I had a pleasure to talk with Gábor Szekeres who is a Software Engineering Manager at Aurea and working also from Hungary. It tells everything about remote work that even though we meet every week at our coworking office, the interview took place online. Exclusive for RemoteTips readers! Let me take you to the interview…
Gábor can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background? How did you shape your career to become a remote working software engineering manager?
My name is Gábor Szekeres, I’ve been working for the last 2 and a half years as a Software Engineering Manager at Aurea, but beforehand I’ve also worked at another company as a software architect for over a year and even in different positions in the past as a part-time professional so I’ve been with the company for many years now.
So actually you started to work in different positions, right?
Technically we were doing managed services on Artemis 7 and Views which means we were developing custom extensions and plugins based on customer’s requirements.
When did you join Crossover and ESW Capital companies?
It’s been 4 years now.
Are there other clients in the ESW Capital you’ve been working for?
The major companies that I know are Aurea, GFI, Ignite, Versata.
How should we imagine remote work nowadays or what does it mean to work completely remote?
How did remote work change your life, because as far as I know, everybody who works for Crossover and implicitly for any of these companies they work 100% remotely.
Nowadays, with today’s really fast and reliable internet connections, it’s really possible to work 100% remotely. It’s exactly what you would imagine, even if you haven’t done it. However a lot the challenges and opportunities aren’t immediately obvious. It definitely requires some getting used to but in the end, I think that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages by far. You need to be aware of your social means and you need to be active, take advantage of the possibility of moving from one place to the next. It also gives you the possibility to just stay at home when, for example, the weather outside is terrible or when you need to do some chores or when you’re expecting a mechanic or a package. It really provides you the flexibility to get anything you want doing as well getting your work done at the same time.
I know you’re Hungarian but where do you live? Inside Budapest or outside of it?
I’m resident outside of Budapest, this is a rural area I would say, so it’s not an extremely densely populated part. But I do move each week to the capital for 2 days. I think this is a great example which illustrates the benefits to a great extent. I am able to move every week for just two days to a completely different city and I can obviously change (and schedule) this whenever I want. I’d also like to mention that we have this great coworking space in Budapest and whenever I get the chance I take advantage of this and just take a desk and hop in. I also get to meet some of my fellow colleagues there. By the way, my hometown is in a completely different opposite end of the country and whenever I want to meet my parents, for example, I can just go home and work from there for a week, which would not be possible without vacation if I would have a regular job.
Sounds great! So my understanding is that you have a lot of freedom that remote work gives you. What’s your position at Crossover? Can you tell me a bit about your daily work life?
Get up and get ready for work, you really need to be. That’s a challenge in working remotely, you still have to get your act together at the start of the day, especially if you are staying at home. You should get everything related to personal life done before you actually start working. When you start working, you want to be able to work large chunks without interruptions. We call it deep work, there’s even a book about it. Because when you start reading, you need uninterrupted time to be productive. And my day actually starts when I sit in front of my computer and start tracking my own time and performance. First, I check my calendar events for the day, then emails, since I have a large team emails part may take a bit longer, then I look at my slack messages, and move to my to-do items and start taking my tasks as a manager.
Can you tell me a bit more about your projects and responsibilities?
My main responsibility is managing my teams, I currently have Migration Team and recently I’ve also taken added another kind of test automation team, this is a test which is running the browser. My days are really filled with several meetings so that’s one thing but I guess your question was around the responsibilities. I don’t think that defines how I organize my day, it’s always about tracking the progress of the teams, making sure that they are delivering expectations. Detecting bottlenecks in these delivery processes and fixing them by coaching individual team members. I’m not great at marketing my responsibilities, basically, I’m making sure that there’s no roadblocks ahead for my teams of remote working professionals.
How often do you make deep dives? Are you still getting your hand dirty?
Well, sometimes I do dive ins, but that’s fairly rare. The temptation usually is high to just try and understand every small bit of the problem and how exactly things work, but in many cases there is just not enough time in a day to dive that deep into details, so what I am trying to do is, whenever there is some deep technical problem; I go on a call with the Chief Software Architect in the specific team and I try to get a better understanding of what the problem is and what they have as the potential solutions and who they think should be solving the problem, so no, I don’t usually get very deep into these technical issues. But I’m still hands-on software engineer so I can do it whenever I need to.
Could you please give us some examples of tools and programs you work with?
