There are many paths to a successful IT career today. Vytautas Paulauskas, Director of Engineering Practices at Devbridge, an IT professional with more than 17 years of experience, shares tips on what to look for when choosing a profession and how to find activities that allow you to improve daily.
"Twenty years ago, technology wasn't one of the most coveted professions, and future employees weren't enticed by staggering salaries, gaming computers in the office, and colorful bean bags, but it was an area that always remained not only interesting but also meaningful."
Vytautas Paulauskas, Director of Engineering Practices at Devbridge
What studies did you complete, and how did you do in school?
I did well in school. From the outside, the results from my studies were great. I was a leader all the time, participating in various Olympics and clubs. However, all of these results required different efforts: the exact sciences were always easier for me, and the humanities required a lot more time. Knowing that I would take the state exam in the Lithuanian language, and because its result was important for entering any university, I put a lot of effort into this subject. And at the same time, I am very grateful to the history, art, music, and other subject teachers for not pressuring and allowing me to focus on the sciences. After school, I entered and graduated from KTU Faculty of Informatics. In my bachelor's and master's studies, I specialized in programming and information systems engineering.
Why did you choose IT? What influence did your parents, teachers, or friends have on choosing a field or profession?
There were definitely opinions from those close to me on what studies and future profession to choose. My mom is a doctor. My dad is a programmer. Of course, there was some desire for me to continue my family profession from both of them. Twenty years ago, when I graduated from school, studying law was very fashionable. I heard a lot from acquaintances that law studies were very good. I did not know what I could do with them after graduation or how studying law would be useful in the future.
I chose to study programming (informatics) myself, and I made the decision quite pragmatically. Although I did well in the exact sciences, computer science was especially easy. I was able to solve not only my own tasks but also those of my classmates. As far as homework was concerned, nothing had to be done. I finished my work in the last 15 minutes of class. As a result, I thought that it would be best to further study and pursue informatics.
Twenty years ago, IT wasn't one of the most coveted professions. Future employees weren't enticed by staggering salaries, gaming computers in the office, and colorful bean bags. Still, it was an area of interest to me. I am glad that those aforementioned opinions of those around me were only advice. I did not feel any pressure, and I made the choice myself.
How did your career in IT unfold? What qualities have helped you move up the career ladder?
From the third year of university onwards, I kept looking at job prospects, created a resume that included several teacher recommendations (something else from a by-gone age), and went to several job interviews. I got a job in the third interview, which was the one I liked the most. During the interview process, I was asked to tackle several logical tasks and visualize my thoughts on the board. We talked about algorithms for solving one practical task or another.
After working for half a year, I became the technical manager of one project. I worked with a small team of programmers and interacted with clients. I believe the qualities that helped me at the time were: the speed at which I did the tasks, perfectionism as I couldn't leave anything in an ambiguous state, and forecasting ahead, planning not only the day or week but a month or two in advance. For me, these qualities were pretty inherent. I didn't really imagine myself working differently.
Later, I began working with larger teams, not only with programmers with similar backgrounds but also with other technical professions. As a manager, you always reach a level where you are somehow uncomfortable and have to adapt. I have worked with a range of people in the UK, US, and Ukraine, many of which were senior leadership and technically strong people. Lately, the lack of live contact and video conferencing only has been challenging. Nevertheless, I've been able to adapt to every situation, learn something, and figure out how to react faster to unforeseen situations.
You have been with Devbridge for seven years. What makes sense to you at work? What do you value most about the Devbridge team?
I like that we are a fast-thinking and growing company. It is not for nothing that Devbridge has been included in the 5,000 fastest-growing US companies for eight years in a row. It by chance that such growth occurs–every employee contributes to it. I am surrounded by many talented, technically strong colleagues. It is important to me, and no doubt to other colleagues, how much internal information is available to each employee.
