If you do something well enough, after some time your skill is worth teaching other people. In the second part of the interview, we continue to talk with Filip, Head of the Platform in LiveChat about growing in responsibility, becoming a leader and building a team. If you haven't seen the first part, check it out!
Hello again, Filip. Up until now, we've talked about opportunities and growing in skill, but let’s talk about another side of developing a career within LiveChat. How did you learn to take on more responsibility? How did you become a person who has had more and more things, and even more important, people, entrusted to?
I believe what led me to the point when a team was assigned to me was an ability to approach things with the proper attitude. It wasn't a single point in time when an opportunity occured, but it was four years of working in a certain manner. After that, my leaders decided that it's not a great risk to assign a team to me. I believe the virtue you can think of here is being consistent.
What's more, I think that if you have a job as a web developer and you have to ship a website, webpage, or even a landing page, your job is not only to write a few pieces of code and then push them to the GitHub or wherever you push it. It's more about having the whole project in mind and being concerned about it. You have to think outside of your scope, and for instance, care about the design and if it fits all the devices, if the copy is aligned with the other pages of the website, etc.
It’s very useful to think of yourself not only as a delivery person who cuts things and pushes them to the production. You're also responsible for the overall quality of the website. I think this idea of being responsible for something more than my area of expertise led me to the point I could challenge myself by being the leader of a team.
OK, so did you have an actual moment of choice in the direction of your career when you were presented with a choice that you could go in a certain direction or choose another path? How did you deal with it?
I actually did. I remember it very clearly. In our second office, we had this room in the basement. This room had a specific vibe in it, and when I came in, all the C-level executives were sitting there.There was a single chair in front of them. They sat me down in this chair and asked if I wanted to be a leader. Regardless of how cinematic it may sound, it was like that, and I had this moment of choice. I responded that I'd like to try it. I really wanted to try my best at it. I think it was a pivotal moment for me back then.
What was your next job? At that time, you weren’t promoted to your current position, right??
It was another position. Let me put a little context in here. As a company, we were at the point of crossing 10,000 customers, and we realized that we cannot really serve them all with a single product. So, we decided that it was the right moment to lean towards being a platform rather than a single-product company. I was extremely excited. I still am, but at that point, I was ecstatic about this idea. I was all about it, and I couldn't stop reading about it and planning things around it. Probably, that was the second component that led me to this opportunity. I was really passionate about this idea. I also was responsible with my previous job. So, those two components, passion and consistency, led me to this chair and becoming a leader.
I was tasked with assembling a team that was responsible for building the developer program from scratch. Actually, on the very first day, I had only one teammate, so it was a team of two. My friend was responsible for the back-end services. My role was to deliver the front end side and lead the team. From that point on, we grew over the years to 11 people at its peak. Somewhere in between, I was offered another proposal to take care not only of the developer program but also API teams as a Platform Manager. So, for some time, I had two roles. Currently, I passed over the responsibility for the developer program team to someone else, and I work with leaders of all the platform teams, which have grown to five teams now.
How did you manage your time while doing this? I mean, when you got into the company, you found yourself in a completely new world. So it was easy to immerse yourself in the so-called "Disneyland," if you really liked what you were doing. But, after some time, you did have responsibility; two teams, and a sea of tasks to manage. How did you handle it at that point?
Briefly speaking, it was bad again. To be clear, it was very bad at the beginning because I invested too much time into learning all the new stuff. Then, it started to become a little bit better because, after one or two years at LiveChat, I started to care a bit more about myself. When the bigger responsibility came, I was immersed again but came out of it more quickly. I realized that if I am responsible for not only myself but also for a team, I also need to be in good shape. It was necessary to not let them down. At some point, if you're not taking care of yourself, you’re also not taking care of the people who rely on you.
I suppose that it could create an entirely new area of possible pressure for you. You became responsible not only for delivering your work but also for the whole team. It meant that you had to ensure that they would deliver what they were meant to deliver, but you also had to care about how they’re doing. How do they feel about their workplace, the atmosphere within the team, and so on?
Yeah, that’s very true. I can't stress enough how important that is. I think in early stages of LiveChat, we didn't really have a structure or processes around teams. We were completely focused on the product. You could say that there was no room for being careful about all the other qualities other than shipping product production. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to work with Bartek, who had his mind open to this area as well. For instance, he was doing one-on-one meetings with people. This really opened my eyes to see how important it is to proactively build a team. Not only to make it build the product successfully but also to maintain relationships between people and create a healthy atmosphere.
At that time, I started to read a lot. I had a list of books about being a leader, about managing a team, and stuff like that. By the way, also, LiveChat hired our first HR manager. She became a huge resource of knowledge and experience for me, and she helped me to, you know, stay very team oriented. She also suggested to me thousands of resources in that field. To answer your question, the pressure was high, but in some ways, it was something very motivating and not really intimidating. On the other side, it was extremely rewarding to see your team celebrate when succeeding together. So the pressure was high, but the reward was also very, very high.
What about the downsides of being a leader? For example, the unpleasant moments of telling the harsh truth to your subordinates. How did you manage it? I mean, you really had to do that. Avoiding it could have led to really bad consequences.
