We don't push anyone artificially; newcomers move on their own, says Adastra's architect and delivery manager, Jan Karban
"I try to give people space and look for projects that they will enjoy and push them further on their own. But this freedom also comes with much personal responsibility. In the consulting business, the client judges our work very carefully and expects top service," says David Kozelka, who heads the division at Adastra that delivers projects for large banks and financial institutions in the Czech Republic, Europe, but also China and India.
Ivana Karhanová: David Kozelka heads a division at Adastra that primarily does projects for banks and financial institutions. His team generates annual turnover in the hundreds of millions of crowns and works for banks in the Czech Republic and Europe - westward, northward, and southward. He has also delivered projects for financial institutions in China and India.
Ivana Karhanová: Hi David. How big is your whole team?
David Kozelka: My team is 134 people.
Ivana Karhanová: And what projects do you do most often for clients?
David Kozelka: We have two main areas that my division handles. One is the Adastra business: data warehousing, data warehousing, BI platforms, data lakes, lambda architectures, and other modern topics - kind of the Adastra data science, what Adastra started 15 years ago and what still forms a significant part of our business. And the other part of our projects is more application projects, application development - delivering mobile apps, IoT scenarios, backend development, or integration projects.
Ivana Karhanová: Maybe we can mention that we are also developing our own data warehousing product.
David Kozelka: Yes. You're right, but it's not as significant as the other two parts in terms of the number of people involved. But yes, we are developing our solution as well.
Ivana Karhanová: That means that if you lack a solution in the market that you're happy with, you can say, "Let's develop it ourselves..."
David Kozelka: Yes, exactly.
Ivana Karhanová: What was the most curiosity-inducing job you've ever been involved in?
David Kozelka: That's an interesting question. I would say it's two things. One was a massive project in China that ended about two years ago - just before the Covid when over a hundred of our consultants delivered a mobile app for a financial institution. So it was not only a mobile frontend, but it was a pretty massive backend and many integrations. So developers, programmers, and testers were flying to China. It was just mesmerizing. The other exciting project was for an oil company in Iraq or Kurdistan. That's the good part of Iraq, as I understand it politically. And we delivered the architecture design there, and we're planning some implementation projects for the future.
Ivana Karhanová: How would you describe yourself as a boss?
David Kozelka: I try to give people space to work. To find projects that they enjoy and that I don't have to worry too much about. If they enjoy their work and find it fulfilling, most people only need help with something sometimes, but otherwise, they take care of themselves, their projects, and their teams.
Ivana Karhanová: This can be understood because people get quite a lot of responsibility when they work for you. In a good way.
David Kozelka: Exactly. Adastra is a consulting company, so we're expected to do top-notch work and deliver deliverables. And that comes with much personal responsibility for the leadership team and the individual consultants who are working at the client. The customer looks at their work carefully and carefully considers whether the work is worth the money. For me, in the consulting business, that's just a big difference from having a warm spot in a big corporation.
Ivana Karhanová: If we look at the practicalities, how do you get the working hours?
David Kozelka: I always say to new hires colleagues, "Just make your arrangements." It's by the customer and by the project. Covid waved it around a lot, but some customers watched our punch lists and would pull information from the system if a person was thereby nine to five. This has changed significantly, but it still needs to be tailored to the customer. Nobody cares much about working hours now. You need to deliver results and be on the callees that are scheduled.
Ivana Karhanová: So the home office is cool...
David Kozelka: Home office is cool now, and we're seeing it massively with many of our employees. On the other hand, I am not a fan of a completely 100% home office. It can work in an established team where colleagues know each other. They've worked together for a long time, so they occasionally call each other and somehow push the project forward. But then again, as a contractor, we often shuffle teams around, change, do new projects, and that's where even experienced people need to be in sync with each other. I, for one, require one or two days a week to meet in the office.
Ivana Karhanová: So you don't like the overall remote...
David Kozelka: I don't like a complete remote. Of course, there are cases when we have specialists in certain technologies who are not available in Prague. Yes, we have colleagues that we haven't physically seen in our lives, but there are only a few of them. Even if we have colleagues who commute from Moravia or even further away, we want to see them once a week, once every 14 days. That personal contact is still important to me.
Ivana Karhanová: If someone is in a particular situation, I'm thinking of a mother on maternity leave. Can you find a place in the team for such a colleague?
David Kozelka: I typically say I need at least part-time. You can click on the web one or two days a week, but realistically, you won't get much work done. But if you're at least part-time, I don't care if you're home because of the kids or because it's a long commute.
Ivana Karhanová: What does a person have to know to be a valid team member? And what can he learn on the fly?
David Kozelka: It depends on how much money he wants :-) However, in the last few years, we have started working with junior people, graduates from school who don't know that much about our business and are learning a lot but also with colleagues who come from other fields. We have a colleague who used to build bridges. Sometimes, you go over a bridge he designed when you drive around South Bohemia. At this point, he's an experienced data warehouse developer and analyst. We also have a fellow pilot.
As you know, the aviation situation is not very good in terms of Covid. CSA has sold off a significant portion of its aircraft, and the pilot force is down to a couple of units, so we have a colleague who used to fly with Boeing and is now helping us with technical projects. He is fluent in three languages and started with us as a tester. It has to be said that the learning curve is quite fast for people who have some experience in any field.
Ivana Karhanová: What are you able to tolerate in people? And what do you hate?
David Kozelka: In a supplier relationship, we have to be straight with the customer, so if I say something is going to be, it just has to be. Or if I know it's not going to happen, I have to say it in time. You can't bullshit. We work on long-term relationships and projects, where trust is needed.
Ivana Karhanová: How do you do with education in your team?
David Kozelka: My experience is that people are very individual in this. Everybody says that they want to be educated. Everybody goes there too if we pay for training and send somebody somewhere to sit and listen to it. But the moment a person has to put some of their energy into it, and we want them to get certifications, you suddenly see filtering out of those who are just talking and those who want it. And those, of course, we encourage them to educate themselves on what fits their profile or what direction they want to move in. So it's a lot about the cloud and different data projects.
Ivana Karhanová: Let's summarize: is your team more formal, or do you prefer informality in communication?
David Kozelka: Our team is very informal. We don't even have any fixed organizational structures. We are organized purely in a project-based way. So one year, you can be working on a project with a colleague, the following year, you will be his boss, and the next project, you switch roles because that's what the customer wants or it fits the project.
Ivana Karhanová: Do you prefer teamwork or competition within teams?
David Kozelka: Teamwork.
Ivana Karhanová: If you had to choose between work and work-life balance, where do you see yourself or your team?
David Kozelka: 60% work, 40% work-life balance.
Ivana Karhanová: If you had to place yourself somewhere between an exciting reward or an exciting project, where would that be?
David Kozelka: Exciting project. Of course, good money is needed, but you get used to it quickly.
Ivana Karhanová: David, thanks for the interview