We have interviewed a lot of great companies & people over the past year. Companies ranging from consultancies and corporations to unicorns, each of which has its unique story to tell. There has been an equally diverse set of interviewees, from CEOs to CTOs, and, of course, many people from Human Resources. ✌️
Which interview has been the most interesting? It’s hard to tell definitively, but here are the top 10 most popular articles, ranked by the number of readers.
#10 – Evolution
If you are into software engineering, then the interview is a blast: We discuss the main benefits of using Scala, transitioning the codebase into a new language while the system remains in production, and the best way to learn a new programming language.
We chatted with Supermetrics in the autumn of 2020, right after they announced a blockbuster €40M Series B funding round. 💰
The interview with Viivi Marttinen, People Operations Manager, went deep into their recruiting process, including how they find the best candidates & convince them to join the company. Also, we touched on the set-up of the HR team and how remote work has changed the way they operate.
kevin. is a fast-growing fin-tech from Lithuania with the utmost flexibility in terms of working time and place. 🌍
Agnė Meškaitė, their Chief People Officer, explained how kevin. focuses on results, not on hours spent working, and how they set up their organization to fit every employee’s individual flow and peak productivity hours.
A candid conversation with Hanna Kontinen, Head of Talent & Culture at Brella, about their progress in diversity and inclusion. 👣
By creating a diverse environment, they aim to unlock innovation and allow for more unique ideas. But what KPI-s to track? How to include these ideas in the hiring process? And why should companies stay humble while discussing D&I issues?
Nord Security began inside the Tesonet accelerator back in 2012. Now the company has nearly 700 employees and 15 million users worldwide. 🔥
In 2021, Nord Security stepped outside of Tesonet and started building separate company culture and employer brand. Karina Dirvonskienė, Head of HR, talked about the opportunities and challenges that followed this decision.
Tomas Unikauskis, CEO of Smart Brands Lab, opens the world of micro-brands for us. 🔎
We talk about their proprietary niche brand scoring algorithm that identifies the new target products and how they manage their five existing niche brands. Also, can a micro-brand sometimes be too micro?
In the summer of 2020, the news broke that Boku will acquire Fortumo for up to 40M euros. 🤝
Fortumo’s excellent team was mentioned as the main reason for the deal, so we naturally wanted to talk with their Head of HR, Signe Virolainen. How do you create a culture that is worth tens of millions?
As the economy’s strain on the climate has become unsustainable, new business models emerge with the emphasis of producing less and reusing more. Take Vinted, for example, a second-hand clothing marketplace with over 45 million users. Ovoko brings this revolution to the most unexpected of places – the used car parts industry. In Lithuania, they operate under the brand RRR.LT.
The industry has its unique challenges but is no less significant in bringing the world closer to the circular economy and ultimately tackling the pressing environmental challenges. To move their industry forward, RRR.LT develops advanced technology, including AI, computer vision, automation and analytics solutions. Their Head of R&D, Mindaugas Šipelis, talked to us about how they streamline the scrapyards’ workflow and raise the customer experience with tech.
🔵 To start at the very beginning, what business problem does RRR.LT solve? Who are your customers?
RRR.LT is an online marketplace for used car parts, serving customers all across the European Union and beyond.
We innovate on a historically very undigitized industry, illustrated by the fact that 90% of used parts for sale are not available online. Our goal is to provide a frictionless purchasing experience for customers and open new market opportunities for our suppliers.
As a marketplace, we connect both sides: sellers and buyers. We currently have 780 suppliers on our platform – scrapyards, dismantlers, recyclers. They are crucial to us because the marketplace wouldn’t have any inventory without them. And the buyers are both regular car owners and car repair workshops.
🔵 So basically, RRR.LT takes a very undigitized industry into the 21st century?
Buying a used spare part before RRR.LT was complicated, even if the part itself was as good as the new one. The customer had to find the correct scrapyard, book an appointment via phone, physically drive there and figure out if the spare part fits your car. It might take multiple days to get the component you need.
On RRR.LT, you simply have to insert your car model, and we show you the complete list of available spare parts from our sellers with photos, descriptions, quality information, etc. You can order the spare part in a matter of clicks, and if it doesn’t fit, return it free of charge. So yes, in short, we are trying to offer this service as it should be in the 21st century.
🔵 You talked about how you make buyers’ life easier, but how does RRR.LT benefit the suppliers?