For me, personally, it was one of the hardest things to learn how to suggest changes or how to provide feedback without demotivating people. Instead, I needed to learn how to motivate them to become better. Personally, I’m an ambitious person. It may lead me to have overly high expectations for the quality of the job. At the same time, it was very hard for me to say the hard truth, as you mentioned, to people. So, it was something I had to learn. I read multiple books and ran many experiments and tests. And finally, I think I learned how to do this. I'm still learning.
I suppose that during your career at LiveChat your role has changed a couple of times, just as the company itself experienced some transformations. What does your work look like today? What’s it composed of?
OK, I don't have a percentage of time in my mind, but there are several parts to it. Thinking back on the previous question, over the years, at least after three years working in LiveChat, I thought that the most challenging thing in this industry is technology. But throughout the years, I realized that was very far from true. The most challenging area is the people. The relationships between them and all the problems concerning communication. So, as of today, my main concern or responsibility is to work with people, talk with them, and discuss project matters but also about things like motivation, self improvement, etc. I work directly with the leaders who are the coordinators of the platform teams. I also work with people outside platform teams in order to coordinate our community initiatives. So, that's the first part of my day-to-day job.
The second part is trying to look for paths to improve our work. I’m looking for innovation or opportunities that you cannot miss. So, you know, I mentioned in the beginning that I felt like I was entering this infinite Disneyland. Today, I see multiple levels of the same infinite Disneyland. It's not only infinite in one platform or one surface. It’s infinite in all directions, and there are even more possibilities than I saw before. So, looking for the right possibilities for us to grow is another thing I do regularly.
The last part is to plan for what the future holds. It includes all the organizational stuff like planning, roadmapping, or strategic thinking to align us with external partners. We are always open to partnerships with other companies. One of the perks of my job is that I can jump into very specific projects. For instance, we recently launched a project called Makers and we do interviews like this one, with makers throughout LiveChat, in order to gain some material to inspire other people to create or extend their field of interest. For instance, we interviewed a person who created several apps for the LiveChat Marketplace and another person who has a very unique hobby. Through these interviews, we want to inspire other people in the company and encourage them to create, become a Maker, or open up to new possibilities.
I’d like to jump to the previous question about the difficult aspects of communication with people. Given your experience in this area, what advice would you give to other managers concerning communication and managing relationships within a team?
I know that one of the most cliche things to say is to be transparent in your communication, but it's cliche for a reason. When I think without transparent communication, you cannot really build anything reliable. By transparent, I mean that you really express what you feel. I'm specifically saying feel and not think because emotions are the things that actually make communication meaningful when manifested properly.
When you think about it today, what enables you to work in this position right now?
I guess it might be persistence. It was never my goal to become the person I am today. It just happened along the way. What I was persistent about was struggling to advance in the field that I'm responsible for. So, while being responsible for assembling the LiveChat Developer Program, I was persistent to grow the team and the program itself, and to build projects that build the Program from the inside. Then move out to creating and maintaining a wider ecosystem and so on. So persistence or responsibility. I think that's it.
Given that, what advice would you give to your younger self when you just started to work at LiveChat?
The thing I wish I learned quicker was that growth mindset thing. I mean to never doubt that you can advance in an area that you are not so good at right now and never think that some areas are closed to you. I learned that the more I work at LiveChat, the more I see there is more to do. I guess it's a very important thing for an aspiring developer to just have your mind open that you can actually become anything you want. You can be good at anything. All the people that are your gurus or celebrities that are out there in the developer world were at your place at some point in their life. The only thing you have to do is just be consistent when advancing in your path. The second thing is to work wisely and to manage your time wisely. Don’t just immerse yourself in work.
So work, even if immersing, is only a part of your life, and it’s best for the work to stay that way?
That's correct. The other thing is about sleep because it's very easy to give it up. I mean, you're fully responsible for your sleep, and you don't really see immediate consequences of sleep deprivation, but they will kick in. It could be after a few months or after years of working like that. So that's another bad thing about preventing yourself from getting sleep. You don't see the consequences right away. You can only see them from the perspective I see now, and I don’t want them to make the same mistake.
Maybe it's private, but could you share with us what were the consequences of immersing yourself into work too much?
At least three or four times, I felt really burned out to the point I really couldn't make myself feel happy about my challenges. I managed to get through this, and there are thousands of techniques to go out of that place. There’s also always the risk that you cannot really recover from it. If you are very self conscious and oriented towards getting out of this, you can do it, but at a very high cost. The best way to actually fight burnout syndrome is to prevent it. That means keeping a healthy habit of sleeping and eating. Maintaining a work-life balance that will never lead you to burnout is the best way to deal with this stuff. Instead of, you know, getting yourself to the point of burnout and then recovering and getting to that point again.
For me, personally, it's hard to set a proper boundaries to my working hours, especially when we work remotely. Maybe it's time to do so. Anyway, thanks for talking to me, it was a pleasure to hear your story!
Thank you for reading to the end! If you're curious about LiveChat Developer Platform and want to know more, or maybe want to become a part of Developer Program, check out our website! You can also read about it in this article on dev.to