Open communication, trust and ownership in Kiwi.com in Prague
An interview with Engineering Manager, Tobiáš Potoček
Tobiáš Potoček is an active protestant, a jogger and a self-described hopeless piano novice and prior to joining Kiwi.com, he worked for Google in Munich, in the privacy area, where he helped Google to become GDPR ready. We interviewed him to learn more about what motivated him to join Kiwi.com, what he values most about his job and what his teams are responsible for.
Hi Tobiáš, you joined Google straight out of university and after three years you chose to join us. What prompted this decision?
After making the decision that I wanted to find a job closer to home, I applied to several tech companies in Prague and received a few offers. In most of these cases, I would become yet another senior software engineer however during the Kiwi.com interview I immediately connected with my current leads. It was clear from the beginning that my contribution could be more exciting here. This turned out to be true!
In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between Kiwi.com and other companies?
Kiwi.com wants to get better. It wants to be the best in its industry. The people here are very pragmatic in their approach. They are eager to listen to anyone who has ideas, especially if that person offers a way to implement it. Obviously, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but my overwhelming experience has been positive so far.
What are the most important aspects of your work?
I remember I explored this question some time ago during a communication workshop. It turns out that it’s fairly simple in my case: I need to have fun, as in, lots of opportunities to laugh, and be appreciated by my colleagues for what I bring to the table. I get plenty of that here at Kiwi.com.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
The underlying theme of me leaving Google was that my career is not the most important aspect of my life. I made this clear during my interview with Kiwi.com that I’m not prepared to give my body and soul to the company. I value my free time greatly. Looking back, I think this has been well received and respected. Obviously, there are ups and downs and especially in my role you can’t always avoid staying late at work. However, I have never felt the pressure to do so. It was always my choice.
In general, I’d say that Kiwi.com is maturing well in this regard. People grow and have families which ultimately shifts their perspective and priorities in life.
You’re managing Booking, Self-service and Help Center & Support client teams. Can you explain what these teams are responsible for?
When you travel with Kiwi.com, most of what you experience, be it on the Web or our Mobile app, is owned by my teams. This includes the checkout & payment process, buying additional services (meals, seating, baggage etc), changing the itinerary or, in unfortunate circumstances, handling “emergency” situations such as forced schedule changes, flight cancellations or missed connections. And if you reach out to our customer support through our contextual help center, this now also falls under myself.
What makes our work challenging is actually the inherent complexity of our whole product. Take for example our core offering: virtual interlining. From a UX perspective, it is difficult to explain to our customers what exactly it is and what are its limitations. Yet, it is crucial that they understand it to avoid surprises later. From a technical perspective, this effort to connect something that is, by default, “unconnectable” brings a lot of weird-edge cases that we need to account for, even in the customer facing UI.
When it comes to my role in all of this, as an Engineering Manager, there is the obvious people management responsibility. I try to ensure that my teams are well supported and have what they need. Beyond that, I try to improve our engineering processes and culture. I focus on testing, documentation and cross-team communication. I try to ensure that all our decisions reflect the broader vision of the company.
What do you value most when it comes to your team members?
I try to be the consensual type of leader. This is fairly typical for tech companies and to be honest, it makes sense: Engineers are very smart and confident and don’t really enjoy being forced into something they don’t like or understand.
This way of collaborating requires open communication, mutual trust and a strong sense of ownership from both sides. I think we have all of these attributes in our team. This is what I value most and what makes my job enjoyable.
Over one year ago, we moved to a new office in Prague which was designed and based on the needs of our Kiwis. How are you satisfied with the final workspace?
Let me start with this: Contrary to the current industry direction, I’m not a fan of remote work. While a fully remote setup is definitely feasible (we can see this every day), I believe there are hidden costs which are currently hard to detect or measure. You can kind of ‘feel it’ once you return to the office after a lockdown. It may be that smile on your colleague’s face or the random ad-hoc conversion in the corridor which just happens to solve your burning issue. Talking face-to-face is still the fastest way to exchange information and not all information needs to be available online or recorded. Unfortunately, these times don’t really favor in-person communication and all my teams are remote anyway. So I just try to make the best out of it.
With all that said, I really enjoy our Prague office. It is spacious and airy, with plenty of meeting rooms and nice areas to just sit around and chat. I especially love it when the winter sun penetrates the entire office at a low angle and fills it from one side to the other with warmth and light.
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