When growing, of course, sometimes you have to make changes, such as expanding the company's competencies to a new area, changing internal rules, making a decision not to work with a particular client, or dealing with quarantine-related restrictions. While difficult to solicit the views of all the more than 500 employees on each issue, team and department heads are always involved in such discussions. They inform decisions around making changes or taking on new initiatives. No decision is taken from above down, as it has already been seen and discussed by a large group of people.
Have you also spent many hours and weekends contributing to Devbridge's free Sourcery Academy for Kids? Why is this important to you, and what has this experience provided you personally?
I worked at the Sourcery Academy for Kids for two and a half years. At some point, I decided it was time to give something back to the community–all the more so because I was not required to have any special skills. After all, I did not decide to become a coach of long-distance runners or a French tutor. A mentor needs to understand technology and be able to communicate. I develop these qualities on a daily basis at work.
Personally, I really enjoyed working on technical tasks: programming elementary algorithms, searching the Internet for material that would interest children about how the Internet works, or how the world's first computer game was created. When working with children every weekend or every second weekend, it's hard to see any change in each lesson. Sometimes, some do better, sometimes worse. A student will sit down with a noisy friend, and last week's prodigy is distracted and doesn't finish the work.
However, all the progress can be seen during the final work of the semester and course end. You can see that the children are bolder, work independently, experiment, and use all the previously acquired knowledge. It is difficult to weigh up how much time spent at the academy will be useful for each child in the future, but I think that the experience and knowledge gained will be put to everyone's benefit in some way.
Is it true that IT studies have not filled all state-funded study places for several years in a row? What do you think is missing to change this situation in Lithuania?
I don't know if it's still popular to study just for the diploma, but I've recently heard of a few cases of this happening. If a graduate chooses to study anywhere just to get a diploma in his or her hands after only four years, why should he or she go to study where it is more difficult? He or she is likely to choose humanities or social sciences, where, incidentally, the annual fee is lower in non-state-funded places. IT companies have never applied the criterion "must have any higher education diploma" when looking for new employees. I hope that in other areas this trend will disappear over time.
What would change the situation radically is to review the strategy of teaching sciences called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) in Lithuania, starting in schools and finishing in universities. It is very easy for the student to commit dry formulas to memory, to demand that they learn them, and then to create checklist tests for ingrained formulas. In universities, it continues in the form of differential equations, multiplication of matrices, kinematics, probability theory.
I would have liked to have such an introduction, revision of previous material and the connection with the taught subject, and finally, discussions and demonstrations of practical application, and instead of hearing, "You had to learn that at school." In this area, lineal learning in schools must encourage children to take an interest in STEM, using more diverse methods and encouraging them to find the right answer in their own ways. While higher education institutions should help fill the gaps and provide practical application opportunities.
As much as I observe the selection process and results of our company's academies for professionals, we are more likely to receive applicants who are already working outside of IT or, for example, young mothers returning from maternity leave who are determined to re-train. In many cases, these people are doing very well. The IT field is certainly not as intimidating as it sometimes seems from the outside.
What professional achievements are most important to you and why? What would you like to implement and achieve in the future?
For both Devbridge and previous companies, I had to work on technically or otherwise exceptional projects at the time–whether it was a contract with the highest monetary value, a large team of co-programmers, an 18-month system migration task, or the first project in the banking sector. All of these experiences were memorable.
Most of all I remember the challenges facing people like when, in two years, Devbridge managed to expand its team from 14 to more than 40 professionals through active recruitment. Sometimes colleagues went together to a job interview to meet a potential newcomer who needed to be encouraged, emboldened, and told in more detail how to successfully join the team.
I would often wonder as to whether the newly formed team would be successful for the project that had it just started, and so on. It is gratifying to see that most of the colleagues I met when Devbridge was just a potential employer for them are still working for us, leading teams, being responsible for technical solutions, and, furthermore constantly improving.
In the future, I hope to keep helping Devbridge develop new competencies, help expand offices to other countries, and otherwise contribute to the company's growth, which has already become commonplace.