Historically, selling used car parts has been a very local business, but our marketplace allows suppliers to reach more potential customers and create more value. Sellers benefit from better service and customer support that boosts buyers’ confidence. Finally, they also gain access to market data to make informed business decisions about what cars to buy and dismantle.
🔵 Great, let’s move on to the innovative technical solutions. How have you applied computer vision in your business?
We have over 3 million different spare parts on the platform, each uploaded individually by our sellers. To list a new item, they have to pick it up on the scrapyard, recognize what part it is, inspect it, write a description and take photos. This process is quite time-consuming and requires a fair amount of detailed knowledge of the spare parts.
Our computer vision product is one way to speed up the process. When you open the camera inside our app, our technology recognises the spare part and prefills as much information about it as possible.
🔵 How did you design the product from a technical standpoint?
Reading the spare part number could seem like an easy task, but there are some tricky elements. At first, we had to build an enormous database of images of spare parts and information about them. Our advanced artificial intelligence model trains the computer vision product based on this dataset.
Also, we had to solve some challenges that are more specific to car parts. Sometimes, there might be a lot of technical information on the label of a spare part, so you have to find the correct number. Or in the case of plastic spare parts, the part number is usually imprinted, which makes identifying it with computer vision very difficult, as there could be lighting issues or unexpected shadows. Our model is already advanced enough to recognize these cases.
🔵 What’s the accuracy rate for recognizing the part number?
Accuracy is quite satisfying already – about 80 to 90%. We count the accuracy with all the edge cases where even humans can’t read the part number because it’s worn, dusty or rusty. Our model is sometimes still able to detect the number, so I think we have great accuracy.
Of course, the more popular cars have higher accuracy rates than the less popular ones. Also, it depends on the quality of the image and the specific spare part.
🔵 How far have you developed the computer vision product? When can customers start using it?
We currently run applications in the testing environment, but we’ll make them publicly available soon. Initially, it will enable our suppliers to list the spare parts on the marketplace faster, as discussed earlier. In the future, we would like to make it available to the buyers as well. If some part of your car breaks, identifying the correct component without technical knowledge is strenuous. Our computer vision product can help with that.
🔵 I understand that in addition to computer vision, you have engineered a semi-automated photo booth. How does it work exactly?
Computer vision product solves one step of the identification and listing process, but we are thinking about our suppliers’ entire workflow. There might be hundreds of thousands of spare parts in the warehouse, but as long as they sit on the shelf, the chances of someone buying them is very low.
Our conveyor project helps to speed up another step of the listing process. We custom built a machine that, in addition to identifying the spare part with computer vision, also automatically weights it and takes photos and measurements. We developed this product to be very user friendly, even if you are not very familiar with spare parts. As a supplier, you merely have to print out the label for the product and wait until someone purchases it online.
🔵 And this also aims to solve the supply problem, to get more inventory to the platform?
We currently see that uploading new products is a bottleneck for us: Although you can already sell spare parts internationally with our platform, the uploading process still relies heavily on manual labour. We try to provide our suppliers with the technology to make it faster. Another benefit for us is that we get way higher quality images and more structured data.
🔵 How much quicker can a person upload the products to RRR.LT with the conveyor?
If we compare it to the suppliers with the quickest upload speed today, this solution will be at least 3-5 times faster. But for those who are uploading the products at a slower pace, this might be up to 10 times faster.
But actually, we are doing two things at once. As mentioned previously, considerably higher data quality is an additional benefit on top of the faster process. The photos will have a higher resolution and better lighting, and the item’s description is always correct and structured.
🔵 And finally, analytics! I assume that before RRR.LT, the data about the used car parts market was challenging to find or maybe didn’t exist at all?
Yes, data and analytics are essential for us. Without the data, we couldn’t be so confident in what we are building. Currently, the scrapyards are working from their experience, but we have the data to detect trends in the car market. For example, if some car brand’s sales rise, then we know that some years down the line, the demand for spare parts will also grow.
Another example would be unmet demand in the market for some car brands. We can find those opportunities from the data and point them out to our suppliers, who can fill the gap and make good margins. The opposite also might be true – if there is already a lot of inventory for some models, then we can tell the suppliers that it’s not realistic to sell that many items.
🔵 What’s the long-term vision that you are building towards with all these new products?
Excellent question! We could change the customer experience for both sides in only a few years by bringing advanced digital technology to an industry that has never had it before.