Crossover and ESW Capital companies rely on the collaboration tools from Google. As you might know, Google has cloud-based tools pretty much equivalent to Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint, but these are all web-based tools, so most of my personal day is spent using Google Spreadsheets, which is similar to Excel, Google slides which is similar to PowerPoint and of course Gmail. Then, when I take a look at the development side Software Engineers, Software Architects and Chief Software Architects from Java technology stack using IntelliJ IDEA as their IDE in a daily basis, but we don’t necessarily limit IDE usage to that tool. Some using Eclipse, and on the .NET side, it’s almost always Visual Studio being used.
There is one more very important tool that a lot of candidates might be interested hearing about. We use Atlassian tools: we use Jira and we use Confluence to a great extent, so these are key tools in every manager’s daily workflow.
I think that covers most of the tools I use on a daily-basis. If you’d like, I can go more into details on the specific technologies.
You mentioned about your teams. How many people do you have in your teams?
In one of my teams I have 4 people and in my other team we have 9 people, but we are hiring at the moment, so we are planning to scale up to 17. I have managed an average headcount between 10 and 20.
That’s a good number because you can remain in control and have a more personal connection with them at the same time, rather than managing 1000 people where it’s impossible to even know everybody.
From my experience, going over 20 people can be a little bit hectic for software engineering. We don’t build huge teams.
And about your teams, are they from all over the world? How do you manage the difference in the time zone and how do you communicate with them in general? Do you ever meet them?
No, I haven’t ever met anyone working in my teams yet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen. Obviously, it would be great, but the reason we haven’t met is the answer to the first part of your question- they actually all are from all over the world, so many of my team members are from South America, or India, or Turkey, you name it, and usually not very close from here so I don’t really have a lot of opportunities for meeting with them or organizing any internal events which all the team members would have the opportunity to attend.
Regarding time zone, it’s a little bit difficult, but it depends on the team size and the team structure. In some cases, the teams are just naturally forming from people in similar time zones- in that case, I don’t need to pay too much attention I only need to be aware of the team’s time zones in general and make sure I don’t schedule calls outside of working hours. But in the case of larger teams, when the team setup is a bit more tricky, then it helps to have a sheet where we are tracking the working hours of each team member so everyone can refer to that and see that the colleague that they’re trying to get a hold of is likely working or not, but then again, it’s always a possibility to just ping them on Slack or Skype to see if they’re available.
Perfect. A personal question, do you find your multi-cultural environment inspiring?
Yes, it definitely is. It’s interesting to see all the different cultures since we have tested talent from Crossover in all of our teams, I didn’t observe a huge difference in work habits, it’s always metrics driven. I guess it’s just about how motivated people from different countries are, and it drives you as well to try to be more effective. In Europe, we are more used to this european style of working, which is a bit more relaxed, but it definitely helps to move your company forward if you focus more on your metrics.
Do you have a local community here in Budapest? You guys have a co-working spot here, how often do you join the group?
Well, the community is being built up as we speak. We have a group chat and we encourage everyone to use the co-working office as frequently as they can. Of course, it’s optional but it feels great to be a part of a community. I guess the community is just forming, but it really is there. I would say that we made great progress in the last weeks in being able to call Crossover Hungary a community.
Getting back to your work, you’re a manager but of course, you should be reporting to an upper-level manager, how does it work?
I really like the community of managers in the company. I think it’s like in any other company, you will have managers, you will have peers, you will have superiors, but I think most of the guys here are extremely cool and it’s very easy to contact them; sometimes I wonder how can they be online so often to react and answer all of my questions. Of course, there are cases when you can’t reach someone due to time-zone difference and working hours but I know that everybody is trying their best to be proactive and help you whenever you need it.
I know that Crossover is growing exponentially. Can you please tell me more about the culture regarding this aspect?
We have a metrics-based system. Every team, even the top level managers have their own metrics, and we have targets to achieve certain numbers every quarter, and of course, these quarterly numbers can be broken down to monthly and weekly goals as well. So we try to get the most out of our work and the time that we spend and these really shortened goals are also reflecting that.
My next question was actually about metrics. “You gotta love metrics” this is what they used to say. I wanted to ask you what are the KPIs or how is the performance measured at Crossover?
Actually, Mircea has given an exclusive interview for you guys on how we handle software engineering in an extensive context. I’m not going to go that deep, we use this metrics system. Every team has a different, but a single metric. For example, you can think of metrics such as the number of tickets fixed for some support team, the number of features/ capabilities delivered by a feature team, the lines of code covered by a unit-testing team. This metrics allows us to compare the team members and it also allows the team members to see where they stand with their performance within the team; those who are underperforming can be coached to find their weak spots and improve in their performance, so these metrics are a great basis for managers to see which members require coaching and I think this is a very good way to move the team ahead and improve the overall productivity.
