Goyello joined the Aspire Systems group last year. What changed when the Tri-City company became the European hub of a global organization? Adam Łopusiewicz from Just Join IT asked Paweł Bejger, Operational Director at Aspire Systems Poland, about his plans for the coming years and methods of supporting employee development.
In an interview on the Goyello blog you said you always wanted to create software that will change the world. Why?
My mission is to build software that has a positive impact on the lives of others. If I had to spend years building software that no one uses, I would not have accomplished this mission. So far, most of the projects that we’ve done have somehow improved people’s lives, for example, automating their work.
One of such projects is Cycling-service – a portal for the cycling community, where users can easily track the results of competitions or communicate with each other.
When your adventure with the IT world began?
It started very early – I got an Atari computer when I was a kid. Those were ancient times, but quickly I fell in love with the world of IT, and more specifically the computer games. Later I thought it would be fun to create something of my own. I started creating first basic, two-dimensional games.
What made you interested in game development?
I fell in love with the fact that just by coding I could create something out of nothing. Something my friends could play. Honestly, even though I’m almost 34 years old, the sentiment for the games remained. I still play and from time to time I create simple computer games – out of passion, just for myself.
Do you remember your first learning experiences?
The Internet was just entering Poland at the time, so learning programming was quite difficult. It wasn’t easy to access the Internet, so I got some learning materials from friends. My adventure with programming began with the book Symphony C ++, where programming was explained with examples. This way it was easier for me to enter this world. I borrowed more books, materials or asked friends how to do something.
Later, I tried to upgrade my programming skills by trial and error. In retrospect, the games I’ve created look amateurish. They worked, but the code wasn’t perfect.
Did these self-study experiences and creating your own games help you find your first work as a programmer?
They certainly helped, although I must admit that I was looking for a job only in the second year of my studies. I studied in a very interesting field and decided to devote myself to learning. In the second year, a colleague asked if I would be interested in joining a small IT company in Gdynia that produces a business support system. After a year, I decided it was time for a new challenge and joined Goyello.
Today, recruiters look for people with knowledge, passion, and even involvement in the community. It used to be a little different. How was your skill level checked in the first job?
There was only one short job interview. I came for the appointed hour, I greeted the president and after an hour of small talk he offered me a job.
Today it probably wouldn’t go that fast…
There wasn’t that many programmers then. Today, a lot of people are interested in programming due to money, so the filtering of candidates must be more diligent.
People outside of the industry say that a programmer will always find a job. It seems to me that now only the best candidates are chosen.
We employ several interns every year. Initially, 80 candidates applied, last year there were almost 600. The fact that the internship program applies to so many people shows how much interest in working with us is. Because we have a limited number of internships, we must do a large screening of candidates to identify the best.
Tell me about the first days of a junior developer at Aspire?
Each junior must first know our system – exactly how it is built. The larger the system, the longer it takes, and it’s not a matter of days, but rather months. The second thing is getting to know the business domain, which is also time-consuming.
When entering a new project every junior must learn about a specific industry – let’s take aviation. Every team member needs to know how a plane is built, learn about the physics associated with the flight, and so on. Acquiring this extensive knowledge takes a lot of time. So, we have phases of learning about the system from the technical side, business domain and acquiring programming skills: building the code in a scalable and extensible way.
We already know what the junior must learn. And how can a company help him develop?
Usually, at the beginning we give him small tasks, for example repairing simple errors in the system. Someone will say this is boring, but with time we give him more difficult tasks. We also want the junior to know all the stages of software development. The more this person prospers and the sooner he or she can expand their knowledge, the faster the process progresses. It happened that a person starting with us as a junior after only one or two years had a significant role in a given project.
The beautiful thing about the IT industry is that there is no age limit, and you don’t have to wait five years for promotion. How do you get to know the ambitions of employees?
We call it personal development. The career progression of every new employee, whether in the junior or senior position, starts with assigning him a buddy. The mentor supports the new person in everyday work. Each new employee has his team leader, i.e. a person who oversees his development. In the project, each person also has their own reviewers – they deal with checking the code that they will produce. However, it is not that every time this code is checked and verified.
Thanks to this closeness of other team members, we know what predispositions a person has, and which project should they join. Several times a year, formal goal update meetings are held, during which we set quarterly goals for employees. We also have an annual impact evaluation, where we assess the impact of a person on the entire organization.
How did supporting employee development look like when you came to Goyello?
There were ten of us then. As you probably guess, we didn’t have buddies or team leaders – it comes with scale. The bigger the organization, the more people who take care about the company’s development. At that time almost all employees were programmers. We worked in one room, which made the communication easier. We didn’t have team leaders, and everyone managed each other.
Why it was you who become the first leader?
Probably because I was interested in something more. The very fact of programming wasn’t as appealing to me as the fact that I could make life easier for someone. After a while, I was noticed as someone who was also focusing on business aspects of projects, so I could run a team of programmers.
What do you do as an operations director?
It would be easier to answer if I was a programmer. I deal with many tasks simultaneously, I am responsible for projects in terms of the value provided to the client and contact with him. I also make sure that employees are satisfied with the projects and their implementation. I like to improve processes and automate tasks. This makes employees appreciate the organization. I am also responsible for recruitment and inner headhunting.
Can you identify the most important features that an ideal candidate has?
The best candidates were programming in high school or even earlier. And I don’t mean “Computer Science” classes, but self-learning. It is very likely that such people will do it with passion and not just for money. I base this on the example of candidates who applied to us. This has been confirmed many times: people who started early, today are valued programmers.
As for the education of candidates, many of them graduated from the Gdansk University of Technology, Faculty of ETI. Although the University of Gdańsk is starting to catch up, because it is planning to open a field called “IT in practice”, which seems to be interesting. It is difficult to generalize, but I must admit that programming schools and bootcamps graduates are the least likely to be recruited.
Could you say what changed after Aspire Systems took over Goyello?
As far as the mindset and work culture are concerned, little has changed. We continue to share the same values, we have similar mission. However, the path of employee development has changed. We used to have a few basic levels from junior to senior. Now it’s more extensive. Each programmer, depending on the predispositions and how he wants to develop, can follow the technical or managerial path.
We have also introduced an additional level of team leaders, each supporting about 5-6 people. The whole project is supervised by managers who support team leaders.
How would you like Aspire Systems Poland to be in 5 years?
The IT market is dynamic enough that talking about a five-year perspective is practically impossible. Languages change, technologies are evolving. History of Goyello is a good example. We started building desktop software, then we went towards web technologies, now we create a lot for mobile. It’s hard to talk about the focus for 2-3 years, but we definitely don’t want to build a programmers’ factory. We put quality before quantity.
We care about the value delivered to clients and that we get along well. If we can keep all these values, I will be personally satisfied.
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