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Łukasz Wardęga for LiveChat

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Dangers and opportunities of technical Disneyland – starting as Junior Web Developer in a SaaS company, vol.1

If you really like what you do, want to be better, and it looks like the whole digital world is looking for your skills and talent, a career in a product company can be really immersive. How to grow in quickly developing SaaS product company? Today I talk to Filip Jaskólski, Head of the Platform at LiveChat. Filip started to work at LiveChat as a junior web developer in the marketing department. His journey led through several positions until he was put in charge of our Developer Program.

We talk about his beginnings, growing in both developer and management skills, switching from freelancing to a nine-to-five job and a bit about LiveChat and its history.

Have a good reading!

Hello, Filip. Happy to have you here.
Tell us something about yourself. What do you do at LiveChat? And how did you get here?

Sure. So I'm Filip, platform manager at LiveChat. Together with platform teams, we are building an ecosystem, an environment for external partners, developers, and everybody interested. So they can build upon LiveChat products.

Okay, but this is not the position that you started with when you came to LiveChat.

Yeah, that's true. I started, I believe, over six years ago, as a web developer in the marketing team.

And how did you get into LiveChat?

This is probably not that big of a story. I got into LiveChat by accident. I wasn't really planning to get a job, at least, you know, a full-time job. I was freelancing back then, and my plan was to finish the university.

You were studying back then, right?

Yes, I studied computer science at the University of Technology in Wroclaw. I wasn't really into looking for a full-time job, but then the job found me. I got plunged in and never left since then.

And what was your part-time job? Have you had any experience when you were starting out?

Yeah, so I was always into computers and computer-related stuff. I had built a couple of websites, you could call them web apps, but this term wasn’t very popular at the time. I've been building portals and some simple web solutions for freelance jobs.

Okay, and what was your beginning like? What was your first feeling when you joined the company? I suppose that the company was in a different stage of development than now?

Yeah, it's funny you asked because it was extremely weird. I didn't really know what to expect, and back then, there were around 30 people working in the company, something like that. The office was placed in a small single-family house with really tiny rooms, and a tiny kitchen. And the general vibe was that we were a big family, living in one crowded space. I remember my first meeting was with our CEO, Mariusz, and that he was very expressive. I didn't really know what he was all about when he was speaking about the company. Right now, six years later, I think I understand him better. But back then, I was really surprised by all the ideas he had. My first impression was, "Wow, where am I? Do I really belong here? What did I get myself into?”

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It didn't look like a usual nine-to-five job?

No, not at all. Very far from that.

So you were a web developer, in the marketing department.

That's correct. The job offer they had opened was for a web developer. The only person responsible for the website back then was Łukasz Powązka. He was my go-to person for the first couple of months. He passed over all these duties to me. Then, I started working closer with the marketing team. It wasn't that big at a time – there was Szymon, CMO, Jacob Firuta – copywriter, and Maciej Serafinowicz, who was a designer back then. And that was it.

Okay, so it was quite comfortable – not too many people. As a newbie, what was your first big mistake after you got into that?

A company mistake? I think I was one month or two months in when it happened. I sent out an email campaign to over 100,000 customers, and 70,000 of them received one email with messed up buttons. It doesn't sound that bad, but the actual campaign was something that customers really cared about, and they were upset that these buttons didn't work. To make things even worse, for some main clients, the buttons were filled in with lorem ipsum labels like it was a test campaign that was not supposed to get out. So yeah, I really messed up, and I felt really bad about it. I was terrified that I got myself into a lot of trouble because of that. But I remember the CEO who then said, “A person who never makes mistakes never does anything.” I think I'm paraphrasing this one, but you get the point.

It looks like it was quite empathetic of them.

Yeah, I think they were really inclusive about making mistakes, the learning process, and everything in between. At the same time, they were really motivated to grow fast. It was a nice combination of them being understanding and demanding that allowed me to improve quickly.

Speaking of making mistakes and learning – what was the thing you needed to learn soon after starting your first nine-to-five job?

Starting with very obvious, practical things as a web developer, I had to learn some basic stuff about the LiveChat website’s setup. I wasn't familiar with similar structure, so I had to catch up pretty quickly. Łukasz was very helpful with that. He helped me to move past this point very, very fast. However, back then, I had this idea about my experience that I already knew something. I had this rather confident approach that I can handle a lot of things when it comes to web development, but then, with every single day of my work at LiveChat, I started to realize how wrong I was. It was a sea of new possibilities for me, I opened many doors that I wanted to explore.. I dived into JavaScript and learned how to build things on the client side, then I moved back to the backend side and studied things over there. I learned many frameworks around coding, a lot of new approaches. I learned some service stuff and database, and collecting all those pieces was a very fun activity for me. I spent hours doing this. But at some point, I was working 14 to 15 hours a day. And I couldn't stop. I will probably get back to this later, but that would be one of my pieces of advice. Don't do this, do not fall into this trap.

The trap of working 14 hours a day?

Yeah. In short, I had to learn a lot of practical stuff quickly. But that was not very important from today's point of view. The second area was beyond development, it was about design and visual stuff. In order to be a good web developer, you also have to be a designer, at least to a certain extent. I had to learn about typography, composition, how to use Illustrator, Photoshop, and all those tools that enable you to create designs. So that would be a second area, not only web development, but also design and visual stuff. And last but not least, I needed to learn time management. When and how to approach things, how to plan, how to lead from design to delivery, and so on.

