Learn how to create and develop a working team, what qualities are needed to lead people, and what is the secret to running international projects successfully.
On your background
I am Alexander Mihaylov – Sasho, Front-end Technology Manager at Scalefocus, based in our office in Varna. Let’s go back in time, so I can walk you through the path that brought me here.
I was first attracted to the field of technology as a student at the “Georgi Sava Rakovski” high school of economics, where we had a class in informatics. I also tried to develop my knowledge in the domain on my own, but things did not work out because the information online (and not only) was scarce at the time. I realized that I should study such a specialty at the university if I wanted to become a subject-matter expert. That’s how I changed my accounting major to engineering and enrolled at the Technical University – Varna. At that time, the discipline and profession were not as attractive as today, but I was getting the necessary knowledge to satisfy my interest. Since that moment, 15 years have passed.
At the start of my career, I dealt with everything: think C++, C#, I also became a certified .NET developer and even a Cisco network administrator when I was about to graduate from the technical university. To a certain point, having such a broad span was nice, but I came to the conclusion that it was also good to focus on a specific area. My mentor at the time, with whom I still work, by the way – he is an architect in my technology practice – directed me to the field of Front-end. But he didn’t just guide me. He truly sparked my curiosity because there are many things to consider when developing apps, whether front-end for desktop, mobile, or embedded devices. You have to carefully think about what you produce, how you do it, and what you want the result to be. This process and how it was presented to me by my mentor had a massive impact on my profiling. And this is how solving complex problems turned out to be my thing.
Quite naturally, my career journey went through several companies – at the first one I spent almost 8 years, and then I moved to the next one where I took leadership roles. Since then, another 8 years have passed, during which I have been actively involved in people management.
On how quickly time is passing
Time is definitely passing fast. And it continues to pass unnoticed. I gained a lot of experience, met many people and learned a lot from them. And most importantly, I learned to learn from all kinds of people. Even from more junior colleagues because they have a very unencumbered perspective and points of view. I think it takes a certain level of self-development and maturity to allow yourself to see such opportunities and take advantage of them.
On your specialty
If I have to highlight one business area I am most experienced in, it would be training. It is due to the many years of experience I have in a company subsidiary of ETS – this is the organization which conducts the TOEFL & SAT tests globally. There I built a system for testing students from the 1st to the 8th grade. My mentor, whom I mentioned above, was part of the team. Another person with whom we also worked together on this project is our colleague Tsvetan Smardanski – currently Technology Manager at Scalefocus Burgas. And as I don’t want to make everything sound like a fairy tale, I can share one of the most memorable blunders. 400 000 students in the United States were preparing to take an exam, but they failed to enter the system… because I had forgotten to fix a bug 🙂
On your role at Scalefocus
I am one of the company’s first employees in Varna, before we even had a physical office. Tsvetan Smardanski is also involved in this story. He received a job offer in the Burgas office of Scalefocus, and at that time, we were working together in Varna. After he accepted the offer and started transferring from one location to another, several people from our team at the time proactively sent their CVs to Tsvetan’s new employer. Fortune favors the brave, so we created the need to open another office by chance. We formed a good community in which a People manager was needed.
I already had nearly 4 years of experience in people management, which allowed me to apply for the role and develop it. I participated in the development and restructuring of the team, and soon after, I received an offer to become a Front-end Technology Manager. That made me happy. Shortly after that, I also took on the role of a Site Lead of the Scalefocus office in Varna. All this happened within 4 years. Needless to say, there has been quite a lot of dynamics.
On your team
Teamwork is at the core of our profession – it’s true that some people prefer to work alone, but for me, those are exceptions. The amount of information to handle and understand is enormous, and it is impossible for one to know everything. Even after years of experience, there are still things you may not have encountered. This is where the role of the team comes – everyone has a different expertise to which you have access. If you hit a snag, there’s always someone to turn to for help.
Experience is also built with the help of the people you are surrounded by and with whom you interact.
We can’t help but mention the pandemic. It changed many things, which are still impacting us. On the one hand, management has suddenly faced the challenge to establish working mechanisms in a fully online environment. On the other hand, it is interesting to observe the impact of remote work in purely human relationships. I mentioned that I owe much of my experience to the people I’ve interacted with. This is more challenging in an online environment, but I believe that we will evolve and find the right approach to develop soft skills despite the lack of social contact over time. That’s why we try to stimulate our colleagues to go to the office not just for work and we organize all kinds of initiatives and events to bring the team together.
