Interview with Stanislav Štefanič (Stanley), VP of Engineering
Stanislav Štefanič, also known as Stanley, has worked for Kiwi.com for 6 years. He says that he has learned a large variety of skills from the different positions he has had throughout the company. Stanley values the kind-hearted people involved in the company along with our amazing product, produced by innovative and modern technology. Read the interview below to get some great advice on leadership and management from Stanley.
You have been at Kiwi.com for 6 years. Tell us about your journey to becoming VP of Engineering. How did your previous positions help you get to where you are?
Before Kiwi.com I was working in research and I originally wanted to stay in an academic environment, as I always wanted to teach and educate people. Soon I joined Kiwi.com as a developer and analyst, and at that time the whole Kiwi.com engineering department had only about 10-15 people, so I learned to do a little bit of everything. When our team grew, I was promoted to team lead position and scaled this team from 5 to 50+ people in multiple locations in less than 2 years and transformed from the manager of one team into a manager of managers. Two years ago, I was promoted to VP and took responsibility for the engineering organization building the Kiwi.com product. In every step, I was pushed to learn very quickly and I learned different skills. Today I am very glad about it.
The academic research taught me how huge projects, budgeted for millions of Euros are being managed, and how it is to cooperate with colleagues across the globe in multiple locations. I also learned how to write scientific text, heavily based on data and facts, and how to interpret these data and findings. Last but not least, I had the opportunity to present my colleagues and my own work at multiple science conferences and events.
When I worked as a developer and analyst I learned software engineering hard skills. We have a great and robust stack, with many new technologies and frameworks. When I became a team lead, I learned managerial basics and skills like project and stakeholder management.
Now, in a higher management position, my job is more future-oriented. It’s about having a vision and being able to navigate your team to get there. My job is also about soft skills and empathy. I learned a lot about people and about myself. It is an amazing journey, and I am still learning a lot every day.
What is your management style? Has it changed in recent years?
My goal is to empower my team to make the right decisions and let them have a say in decision-making. I don’t have one clear and preferred style, I leverage multiple of them, based on the current audience and situation. But in general, mostly a combination of participative, delegative, and transformational leadership styles.
I try to be a leader not just a manager. I am using many leadership styles, but mostly servant leadership – I believe in the current world and especially in IT, it is the style with the highest probability to succeed. I am focused on building good teams and hiring great people with different skills. We are not in a business where the boss is the smartest and most skilled person, you are hiring very smart and great people, usually smarter or more experienced in a particular discipline than you are. And you don’t hire smart people to tell them what or how to do it.
My job is to describe to them the problem and let them solve it. Usually, they find a better solution than I could even imagine, especially when they work as a team. Therefore, my job is mainly to build a great team, and share with them the right context, with the right amount of information, motivate them and build engagement and passion. Of course, my managerial and leadership styles evolved. In the beginning, I thought I must know and understand everything deeply, every technology and concept, but it doesn’t scale and luckily, I learned it very quickly.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced so far as VP of Engineering? What were the hardest lessons learned?
I think for us as a travel company, and also for me as a senior manager at Kiwi.com, the biggest challenge was to survive the Covid crisis, without losing the team and vision, and without doing massive lay-offs, as many of our competitors have done. Covid-19 was very unexpected. From the data we have, we are doing better than other players in the game, and the market is slowly recovering. I believe we all will be free and our lives will get back to a new normal soon.
How would you describe the culture and atmosphere of Kiwi.com to a friend?
Kiwi.com is an innovative, cooperative, and result-oriented culture with a hacker’s mindset. We always try to challenge the status quo and make travel easier, more affordable and available to everybody. Besides that, we have great courage. We are not afraid to experiment with new technologies and approaches. We are brave and self-aware. Once we make a mistake, we transparently admit it, fix it asap, learn from it, and ideally not repeat it in the future. Something that I see that is not common in all companies is that our people here at Kiwi.com are not just colleagues, but also very good friends in their personal lives.
What are some tips and tricks you find most helpful in your leadership position?
There are two tips that worked very well for me – being open-minded and self-aware. It means thinking limitlessly and always considering multiple viewpoints. Make decisions that are the best for the team and the company. The ego has no place in modern leadership. I can talk about many more, but these two, self-awareness and open-minded thinking, I consider as most important in leadership positions. All the rest can be learned way easier once you have these traits.
What were your biggest lessons learned as a leader in Kiwi.com?
That there is always some way out, there is always some solution, and almost nothing is impossible. You should never judge or make a conclusion until you know and understand all viewpoints. People are good, they almost always act in a good manner, sometimes they just don’t have full context or enough skills.
At what point in your career did you see the most growth?
Every single new opportunity and challenge that I receive provides growth in my career. I would say I did learn the most during the first year working for Kiwi.com, during my engineering onboarding process with the company. But in general, I see a growth spike every time I start a new position, especially when I got promoted to VP.
What is your personal favorite thing about working for Kiwi.com?
I enjoy three core topics about Kiwi.com. First of all, our people are very open-minded and smart and you can learn a lot from them. I am sure that anyone from any company would also say that their company culture is great, but I believe that at Kiwi.com, it is very true. Second, our product is great. We are trying to change how the travel market and industry work in favor of the customer. We aim to make travel easy to make our platform stress-free for our customers. I personally buy flight tickets through Kiwi.com web and iOS applications. This is really important for me because I want to work on a product I am personally using and have it on my main screen. Last but not least, our technology is innovative and modern. We are always keeping our stack up-to-date, using the latest frameworks, tools, and DevOps principles in our development processes. These three are very important to me and I like working at Kiwi.com because of these traits.
What do you value most in both your professional and personal life?
At work, I value the opportunity to learn new skills and knowledge, and I am glad that in Kiwi.com we have an environment where we have enough space to do so. I find learning new skills very motivating in my professional life. Outside of work, I value my friends and family, it is a great source of inspiration and energy, and talking with them provides a learning opportunity as well.
Who or what is your inspiration when it comes to leadership?
I am getting inspiration from many people from different trades. I like scientists and mathematicians like Tesla, Einstein, Turing and others because they are smart. I like sportsmen like Ronaldo, Messi, Djokovic, Nadal, etc. because they have great dedication and endurance. They are always working hard to get to the top. I am inspired by entrepreneurs like Musk, Jobs, Gates, Bezos, and also our CEO, Oliver Dlouhy. I like how they drive innovation in their areas via their vision, motivation, and energy. I am inspired by my colleagues and friends day to day. I believe you can find, and learn something great from basically everybody.