In other words, you found out that you cannot just dig into something that seems interesting to you just because it's fun, but you have to schedule your work time. You have to think about the big picture: What would be the final outcome of my workweek?

Yeah, I think you put it right. If I had to make up an analogy, I would imagine going to an infinite Disneyland, where all the area is created in every single way you choose, dynamically. And then, you only have eight hours per day to spend in this Disneyland, so you have to plan what you're spending your time on carefully.

It sounds like just by entering LiveChat, you got into a technical Disneyland. You had an opportunity to learn many things you weren't aware of, but I suspect that it wasn't like that all the time. What was difficult for you, apart from time management?

One of the biggest difficulties that affected other areas of my life was getting too involved with my work and spending too much time on it. If you're overloading yourself with ideas and this Disneyland of possibilities, you end up very tired, and you don't have time for any other activities throughout the day. You can’t spend time reading books outside your area of expertise, you don't have time to meet up with your friends, you don't have your family time. I lost all this due to bad time management. In short, what was very difficult for me at the beginning, was work-life balance.

You mentioned that before you joined LiveChat, you had been a freelancer. What were your first steps into teamwork, cooperation with your colleagues on a long-term basis rather than just for one project?

I think it was teamwork as a whole. If I had to put together a list of things I owe to LiveChat, I think it would be very close to the top. Teamwork is something that life has taught me. I also learned how to work in an environment with people, not only as a one-man army. There are two reasons why it was so easy for me to accommodate. First of all, the people I met back then were very open, friendly, cooperative, and understanding. They made it super easy to just lean on them and learn from them all the time. Teamwork was in the company’s ideology. It was apa non-written rule for operating at LiveChat back then. I'm not sure if you know this phrase, "hashtag teamwork" – it's all about it, you know? I believe it originated back then, and it was an honest statement all we achieve is due to common effort. So, first of all, it was very easy to catch up on teamwork, and second of all, you didn't really have any other option.

Okay. So, as we stated, you started as a web developer, but I suppose that at some point, things started to change for you in the company. How did it happen?

I think the first major change for me was after we switched our office to a bigger one. It was almost two years after I joined LiveChat. I was working with the marketing team, which grew over the years to, I believe, six or eight people. We already had a lot of interesting projects, and I still had this sea of possibilities to float around. The things I liked the most were those connected to the frontend experience. I had this project, a typing speed test, which made me think that the frontend area is the way to go for me. I really enjoyed building it. That was my first step toward product development at LiveChat. The second factor for the change to happen were my leaders. So there was Szymon and Bartek. Szymon was the CMO of LiveChat, and Bartek was leading the product teams. They were very perceptive of what people wanted to do with their careers, and at some point, they started to present me with a path I can take to jump out of the marketing team to product teams.

And how did you spot the opportunities to grow? It’s not a skill that everyone has. Some people can go on with their job for a long time and just don't see things beyond it.

I don't have a perfect recipe for that, but in general, the opportunity to grow is always out there. There is no situation where you don't have it. The only problem is that you can miss it. In order to see opportunities, you have to have your eyes open, and try not to fall into the trap of thinking, “This is all I can do, this is all there is for me, this is all I'm capable of doing.” This brings up the book that changed my way of thinking about it. It's a book called "Mindset". I believe the full title is “The New Psychology of Success Mindset”. It was written by Carol Dweck. And this book simply says that you can have two approaches, two mindsets. The first mindset is about being hung up on something. It’s about being tied to the idea that you cannot accomplish something bigger or grow, you are destined to do that, you're not capable, you don't have any talent. The second mindset is the idea that if you put a certain amount of time into practicing something, at some point, you will advance in doing this. Of course, there's more to that, but this really is a life-changing idea. Going back to high school, I felt that some areas of knowledge and science are not for me. I’m speaking for myself, but I think everyone thinks that at some point. I believed that I wasn't really into history, and I could never learn anything about that. The list goes on. I mean, we often say to ourselves that we don't have a talent for drawing, writing fantasy stories or great books – I mean, everybody's capable of doing this. Maybe it's a strong way to put it, but I don't really believe in talent, per se. I rather believe that hard work in a specific area is what enables you to truly bring up your talent.

I think it was actually on point. It looks like the key to grow is to spot a challenge, not be afraid to put time and effort to be better at this, take everything you have, get on with it and try?

Yeah, the first thing is to try, then is to continue trying, because nobody was born with the ability to just magically do things. As a society, we like to think that some people were born with certain abilities. And we feel intimidated, ashamed if we cannot do something others do. But the fact is, and this is a very important one, that each of those people had to work hard to succeed.

We’re going to pause it at this moment.
It was the first part of the interview, thanks for reading up to this point! The second part is on the way, we will talk more about growing in responsibility, becoming a leader and how it’s like to run a team of developers at LiveChat. We’re also going to talk a bit about Developer Platform itself.

Stay tuned!

If you have any questions that you would like to be addressed, even by Filip himself, feel free to comment below!

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