The big vision for the future is that we will conserve resources by producing fewer new car parts. Instead, we can increasingly learn to reuse things. It will be even more crucial in the future, considering the environmental challenges we face. I think that reusing car parts will become the new normal and the customer’s first choice. By extending the usable life of the vehicle parts, we step closer to the circular economy.
🔵 Let’s jump to another subject for the very last question. You simultaneously develop both physical and digital products, including AI solutions. Does it get difficult to cover all these technical areas at once?
Yes, it’s actually very challenging to combine the different technologies. We need very high competencies on all fronts. For instance, developing hardware could look straightforward at a surface level. But when you start analyzing your specific use cases, drawbacks in the existing solutions become apparent, and you have to rethink and redesign everything.
So it is very challenging at times, but then again, we are the R&D team, so complex technical challenges are our bread and butter. Of course, it’s only possible if you have a highly competent team.
Introducing VNTRS Estonia – Startup Studio & a VC fund enriching Northern Europe’s start-up world. Founded in Sweden in 2016, they have invested in 24 companies and worked with hundreds of others. Now they have also settled in the Estonian start-up scene. Using the Sweat Equity model & their VEQ fund to help companies grow, VNTRS is well connected with start-up hubs in the Baltics.
🔵 Let’s bring everyone up to date on how VNTRS came about and how you are making the world a better place?
Our vision is the world where good ideas become successful. We believe that too many good ideas, passionate entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs fall short due to the wrong reasons – we are here to change this.
We build digital products and services while also helping start-ups get to the market cost-effectively. If we believe in the people and the companies we work with, we are willing to reinvest part of our fee to equity, become shareholders and long-term tech partners. Our investment portfolio currently consists of 24 early-stage tech companies that we’ve helped to build, and we have also worked with hundreds of clients following VNTRS’ values.
As mentioned above, we risk and benefit together with our partners. This is what the concept of VNTRS – Sweat Equity is all about. In 2021, we also started the VNTRS VEQ investment company to expand our investment capabilities. VEQ will invest in pre-seed and seed rounds with a mandate all over Europe but focus on the Nordics and Baltics. VEQ does not have a traditional fund structure and thus can remain a long term active owner as long as it makes sense for both sides.
🔵 How has the startup scene welcomed you here in Estonia?
Since opening up the Estonian office in February 2021, we have seen a lot of interest from Estonian and Baltic startups. We focus on introducing the Sweat Equity concept to the founders as this model was not well-known in Estonia in the past. Nowadays, we deliver the message and spread the work through the benefits of this model, connecting ourselves to VC funds, incubators, and accelerators.
We screen about ten start-ups weekly, asking the best ones to pitch for our Investment Committee. Collaboration with local ecosystem players helps us to guarantee a stable flow of incoming leads.
Within those 4 months of operation, we landed our first Sweat Equity project in Estonia, helped several companies with consulting, and managed to work on one additional cash project. As things stand, there are several more investment projects in the pipeline. That’s one of the reasons we are looking for additions to our team.
🔵 The ever-changing work environment at startups can be challenging for developers. What would you say are the main distinctions in work-life between VNTRS and startups?
I would somewhat disagree here. I have been researching this topic, and according to my research, developers primarily seek to switch jobs as they get tired of the same product development; they feel a lack of impact in decision making rather than just completing the set tasks. Also, as a start-up is growing, the “romance” of the work nature is disappearing.
In VNTRS, we offer the developers various projects with 100% involvement and freedom to achieve technical tasks. Developers can finish one (long or short-term) project and choose to have some other tasks in hand for the next one. We always involve our developers in workshops, scoping sessions, MVP mapping process, etc. Coding is just one part of a developer’s job.
🔵 Could you elaborate on how VNTRS’ lifecycle management helps to relieve common pain points found at start-ups?
Very often you will find developers only completing tasks assigned to them while being micromanaged at the same time. We strongly believe that involvement is vital to solving this issue, and we enable it through different means. First and foremost, we want our engineers and developers to feel like they impact the whole process of working with start-ups. We also believe that start-ups lack diversity in developers’ daily tasks.
For our engineers and developers to find solutions for our clients, we believe that a deep understanding of the start-up and its product is key for everyone involved. Getting this knowledge enables our engineers and developers to provide valuable input to our clients during the whole process. This allows our employees to work with external clients and our start-ups to widen their skill sets.
