Women Can Do IT: HR at the HO — how to take care of the working atmosphere during a pandemic

Today in the “Women can do IT” series — the interview with the HR managers: Lidia Szutkiewicz from Netguru, Katarzyna Gzyl from Codibly and Nkosikazi Khumalo from EMBIQ.

Did you start your career in the IT industry? What is your background when it comes to your education and previous career path?

Lidia: My previous IT experience is limited to graduating from an IT class at secondary school [laughs]. I studied Finance and Accounting, I spent the next 12 years in banking, first working in sales and then as an HR Business Partner. After 3 years, I felt tired of having to travel around the country all the time, because my role required it. On LinkedIn, I came across a job offer at Netguru that interested me, and I’ve been here for 1.5 years now.

Katarzyna: I think my IT path is not entirely standard. I graduated from psychology and my first professional area was coaching. From the beginning of my career, I was involved in employee development — from working with the youngest through teenagers to employees hired at various organizations. For several years I worked in the ‘Spring’ Association, owing to which I found myself in the IT industry, I am also a certified scrum master. When I started in HR over 7 years ago, I was involved in the learning and development field, but I quickly moved to managing the entire path of an employee in the company and all personal processes, from recruitment, through taking care of the motivation and commitment of teams, to off-boarding.

Nkosikazi: I have a lot of different experiences, including working in marketing and organizing gospel festivals. 13 years ago I already dealt with recruitment and it was always the easiest to recruit to the IT department. When I came to the current company, I immediately said that I did not want to have one position, since I get bored quickly. By way of elimination, I chose the duties that suited me best and I now take care of HR.

What do you value most in your current role?

Katarzyna: IT as a work environment is constantly developing, changing much more dynamically than the other sectors. New roles, needs, and expectations appear practically month by month — this means that there is no such thing as ready-made solutions that will prove themselves in the coming years. Each time, the key is the ability to flexibly adapt to what is happening and looking for solutions appropriate to a given moment in the organization’s development. Another thing I like about IT is its specificity — each action must be precise and respond to the specific needs of the team.

Katarzyna Gzyl

Lidia: The most enjoyable thing to me is that I feel a real impact on our organization. I am aware that my decisions affect who we are as a company, what remuneration policy or a benefits strategy we have, and how we manage certain processes. On the other hand, I am still learning a lot and it happens that I do some things for the first time. I like such challenges.

Nkosikazi: Yes, challenges that keep coming up and the fact that there is still a lot of new things and areas to explore — sometimes it turns out that it’s 10:30 pm, and you are still reading because you really got into something [laughs]. For me, the influence that I have on the lives of the people I employ is also very important. I happened to hire a few people in whom I saw potential and who on paper technically did not yet have the required experience. I am very happy that I am able to help someone, seeing something more than what is written rigidly in the CV.

Nkosikazi Khumalo

Your greatest professional successes in IT?

Lidia: If you talk about this broader perspective, in 2019 we managed to introduce the role of HR Business Partner in Netguru, which is well perceived today. It’s great that we can help people with their challenges on an on-going basis. We are currently introducing the Talent Management System, which will serve employees as part of supporting their development. One of the key initiatives my team undertook was the introduction of a regular employee satisfaction survey. We quickly learned to draw conclusions from it, and in 2020 it was one of the most important tools in ensuring appropriate, safe conditions for remote work for all members of the Netguru team.

Nkosikazi: I hope the greatest successes are still ahead of me [laughs]. Seriously, headhunting for a client from Silicon Valley was such a big achievement. The recruitment lasted 9 months, but it was successful and now this person works for us from Lublin.

Katarzyna: I would like to mention two successes of my team here. The first is the quality of our recruitment processes. This is the result of our daily, tedious, and not necessarily spectacularly visible work. Every week and every month, we check what else we can improve and implement these solutions using the method of small steps. The other success is the growing awareness of the importance of HR in an organization and what it can really offer, apart from recruitment itself, how it affects the functioning of employees, their motivation, and commitment.

What surprised you the most about working in IT? What is different from popular opinion?

Lidia: We often view the IT industry in a stereotypical way, associating programmers as quiet, introverted people, preferably in a characteristic flannel shirt. I dismissed such an attitude a dozen years ago owing to my friend who, apart from being a professional programmer, is also one of the biggest party people I know. Being an introvert or a reserved person is simply a question of personality and someone who works in e.g. finance or marketing can have such traits too. What struck me much during my work at Netguru, and what was especially noticeable during the first lockdown in spring, is how alive our values are. We aim to challenge the status quo and exceed other people’s expectations, and indeed, everyone works like that. When I saw this for the first time, I thought, ‘Wow, these are the people that really care.’

Lidia Szutkiewicz

Katarzyna: From the beginning of my work in IT, I have had contact with people who were very ‘non-standard’ when it came to the stereotypical perception of this industry — during a company trip, we were even asked in a hotel once if we really worked in IT [laughs]. What struck me the most was the strong need for specificity and precision, which is sometimes a challenge for me, because, as you can hear, I really like to talk and explain [laughs]. It is also definitely a sector for determined people who can convince others with strong arguments supported by data, and at the same time, are open to diverse opinions of the team, from which they draw handfuls.

Nkosikazi: The person who recommended me to the company is also such a type of party-goer, so I had a totally different idea about IT than an average person [laughs]. I think that in every industry, there are people with different characters and different needs. At EMBIQ, we work in a huge open space, and sometimes it’s so loud that I have an impression that I’m in primary school [laughs]. IT is definitely a male-dominated industry nowadays, but I am here — among other things — to change it a bit.

What else are you striving for? What are your career goals?

Katarzyna: When it comes to our team, I am thinking not only about complementing it with new people but also about internal development of all HR processes, taking care of the highest quality of our activities. Most of our tasks result directly from the strategic goals of the entire company — that is why we work intensely, for example, on employee development paths or the role of the HR Partner. In addition, I want my department to organize itself and stimulate changes in the organization using tools known from the Scrum methodology.

Lidia: As an organization, I would like us to know how to build a close-knit community among people who work remotely. Thinking in the remote-first category is still a big challenge for us and I would like us to be able to care for others and their well-being on a daily basis, no matter if they work from an office or remotely. Coming to the office has always been a time when people could meet, eat breakfast, or lunch together. Now it’s not there, people are sitting alone in their homes, and it is harder than ever to establish a closer relationship with team members. I also want to be able to recruit the best people for the organization and I want us to be able to give them enough space to develop.

Nkosikazi: I, in turn, would like to build an HR team that will not only recruit but simply takes care of the employee. At the moment I am doing it myself, but I know that as we grow, it will no longer be possible. I currently have a rule that every employee can come to me with everything and we will definitely try to find a solution. I would like to help people at EMBIQ to focus 100% on their work even better.

What advice do you have for people who would like to work in IT?

Lidia: Openness and the ability to respond quickly to changes are important. IT is an industry where change sometimes happens overnight, and the ability to adapt can often determine the survival of a team or the entire business.

Nkosikazi: This openness is certainly very important because we have the opportunity to work with people from all over the world. Tenacity is important — IT gives a lot of benefits and the opportunity to travel, but also the need to be up to date and look for a path that will suit you in 100%.

Katarzyna: Don’t rely on what you’ve seen and heard from someone, just try to hear and understand people’s real needs and expectations. If you have the opportunity to work not necessarily for, but with IT, try it. You will have a chance to learn about the specifics of this sector, the language it uses, and the technological approach. And from more personal advice, patience and creativity are certainly important, because IT cannot use techniques and solutions known from other industries.

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