16 Dec 2020
Step back in time – story #5 Tomasz Misiak
The IT world is a fast-paced environment with constant pivots 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.
This time the main character is Tomasz Misiak, General Manager at Software Mind who joined the company as a developer when its size was smaller than the size of 2 typical SCRUM teams.
1/ How many years have you been working at Software Mind and what do you currently do?
I became a part of Software Mind (called Websoft back then) in 2005, so this year I’ve hit 15 years mark. Currently, I’m General Manager, and my scope of responsibility includes overseeing pretty much everything, but two areas are the most important: business development and production (called also delivery). I am also accountable for building other internal departments and ensuring that the company operations run smoothly.
2/ How did your way from Software Developer to General Manager looked like?
I came to the company as a Java Developer, but it turned out that during the first months a large part of my job was PL/SQL (which I had to learn quite quickly 😉). At that time, the recruitment process looked completely different from the one we have nowadays, and currently, such a process would have no right to exist. Before the final job offer, I had to take part in a one-week probationary period during which I worked with the team over real-life tasks to prove my value and skills. I remember that there were two team leaders at that time and during this week I was watching them closely. One of them was always happy to explain everything, while the second had more of a “military” approach – you were expected to know what you should know, and questions were not very welcomed. Finally, I passed probationary period and was assigned to the latter, sergeant-like one. Later on, he appeared to be one of the best technical persons I worked with and I’ve learned a lot by working with him. My first project was being carried for one of the biggest polish telecoms and I had been involved in the cooperation with this client for several years. From what I’ve heard the biggest system we were working on back then is still running to this day. Working for this client, I went from a Regular, through a Senior Developer, to a Technical Leader. Once I realized that working with people (especially IT people) is even more complicated and challenging than working with the code, I decided to step into management path and eventually became a Project Manager. Later, I started working with several clients and managing few teams at the same time as PM and went beyond the telecommunications sector. I remember cooperation with a large energy supplier – it was the most formalized project I ever took part in. For its kick-off, we went to the client’s office and were seated in the enormous conference room, where definitely over 30 company representatives were gathered. Most of them were later cc-ed in every project email 😉
Coming back on the right track. A true milestone in my career path was the shift towards working with foreign clients. Here I mean our first client from the USA, with whom we teamed-up in 2011. It was a breakthrough that allowed me to learn a new model of cooperation and boost my English skills, which were not my strongest point at that time, to put it mildly 😉 The first status meeting with the client was really difficult for me and I still remember my embarrassment after I couldn’t really express what I had in mind. Soon after, I had to go to the States and work onsite for a while. It was like being thrown in the deep end but at the same time it allowed me to develop rapidly.
A while later a concept emerged to reorganize part of the company and create a unit (we called it Application Services) focused only on providing IT engineering services for foreign clients. In that model, I started working as a Project Manager and after 2 years I took over the role of a Software Development Director, starting to be responsible for the whole production. On January 17th, 2017, I took over the position of General Manager and in addition to being responsible for production, I also took over the previously mentioned business development and company operations. I remember the exact date of this nomination since the circumstances were quite unusual. Just after I accepted it, I had to rush to the hospital to assist my wife with giving birth to our next child 😉
So, this is my story in Software Mind in the nutshell. As you can see, the longest part is about the early days – being developer involved in pure technical stuff, which I still miss sometimes 🙂
3/ How did the daily work and company culture looked like when you started and what changed over the years?
If I were to describe the beginnings in one sentence, I would say that everyone did everything. It was really challenging yet rewarding time. We were dealing with everything that was supposed to be done, no matter if it was related to software development, infrastructure or project management aspects. From installing and configuring servers, through optimizing database performance, learning new libraries and even languages over the weekend and of course to the core – writing the code. There was a dozen or so of us and it was a stage at which the founders were slowly stopping to write the code, focusing more on business development. So, I had the opportunity to work on the code created by someone who had founded the company several years earlier ;). What’s more, even my job interview was conducted by one of the founders. It all shows the organizational culture – a small company, with a start-up vibe, where everyone felt responsible for what we were doing.
Now we are much bigger, with more structures and individual specialization but I think that on the team level we maintain the same culture of engagement, close cooperation and responsibility that we used to have in early days. Even in my case, urge to take more responsibility drove my development over these 15 years. So, I personally support creating an environment that encourages engagement and believe that giving people a bigger share of the responsibility and supporting them along the way is the best that can be done to boost their growth and allow them to really unleash their potential. I’m also aware that we need to listen to what people are saying and if they feel that we are starting to drift, take corrective actions to get us back to the main course. Eventually, our people have the final word about what our culture is, not the management 🙂
However, one thing that has certainly changed over the years is the level of specialization. We were all full-stack developers in the past, and the diversification has only been based on the technology, Java and .Net back then, while you just had to know the rest. Now our engineers specialize in specific aspects such as Big Data, Data Science, Frontend or Backend, Test Automation, and so on.