Last but not least, we feel like having a foot in the game motivates you to give your best. That is why we run our company using sweat equity. Every employee in the company can invest in the project they are working on.
🔵 Working at VNTRS means collaborating with multiple start-ups at once instead of choosing only one. How does it manifest itself in daily life?
This means that while you could be in the “coding” phase of a product for one start-up, you could also have part of your time attributed to screening potential new start-ups or helping others in our portfolio to scope their MVP.
🔵 VNTRS also has a ‘sweat equity’ system in place, aiming to raise employee engagement even further. Could you give a brief overview of what it is and how it works?
Sweat equity means investing ‘sweat’ instead of money. We are giving out our consultancy and seek equity of the client-company in return. This model came to light in the 1930s in California, US. Back then, immigrants had no place to live and no money to buy an apartment. Local real estate developers approached them and offered a deal, ‘help us to build houses, and in return, as an alternative to the salary, we will give you an apartment, where you could live.’
VNTRS is doing the same by not seeking monetary compensation for the services but asking for equity instead. We can reinvest part of our fee back into the start-up and thus become a minor shareholder. This takes the collaboration to a higher level as we are directly interested in growing the start-up’s valuation.
A ‘killer feature’ of our company is that all of the employees invest part of their salary into the VNTRS fund. This means that all of the workers are shareholders of the project they are working on. The given system allows our workers to get engaged and have direct motivation for success while clients see us as trustworthy partners. We are not an outsourcing company, where the more hours you spend on the project, the more money you will earn. Sweat Equity is about growing together with our startups, as only then can VNTRS be successful!
🔵 When and why did VNTRS choose to use sweat equity? How does it impact a company’s working life, people & operation wise?
This was the decision from day one. In the beginning, it is surely risky and challenging as you need to find the right balance to be able to cover all the running costs, but VNTRS did play this right from the start.
Our experience shows that the Sweat Equity model is efficient and great for founders. We are now applying all the know-how gathered in Sweden to the Estonian market.
🔵 What are some of the qualities you’re looking for in new developers joining the team?
When it comes to hiring new developers, we look for pragmatic and self-acting people with a drive to become experts in their field of work and at working with start-ups. We look for people willing to produce clean quality code using recent and relevant technologies to help the start-ups in our portfolio grow.
Httpool is a media company with a global reach and direct access to the largest tech platforms in the world. We talked with Arnis Ozols, their Regional Managing Director, about why talent should consider joining the journey. For a candid look into the company and its projects, we also chatted with four bright sales & marketing experts from Httpool.
🔵 How would you describe Httpool to a regular person?
Httpool exclusively represents global media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Spotify and more, in markets where these platforms don’t have a local presence. We also strongly value and invest in the relationships with the advertisers who work with us using our partners’ platforms. In the end, our mission is to accelerate the business growth of advertisers in our region.
🔵 Why did you start hiring at such a high rate in the summer of 2021?
We bring value to the largest regional advertisers from different segments like startups, unicorns, SMEs or media agencies. Our business has been growing at an exponential rate over the past years, and we have become the most significant media holding company in the Baltics.
As we grow, we want to make sure that we can match the needs of our growing client database with a relevant and top-notch team. And so, we are constantly looking to increase and diversify our talent pool.
🔵 What are the main advantages of working for a global company like Httpool?
Httpool indeed went from being a local player to a truly global company. As a sales or digital marketing specialist, you will have an opportunity to work with a diverse set of advertisers and receive the most recent updates from all the well-known media platforms. Our employees are constantly trained and educated directly from the source (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Spotify, LinkedIn, etc.) and, when allowed, are travelling to various offices of Httpool and our partners across the world.
🔵 What could a person expect from working at Httpool?
You will work with diverse and very passionate teammates and get the opportunity for swift career development with a global aspect to your work. We have transparency in our decision-making process, flexibility in the workplace, an above-market remuneration model, and specific employee benefits.
🔵 What are the main qualities you look for in new people joining your team?
We are looking for passionate, self-driven experts. The most important qualities are high learning potential and the ability to work in a team. Currently we have almost 30 open positions in our region that require consultative sales or digital marketing background.
In 2020, we grew 10 times in terms of regional revenues, and we will continue our exponential growth in 2021. So the future is super exciting. We are not only growing in the number of employees, and with new and exciting clients, but we are also expanding media representations and adding in markets. Working with Httpool is never boring, business realities keep changing sometimes even daily, as the company continues expanding.
