditions I signed the contract. Later, a few days before my day zero, I received a call from an unknown number. It was my manager-to-be, who called to ask if I could go to Warsaw for a meeting with the Client on my first day 😀 It’s hard for me to even imagine such a situation now, that on the first day, instead of picking up the equipment and starting onboarding, a new person got on a train with one of the employees and went to another city to meet with the client, by as I said – back then there was a lot more of improvisation. So, I kickstarted the cooperation on a delegation to Warsaw even without company equipment 😉

6/ Why didn’t you change your job for 15 years.

As I’ve mentioned for these 13.5 years I’m employed at Software Mind, but due to the described changes, it feels like I had been regularly changing jobs and entering new areas. I remember that I once saw a study which stated that the average length of employment in an IT company is about 2/3 years. Looking back at my road, during the first years, the changes happened in almost such intervals. The work of an analyst, in general, is about gaining knowledge and then utilizing it. It is often the case that you enter a project having only general domain knowledge, dive deep into the exact problem to be solved, and at the end of the project, you come out of it with much more knowledge. So, by changing projects I had many opportunities to learn something completely new and that is why during all these years the work here always felt and still feels “fresh” and the company tries to provide opportunities to change the project or team to ensure keeping it this way.

Additionally, although I know that it is largely a matter of luck, I found myself in a place in the company where I have a lot of autonomy. I have a lot of internal motivation, so I don’t need to have tasks imposed on me, I always find something to do, and thanks to the fact that I have a lot of freedom in choosing which topics to get involved in makes me feel very good here. This combined with the regular changes mentioned earlier makes me not feel the need to look for greener grass because the grass here is green enough 😉

7/ What are your plans for the next 15 years?

To do the same things but better, which is to brew more beer and ride my bike more😉 But to be more serious, I’m not a fan of long-term planning, so time will tell 😉

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