What happens when a project is over? Do people lose their jobs?
No, no, it’s definitely not that way. When a project is over, we have our pool of partners and we move our partners between teams as quickly as possible, in the days time. So if we have someone who has a good, proven track record within the company, the last thing we want to do is to let that person go. We are in touch with other managers, and usually, we can find immediately another team for good partners, or even move them from the team that is out of work to one of our other teams we manage.
How about the money? Would you be able to make the same amount of money if you wouldn’t be working for Crossover?
It obviously depends on the where you live in the world, but in Hungary, I would definitely not be able to make this kind of money working at any multinational software development company. You know that founder of the Cloud Wages concept is the CEO of Crossover, Andy Tryba. So I think that, in most parts of the world, these Cloud Wages are much more competitive than local wages. When we say Cloud Wages, we have a global standard rate structure for software engineers at any level regardless of the technology stack:
- Software Engineers get $30K per year
- Software Architects get $60K per year
- Chief Software Architects get $100K per year
I also like this idea that it’s basically discrimination-free, so the Cloud Wages concept enables everybody to work for the same money regardless of their location, skin color, gender or anything like this. This was the first thing I liked about Crossover. I guess we’re on the same page here.
Yes, I completely agree.
We heard a lot about this productivity tool called WorkSmart. So is it like Big Brother watching you? Is WorkSmart a curse or a blessing?
I would say that it’s neither. It is a necessary evil, it’s not watching you constantly, it’s not a key logger, it doesn’t track everything you do. However, it does measure activity, it does try to ensure that you are actually sitting in front of your computer and it is you working, and as a tool, it can also help you measure your productivity, it can measure how you are spending your time, so it’s also a great way for you to improve your workflow and make your job more effective.
So I would say that it’s a big mistake so say that this is like Big Brother or a program that is constantly monitoring you. You always have the option to stop the tracker and to close the program if you need to take your break.
That’s pretty much my summary of WorkSmart.
With WorkSmart, do you have any control over the data being sent to your managers?
Yes, you can also go back, review your time cards, see exactly what has been tracked and also delete these time cards. So if you think you actually opened some personal pages and forgot to stop the tracker, you can go back and delete these time cards, along with the screenshots and the webcam shots afterwards.
So the company can see only what you allow them to see basically. I think this is an important aspect to mention.
Another personal question, what gets you up in the morning as a manager?
Well, it’s different for each of the teams, but every team has a long-term vision in what they need to be moving towards, what they need to improve, so I’m motivated by trying to turn that vision in to a reality, making it happen, trying to optimize the processes and I think that is what every manager should be doing.
I need your honest opinion, can you grow within the company? Do you have a career model? Or how do the managers support you if you want to grow within the company?
I wouldn’t say we have a clearly-defined career model, but managers do support this. So if you are performing well, or even exceptionally, you have a very good chance to get promoted. For this, you actually need to make your manager aware that you are looking to be promoted, and then your manager can give you a plan, like a sort of growth path and then you can earn this promotion if you deliver your commitments.
I believe it’s important for everybody to have this kind of motivation, in order to realize that they don’t just tire themselves by working, and that they can move forward through their work.
Would you recommend Crossover as a workplace? If so, why?
I would definitely recommend it. I think the community is great; as I mentioned, in the larger cities there are these coworking spaces, which are a great way to meet your colleagues face to face every now and then. This also improves the socially challenging part of the work which is that you don’t really get that many chances for face to face interactions. Also, comparing to all other remote positions around the world, the wages are great and it’s a really challenging and interesting place to work.
Looking back in the past, was it a good decision starting to work with Crossover? How would you consider it now?
I never regretted working with Crossover. In fact, when I started working here, the company didn’t even exist yet, so I was actually working for ESW Capital before they decided to invest in Crossover and turn it into a global organization. I’ve been here for a long time and I’ve really had the chance to know my way around the systems used and I’ve seen how they’ve evolved, how the processes have evolved. I can say that I would recommend working here more and more, as the time passes.
Is it difficult to get in and to work with Crossover?
It depends on whether you’re suitable for the position or not. Obviously, roles aren’t hand out for free. I haven’t done any tests personally recently, but I imagine that it’s going to be challenging to get in. But if you actually know your stuff and you are a right fit for the role, then you shouldn’t be worrying.
Any good advice for those who are interested in Crossover?
Don’t be shy, apply! And hopefully, we’ll see you in our ranks soon.
Thanks for answering my questions Gábor, I’m sure RemoteTips readers will enjoy reading your real life experience as a remote working software engineering manager!