What projects have you worked on with Snap?
Marta: As Snapchat is a camera app, Augmented Reality (AR) is a big part of my everyday work. This technology field is developing rapidly, and I enjoy implementing these innovations for brands that haven’t used them before. It takes them to another level of advertising.
I have worked on AR projects for many international brands such as Samsung, McDonald’s, Pepsi. A recent example is an interactive campaign for a music documentary. We plan to create a custom lens for them and add a Snapcode on all the posters.
What is the most valuable experience that you‘ve gained working at Httpool?
Robin: One of the highlights is the PR activity around the Cyberpunk 2077 video game launch on Twitter. We activated our employees with the game, t-shirts and day-off as a reward for their hard work. People responded enthusiastically and joined in our activities.
As a result, we received amazing praise from our partner and also some employment CVs. We now have great new colleagues thanks to this!
What would you suggest to fellow marketers looking to improve their skills?
Pauls: Keep an open mind & be critical about the information you read. When it comes to the knowledge available online, there’s a lot of clutter. There’s usually not a one-size-fits-all solution, especially in marketing.
Follow relevant sources that have different angles on the topic & when possible, try to test the approaches in your everyday life. Find an organization that can support the development of your skills and lets you shine. Education is key to success.
What are some of the best reasons to work for Httpool in your opinion?
Dmitrijs: First of all, it is a substantial professional step up, as Httpool gives a chance to have a broader look at the digital marketing industry in the region and an opportunity to work with clients of various sizes and verticals.
Httpool believes in growing talents, so it is an excellent opportunity to gain knowledge from webinars, training and colleagues from all around the world who have unbelievable experience in the industry. Besides the professional side, Httpool organizes different events and activities for the employees to have fun. Work hard, play hard.
Dynatech is a unique tech company in many ways, as it employs over 250 technical people to support all the global brands in the Dyninno Group. Founded in 2016, the company utilizes modern technologies to develop the ever-expanding product portfolio while ensuring the high quality of the code.
We interviewed Jurijs Saveljevs, Lead Software Engineer, and Viesturs Teivans, Tech Lead, to find how they have set up their tech stack and daily work. The interview covers topics including the benefits of Node.JS & Typescript, what mistakes Dynatech has made when choosing technologies and how they approach data-driven decision-making.
🔵 To start at the beginning, what does the company Dynatech do exactly?
Jurijs: Dynatech is a global business center based in Riga, Latvia. Among others, we provide IT services and solutions for all the businesses within the Dyninno Group, consisting of three divisions: Travel, Entertainment and FinTech. There are many independent businesses within the conglomerate, and Dynatech is the unified technology company powering them. Mainly by IT services but also competencies in marketing, HR, project management, etc.
🔵 How is the work divided between different teams in Dynatech?
Viesturs: The work is divided mostly by product. Within each of these three areas of the Dyninno Group, we have specific products with specific teams. Sometimes teams have multiple projects at hand because some of them only need to be maintained. It’s also possible to migrate between them, for example, if a person is interested in a technical problem that involves a specific product.
We also have people like Jurijs who work on R&D. This is a shared team that supports the infrastructure of all our products. For example, they pick the new technologies and research the best practices for implementing them. That helped us a lot in migration to Kubernetes and automated pipelines.
🔵 Can you describe a bit what projects you are working on these days? What do you like the most about them?
Viesturs: I’m developing a new flight search product which consists of several Node.js applications. In addition to writing the code, I’m also very involved in managing the code quality to keep it easily maintainable and ensure that we have proper unit tests. A lot of it is automated, but we still make sure that people use this automation consistently, and we don’t end up with spaghetti code.
We’ve had several major refactors during the project, and those were mostly pretty easy. For example, we have changed the internal data structure for the search functionality two times, which is an enormous refactor for all the services that need to operate on it. I make sure that things like that go smoothly.
Jurijs: I’m working more on infrastructure and applying best practices to the application development flow. We’re currently moving to orchestrated environments, mostly Kubernetes, which means we run multiple clusters for multiple products in various Kubernetes installations. Mostly on AWS EKS, but we are also experimenting with DigitalOcean. We have some exposure in Russia, where we use Yandex.Cloud, and we are also researching some Asian cloud providers. So I’m into orchestration and bootstrapping applications for that.