To give you an idea of what I am talking about – I collaborate with 10 technology team leads, who are also responsible for their own teams. This is where remote work comes in handy because these managers are from diverse locations. The Work from Everywhere model has worked out well, we are learning from each other, work processes have been established, and projects are moving smoothly. The key is that each team lead has their own specific approach. It is important how they engage their teams. We organize regular technology meetings, at which we discuss a variety of topics and interview questions.
In general, the Varna location is actively involved in many of the large-scale projects in which Scalefocus is engaged. We build trusted partnerships with clients, and our colleagues become their technology and business development consultants. Our proposals are taken seriously, which by itself is a testimonial for the high quality of expertise we offer.
This applies not only to Front-end but also to all Scalefocus teams. We strive to build long-term partnerships with clients and add value to them by consulting, protecting and presenting our solutions in the best way.
On the new colleagues you are looking for
I’m looking for a little bit of everything 🙂
We need technical people who have a solid foundation and have acquired in-depth knowledge through practice. There’s an abundance of superficial knowledge on the market. We value expertise—even if it’s not relevant to the specific project we’re interviewing someone for, it’s more important to see their approach and attitude to the technology itself. When we see that they have delved into a particular technology direction, this serves as a clear sign that they can develop in another field equally well. And we, as a team, encourage such endeavors and provide the needed support.
Let’s not underestimate soft skills either because they are crucial to teamwork. It is vital to have a good cooperation and to build mutual trust.
One of the main elements of collaboration is the trust between individuals – to self-organize, to give each other constructive feedback, and to help each other.
On why Scalefocus
For me – mainly because of the people and specialists I work with daily. But also because of the chances and opportunities for development that are given. Also, I don’t think there are many companies who have senior managers outside of their primary location. We are rather an exception, and I believe we are also a good example.
People attract other people. Work is work, but it is team spirit that attracts and retains colleagues. The support we give and receive is the advantage that sets Scalefocus apart. This culture cannot be seen from a job advertisement; it has to be felt.
For those who are about to join our team – if we see that they have a genuine desire to develop, we are happy to provide the conditions.
On the advice you wish someone had given to you
I have some tech tips for people just starting their development.
1. You are expected to make mistakes but also to learn from them.
The most important thing is to derive conclusions by yourself.
We know you will make mistakes. You have to make mistakes. Otherwise, you can’t learn.
2. The individual player is not always perceived well. You can achieve a lot alone, but you will surely accomplish much more in a team.
3. Don’t expect someone to solve your problem. Prepare well before asking for help. Ask short and specific questions to help you get to a solution.
On your everyday work life
Every day is a new mix. I miss writing code, but every now and then, I find an opportunity to get involved in a project—either as a pre-sales architect to consult a client or to help more junior colleagues.
Otherwise, my main tasks are operational—meeting people, discussing solutions about processes we want to implement, and all kinds of challenges. I try to be involved in different areas and mentoring as well.
On what is most important to you at Scalefocus
There has always been one main important thing: the team. I strive to be a people manager who is more people-oriented than business-oriented. Ineed to balance and find the middle ground in my current role, but I always put people first. I try to convey this philosophy to the team leads I work with—have them pay attention to their people so that I can focus on the business part. People over business, but not to the detriment of the latter.
On your life outside of work
The pandemic helped me discover the advantages of the work-from-everywhere model at Scalefocus and to realize that I prefer working in an office. I gave myself an account that I draw the line between work and personal life at the moment when I travel from home to the office and vice versa. This time allows me to switch from one mode to the other. I dare say that I manage to balance well between family and work, freeing some time for my personal interests as well.
There is a duality in me. I like to hang out with friends in clubs, but I’m also a homebody. I like to read books, watch movies, and get back to my hobbies related to programming. I’m experimenting with hardware devices, trying to automate processes in our home. I’ve also found a way to really relax – with video games. Yes, I unwind with gaming, even though I’m 36 years old. I recently played through Subnautica and Diablo II.