Today we have selected Alexey Shevchik to take his interview. He is the CEO of SoftTeco.
First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?
I’d like to start by saying that we never lived in the pandemic era before so the whole COVID-19 situation was really new and somewhat scary for us. The first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Belarus in February 2020 – and since then, we’ve had our ups and downs.
SoftTeco was mostly impacted by the pandemic from the end of March to the beginning of April of 2020. At this time, several big projects were closed, new projects were either closing or being paused too. We had to review and deduct salaries, starting from the top management and some developers whose salaries were a bit overestimated. We also had to downsize the team a bit.
Then we had several more months of uncertainty and adapting to remote work (this went surprisingly well). And by the middle of summer, the situation started to change and get better. Those projects that were paused got launched again, new projects appeared, and when the second wave of the pandemic hit, it was not so critical as the first one.
By the end of 2020 year, we managed to adjust and stabilize our indicators. So overall, we entered 2021 in a good state.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?
I’ve been interested in computers and programming since I was in high school. I participated in many programming competitions, including the ones where you had to write your own computer game. While studying in the university, I had a chance to join a real programming project and work on the development of a product for analyzing experimental data. Then I worked in an outsourcing software development company until Serge Zenevich and Alex Kutsko, SoftTeco’s co-founders, suggested joining them and starting an own company.
How does your company innovate?
In general, all outsourcing companies are the same so we have to compete both in internal (employees) and external (clients and projects) markets. The way you compete and the way you stand out is innovation, as I’d put it.
To speak about SoftTeco, I can say that we always try and find a solution to your problem or we create our own if there are no available alternatives. Let me give you an example here.
When the era of mobile development just started, we had a client who requested an iOS application. However, it was hard to find MacOS computers in Minsk back then – but we had to deliver a product. So we used Hackintosh computers, created our own game engine, and we came up with a way to realize a product without using MacOS at all. And we succeeded! So in terms of innovation, I can say that SoftTeco is always ready to create a solution from scratch if we face any limitations.
How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
As said above, we had our hard times but we successfully overcame them. As well, I worked as the Head of the PM&BA department back then and we decided to introduce daily calls among the colleagues. During these calls (which we still do today), we were talking about how we felt, whether there were any problems or challenges, and how we could possibly help each other. I must say this practice really helps a lot and I highly recommend it to other companies.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
The most difficult choice was to select people to whom we had to say goodbye. Fortunately, we were able to keep the core of the team and we recovered quickly from the pandemic impact.
So the biggest lesson learned during these times was to put people first and to care about them. Your employees are what keeps a company afloat so it’s essential to take care of them during hard times.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
An outsourcing company by definition should be resistant to this sort of challenge. By that, I mean that remote work, 100% self-sufficiency, and a high level of responsibility were there all the time before the crisis hit. So I can’t say we started using completely new tools or approaches – our established working procedure remained the same. Maybe the only minor difference is that we created more detailed and formal descriptions and requirements for the remote working process.
We already had experience in managing distributed teams (when some of the teams spent the winter season abroad, for example), and I can say that team management during self-isolation is quite similar to it.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Since SoftTeco is an outsourcing company, our main competitors would be other strong and established companies working in this field. However, I believe that our main strength will help us continue standing out and it’s our ability to work with people and treat them in a way they deserve. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Your Final Thoughts
I wish all readers to overcome any obstacles that you might be facing and always remember there is a solution to anything if you put your mind to it.