The second thing I’m working on is application metrics, so whenever there is an anomaly in how the product or runtime behaves, we get alerted. And the third is ensuring the continuous deployment for our applications, including making sure that every application is built and containerized correctly, and doesn’t have any known security vulnerabilities or obvious bugs that we can catch with static code analysis.
Jurijs Saveljevs, Lead Software Engineer at Dynatech
🔵 What principles do you follow when choosing new technologies?
Jurijs: We indeed have some key factors that we value in technology choices. One of them is open-sourceness because whenever something doesn’t fit, you can identify the issue and improve it. We actively contribute to some open-source projects, especially to the infrastructure stuff where there aren’t many administrative tools for the job. We like Node.js & TypeScript especially because of the self debugging and profiling. These problems were solved a long time ago, and you don’t need to worry about them.
Viesturs: In the case of Node.JS, another great strength is the mature and highly active community. If you have an issue with some package, it’s likely that the solution already exists. Yes, it still might not be optimal, and you may need to contribute, but overall, it speeds up the development a lot.
🔵 Have you had any significant strategic mistakes when building your technology stack?
Jurijs: The major misdirections were probably related to how we make critical decisions. The first thing that comes to mind was the tendency to split everything up into microservices. We followed that trend too aggressively and spread the services too thin, this is now known as the nano service anti-pattern. Fortunately, we managed to fix it by reunifying some functionality, but we definitely had that problem back in the day.
The other misdirection was the tendency to build custom solutions for the things that already existed. It’s called the “not invented here” syndrome, which sometimes happens in huge companies. At some point, we were at around 300 tech tools, some of which were probably built just because folks wanted to try something new. Or there was one feature lacking, so they copied the entire product plus the one missing feature. We have fixed this issue by introducing a formal process for technology decisions.
Viesturs: We also have sometimes chosen the wrong technology for the project. One unhappy project is running on Hack, which is a version of PHP by Facebook. The major challenge with it is the lack of community, which means you have to write everything yourself. Even something as simple as ORM to use your database correctly. Although the ORM exists, it has issues, probably because someone somewhere didn’t have time to finish it properly. It’s a super weird scenario that wouldn’t happen with any normal open-source ORM. And in the end, Hack doesn’t solve much other than what PHP already does.
🔵 How do you ensure the quality of your codebase? How does your tech stack help you with the ease of refactoring?
The next thing is this decoupling of code, the modularity. During my time here, I have introduced a principle that if your application uses an external service, it has to have its own service around it. Therefore, if you change the API or the application requirements, you can simply create a bit of middleware that translates the input to whatever your application needs.
And finally, unit tests. All the interfaces won’t save you with major refactors, like changing the data structure for a service that’s already running. It may look like it’s working on the surface, but then some response comes back as the wrong type, etc. Once you have the unit tests, they can actually show you what’s working or not. And then you have to either update the test, if the data structure has changed, or update the code.
Viesturs Teivans, Tech Lead at Dynatech
🔵 Let’s talk about testing for a moment. How have you organised the testing major updates, so both the developers and business people stay happy?
Viesturs: For the business people, it’s the metrics. Are there enough requests? Do the clients react how we expected? If they don’t, then is it a bug? So monitoring is the big thing when we’re in production.
In the testing environment, we have automated unit tests for the Node.js applications. They run in the QA pipeline, and if something does not pass, we don’t merge it. The major releases are also tested semi-automatically by our QA people. They check things like if the user does something, does the correct log message happen? Do we get the correct change database?
Jurijs: We also use some functional tests in production to ensure the quality of service. Periodic tests, targeted at the production environment, are performing the users’ usual workflows. In the case of an online ticket agency, we might search for flight tickets or a destination. And we can verify if we find what we need. We have such tests for the vital functions of every service.
We also use stress and load testing to monitor known bottlenecks and search for unknown ones. We run the stress tests mostly on the production environment in off-peak hours. These tests don’t run periodically, but we perform them on-demand after notable component changes.
🔵 How did you come up with the data streaming approach for the microservices? What is it, and how do you use it currently?
Viesturs: I think it’s a pretty popular solution currently. The idea behind the data stream is that Redis is handling the data transfer between services. One of the advantages is reducing strain on the network. If you have numerous services trying to communicate with each other, you put enormous pressure on the network. Even in the case of internal services, there might be gigabytes of data flying here and there. People sometimes tend to ignore those internal processes as they don’t go over the internet, but if we have 300+ services that talk with each other, then the situation becomes pretty bad.
