People, relationships, and controlled time-lapses – a talk with Piotr Wierski

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Written by: Justyna Cichocka, Employer Branding Specialist

Piotr Wierski has been part of Solwit for over a decade. For the last four years, he has held the position of Head of the Test & Embedded Business Unit. He originally joined the company as Senior Test Engineer, managing the team, and his proficiency in the role led him to the place where he is now, responsible for developing the competencies of over 140 people. Without Piotr on board, Solwit would have been a completely different place! 

Piotr, you joined Solwit almost 11 years ago as a Senior Software Engineer - you worked your way up from the position of Team Leader to Director of the Business Unit. Ten years - is it a lot or not?

I am not too sure whether it is a lot, but looking at what has happened in the meantime, it is no doubt a long time. Solwit is a very different organization compared to strictly product companies, as it offers an ocean of opportunities – among the variety of projects, there is really something for everyone. Working on a single product for ten years may seem like a lot for an engineer, but here the changes are so big – both in terms of the domain and technology – that one can hardly get bored.

I think that I have made the most of the opportunities Solwit has given me. I am also emotionally attached to the people I work with every day, and luckily I have always chosen companies that hire fantastic individuals. Obviously, things are not all rosy, but I fall into the generation that does not give up easily when there are things worth fighting for. At times I get the feeling that this approach is a bit obsolete, and I see it during the recruitment process, too. It happens that candidates give up quickly when faced with obstacles, not trying to overcome them. The way I see it is that the grass is only as green as we take care of it. All organizations are fraught with hassles regardless of PR and marketing.

All that matters is that they are dealt with properly, and it is our – the management’s – task to create an atmosphere conducive to tackling them.

Since you have worked in various companies, both large and small, you can draw a good comparison. You remember the time when Solwit employed only a dozen or so people, now there are several hundred of them. What has made you stay here longer?

The number one thing are definitely people and relations – there is a really great bunch here. That is all over the organizational structure; not only in my Business Unit. Flexibility, process support, easy contact with the management, open-door policy, disagree & commit principle – you may not agree, even with Leszek, reasoning it properly. And that is often met with approval.

There are pros and cons to everything. The big advantage has always been, and I hope it will stay that way, how approachable and accessible the executives and managers are. In corporations, it is rather hard to talk to the CEO in the corridor, whereas here it is completely normal. You can meet, talk about your ideas, discuss the future, or seek advice. Then there is more flexibility. We keep in mind that the processes are here to support our human activities, not the other way around. Of course, corporations also have their pros, undoubtedly they sometimes offer greater possibilities – if only in terms of tools.

You run a large Business Unit of over 140 people. What matters most in being the leader of such a team?

Above all, I couldn’t do without my Delivery Managers who bring me peace of mind that people are taken care of. Having said that, I try to run at least two projects on my own so I don’t get out of touch with the base 😉

I strive to treat others in the way I would like to be treated myself – respectfully, politely, with a smile, and in a good atmosphere. I aim for people to work ethically, according to their professional conscience. If problems arise, I want them to speak up and seek assistance. It is clear that the work we agree on must be done, but I offer support if needed. I don’t do micromanagement – I prefer to let people choose the means to attain their goals, and I know through feedback, that this is highly appreciated. It is important not to punish mistakes or failures, as this can have the opposite result – it kills initiative and creativity. One learns best from controlled failures, of course within reason. A sound approach to a task cannot be punished, even if it has not been 100% successful.

What does a typical working day for Piotr Wierski look like?

Working remotely has altered the technical aspects of my day a bit – allowing me to pop out for 20 minutes to bring the kids home from school, which also gives them more freedom. Between 9 am and 5 pm I’m generally in meetings, with small breaks to meet basic needs 😉 That’s the time for operational work, like dealing with dozens if not hundreds of emails waiting to be responded to. In the evening, around 8 pm, I sit down to work once again, but I use this time for activities that require focus and consideration.

Since the arrival of Business Units, I have been dealing with all the departments and processes that are in the company. My time is split between activities for clients, my teams, management, administration, marketing, and HR. I deal with a really wide variety of things – from controlling the Business Unit’s financial issues through recruitment activities – gathering the demand, forecasting and planning our future, meeting OKRs (company-wide goals), all the people topics – problems, successes, changes, to the things I do for the board – reports, sheets, and other fun stuff.

You are broad-minded, so it's fair to ask - how do you see the IT market in 10 years' time?

This is a very difficult question, especially in the context of what I heard recently from a colleague: backward analysis is always effective 😉 2-3 years ago I thought that the importance of testing would decrease, due to the agile approach, AI, or growing popularity of DevOps domain. Over this time, the approach has changed a bit – due to globalization, but also due to the cost of services, and it seems that we are facing a remodelling of the market. Perhaps this will go in the direction of creating and developing ready-made frameworks and low-code platforms. One sometimes hears that IT works are so expensive that the return on investment is in question, so it is natural to go in search of other, lower-cost solutions. I look positively towards the future of testing, but not of simple webpage crawling, as here we can be replaced by automates, but you cannot replace testers where you need to confront vision with expectations. I think that one day only large institutions will do the custom-made projects, the smaller ones will use platforms.

And what about the job market?

It’s not a matter of months or years to come, but I think it will change, too. There will be a group of people who will do the top stuff, and create the building blocks from which others will build. But there will also be a group of those who won’t have to be so competent and will create out of what the first ones have built. Perhaps there will also be some other revolution, of which we yet have no clue about, that will replace the existing model of operation.

Do you remember your first day at Solwit?

I remember being almost paralyzed with fear – since I had been with my previous company for five years, the change was a big deal. I was moving to a small company of a dozen people, from a very large organization, and on my first day I took up a job with our biggest client. I remember the room I got to – I said hello to Michał Zaczyński, Przemek Gajewski, and Marcin Leszczyński, who were in the next room, and have been working with us ever since.

You’ve graduated in Electronics and Telecommunications, haven't you ever thought of becoming a programmer? How did you come up with the idea of testing in the first place?

I worked as a programmer for a while, but I think testing was meant for me. I think I have managed to turn my set of character traits into an asset. Back in my university days, colleagues didn’t particularly like preparing with me for practical exams (e.g. maths) – when everyone seemed to have the algorithm worked out, I would often have a flash of “what if we put such and such numbers in, it probably wouldn’t work.” There were often some corner cases that wouldn’t occur in exams, but it shattered my colleagues’ inner peace. Thinking outside the box, and being curious about whether it works and how it works made the testing thing for me. And I would recommend it to anyone with a comparable set of qualities 😉 .

Do you sometimes miss being an engineer?

At least once a week, as the joke goes, “how about dropping it all and going back to testing” Working with systems is easier, working with people is much more demanding, it’s very rewarding, it’s also dynamic, but there are more problems and they are very mentally draining. I get attached to people easily and get emotionally involved in their matters – luckily I have a great team of Delivery and Domain Managers who support me. I’m also constantly faced with strategic challenges – ensuring interesting projects, meeting the goals set by the board, and making sure everything is financially sound. Well, there is a bit of that, but together we can manage.

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