4/ What’s the first anecdote connected with working in SM that comes to your mind?
Let’s start with a quick flashback related to the mentioned responsibility about missing an opportunity to grow that came from my early days. After several months or so of work, one of the founders asked me to estimate the time needed to do the particular piece of work, and after literally 10 minutes of thinking, I said that it would take 3 days. Luckily, he didn’t listen to me and the task was valued 30 days and it really took us that long. I realized later that this was a trial to give me more responsibility and I simply failed the test at that time. However, I used this as a lesson to consider carefully how I estimate my work.
I know that this short anecdote is not enough, so since I said earlier that the milestone for me was the start of work with a client from the States, let’s now fast forward to more modern times and my memories related to this country. Usually, during our trips to the States, we try to explore something. For me, the most interesting has always been nature landscapes, especially the US national parks, so once I felt more comfortable with traveling to the US, I tried to visit at least one during each trip. During one of such trips, with one of my colleagues, Kamil, instead of taking the flight, we decided to drive from Dallas to Los Angeles along Route 66 and visit the famous Dead Valley. Side note: when flying to the States I always take the merest amount of luggage possible, so the vast majority are business clothes. Thus, during each park visit I’m wandering around pretty much in the proverbial jeans and sneakers 😊. So, in such apparel, we were hiking in the park almost all day long and in the evening, we managed to find one of the two or three restaurants that operate in the park. There we ate the best ribs I’ve eaten in my whole life and being very tired we got in the car to drive to the nearby town where we were supposed to sleep (we booked the hotel last minute, being still in the park). It was already around 11PM when we drove into a completely empty Nevada village, passing a few speed limits – up to 20mph was allowed. Since there was literally no one in sight, I did not really care about these until the sheriff drove from behind the bushes that we were passing and started following us. We were stressed because we had never been in such a situation, but we continued to head to the hotel. After a while, the navigation showed a strange turn that I unfortunately omitted, so I started turning the car around. At that point, the sheriff turned the signal on and led us to the roadside. I remember Kamil saying ‘Tomek, remember, we are in States, do not get out of the car, keep your hands on the steering wheel’, so I opened the window, and we waited. The sheriff came up to us, said that he saw us speeding, and then when he was following us, we were behaving suspiciously by making weird turns on the road. I replied to him referring to the second part only and said that we are looking for the hotel where we have booked a room and the navigation had led us wrong. At that point, the sheriff pointed in a particular direction, and said, ‘that’s OK guys, just go left here, then straight and finally turn right and that’s where your hotel is’, then went to his car and drove away. We were sitting shocked for a while, no ticket, no direct warning, he just helped us and, following his directions, we got to the hotel easily. This perfectly shows different attitude of officers in Poland and sheriffs in the States, because in Poland it would have ended with some consequences for sure.
5/ What made you stay in Software Mind for 15 years?
Long story short – throughout these years I constantly had new challenges that motivated me to continue working here and develop myself further. As I said before, for me, self-development is largely about expanding responsibility, and I can definitely say that I’m a beneficiary of Software Mind’s culture that supports it. Whether it was being accountable for a part of code in the development team, managing the teams, or finally taking responsibility for the development and operation of the company in general, I was always able to move forward and undertake more and more challenges, never having the chance to feel bored.
6/ What do you plan for the following 15?
To be honest – I do not know 😉 15 years is quite a lot of time from both personal and business perspective. I still see a lot of challenges in Software Mind, and possibilities for our development are still huge. The IT services market is growing all over the world and we manage to grow even faster, in the recent years we have been succeeding in organically doubling our business every 2-3 years. I know that there are many people that prefer to work on products but that’s not me. I know how to do IT services, and this is where currently I see my biggest contribution and what I’d like to focus on.
We are quite diversified when it comes to industries and geographies. This gives us a great insight into the current market situation and allows to be more resilient to economy crises. Even looking at the pandemic situation, thanks to the fact that we have customers from different countries and industries, we have been able to discuss the situation with them and get to know different points of view quickly. That way we managed to obtain a complex insight into the current situation and plan our actions respectively. We ended up pretty much unharmed, being able to deliver the results we planned for 2020.
There is also one more thing, working with clients from 5 continents gives us a chance to became familiar with different cultures, which is a very enjoyable experience for me. One of the countries I still haven’t done business with is Japan. Cooperation with a client from this country would be an interesting challenge and opportunity to learn something completely new. Yet, we have no plans to enter this market in our strategy for the next 2/3 years but who knows, maybe someday such opportunity will arise 🙂