The second advantage is ensuring that the data ends up where it needs to. Because the data stays in the Redis, any service that needs it can get it. In some ways, it’s insurance against processing errors. For instance, if a service has an error and needs rebooting, then after coming back up, it can simply check the data and continue where it left off. In terms of the actual code, it’s also more understandable with data streaming. The data stream is usually observable, and the service that called it already has the context for maintaining the data.
Jurijs: Data streaming allows us to predictably design system communication. In a classical RPC flow, a service would send a request and then get results in return. But data streaming guarantees that we can provide the results. Also, you can ping results any time or share them across the systems as long as everyone is aware of the DTL. It allows very efficient contracts for spreading data across the system.
🔵 How do you use the data in daily discussions?
Jurijs: We genuinely believe in data-driven decision-making. In any argument, whether it’s tech-related or it’s business-related, the person who wins is the one who has numbers that are gathered correctly and prove his opinion. If we don’t already have the data, then we follow a pretty scientific process to collect it. For example, we might set out to test a hypothesis that building X will improve Y in some way. If you share this belief in data and the scientific method of doing things, you fit into our team very well.
Viesturs: And I guess most programmers probably do! (Laughing)
🔵 And finally, what type of developers would fit into the Dynatech team the best, in your opinion?
Jurijs: It might sound naive, but the answer is that we need people who share our values. We believe in quality: If you invest time in better design, optimisation or automation, from our experience, it usually pays off. We are searching for folks who believe the same.
Viesturs: I absolutely agree. We value people who are passionate and aim for quality in the code they deliver. Also, we expect that people can support their opinions with data. When it comes to tech choices, the “I want to try something new and cool” approach is not good enough. We have to pick the tools that are best for solving a specific problem.
For example, just before the interview, we were arguing with Jurijs about tech choices. We invite these arguments because the best solutions arise from the creative conflict. The idea is that you can bring your own opinion, but you also have to support it with a use case.
Welcome to Part 2 of the guide on how to get your first job at a tech company with Giedre Dubisevaite. She is a People Manager at Whatagraph, a SaaS platform for collecting and visualizing marketing data gathered from many channels. Whatagraph has tripled its team to 60+ people in 2020 with ambitious plans for 2021 as well.
If you haven’t already, make sure to read Part 1 of the interview, which covers the first steps for getting a job, including building a LinkedIn profile and sending an outstanding application.
🔵 We pick up the conversation from Part 1 at a place where the candidate has cleared the first hurdle and left a good first impression on the recruiter. What happens next? How does Whatagraph’s hiring process look and how long does it usually take to complete it?
It actually very much depends on the role and the team. As a rule of thumb, if we receive an excellent candidate, we do not wait a month to send an offer but rather do it straight away. So if you hesitate whether to apply, today is always better than tomorrow.
In terms of the hiring process, the candidates usually go through the following steps:
Application (can be done via email or by applying on our careers page)
Interview with a team lead
Meet the team / Cultural fit interview
We are big fans of adjusting the hiring process to the specific position, so the candidate gets the opportunity to show off the specific skills as well as get to know the team before deciding to join. After all, it’s an evaluation journey for both parties.
For example, when hiring for a Sales role, we usually invite candidates for a role play with our team. Also, they get to participate in the Experience day, where you get to meet the team and see how your daily tasks will look. For a position like Product Designer, we might give you a scenario with a real UX problem to solve to see how you approach challenges.
🔵 How different are the recruiting processes for various positions, for example, technical vs non-technical roles?
I wouldn’t make a distinction between technical and non-technical roles because each position is different. We look not only at professional experience but also at soft skills that are specific to the position.
Almost every role we are recruiting for will have an assignment step – technical or non-technical. We have found it works well for understanding the candidate’s approach to tasks in general, but it also allows them to show off their practical skills.
🔵 What’s your favourite question to ask at interviews? Why?
While our Team Leaders focus on more technical questions, I like to pay close attention to the personality and cultural fit. When we hire people, our goal is to onboard them on a long-term journey with Whatagraph, so we make sure the new hires share our vision, commitment and values. So my favourite question is “Where do you do your best work?”. It might sound like a simple question, but it actually gives a lot of insights.
For example, it shows if you are a team or an individual player, what motivates you and what management style is the best to support you. Also, it highlights if you thrive in a fast-paced environment full of challenges and if you feel comfortable working at a startup like Whatagraph.
My second favourite would be “What would motivate you to stay in the company for the next 5 years?”.
🔵 Let’s say the talent has triumphantly completed the hiring process and is ready to start their career at Whatagraph. How does the onboarding process look like when most of the team is (presumably) working remotely?
When a new person joins the company remotely, the first week is booked with meetings – we believe it is important to see the faces of the people you will be working with daily.
During your first week, you get to know our Operations and HR team, have intros with your own team and get to meet our CEO Justas. We make it clear that everyone in the company is approachable, and each question is important. Weekly check-ins also help to keep the pulse of the new hire.
To meet people from other teams, we have regular Whatachat events. It’s like speed dating with your colleagues, where you get matched with random people for 5-minute video conversations, which is quite fun. 🙂
🔵 How has the year of remote work changed how Whatagraph operates?
We learned a lot over the past year about working remotely, and although it hasn’t affected how we work that much, there were a few things that we learned to do better.
Communication, for example. It’s easy to set up all day meetings to give everyone a sense of ‘working together‘, yet it’s time-consuming and tiring, especially when working from home.
Instead, we worked a lot on documentation – writing up the processes step by step, creating handbooks, guidelines and explainer videos. We also use task management platforms that give a transparent view of where everyone in the team is, and we moved a lot of conversations offline.
🔵 What should a person expect from his/her first-ever job in a start-up?
I would compare working at a startup to riding a bullet train – you jump in and ride at full speed from day one. It’s not really about lounging on bean bags and playing Playstation 4 hours per day.
At Whatagraph, the pace indeed is fast, which can be challenging for some. But what you get in return is the environment to grow rapidly both professionally and as a person. It would take twice as long to become an outstanding talent in any other company. Here, you can do that in a few months, guided and supported by our experienced Team Leaders.
We trust our people to take ownership and get hands-on tasks from day one. And sometimes, mistakes are made, but it’s a risk we are willing to take. We say that a bad page can always be edited, but a blank one – cannot. Getting our hands dirty is how we deliver more than expected and how we grow at scale.
And amidst the thriving environment for talent, we have our team. We are all very different, complementing each other with skills and knowledge, but what unites us is the sense that we are all together in this magical journey. Everyone is super supportive and friendly – we leave our egos at the door and focus on collaboration every single day.
🔵 Are there any things specific to SaaS companies compared to start-ups in other areas?
When working in a SaaS company, a focus is on the product and the service we offer. To succeed in any of the teams, you need to know the product exceptionally well because you will be either making it, selling it, supporting it or marketing it. So this knowledge is essential.
In their first week, new joiners meet our Customer Success team, where they thoroughly learn the platform and have a knowledge building session to cover the use cases of how marketing professionals use Whatagraph to become data scientists.
🔵 Maybe you can give some examples of team events or routines that are unique to Whatagraph?
Even though we are over 60 people now, sometimes it still feels like a small family. Current situation and remote work has put a lot of stress on how people feel in general, and for us it is important to have this sense of community alive, and to support each other. So we have remote team activities where we connect people from different teams and give them time and space to talk while doing something fun, not work-related. For example, the bi-weekly Whatachat events mentioned earlier.
Obviously, we dearly miss our office activities like weekly team breakfasts, hearing the gong from the sales room every time we have a new customer onboarded, or a bell ping every time a demo is booked, going for a team picnic outside, or just getting together for a beer or two. The time away from the office provided us with a lot of space to get new ideas of activities inside and outside the office, so I’m really looking forward to implementing them! For example, enabling our teams in Vilnius and Klaipeda to switch offices – who wouldn’t want to work with a view over the Curonian Lagoon during the day and then chill by the sea in the evening?
Check out Whatagraph’s open positions on MeetFrank:
🔵 Especially at the start of your career, you might find out that your initial career path is not the best fit for you. How easily can you move between different teams and roles within Whatagraph?
Easy. That’s the best part about working in a fast-growing company like Whatagraph. I joined the company five years ago as a Marketing Specialist, and during my time here, I had a chance to work in Customer Success, Product and Operations teams. This experience helped me find the areas I enjoy most, and now I found my place as the People Manager.
Marija, our Head of Operations, started her career as a Partnerships Development Executive in our Sales team. Žilvinas, who leads our affiliate marketing program, worked as an Outreach Specialist before taking up the new position.
There are plenty of opportunities, and with the current pace of hiring, they are coming up all the time. It’s the matter of you taking that step and making good use of it.